Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Toronto's Horror-Rama Con 2015 Recap

Horror-Rama, the brainchild of Luis Ceriz, owner of Toronto’s cult DVD rental store Suspect Video and Chris Alexander, film director and managing editor at Shock Till You Drop, was a blast!  I went to the first two-day event last year and it was fun, but had heard there was some confusion about attending panels due partially to the location. The Hyatt Regency Hotel was the new, more spacious location this second year of the con with a great room for panels. There were nooks where you could sit and collect yourself, a lounge, large vendors, and a celebrity meet & greet area. 

I shopped a little too enthusiastically and ended up with some great items and gifts. If someone had told me there was a bridge in New York they could sell me, I would have handed them my credit card before they finished their sentence. It was just that kind of day.

I attended Saturday and got to meet my favourite graphic novel writer Steve Niles again. And then there were the great panels, from Land of the Dead fan favourite Big Daddy aka Eugene Clark who I met for the first time, to a screening of the slasher flick Old 37, and the giallo Contamination at the very end of the day. I caught a Q&A with director Mick Garris, the Scream Queens Redux panel and the Blood in the Snow 2015 preview.

Director, producer and writer Mick Garris has adapted more Stephen King stories than any other filmmaker and is also well known for creating the Masters of Horror series.  He was down to earth and in his laid back style, shared how he approached King’s stories, including The Shining and the backlash it got even though the mini-series garnered better reviews than the Kubrick version; casting and the relationship he nurtured with actors like Ron Perlman and Tom Skerritt; and his lighting techniques. Garris went on to confirm that if he had his choice, the King story he would jump to direct would be Jarrod’s Game and not The Long Walk, a story he is often asked about. He also announced a horror anthology he is working on with four other directors called Nightmare Cinema.

Later on, the Blood in the Snow Festival, a 3-day Canadian horror film event from November 27-29th revealed their 2015 lineup. It was exciting to see how far they have come, from a movie night at a now defunct theater festival director Kelly Michael Stewart started to the now often sold-out screenings where many films get distribution after participating in the festival. My must see films this year are: feature films Farhope Tower, Save Yourself, and Bite, the film that caused a ruckus because it’s apparently stomach turning; and shorts Seiren, Grace, and Kurayami no Wa. This year, there are big prizes for the participating directors, a guest jury and seminars for industry folk. The festival also boasts having a female directed film on opening night for the 3rd year in a row. 

Check out the rest of the lineup here:

The panel I was most interested to attend was the Scream Queen Redux, where the Women in Horror Month and Ax Wound magazine founder Hannah Neurotica would moderate a Q & A of women directors and actors discussing their experiences making horror. The panelists were Jovanka Vuckovic, former Rue Morgue editor and director of the short The Captured Bird and an upcoming Clive Barker adaptation; Debbie Rochon, best known for her role in Tromeo and Juliet and writer for Fangoria magazine; Linnea Quigley, known for her role in Return of the Living Dead; Meg Walter, veteran actress of The Devils; and Tristan Risk, burlesque dancer turned actor seen in American Mary among other films. 

The first question posed was whether the panelists thought the term “Scream Queens” was limiting to them or a celebration of what they represented in horror. They all agreed that historically, the term described women helplessly in peril a la Fay Wray, but now it has been reclaimed as a good thing Rochon noted, using Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the recent Scream Queens TV show as examples.  They felt it gave the connotation of women who ceased being the victim and came out as the ass-kicking final girl.

Jovana Vuckovic, Hanna Neurotica, and Debbie Rochon
Neurotica then moved to the question of their experiences as women in the industry and the obstacles they may have met because of their gender. This was a great question as the women debated about how they were accepted. Vuckovic said she wanted to believe that there wasn’t any sexism, but she has experienced it, from minor infractions to obvious snubs. She noted that in the film industry, you feel it more especially with the boys club that seems to dominate all the decisions.

Although later in the discussion, Vuckovic stated that she disliked having to label directors as “female” or “woman”, it’s a necessity at the moment. She wants to create options for women, for example the upcoming horror anthology film XX, with all women directors and an almost all female crew. She was passionate about addressing the systemic sexism in Hollywood and the surprising problem of women in power not helping their own. Rochon continued that vein by mentioning some women are still using their sexuality to get ahead of the competition, seeing their sisters as a threat and leaving them behind. 

(L to R) Rochon, Linnea Quigley, Meg Walter and Tristan Risk
Walters had a different perspective. She had never experienced anything negative and was always treated well on set. She emphasized how important it was for women to speak up and ask for what you need, and if you see something you don’t like, say something. She felt you could be a victim or “become better”, putting your best self forward as negativity can often sabotage your goals. While this is a great attitude, the other panelists debated whether this would work due to factors beyond a woman’s control. It was a lively discussion with great points made from both sides of the story. I think it is important to see the struggle and overcome it by speaking up, because from my experience, if you don’t ask, you won’t get.

From the acting side, Quigley, Risk and Walters emphasized communication on set. For Risk, setting boundaries right away eliminated any surprises or uncomfortable situations on set, and Quigley said that direction is key for actors. Just because they were veterans didn’t mean they knew it all.  Directors, new and experienced, need to communicate to their actors what they want for the film. 

The next question was about their fans and how the ratio of men to women has changed. Risk said that it has definitely changed for her as horror is more accepting and accepted of and by women since we are more visible in the media. Quigley noted that there were hardly any women at cons and the growing roles for women represented by Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver helped women identify with the genres and come out to cons. The panel also addressed how women are seen on screen in horror.  Walter felt the films made weren’t women friendly with female victim heavy plots, but Vuckovic saw the final girl as more prevalent.  

Neurotica had an interesting viewpoint. She thought women feel more unsafe than men in daily life and being a target or victim is part of the horror genre, but felt that there is a need for great scripts and films to tell the story properly.  Risk attributed lazy writing as the problem.  She felt there needed to be more complexity and whole female characters in general. 

The Q & A ended on a positive note. The panel felt that with an audience that is smarter and with complex characters like Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and directors like the Soska Twins, there is strong hope for change. Asking for help, being heard and taking up space, as well as the general public accepting strong women will open minds and doors for women in horror and the film industry at large. That was a great takeaway from the discussions and being in a room with such intelligent, passionate artists left the audience with a sense of empowerment.

Pixie and the lovely Hannah Neurotica
With intriguing panels, a supportive community and great horror memorabilia, Horror-Rama 2015 is definitely a con that every horror fan needs to attend.  Here’s to another successful year, and many more to come!

About the Author
Carolyn Mauricette is the founder of Rosemary's Pixie and contributing author to the Woman in Horror Annual and The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films. She lives in Toronto, Canada where she is also a programmer for the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. You can follow her on Twitter (@rmpixie)
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