More than twice as many people attended San Diego's Comic-Con International than rallied at the Democratic National Convention this year. The overwhelming scope of the four-day mega-fest, held July 22-26, still boggles my brainpan. Surely the official estimate of 75,000 must be on the shy side, yet even if it is, Comic-Con still ranks among the largest funny book and pop culture conclaves on terra firma. Most notable, however, is that in the more recent of the convention's 35 years, some nosey-Nellies to the north have taken interest in an equally BIG way. That's right, H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D has wised to the "reach-the-geek" buzz building potential of that many 18-to-34-year-olds with disposable income! Tender morsels of schlocky goodness doubtlessly lurk amid Tinseltown's frenzied foisting of dizzy celebs, never-before-seen clips and promotional nicknacks before the peepers of potential moviegoers. Hence this strange adventure in geekdom ...
Day One: Thursday
12:30 p.m. The leering press has arrived. What a staggering sight to behold! More than a THOUSAND booths full of goodies, each howling for my attention, appear to extend to infinity in all directions. In reality, Comic-Con's gargantuan vendor room sprawls FIVE FOOTBALL FIELDS in length and one across. With shoulder-to-shoulder crowds swirling around me, I chuck my afternoon itinerary and dive headlong into dealer delirium, fearful it may be my only chance. Godzilla will just have to celebrate his 50th year of Tokyo stompin' without yours truly.
3:00 p.m. Can't believe I've made it halfway through and haven't bought anything yet. Before me lies 11,000 square feet of all things Star Wars. Thought I'd never live to see a lifesize Darth Vader fashioned from Legos! Nearby, costumed fans mug alongside an X-Wing fighter.
3:30 p.m. Nyah-nyah! I met Daisy Duke! I met Daisy Duke! Catherine Bach catting around Hazzard in those blue-jean cutoffs did a naughty number on my early adolescence. Now I have a personalized momento punctuated with both a heart AND a smiley face.
4:00 p.m. Over at the Seduction Cinema booth, Andrea Davis coos with delight as I'm the very FIRST to recognize the rising starlet from her salivatory performance in Dr. Jekyll & Mistress Hyde. Shucks, bet she says that to all the fellas! We talk shop about writer/director Tony Marsiglia who she's known for eight years and describes as "one of a kind" with a "vision ahead of his time." He has an eye for talent, that's for certain! Look for their next collaboration in Seduction's Lust for Dracula this November.
5:30 p.m. Made it! Although my wallet IS lighter from the journey. Resistance was futile when it came to Art Asylum's Comic-Con "exclusive" Enterprise with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan battle damage. Finally landed one of NECA's Hellraiser puzzle boxes without sacrificing my fiscal soul. Along the way, I ran into a rather hairy Dog Soldiers cast member and an all-shook-up Storm Trooper.
6:00 p.m. What better way to rest my yelpin' dogs and attempt to make some sense of all I've seen today than to head upstairs for the Fanthropology 101 panel discussion? UCSD professor Stephen Potts' opening salvo:
"If you are here, you are almost certainly one of THEM! A member of the tribe of fans. We're going to examine the ways of our tribe. Its fundamental beliefs and paradigms. Its rites, rituals and practices. Its attitudes and status as a culture within a larger culture. Proceeding from the ancient an honorable philosophical tenant, 'Know thy self,' I hope we can look at fan culture from the standpoints of the psychological, sociological, anthropological and even the quasi-religious to the end of understanding the big questions: What are we doing here? How long do we have? If there are so many of us, why aren't we running things!?!"
Imagine the firestorm THAT set off! Back to the hotel to regain my lifeforce.
Day Two: Friday
10:40 a.m. Crowds are starting to increase, so I escape to the relative serenity of Richard Hatch's session. No, not the nekkid one. We're talking Apollo of Battlestar Galactica fame who turns out is quite the chatterbox. For years, he was the face of Battlestar's revival bid, only to be benched in favor of the Sci-Fi Channel's controversial retool. He's since been afforded an olive branch in the form of a guest spot in the new series as a Nelson Mandela-esque political prisoner. During the Q&A, Richard nervously pegs me as a "metrosexual" when I quiz him about his horndog exploits on Star Dates (an unsung reality series where Z-list celebs attempt to grope commoners).
Noon Mr. Hatch also delivers, in Bill Shatner halt-speak, the final line of Sci-Fi's Battlestar teaser: "This IS -- the first day -- of the new era!" Either fans dug the miniseries as much as yours truly or ol' Apollo is a fracking awesome opening act, because producer David Eick and writer Ron Moore can't believe the enthusiastic reception. (Last year's Starbuck scandal nearly sparked a slug fest.) Personally, Cylon succubus Tricia Helfer and Grace Park's regendered Boomer are easy to excessively applaud. I absently jot in my notebook, "Ms. Helfer has more teeth than Julia Roberts," whilst Mr. Moore earnestly champions the "dark vs. light" realism of his doomsday series as more ER or NYPD Blue than Schindler's List in Space. The first of 13 episodes debuts in January and the miniseries DVD streets this November. (Stay tuned for my Original vs. Remake review.)
1:00 p.m. What NOT to say when stumping your scuba-combo-meal chiller: "These sharks swim with people at 10, noon and 3." Bless Blanchard Ryan for her honesty, though it'll take more than that behind-the-scenes confession to sink Open Water, the Sundance sensation in which she and Daniel Travis prune up and fend off hungry natives as a power couple abandoned at sea. They certainly topped the food chain of this Lions Gate show 'n' tell, but Saw, a sick flick with a severed leg on its poster and the tagline, "How much blood will you shed to stay alive?," is bound to far further stir the loins of gorehounds!
3:45 p.m. On the way back from a late lunch, I swing through the vendor hall and stumble upon the strangest sight of the convention: a bikini'd blonde in an aquarium! The promotion? Species III!!! "Wonder how much they pay her?," asks fellow gawker and schlockmeister John Landis. I quickly pester him for a photo.
4:15 p.m. Hmmm. Got my pine-scented Jason Voorhees air freshener and cardboard hockey mask, must be time for Paramount's Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan shindig. They've unearthed FIVE machete malcontents: Ari Lehman (1), Warrington Gillette (2), Richard Brooker (3), C.J. Graham (6) and, the king, Kane Hodder (7-10). Naturally, all of 'em think the DVD box set will be just swell -- even though it omits Parts 9 and 10 from New Line and lacks reintegrated carnage long lamented by Friday fans. New Blood director John Carl Buechler hopes aloud that strong sales will encourage Paramount to truly lavish the films. Later, the crowd splits over Freddy vs. Jason, however the majority sides with Kane, still dumfounded by his being ousted for a Jason with more "sympathetic eyes." But Mr. Lehman reunites the room when he concludes: "FANS BRING JASON BACK TO LIFE!" Awwww!!!
5:50 p.m. The siren call of Jessica's Biels has lured me into Hall H -- the 6,500 seat vortex of major studio ballyhoo. If I squint, I can almost spot her about 167 rows of sweaty geeks ahead. Ironically, the furthest of FIVE jumbotrons affords me a better view. Right purty! Not sure WHY she's dressed as though she just jiggled off the set of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. We're soon treated to delish clips of Jess whupping bloodsuckin' hiney as Kris Kristofferson's daughter in Blade: Trinity -- the first of the franchise to feature a Pomeranian vampire AND a gratuitous Care Bears reference.
6:30 p.m. I dash over to the indie filmmaker panel to hose off a layer or two of Hollywood hype. Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, per usual, has hijacked the proceedings to the delight of the audience. Bill Plympton and Max Allan Collins do, however, get more than a word in edgewise among Tromatic rants on "giant devil-worshipping conglomerates."
7:10 p.m. What's billed as an "all species welcome" presentation on the Klingon lifestyle is actually the most disastrous dinner theater conceivable. I'm all for a heaping helping of gagh as the next Trekkie, but Klingons in Hawaiian shirts ain't my idea of stellar yuks. Beam me up!
Day Three: Saturday
9:55 a.m. Today's the most trafficked day of the con, so I've arrived early and rarin' to go. First stop, to bow before the greatness of Sid Haig. Mr. Haig was best remembered for creative character roles in Jack Hill exploitation classics such as The Big Doll House and Spider Baby before his reintroduction to a new generation as the furiously foul-mouthed Cap'n Spaulding in House of 1000 Corpses.
10:30 a.m. Acting on a hot Saw tip, I delve deeper into the hall to greet the Jigsaw Killer's malevolent minion. Howdy Doody he ain't!
11:10 a.m. Ladies and gents, we have COREY CONVERGENCE!!! Corey Feldman AND Corey Haim prove they've still got it, whatever that is, when Teen Beat squeals meet their arrival on stage. They're touting the extras-lavished special edition of The Lost Boys, which as Mr. Feldman deadpans, is the story of "guys in ripped jeans biting each other." Warner previewed a zany "video commentary" featuring Feldman devilishly evaluating Mr. Haim's performance. Notable revelations from The Coreys:
Feldman blames the film for perpetuating mullet hairdos.
Haim had an insatiable addiction to Archie Comics.
Feldman "butched up" by watching Rambo movies.
Both jokingly deny crack use back then: "That came later."
Haim feared becoming a "Murder Capital" statistic.
Feldman tells a fan "you and I have spoken more" than he did on two films with a "dedicated, silent" Kiefer Sutherland.
11:40 a.m. Their session's barely over and scads of folks are already cued up for Corey autographs. But there's an outside chance I'll have my own audience, so I use this break in my all-day marathon of panels to say hello to Erin Gray of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
12:30 p.m. Outside, there's a poster of a gal running in a bloodied flannel shirt, arms flailing, with someone else's fillet'd face lashed to her noggin. Inside, in the darkest corner of the hall, a disco's worth of fan flashbulbs capture a preamble photo op by the cast of The Devil's Rejects.
Filming wrapped barely two weeks ago on writer/director Rob Zombie's psychos-on-the-lamb sequel to House of 1000 Corpses but the gang's all here: Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding), Bill Moseley (Otis Driftwood), Sheri Moon (Baby Firefly) and, replacing Karen Black as Mother Firefly, is Police Academy veteran Leslie Easterbrook as we've never seen her before. Zombie also introduces the fresh meat: Dawn of the Dead legend Ken Foree as Charlie Altamont -- pimp daddy of a wild-west "whore ranch," Deborah Van Valkenburgh as his limberest filly and Mr. Show goofball Brian Posehn as a not-long-for-this-world Jimmy Cracker.
Without further ado, a teaser trailer rolls featuring Spaulding doing a slow-mo strut down a desert road flanked by Baby and Otis with the Alman Brother's "Midnight Rider" swelling behind 'em. Zombie apologizes, "It doesn't show much!," however the spaghetti western look does give an excellent indication of just how different this sequel will be:
Zombie's watch words: "Darker, more serious. Realism."
MPAA will be a problem: Intense violence, chicken effin'.
Rough cut runs 3 hours: Anticipate deleted scenes.
Documentary crew followed entire production.
Expected in theaters January or February 2005.
Sid has a socks-on "[email protected]#% scene" with Ginger Lynn.
Yes, Baby does the laugh again -- ONCE!
Poshen, a diehard horror fan, "felt like a Make a Wish kid."
Biggest FX hurdle: "Keeping enough blood on hand."
Dr. Satan footage was filmed, uncertain if it'll be included.
There will not be a third installment.
Key to Haig's even edgier Spaulding: "I just let the natural asshole in me come out!"
Moseley, intensely "bummed out" by repeated takes of a sadistic sex scene, was told by Zombie: "Art is not safe."
Other stars: Michael Berryman, Danny Trejo, E.G. Daily and William Forsythe as the vengeful Sheriff John Wydell.
Zombie thinks he's "contractually obligated" to revisit the House DVD, yet, "Going back to reedit that movie seems like a nightmare to me. ... It's like going back and retaking your high school yearbook photo again because you think you might look cooler now."
1:50 p.m. There's nary a soul in Kane Hodder's autograph line. I wander over and introduce myself as his Project: Metalbeast fan. He gives me the same good-natured groan and, "Oh, you're the ONE!," he always has. Just yesterday, fans were lined 20 deep during the entire Friday the 13th panel as Kane signed one paper hockey mask after another. (Eventually, one savvy fan started a trend when she realized she could get all FIVE Jasons' signatures.) "That warmed my heart," I tell him. "Yeah, that was great!" Then he adds sheepishly, "But I think it's effected today's sales."
2:00 p.m. Lest anyone think being a member of the leering press occasionally affords me special privileges, well, you're right. Do I get to hobnob with Jessica Alba, Keanu Reeves or any of the other so-called Hollywood elite in attendance? NO! But for the first time that five-letter word -- PRESS -- on my laynard DOES amount to something ...
I MET THE EFFIN' COREYS!!!
2:30 p.m. I park my keister after following an impossibly L-O-N-G and winding line into Hall H. Nearly four hours from now, one of my biggest B-idols, Lance Henriksen is scheduled to appear. It's my intention to work my way to the front -- one row at a time.
2:50 p.m. Rosario Dawson squeals with glee over how little she wore as an "S&M superhero" in Frank Miller's scintillating Sin City. Atta girl!
3:50 p.m. A bleary-eyed and puppet-weary Trey Parker and Matt Stone debut deliriously hilarious clips from their MARIONETTE epic Team America: World Police. I pee my pants twice.
4:15 p.m. Goldang it, ladies, maybe it's exhaustion talking, but Jude Law IS dreamy. Although, I'm not too punchy to resist pointing out Mr. Sky Captain is also a bit of a bore.
A collective "BOOOOOOOOO!!!" answers Anacondas. I tend to agree. A bigger disappointment was the absolutely absurd Resident Evil: Apocalypse footage. Mila Jovovich sailing her cycle through a stained glass window and firing obnoxiously slow-mo CGI bullets into equally awful cartoon critters. Yikes!
5:30 p.m. On an atomic level, the entire hall perceivably vibrates as Comic-Con reaches critical mass: BUFFY'S HERE!!! BUFFY'S HERE!!! I've never been more TERRIFIED!!! They outnumber me 6,499 to one, so I attempt to blend in, forcing an adoring gaze as Sarah Michelle Gellar graciously navigates repeated pledges of undying love and attempts, futilely, to steer her flock toward talk of her J-horror remake The Grudge.
6:30 p.m. My hiney hurts. I've managed to squirm my way into a seat on the sixth row just as uncomfortable as all the others in this joint. Doesn't matter, though, I'm giddy as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan: IT'S LANCE!!! IT'S LANCE!!! Now, everyone around ME has never been more terrified. Trouble is, the PR goober from Fox won't let the man talk! Grrrrr!!! He also earns my award for Most Poorly Veiled: "OH, [email protected]#&! THAT WASN'T WHAT WE STUDIO NIMRODS EXPECTED!!!" when The 6,500 overwhelmingly roars in favor of an "ugly [email protected]#%er" victory in Alien vs. Predator. That reaction's seconded when the first footage, anywhere, is screened of intergalactic fisticuffs that crescendo with a Predator swinging an Alien by the feet like a Louisville Slugger. I wet myself ... again.
7:15 p.m. A cruel consequence of spending the afternoon being a marketing mark is not being front 'n' center at 3 o'clock when the Masquerade tickets were snatched up. Probably too many fairies and elves for my taste, anyway. I go back to the hotel and sulk about not meeting Lance.
Day Four: Sunday
10:30 a.m. All good things must come to an end. The dealer hall's starting to look used up and empty like Bourbon Street on New Year's Day. Vendors are even getting antsy enough to do the unthinkable -- slash prices.
11:20 a.m. Mick Garris directed small-screen Stephen King adaptations of The Stand, The Shining and, soon, Desperation. Right now, he and star Jonathan Jackson are pleased as punch to sneak-peek King's Riding the Bullet. "It's not less than a horror movie," Mick explains. "But more than a horror movie." He later signs my Psycho IV: The Beginning poster: "MIND YOUR MOTHER!"
Noon The prize for Best Celebrity Quote goes to Jennifer Tilly: "I strapped on my bosoms just for this crowd!" That's one way to start tongues wagging for the Halloween release of Seed of Chucky -- the long-delayed continuation of Universal's surprise hit Bride of Chucky. Ms. Tilly, introduced by the tiny terror hisself, is as manically unpredictable as she is yummy, which lends to the convention's most delicious theater. When each of two juicy clips are rolled -- one featuring Santacide! -- she shimmies off stage, in high heels, to watch with the audience as she claims director Don Mancini barred her from the editing room after suggesting too many changes. Don't touch a thing, Don, it's a gas! Here's the highlights:
Rated R for violence and "hot puppet nudity."
Begins eight years after Bride.
Tilly stars as herself making Chucky Goes Psycho.
Furry-foot'd Billy Boyd voices said seed ... Glen.
Glen believes he's asian due to "Made in Japan" birthmark.
Tiffany thinks Tilly has the world's "most beautiful voice."
John Waters is typecast as a pervy paparazzi.
Rapper Redman directs The Passion of D'Mary.
Tilly backstage of the movie-within-the-movie: "I'm so tired of hearing about Julia Roberts. You know, I should've played Erin Brockovich and I could've done it without the Wonder Bra! ... Look at me, I'm an Oscar nominee for chrissake and I'm a [email protected]#&ing puppet!"
12:30 p.m. From the creators of the British anti-sitcom Spaced comes a romantic comedy -- with zombies -- called Shaun of the Dead. It's hysterical, it's gory as all get out and it's made "for geeks, by geeks." Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have seamlessly blended yuks and yucks to create a zombified treat poised to transcend the genre. It's already got George Romero's thumbs up and, with nearly nightly con screenings, it appears EVERYONE who saw it has reconvened to smooch Simon and Ed's backsides. Except for one hostile heckler: "DON'T YOU THINK YOUR MOVIE'S LIKE A TOTAL RIP OFF OF DAWN OF THE DEAD, WHICH WE'VE SEEN LIKE SIX TIMES BEFORE!?! WHAT'S UP WITH THAT!?!" Uneasy hissing erupts until Cabin Fever auteur Eli Roth's cover is blown and he sprints from the auditorium hollering, "SHAUN OF THE DEAD RULES!!! SHAUN OF THE DEAD RULES!!!" Look for Shaun in stateside theaters this September. "We want to take Resident Evil 2 on!" (It roundly trounced the Dawn remake in the UK.)
1:20 p.m. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night! I finally snag that Pumpkinhead figure I've had my eye on since Thursday. (Three bucks well spent!) Then it's back over to the Seduction Cinema booth to blush in the presence of CineSchlocker muse Julian Wells. We're mutual fans, actually, as she's convinced I'd make an excellent sapphic-friendly screenwriter. Can't wait to see her latest in the critter comedy Bite Me! Yet my four-day foray into fringe cinema could know no more fitting finale than with a visit to Tromaville! Lloyd Kaufman, B-royal Debbie Rochon and penis-monster-packin' Jamie Greco welcome me with open arms, empty wallets and an infectious zeal for Troma's latest excretion -- Tales from the Crapper!!!
I've been a lot of strange places and seen a lot of weird things -- Roswell's UFO Festival leaps to mind -- but Comic-Con is equally out of this world. It's all things to all geeks. More than 600 hours of programming on every aspect of pop culture beckon whether you're an aspiring artist, collect comics, watch too much TV, live for anime, hoard action figures, direct independent films or lust for the latest blockbuster. Intrigued? See ya next July!