That’s right, boys and girls! I came. I saw. I ended up hungover. Danno Does DragonCon is now officially Danno DID DragonCon and it’s phenomenal. Where to begin? The costumes? The panels? The parties? I know. How about the traffic nightmare that was my trip to Atlanta? I left at 9am Friday morning, intent to get to the con around 1pm local time. Accounting for a quick meal and fueling up halfway there, I didn’t expect the ride to take more than four hours tops. I took into account everything…except for the fact that Murphy’s Law (If it can go wrong, it will) has always governed my life. I had a quick but underwhelming breakfast at a local café and got as far as Monteagle Mountain southeast of Tullahoma before the first snag in my plan. For whatever dubious reason -and I’ve had everything from downed lines and mudslides to piss poor timing of road construction- the mountain pass was closed leaving traffic on Interstate 24 completely shut down.
No worries. I, like almost everyone else in the 21st century, have GPS on my phone and quickly plotted a route around the unfortunate snare. Getting off the interstate at Pelham I took Highway 41 south intent to bypass the problem all together and be on my way in no time. What I didn’t know was that 41 and nearly every other path around the mountain were completely jammed thanks to the influx of traffic and the baffling inability of Tennesseans to drive on a sunny day. There were accidents everywhere and, after spending half an hour stuck on 41 I rerouted myself via Google Maps on what should have been a prolonged and harrowing journey along winding mountain roads to freedom. Instead, it turned out to be an eleven mile long detour that took me back to the overcrowded Pelham exit on I-24. Finally, in a move of desperation, I made one final attempt to cross the mountain via Gruetle-Laager, TN.
Ever been to Gruetle-Laager? Ever heard of Gruetle-Laager? Driving through a heavily wooded, underdeveloped part of Grundy County, the horror fan in me saw striking similarities in the area that would have been perfect for a slasher movie. Imagine the setting of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance had a baby. That baby is Gruetle-Laager and it was a bizarre drive to say the least. Even after escaping the mountainous, rural sprawl of Gruetle-Laager and crossing Monteagle Mountain, traffic continued to be a nightmare until I reached Rossville, Georgia where I stopped around three in the afternoon for a late lunch. I won’t recount the nauseating details of my Krystal experience.
Finally, after wading through one traffic jam or another, at about a quarter to eight I finally arrived at the Hyatt Regency where I picked up my press credentials and started on the journey that is DragonCon/
So the first thing I decided to do after attending the annual parade was to go to the bottom floor of the Hyatt where the Heinlein Society and Life South were taking blood donations from any attendee or guest willing and able to give.
Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Corpus Christi, and much of the Texas coast days before DragonCon 2017 was set to begin in Atlanta, Georgia. Meanwhile, in La Tuna, California yet another wildfire is claiming homes and lives. These are just a couple of the bitter reminders nature offers regarding the fragility of human life and the brutality that sometimes finds us when we least suspect it. At DragonCon, it made the annual Heinlein Society sponsored blood drive all the more important.
This was my first year at DragonCon and, continuing this trend of firsts, I decided I’d give blood as well. I was incredibly nervous as I rode the escalator to the lower levels of the Hyatt Regency, not sure what exactly to expect. The folks from Atlanta’s Life South immediately put me at ease. A group of professionals who have devoted their time to collecting blood and plasma donations from some of the 80,000+ attendees, guests, and staff making DragonCon come to life.
When I sat down in the waiting area there were nearly forty other people in queue waiting to screen and donate. In a matter of minutes I was whisked away to a cubicle where a nurse spent some time asking me questions to make sure I was an excellent candidate. A painless prick of the finger and an awesomely cool blood test in which I watched my drop of blood begin to clot on a glass slide I was ready to go.
Meanwhile, At DragonCon…
I met so many amazing people during my weekend at DragonCon. From the amazing cosplay of Eliot Thomas and Bella Mello (interview and article coming soon) to the guys at For All Intense Porpoises (also coming soon) and some very cool vendors, musicians, and haunted houses it was a full weekend of shaking hands and making contacts that are going to lead to some cool stories down the line. But coolest of all was getting the chance to meet some of my favorite musicians and filmmakers including Voltaire and Lloyd Kaufman!
I’m not a big crowd person. I usually feel uncomfortable in large groups because I don’t know anyone and a lifetime of being the weird kid in class has left me a little bit introverted. But DragonCon was completely different. For the first time in my life I dove head first into a teeming sea of strangers and swam through new waters meeting people, talking to them, and sharing in a way I never expected to be able to do. The tiny pink strip on my badge that read “PRESS” was a good icebreaker with some who were eager to talk about what they’re doing in terms of their fandom while my own wide eyed wonder at the encounters was more than enough to make most conversations come to life. There’s one area, however, where I never fail to make an ass out of myself.
I’ve talked to an astonishing range of people in my life. From my career in emergency service to interviews I’ve done for 52 Weeks of Horror and never once have I been genuinely intimidated or awestruck to the point where words fail me. But put me face to face with someone whose work I admire and I become a giggly child who can’t formulate a coherent sentence to save his life. It happened in 2005 when I met Bruce Campbell during his book tour for Make Love* The Bruce Campbell Way. I was 20 and absolutely ecstatic about the chance to meet my all time favorite actor. I knew everything I was going to say to him. I knew how cool and suave I was going to come across. I was going to shake his hand, get his autograph, and it was going to be a moment that would resonate in the annals of horror history.
Instead, I stammered and made some incomprehensible chin joke before his scribbled his initials in my book and moved on to the next person in line.
The first installment of the new It hit theaters this week and I had quite a lot to say about the reboot of one of my all time favorite Stephen King stories.
I went up to the local Malco last night and watched the latest big budget horror reboot, It. We’ve covered ad nauseum my feelings about remakes so I’ll spare you the tired monologue. With a huge marketing campaign and a steady build up over the summer leading to an absolute frenzy in the horror community, there were a lot of mixed feelings going into this. Many, like me, have been jaded by the slew of shoddy, big studio remakes that have done little for the genre while others fretted that the new Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) would trample the memory of Tim Curry’s performance as the terrifying, titular monster. Some were also upset that the film was being made in two distinct parts, violating the timeline hopping narrative of the book and the 1990 miniseries. No one is more critical of a mainstream horror flick than I am.
That said, director Andy Muschietti’s It is quite possibly one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in the last year and, without a doubt, the best big studio horror production I’ve seen in a decade.
We all know the story of the Losers’ Club, a group of social outcasts who stumble upon the horrifying truth that a monster is kidnapping and eating children in the small town of Derry, Maine so I won’t bother going into a lot of detail about the overall plot. Instead, let’s start with everyone’s number one concern entering this movie. Bill Skarsgard is legendary as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. What he does in two hours with this character is nothing short of phenomenal. From his voice to his facial expressions to the general feeling of disquiet he breeds in the role is nothing short of a villainous masterpiece. Rather than trying to recapture the dry, sarcastic wit of Tim Curry, Skarsgard takes on a deceptively innocent persona marked by a steadily increasing feeling of menace and perverse pleasure in the torment of the children at the heart of the story.
Clowns, man. It’s always been clowns. Since I was a kid, there has always been something that has simultaneously intrigued me and repelled me about them. I love seeing them on television. Watching Bozo in the mornings before school was one of the highlights of my day, when I was in grade school. Meanwhile, villains like the Joker have always titillated me and the clown antagonist in film and comic books has always been a favorite of mine. That said, Stephen King’s It terrified me the first time I saw it and now, some 27 years after the original adaptation of the book aired on television, I can say without a doubt that the idea of the clown as a villain is probably one of the most horrific and chilling concepts in modern horror.
Find whatever villainous Punchinello you like, none of them will ever hold a candle to Pennywise. In the 1990 miniseries, Tim Curry gave a chilling performance as the monstrous, child-eating beast of Derry, Maine, who lured kids into the sewers and devoured them all while hiding behind the façade of a clown. Curry’s booming, distinct voice and deft performance, coupled with a chilling, sarcastic dialogue made him a cultural icon that still permeates the horror genre to this day. Clowns can be scary and, in that great pantheon of blood-sick buffoons, none was more prolific in the nightmares of children than Curry’s iteration of Pennywise the clown.
I’ve got a lot more DragonCon action still to hit this week before I gear up to go south yet again for the Women in Horror Film Festival. Being held in Peachtree City, Georgia (just a few miles south of Atlanta) it’s the first year of the festival which focuses on women both in front of and behind the camera. I’ll be getting a chance to talk to the founders of this incredible new festival, Samantha Kolesnik and Vanessa Ionta Wright as well as an opportunity to meet and talk to several other filmmakers participating in this inaugural event. I’ll also be meeting up with Ed and Melissa Lyons as well as Renaye Loryman of Alfred J. Hemlock for a chance to talk about the short film that has been amazing audiences on the indie circuit all over the world. Tickets are still available for the film festival which will also feature horror icons like the Soska Sisters, Amanda Wyss, Heather Langenkamp and Greg Nicotero (to name a few). With screenings, vendors, and discussion panels it’s definitely not an event to be missed.
You can still get tickets here.
Meanwhile, I’m working on the true second edition of A Thousand Little Deaths, Those Things’ll Kill Ya’, and a new collection of short stories entitled Random Fears. I’m hoping that all three will be completed by the end of this year and ready for release by spring at the latest. The biggest issues I’m running into (other than needing more time in the day) are in creating new cover images and in my self marketing. A good cover is what’s going to catch a reader’s eye first and good marketing is what’s going to get this out there and sell copies. As I’m not much of a visual artist and even less a salesman, I’m going to have to hunt down people who are willing and able to help me on my budget which is, well, peanuts. If you want to help me out, please go visit my Patreon page and become a patron. For just a dollar a month you can help me increase my budget so I can climb out of obscurity and start producing regular works of fiction for you to enjoy. Subscribe here and make all of our dreams come true.
Updates on the Nashville Zombie Walk and other cool, horror related stuff coming soon.