HORROR-RAMA TORONTO: The Post-Mortem

The past week or so has been a busy one, to say the least. On top of starting a new job (hooray for gainful employment), there’s also been a number of screenings at Toronto After Dark ( and yes, I will be sharing my thoughts on said films very soon. Honest ) . But first, let’s talk about the other genre gathering that just happened this weekend.

Let’s talk about Horror-Rama Toronto.

This was year two for the upstart horror convention, spearheaded by Shock Till You Drop’s new editor-in-chief, Chris Alexander, and Suspect Video‘s head honcho, Luis Ceriz, and it can be summed up succinctly: growth.

More space ( in downtown Toronto’s The Hyatt Regency ), more guests, more panels, more vendors… just more all around. A sizable leap from last year’s inaugural show, but keeping the cozy ambience. And it’s a nice change of pace. I’ve done my share of the larger conventions across Canada – on both sides of the curtains, as well – so to go to a con where socializing with fellow congoers with room to spare and no need for yelling… it’s actually very welcome.

There’s definitely more than enough room for the American-style “hotel con” here in Toronto, especially one that caters to a group that… let’s be honest… tends to get the sharp end of the bloody stick at the larger conventions.

I hope this year was a success. I hope it continues to grow with each year. And I know I’ll be back again next year.

For now, enjoy some photographic highlights from this year’s show. And thanks to Chris Alexander and Luis Ceriz for letting me play in the sandbox for the weekend.

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Three familiar faces, welcoming guests to the show. I swear I saw one of them move…

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Where wolf? There! There wolf!

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It was a rough weekend. Rougher for some more than others.

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So many vendors. SO many movies. Seriously, between VHS, DVD, rare import, there was literally something for every taste.

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MonsterMatt Patterson, artist and full-grown “monster kid”, selling his works at his table.

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Convention organizer and weekend MC, Chris Alexander holds court.

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George Mihalka, director of the Canadian slasher cult classic, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and all around awesome guy.

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Con guest, and horror icon, Michael Berryman meets a fan.

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Steve Niles, comic writer extraordinaire, with the book (fittingly so ) that put him on the map and revitalized the horror comics industry. That’s not hype, folks. That’s just science.

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Tristan Risk (AMERICAN MARY, THE EDITOR) with Holy Scar, up to no good at the booth…naturally.

Next time: Highlights and recommendations from the tenth annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Honest.

Horror-Rama Toronto : Back For Another Round

 

To hear Chris Alexander tell it, he’s the last person to expect behind the scenes at Toronto’s newest convention. “Well, I was never fond of conventions. To this day, I’m still not. I’ve always found it a disingenuous way to meet your idols. I would rather sit down and have a beer with somebody that I dig and talk about what they do, instead of dropping down a chunk of money and see them for a fleeting moment. I just found – even back in the early days of Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear – I just felt that I would rather be on Mars than be here.” With that in mind, Alexander (with a little help from his friends) organized the little con that could: Horror-Rama Toronto, an intimate and cozy convention that stands at the opposite polar end of the spectrum of bigger shows like Fan Expo Canada.

Chris Alexander and Luis Ceris

Chris Alexander and Luis Ceriz

Horror-Rama is spearheaded by Alexander and Fangoria‘s marketing director Cheryl Singleton and Luis and Donna Ceriz, proprietors of the Toronto video store/cultural institution Suspect Video, with a singular focus in mind: horror, and nothing but. It all started with Fangoria’s involvement in the London, Ontario based horror/exploitation gathering, Shock Stock“When I took over on Fangoria, the boys who run ShockStock asked if I would come onboard – give them an ad, take a table –  so I thought “why not?” . It was here that Alexander made first contact with Luis Ceriz , and the wheels started moving. “Even though I knew Luis from Suspect Video in passing, I didn’t really “know” him. It was the first or second year we just started connecting and talking. He’s one of the sweetest guys, the most honest and open people I’ve ever met in the business. I trusted him instantly. He’s also very relaxed, when you’re around him, you feel very relaxed.  With Luis, it was a very practical, very calm suggestion that we band together for this convention. I brought in some other people I was working with to let them handle it while I was doing other things. Those people left, so it was just Luis and I left standing and I said “well, fuck, let’s just jump in and do it.’  Let’s make the kind of convention that we would want to go to as fans of weird stuff.  So we put it together, with friends who love this stuff, working in various ends of the industry, and did it because we love to do it, not because we want to make tons of money. We started this thing with zero capital, and just jumped in. It was the most pleasant, relaxed thing going into this. The guests that we had brought onboard – we populated it with people that we liked. I don’t even think of it as a convention, I like to call it a two-day party.”

The golden rule for Alexander and Ceriz for keeping the show on track? Simplicity. “Suspect has been around for a long time. It’s real “mom and pop” – just (Luis) and his wife that own it – so Luis was key in keeping it very simple, keeping it friendly and fun, no bullshit. Deliver on what you can promise: that was the philosophy for the show. Just promise everyone a good time and I think honestly, that was the secret to our success. To keep it simple. The first year was successful, as far as the vibe. Financially, I would say it was successful too, because we didn’t lose any money. I would say that for a first-year show, that’s pretty successful.”

As part of this year’s upgrade, the show has moved to a bigger venue (downtown Toronto’s Hyatt Regency), emulating the smaller convention model much more prevalent in the US. “The last venue we had was cool and bohemian, but it was also difficult. We weren’t allowed in on the Friday night before the show – we didn’t get in there until 6 o’clock in the morning, and the show opened up at 10 or 11. We were trying to build this thing with very few people. So we wanted something closer to central Toronto… a great room in a great hotel. It’s close to everything, and they gave us the run of the joint.”

As well as space-wise, the show’s guest list for Year Two has also expanded, with such names as Mick Garris, perennial icon Micheal Berryman, horror comics superstar Steve Niles and a quartet of scream queens, including Linnea Quigley, Sybil Danning, Debbie Rochon and Tristan Risk, among many others. “We have a variety of guests this time, but it’s still all our friends. People that we know and love.”

With Horror-Rama’s inevitable evolution underway, Alexander remains pragmatic about everything, keeping the initial spirit and tone first-and-foremeost. “It’s the same show, the same heart, just a little more refined. It’ll still be two days of hanging out with people who like weird shit.”

Horror-Rama takes place October 17th and 18th at The Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Toronto.
Advanced tickets are on sale here. 

Keep watching for more updates and interviews, as we get closer to showtime.

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A CONVERSATION WITH: BARBIE WILDE

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I have always been fascinated by (serial killers), because I am SO not like them at all. I am very empathetic, I care too much and then you have these “lone wolves” going through society, picking off the masses.

Barbie Wilde

“Damaged people, ultraviolence, murder and explicit sex—what’s not to love about her work?”

Chris Alexander, Fangoria Magazine

 

I first met Barbie Wilde last year at Toronto’s HorrorRama, after an extended period of online correspondence and social media chit-chat during my time at Rue Morgue Magazine. The only reason this merits any mention at all is that Barbie is a funny and genuine sweetheart.  A sweetheart with a talent for the dark and disturbing. Make no mistake, there’s more than a little bit of darkness swirling beneath that pleasant facade. Fortunately for us, she’s put it all down on paper for our sick amusement.

After gaining rave reviews for her 2013 debut novel, the violently satiric THE VENUS COMPLEX, Wilde now gears up for the release of her latest work: VISIONS OF THE DAMNED, a collection of short stories previously released in various publications, all gathered together for the first time courtesy of Short, Scary Tales.

While best known for her work in front of audiences and the camera, writing has been in WIlde’s blood for a very long time, dating back to age 11 when she wrote and performed in a play about the ride of Paul Revere. “I’ve always been writing and trying to get stuff off the ground for many years. I cannot say how long it took to get THE VENUS COMPLEX to get out. That was very difficult and I went through a lot of problems. It started out as a novel about a plucky female forensic psychologist tracking down a serial killer. And I got really bored. I thought “this is like every other book I’ve ever read”. The things that have always interested me are the “whys”, the psychology of the characters. And so, I thought ‘what if it was all told through his head?’ It was very difficult to get a publisher to take it on, and I actually gave up on it for years.”

hellbound heartsSoon, though, Wilde was approached to contribute to a horror anthology being overseen by Paul Kane and Marie Regan, one with very near and dear ties to her heart.  “I was still struggling to get the book published (they) said “listen, do you want to write a story for this anthology, Hellbound Hearts? All the stories had to be based on the novella,The Hellbound Heart, that Clive wrote, which of course I knew well. So I thought “oh, gosh, guys. I’m really sorry but I don’t really write horror. I am interested in crime.” And they went “oh, go on. And that was the first horror story I ever wrote.

Her entry in the Hellraiser-themed anthology, Sister Cilice, formed the first in a trilogy which featured a loosely-based and reimagined version of the iconic “Female Cenobite”. ” The Lead Cenobite in the book IS female, so it while it wasn’t “The” Female Cenobite”, it was “a” female Cenobite. From there, a lot of people asked me to write horror stories. It’s not to say I was reluctant, but I was wondering ‘why is that?’. I guess people assumed because I was in this horror movie, that I was just going to do that.”

There were other forces at work, outside motivations to get the novel done. “The expression is “when acting left me behind”. That’s the sweet way of putting it. I think you’re very lucky to get any acting work whatsoever after 35. After that, I went into casting, which was really soul-destroying – if you still have any hopes of acting – when you see how casting directors work. And you wonder, oh, is it really that brutal? Do they really sit there, open an envelope, look at the picture and then throw it into the wastebasket without even looking at the C.V? That was a real hope-sucker. In the end, I decided ‘okay, this is good’ because it would force me into doing what I always wanted to do, which was my serial killer novel. Paul Kane, bless him, suggested Comet Press and they loved it.

With the publication of THE VENUS COMPLEX, Wilde found herself with new fans, including those who were venus-largeinterested in helping her work reach a wider audience. Chris Alexander, FANGORIA MAGAZINE’s Editor-In-Chief, published “three” of DAMNED’s stories (Zulu Zombies, “The Cilicium Pandoric” and Writer’s Block) in Fango’s sister mag, GOREZONE and also contributes the collection’s foreword. She’s also gained the support of Vancouver filmmakers, Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary, See No Evil 2), who bookend the anthology with the afterword. ” I met them in Texas and I was so excited, because I thought Mary was brilliant. I had looked over and they were running towards us through this throng and we immediately had a Cenobite-Soska “selfie” session. We have been firm friends ever since. I had a long chat with Jen in Chicago, and that was when we realized we were both Canadian so were able to talk about growing up in British Columbia, which has its own special pleasures.

When it comes to writing horror, Wilde always roots the most supernatural of premises in reality. ” When I was given the letter U for Uranophobia (the basis for DAMNED’s story, GAIA), I thought whoa, there aren’t that many phobias to start with. What I really wanted to do was write a story about home invasion, because I think that’s scary. So I had to twist one of my phobias into this rather fantastical one, this Fear Of The God Of The Sky.”

With VISIONS OF THE DAMNED slated for release on October 31st (but of course) , the advance critical review has been very positive. “I’ve just been just been thrilled with the response so far. I didn’t know how people were going to take them.” So, what’s next for Wilde? More writing, obviously, including a potential sequel to THE VENUS COMPLEX.  She’ll also be on the convention circuit again, promoting the release of VISIONS OF THE DAMNED. They say there’s no rest for the wicked, and Barbie Wilde is living proof.

VISIONS OF THE DAMNED is available for pre-order through Short, Scary Tales Publications . Barbie Wilde is also online at Twitter, Facebook and at her website, barbiewilde.com .

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