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Madness in the Desert: An unforgettable weekend of horror, heroes and hobnobbing at Mad Monster Party Arizona

Mad Monster Party was everything I hoped for…and so much more. 

May was a happening month for us fans. Ridley Scott’s newest addition to the epic, time-tested franchise known as ALIEN has been unleashed upon the world, the long awaited Season 3 premiere of Twin Peaks via auteur filmmaker David Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost has presented itself, and numerous film festivals and Horror Conventions have been underway all month long, all across the country.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

Eager to attend my first convention of 2017, I traveled from San Antonio, TX to Scottsdale, AZ to check out the Mad Monster Party Arizona. My 1000 mile plus journey landed me at the swanky We Ko Pa Resort and Casino, surrounded by majestic scenery, amenities galore, and the option to lose some hard earned cash at the Casino there. All of this coupled with the promise of a weekend full of everything Horror, I anticipated a damn good time. Mad Monster Party boasted a grand line up of Horror heavyweights (Tom Savini, Dick Warlock, Sid Haig and Linda Blair to name a few) and popular vendors.

But what was definitely on the radar for many was the Pinhead Experience featuring Doug Bradley himself.

Convention Highlight: Doug Bradley and the Pinhead Experience

Doug Bradley Mad Monster Party

Photo Credit: Danni Winn

My jaw dropped when I learned of the details regarding this particular event, almost unable to fathom such a possibility made available for fans.  It was an unprecedented opportunity to interact with Bradley in full ‘Pinhead’ costume, in character for the first time in over ten years, and within a specially constructed set to enhance the experience. The lucky folks who seized this moment also walked away with a one of a kind souvenir: one of the actual nails (with latex still adhered ) worn by Doug as he brought Barker’s hellish creation to life.

Souvenir Pinhead Pin; Photo Credit: Danni Winn

The Pinhead Experience completely sold out all of the available Saturday slots, prompting Con executives and Bradley to add Friday times as well.  Those sold out, too.  The promise of such an intimate and rare interaction with one of the most well known and beloved characters of the genre, enticed many to travel far and wide. I met people who came from New York, South Carolina, Florida, and Washington all just to get a chance to be a part of this rare and incredible occasion.

Pinhead Experience

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

Mr. Bradley also participated in a near capacity panel during Mad Monster Party, displaying his polite and often humorous demeanor to fans. He began his Q&A by profusely thanking everyone involved with the success of the Pinhead Experience — describing it as a “crazy adventure” and explaining all the work and dedication put into the endeavor. “It’s the closest thing for fans to get to being on a Hellraiser set” he said. After speaking with several Pinhead Experience participants, that very much appeared to be the general consensus.

The panel mediator, Levi Tinker, did a fantastic job with his selection of questions and allowing the audience to have ample time to ask theirs, not only during the Hellraiser Q&A, but throughout the convention.  The prepared, well informed, and polite mediator began the questions with asking Bradley how he met Hellraiser creator, Clive Barker. The actor fondly reminisced upon this early time in his life in Liverpool, England.  “In the late 60s, I was cast in a school play with Barker, as we attended the same high school.”

Mad Monster Party

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

He went on to explain that Clive had always been incredibly creative with a penchant for the macabre, and their Headmaster at the school must have recognized the young man’s talents, allowing him to promote the productions in Barker’s often over-the-top fashion. (In an extremely interesting side note, Bradley also shared that another famous student hailed from their school, a lad who to this day offers creative and musical influence with countless fans… Mr. John Lennon).

After over a decade of knowing Barker and working in the theatre with him on occasion, the offer was made to Bradley for his iconic role in the original Hellraiser.  “I said yes, and Hellraiser was to be my first film.”

The actor recalled how inexperienced he was with motion picture making, not understanding the purpose or need to have so many assistant directors and such.  An audience member of the panel asked the genre icon what was challenging to him during the filming. “I kept tripping over my skirt” he said chuckling. The black contacts and constrictive costume proved to be quite formidable, and his love/hate relationship with makeup and latex obviously spawned from his times on Hellraiser sets. These woes were endearingly reflected upon though.

Alongside rookie actor Bradley, Barker was new to filmmaking as well. At the time, Clive Barker was not well versed in lighting, cameras, lens, and other technical filmmaking aspects. It was revealed to us that the gifted Robin Vidgeon, who worked as DP on the original Hellraiser, was extremely patient and willing to teach Clive all that was needed to ensure his vision would be successfully brought to the screen. Doug Bradley emphatically stated, “Patience is the key to movie making.”

His comments and answers to questions were insightful, and his mood was cheery — in spite of the exhaustion he must have felt following horus in the makeup chair to prepare for the Pinhead Experience. He’s been a trooper ever since his first con in April of 1989 at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in California. Bradley is extremely grateful for being handed the opportunity to portray such a memorable, sinister character. He’s equally as thankful for all the fans, genuinely describing us as “the most loyal, knowledgeable fan base out there.  You all are wonderful.”  No, Mr. Bradley, you are!

A Convention With Heart and Serious Horror Cred

Following Doug Bradley’s panel, I had time to finally walk around Mad Monster Party and the resort itself. Seeing the occasional cosplayer and the Horror loving families enjoying the festivities together warmed my heart. I witnessed a little girl, maybe about 10 years old, wearing a Holliston shirt and just simply OWNING the impressive Zombie Shooting Gallery at the entrance of the convention. Sitting beside the interactive Zombie game were the monstrously modified rides of the classic American television series The Munsters. Butch Patrick who played little Eddie Munster in the show, sometimes travels to events to display the iconic automobiles.

Mad Monster Party

Photo Credit: Danni Winn

The staff at the resort seemed to rather take a shine to ‘our kind’ taking over their place of employment, with some dressing up for the occasion, asking to take photos and such.

Mad Monster Party is definitely on the more intimate side in regards to size, but it sure does have a lot of heart. 

It was easy to peruse all the vendors and find who and what you were in search of. Even PJ Soles (from Carpenter’s classic Halloween) and Felissa Rose (Angela from Sleepaway Camp) mentioned that they were very much enjoying the time in Scottsdale, noting how friendly, respectful, and professional everyone was — especially the resort staff and members of the Mad Monster Party Volunteer Crew.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

To my great pleasure, Indie horror was also well represented at Mad Monster Party.

I was both surprised and elated to see founder of Unearthed Films, Stephen Biro, in attendance chatting it up with convention goers and promoting the films distributed by his legendary label with the help of Director and SFX guru Marcus Koch (American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock, 100 Tears, Odditty).  Both, who have done so much for the extreme horror sub genre, were extremely friendly and approachable. It was also great to see Drew Marvick in attendance, introducing more horror fans to the brilliant Pool Party Massacre.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

The vendor room was stacked with exceptional merchandise and collectibles from well known outlets such as London 1888, Severin Films, local favorite Zia Records, and Pallbearer Press. Several artists proudly displayed their horror inspired pieces. Special FX Makeup groups showcased their talents throughout the weekend, transforming individuals who opted to sit in the make up chair into something horrific. In the evenings following the scheduled Mad Monster Party photo ops and panels, events such as Scaraoke, costume contests, and even an auction benefitting Scares That Care kept convention goers entertained all night long.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

Felissa Rose Shows Why She’s Horror’s Sweetheart

The next panel I were to attend was one I admit I was beyond stoked for.  The reason I never felt compelled to share in that quintessential piece of American childhood known as Summer Camp wasn’t due to the atrocities at Camp Crystal Lake. Nope, it happened at Camp Arawak with the disturbing experiences of a young, shy and painfully awkward camper named Angela Baker. Plain and simple, Sleepaway Camp fucked up my little inexperienced mind upon first viewing. With that, it subsequently turned into one of my personal favorites hailing from the 80s — so a chance to listen to ‘Angela’ was surely a treat to me.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

I must say, out of all the panels I have attended in my lifetime, Felissa Rose’s Mad Monster Party panel was one of the most entertaining by far. 

She walks into the quiet  Q & A room, quickly changing the volume and vibe.  “Why is it so quiet in here, guys?!  C’mon!” she says as she heads towards the stage. A loud, excited applause with hoots, hollers, and whistles welcomes Felissa. Her energy is infectious as she settles upon stage overlooking the convention goers with the biggest smile on her face, seemingly overjoyed to be a part of this celebration in Arizona. Every time I’d see her throughout the weekend, Rose would be all smiles, exuberant and so so humble.  This year marks the 34th Anniversary of the cult classic SLEEPAWAY CAMP, and Rose’s reaction to this is so endearing, “the love and connection to Sleepaway Camp……it’s amazing, surreal, I’ve been grateful since age 13.  I’m honored to be a part of all this.”

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

For five weeks back in 1982, a 24 year old Director named Robert Hiltzik (who dedicated this film to his mother), “really took the time with his young cast,” remembered Felissa. Sleepaway Camp was her first feature film role, and she knew she needed to earn the sympathy from movie goers with her plight against bullies and adolescence itself in order for the film to work. The energetic actress explained that Hiltzik opted to actually shoot at his own childhood camp, attempting to make the entire filming experience as close as possible to a traditional summer camp stay.

“It was fun, everyone hung out with each other, had crushes on one another, first times, ya know?!  The first penis I ever saw was my own.”  The room, including myself, erupted in laughter when she said this giggling.  As if on cue following this hilarious statement, I was happy to have another member of the panel crowd ask something I always wondered about, how her parents felt about the 80s slasher script which their pre-teen daughter was slated to star in.  “Yeah, they were totally down,” joked Felissa.  She explained that they were very supportive in her wishes to become gainfully employed in the entertainment industry early on and encouraged their daughter to follow her dreams.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

The time spent on Sleepaway Camp only fueled the fire to act in the East Coast native, prompting her to apply to the famed Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. She was not able to reprise her role as Angela in Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers or Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland because of her acceptance into the prestigious acting program. There was no guarantee she would have a spot reserved for her at the school if she left to film. However, in 2008 Rose did return to the roots of her acting career and appeared in Return to Sleepaway Camp, also written and directed by original creator Hiltzik.

While the warm, upbeat girl from NJ is best known for her uncomfortable and spot on portrayal of Angela in the Sleepaway Saga, the fan favorite has definitely kept busy and expanded her presence in genre filmmaking. Rose has a slew of acting credits, including several projects she produced as Head of Independent Genre Division at Carolco Pictures.

Felissa Rose in Family Possessions

Felissa Rose in Family Possessions

Her newest feature entitled Family Possessions written and directed by Tommy Faircloth, co-stars her good friend Mark Patton (Jesse from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) in his first screen appearance in over 30 years. Family Possessions tells the tale of a family who recently moves into a deceased relatives house, learning they may have inherited more than just the home.

Felissa seems to have a busy schedule for the rest of 2017, with several film festivals and horror conventions she plans to make appearances at.  If you’re a fan of 80s horror, Camp Arawak, or just the genre in general, take my advice and don’t miss an opportunity to chat it up with Rose.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

Getting Up Close and Personal With the Stars of ‘The Greasy Strangler’

The celebrity guest list at this year’s Mad Monster Party Arizona was an eclectic one. Classic, genre defining favorites such as Night of the Living Dead and Gremlins had their stars alongside contemporary gems like Stranger Things and The Greasy Strangler, rounding out a list of Horror heavyweights and promising newcomers for fans to enjoy.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

I was both shocked and pleased to find the stars of Jim Hosking’s unconventional cinematic creation, The Greasy Strangler to be in attendance. It’s a film you can’t easily peg, and it is most certainly not for everyone. But it is definitely unique and unforgettable in its depiction of the humorous and troubled untraditional relationship between a father and son. The Greasy Strangler is over the top, filled with ridiculous dialogue and one liners, and really is a movie to marvel at if you have an open mind and crave a mindless good time.  This was a panel I would not easily find the opportunity to be a part of again, so I made damn sure not to miss the Q & A with actors Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, and Gil Gex.

What I immediately noticed about the trio of actors was how awesome the actual chemistry was between them all, despite a fast and furious shooting schedule not usually conducive to the genuine level of interaction that was established. Sky Elobar, who portrays Brayden in the film and gained about 40 pounds for the role, revealed the production schedule was no joke, saying “6 a.m. call times, 15 scenes a day…our Call Sheets were packed. And the house we were filming in the first 8 days of shooting had black mold all over the walls. Yeah, I show up and see the crew wearing masks. I mean, I didn’t know what black mold was exactly.”

The three laugh about this in retrospect, each commenting on the overall enjoyable experience it was making The Greasy Strangler and the unexpected attention they gained from being a part of it. The cast and crew were sent to Sundance in support of the independent horror/comedy showing at the famed film festival, none ever believing they would have the chance to attend the famous shindig and rub elbows with Hollywood elite. Tim League, founder of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Producer of this strange little movie, acquired a 15 bedroom condo for cast, crew, and executives to lavishly live it up during the festival.

“So many people walked out of the screening, but while we are walking around Sundance, we kept having folks come up to us and quote the movie, ask to take pictures with us. It was unreal,” St Michaels said. “I got so much free shit!” exclaimed Sky.  “Shirts, jackets, top shelf liquors, a fucking phone. The phone I use now I was given at Sundance,” he laughs. Gil Gex who plays Big Paul in the movie chimes in, “So much free alcohol!”  The banter between the three is hilarious and honest, displaying the likable work environment they all helped create, mentioning their time on this set was great fun and nothing they will soon forget.

Nothing but love and respect was conveyed from the three actors towards their team of successful producers consisting of Ant Timpson (Deathgasm, Turbo Kid) Elijah Wood (Cooties, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) and Tim League (Drafthouse Films) who all believed in the cast, script, and Director.  “The willingness to adhere to open creativity from the Producers was wonderful,” noted Elobar.

With the stars of The Greasy Strangler relatively new to participating in the convention circuit, I ask how the experience has been for them thus far.  They agree that it’s been great to travel and meet fans, especially those who have helped solidify the cult status of the film, saying “Thank you for being such a fucked up individual” and not only watching the indie production, but liking it.  I hope the unexpected success of this weird and wonderful feature will give way to future projects for these gentlemen, as well as Director Hoskings and co writer Toby Harvard. Weird is good in my book.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

Horror Legend Sid Haig Makes Memories at Mad Monster Party

Someone who has become a fan favorite at these events is none other than Sid Haig. The actor has a remarkable list of films and television shows he has appeared in, often working alongside some of horror’s finest. Besides his extensive work in horror, he’s also appeared on episodes of The Lucy Show, Hart to Hart, MacGuyver and Star Trek. One of his costumes worn during filming of the latter is even on display at the Smithsonian. The experienced actor has also worked closely with legendary comedians Bob Hope and Red Skelton.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

During his panel at Mad Monster, Haig revealed that while filming the popular sci-fi television series, Star Trek, he learned William Shatner (Captain Kirk) was a huge practical joker.  No one was safe from Shatner’s pranks on set it seemed, as Haig reminisced about this period in his life.

He himself is a professionally trained actor who began his entertainment career as a dancer at age 6. He then took to acting, building an impressive resume that includes prolific work on Jack Hill’s 1967 film Spider Baby, Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (Sid and Pam Grier are close friends he says), and several memorable Rob Zombie productions.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

On Sunday, the last day of the convention, Sid Haig donned the Captain Spaulding getup he made famous in Zombie’s  House of a 1000 Corpses. He then performed a wedding ceremony for two hardcore Horror loving couples. Sarah Schultz, winner of this year’s Miss Scarizona pageant (as Jessica Stabbit), which is held annually at Mad Monster, married her beloved beau Josh as Sid officiated the ceremony. I’m almost certain that witnessing Captain Spaulding uniting two in (un) holy matrimony is a once-in-a-lifetime experience I won’t soon forget.

Mad Monster Party Wedding

Photo Credit: Tiffany Blem

The acting veteran has no plans on slowing down either, with a number projects currently in the works. To this day, he fondly remembers working alongside one of his own heroes, Lon Cheney. And like his fellow celebrity guests, Haig expressed enormous gratitude for being blessed with such opportunities, meeting fans young and old, and still being able to do what he loves.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

Until Next Year…

At Mad Monster Party, I was filled with warm fuzzies as I wandered around the gathering, engaging with fellow passionate and like-minded horror fans. I had a wonderful time meeting fans from all over the country, having a few beers and partaking in intelligent, insightful discussions about everything Horror. It’s honestly one of my favorite aspects of attending cons and film festivals.  It’s one of the few occasions where, for an entire weekend (or more), you can really be yourself, make new friends, and bask in the glory of meeting and chatting with your heroes. It’s like a sabbatical for us who love to see slaughter in our cinema, a true delight.

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

As I was able to at least get a brief word or two in with every single featured guest, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Arizona and my time at Mad Monster Party, wishing it was longer.

Closing up a con is always bittersweet. But, until next year, keep it creepy!

Photo Credit: Christopher Harris

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