Sunday, October 26, 2014

Flint: The Entrepreneurial Undead

Yesterday my wife and I drove up to Flint for an early celebration of Halloween.  It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, sunny and cloudless with an occasional confetti of wind-blown leaves.  We were headed to the annual Flint Horror Convention, held this year at the Riverfront Banquet Center in the downtown.  I reassured my wife—who is not a horror fan—that this was essentially an “arts and crafts” show, which was sort of true. My atonement is almost certainly going to include required attendance at an opera or a ballet in the upcoming year.

I had never been to a horror convention before, so only had a general sense of what to expect.  Most of the conventions I attend are professional ones that focus on helping the disabled recover from their injuries and have a better quality of life.  This was not the theme of this year’s HorrorCon.  As we drove north through the downtown, the streets of were eerily devoid of any people.  This seemed appropriate. On this afternoon the fibrillating heart of the city was busy with the entrepreneurial displays of the undead.

Flint has seen tough times, but its citizenry are resilient and enthusiastic about their town.  One could see this spirit in a free monthly newspaper put out by Flint Comix & Entertainment.  There were piles of these on a table just outside the exhibit hall.  On the front page was a sketch of an enormous anthropomorphized Cthulhu leaping out of a stormy sea.  The newspaper was jammed with both local and national comics—including Mark Tatulli’s wonderfully morbid Liō. 

The paper also contained a letter from the mayor, (“Our Flint: Strong and Proud”), a discussion of cryptozoology, an interview with a writer and two cast members of Night of the Living Dead (1968), and ads from various businesses involved with dining, local entertainment, collectibles, graphic art, astrology and so forth.  The Flint Institute of Art is featuring an exhibit of “The Art of Video Games” until mid-January.  Just wonderful stuff.

Not far away, dozens of costumed folks were lining up for photographs in the Petrifying Pin-Up Pageant, an initial step in the eventual crowning of the Bride of Flint Horror Con.  Some appeared as familiar characters from horror movies—a larger than life Leatherface caromed about the display tables—and some were creepily unidentifiable.  An artist nearby was busy inflating and twisting balloons into enormous, intricate creatures that dwarfed the children watching him work.  The program also included a selection of over a dozen short films, several by local producers, but I declined to inflict any of these on my patient spouse.  I will check these offerings out next year, when I arrive solo.  

Inside the exhibit hall were tables laden with all sorts of horror-ware—about 40 venders in all.  Several folks were hawking movie memorabilia, posters and DVDs.  But a number of folks had artfully and playfully incorporated movie horror imagery into everyday household objects.  For example, one clever person had fashioned tissue dispensers in the shape of the Hellraiser puzzle boxes.  There were lunchboxes decorated with images from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and drink coasters with stills and headshots from various horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s.  (I purchased one of these that was decorated with a grainy black and white photo of the archetypal haunted house.)

This was the most interesting aspect of the Flint Horror Convention:  that people would carefully and lovingly incorporate nightmarish imagery into everyday objects.  Not to make too much of this, but one wonders if this recycling of the frightful is a psychological mechanism to get power and control over the horrors of life—which themselves are becoming “everyday” in our life: serial killers, hatchet wielding terrorists, a new plague, a new war.  Are they as frightening if you can set your drink down on top of them? 
Certainly it was bracing to see so many phobias, obsessions and general twistedness displayed so openly.  Sadly, the bins of ensanguined teddy bears and decapitated dolls’ heads received little attention from wandering and startled customers.

Chuck Williams, one of the celebrity guests at the HorrorCon, manned a table featuring some old DVDs, among them John Dies At the End (2012).  When I mentioned recently seeing this film and being very impressed, he insisted I pick up a copy of a Collector’s Edition Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), an earlier film also written and directed by Don Coscarelli, creator of the Phantasm series.  Bubba Ho-Tep looks like a lot of fun—Elvis defends a retirement home against an ancient Egyptian Mummy!  (Williams played Elvis’s friend in Bubba Ho-Tep, and has since acted in and produced a variety of films.)  There were a number of other horror celebrities featured, representatives of everything from The Exorcist to Batman to The Evil Dead.   

A highpoint for me was getting to meet several members of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers, which allowed me to purchase a freshly autographed edition of Erie Tales, the annual anthology of short fiction produced by local writers in the GLAHW.  Wonderful stuff about horrors indigenous to our home state.

Judging by my initial visit to the Flint Horror Convention, the field of horror entertainment is alive and well—or at least vibrantly undead.  My only criticism, a minor one, was the absence of any food or drink vender.  This left attendees with nothing to snack on save the flesh and blood of the living.

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