Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Creation Convention Part II: Geeks on Parade

Back in August 2010 I wrote about a science-fiction/comic book convention that I attended with a few friends of mine twenty-five years earlier. Some new information from that trip has recently been unearthed, and at the risk of exposing the true geeky nature of my past, I'd like to present this new information here. The original blog was titled Creation Convention--25 Years Later, and should probably be read before delving into this sequel, if you haven't already done so.

When we last left our daring conventioneers, they had experienced a sci-fi/comic book nirvana of sorts. It's true that the Special Guests featured at the convention may not have been all that "special" in reality, but to a novice convention attender like myself they were just fine. Exactly who were these guests? Well they had one each from the worlds of "Star Trek", "Doctor Who" and comic books. When you hear that a special guest from "Star Trek" will be attending the first thing that pops into your head is a name like William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy. Then you think that maybe those A-listers might be too much to ask and you downgrade your expectations to someone like Walter Koenig or Nichelle Nichols--still people you'd love to meet. The Special "Star Trek" guest at this particular convention was none other than... Judson Scott! Judson Scott? Yes, Khan's right-hand-man from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan". Not exactly a household name, but at least he had some other early 80s sci-fi credentials. He also appeared in the series "V" and was the star of the short-lived TV show "The Phoenix".

The "Doctor Who" guest was even less "special" to me. I was (and still am) only familiar with the Tom Baker ere of the show. While I wouldn't expect Tom Baker to make an appearance at the convention, I would have been happy to meet one of his sidekicks (or I suppose I should say companions)--like Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan, Leela or Romana (especially Leela or Romana!). Turns out they did have a companion--but it was Mark Strickson, who played Turlough, the companion of the Doctor after Tom Baker. This was probably a good guest to have on the list, as he was the companion of the then-current Doctor (played by Peter Davison). Unfortunately, I had not seen any of the Peter Davison episodes of the show and therefore had no idea who Mark Strickson was.

The special guests from the comic book world were Wendy and Richard Pini--the husband and wife team responsible for the comic book series Elfquest. I wasn't really into Elfquest (or comic books in general), but it was the favorite title of one of my friends at the time, so meeting them really made his day.

All of this information was already reported in the original blog. So what's new? Well, a couple months after writing the first blog I managed to find an old photo album that had some pictures from our trip to the Creation Convention. Then, just last week, I found an old folder that contained some random things...including my autographs from the convention! I'd like to present some of these items here to conclude the story of the August 1985 Creation Convention in Boston.

Here we are at the convention. Note how they went all out in promoting the show: a nice 11x17 sign propped up on an easel. Very impressive. Oh well... Also, note that we already have all our "stuff" from the convention. This photo was obviously taken as we were leaving, but it makes a good intro if you ignore all the swag we're carrying. I'm the one in the green jacket by the way.

Here we are again, looking very awkward but happy to be immersed in all the geekiness the convention had to offer.

This is a photo taken during the convention's "famous" no-minimum-bid auction. This was right after I had the high bid on the Star Trek communicator. I was a bit frightened to think I had just handed over FIFTY-FIVE bucks, but was also VERY happy to be the proud owner of a communicator!

And here's that very same communicator, more than a quarter-of-a-century later--still in my possession. Nowadays you can get high-quality toy replicas of communicators, phasers and tricorders that actually have working lights and sound effects. Mine was a non-functioning replica, but was pretty much all you could get back then.

And, here's our illustrious guest star Judson Scott surveying the scene and preparing to make his grand entrance onto the stage!

Meeting Judson Scott for autographs and awe-inspiring awesomeness (or something like that).

All these years's my very own Judson Scott Autographed photo. Note that I had him write "Long live the Concept" too (the "band" my friends and I were in at the time). What a geek!

Here's my autographed postcard (sorry, but I wasn't about to shell out the cash for an 8x10 for someone I didn't even know) of Mark Strickson. This photo also solves a long-time mystery. A friend who couldn't make it to the convention was a big fan of Doctor Who, so we got him a Mark Strickson autograph too. The funny thing was that we could never figure out what he had written on the photo. It looked like it said "To Kurt, Love: Mark Strickson". To this very day my friends and I STILL use "Love: Mark Strickson" when signing off on a letter or e-mail. Now I can look at my photo and see that he actually wrote the more appropriate, and less creepy, "Yours: Mark Strickson". Of course, my friend doesn't have his photo anymore, so I suppose it's still possible that it was indeed "Love" and not "Yours" on his photo, but that doesn't seem too likely...

Here's my copy of Elfquest #1 autographed by authors/artists/creators Wendy and Richard Pini. Unfortunately this was back in the day when Sharpies weren't ubiquitous at shows like this and they signed it with a regular pen. I'll bet it would have looked a lot more impressive to have their autos scrawled on the cover in sharpie rather than on the first page inside in ball-point pen, but what are you gonna do?

Finally, I have to make a correction. In the original blog about this convention I mentioned that I thought it was the very first convention I had attended. I wasn't really sure of this fact, but it seemed likely enough. I now have photographic proof that I was wrong though. A funny thing about this convention is that I remember that we were particularly struck by a young lady named Holly (we never got her last name). She was a fan and fellow convention-goer dressed as a character from the miniseries and subsequent TV series "V". Even with all the "special guest stars" present at the event, Holly really was a highlight for us. I think it's at least partially because she was an attractive female dressed up as a character from one of our favorite sci-fi shows. Did I mention we were geeks?

Anyway, I remember that we actually ran into Holly at more than one convention. It was a great thrill to see her a second time (in a better costume and accompanied by a like-dressed male companion--bummer). Well, when I found the photos from this convention, there was also one from the other time we met Holly. It's obvious from the photos that the other meeting was at an earlier convention (based on many factors, including my appearance and Holly's less-elaborate costume). I guess now I have to figure out exactly when that first convention was. The mysteries continue...

Here's the photo of Holly and her fellow alien visitor from the August 1985 convention.

And, here's the photo of us with Holly from the first time we met her at an earlier convention (almost certainly my VERY first convention). Note my "Star Trek II" phaser squirt gun and my attempt to imitate the character Donovan from "V". Poor Holly! What she must have been thinking.  I may have mentioned this already, but yes, I was a geek.

Well, I guess this finally concludes this extended trip back in time to the Boston Creation Convention of August 1985. Hope it was worth the 25+ year wait!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Movies My Sister Made Me Watch

In thinking about what kinds of things inspired me as a kid and what exactly made me the Monster Dad that I am today, a couple things seem like obvious influences. First was the fact that Boston-area TV stations (pre-cable days) showed TONS of great (and not-so-great) horror/sci-fi/monster movies--especially noteworthy was the WLVI Channel 56 Saturday afternoon show Creature Double Feature. The other impetus was my interest in paranormal/crypto mysteries: Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, ghosts, ancient astronauts, ESP, spontaneous human combustion...

Another thing which has to be considered when looking at what made me what I am today is the fact that my sister Dyan (and yes, I did ask her permission before calling her by name in this blog) took me to a number of movies when I was a kid that ranged from somewhat iffy to downright inappropriate. Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not complaining in any way. In fact, I'm eternally grateful to Dyan for exposing me to some great (and ultimately very influential on me) movies that I never would have seen as a kid, or at least would have only seen the watered down TV versions later on.

And, don't get me wrong, she didn't only take me to see scary movies that I was really too young to be going to (actually there were probably only a couple of those). Many different kinds of movies were seen in those days. The scary ones stand out, but most of the ones covered here were important ones to me in one way or another, and I probably wouldn't have seen them for many years (if ever) if it weren't for my sister.

I remember going to see a lot of movies at the now-defunct Worcester (MA) Galleria cinema. It was a three-screen theater run by General Cinemas. When you went to the theater from the mall you used to pass by a big mural of the surface of the moon on the corridor wall. It was a great way to prepare for an imagination-firing movie experience. My nephew (Dyan's son, a few years younger than me) would also accompany us on most of these trips. To illustrate how young we actually were at the time, General Cinemas had a catchy tune that would play as the company's logo went up onscreen before the movie would start. My nephew and I would get up in the front of the theater and dance around to the little tune like a couple of...well...little kids.

Here's an example of General Cinema's intro:

Pretty catchy tune, huh?

So, what were the movies that I was subjected to? At The Galleria I remember seeing "Das Boot" when it was first released in America--in German, with subtitles and everything. That was an experience. That movie was a bit "grown-up" to me at the time, but not terribly inappropriate. The 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was another story. Now, that's a movie that freaked me out. It's a great combination of horror and science-fiction that I still think is a great movie to this day--but I'm not sure I was quite ready for it as a nine-year-old. Another fright-fest was "Creepshow". Some of the individual stories were scarier and more intense than others, but the one about the monster under the stairs was the standout one for me. It was one of those moments where I was convinced that something was going to grab me from under my chair. "Creepshow" came out in 1982, which means I would have been 13 at the time--not a tyke by any means, but I still remember it as being a very edge-of-my-seat experience. The fact that the monster reminded me a bit of Bigfoot (which I was very much into at the time...and still am for that matter) probably didn't help. I was lucky enough to meet Tom Savini--the special effects and make-up man responsible for making "Fluffy" (as the monster is affectionately nicknamed)--at a horror convention in Worcester in 2008. It was great to be able to tell him how much his creation scared the crap out of me all those years ago.

Another moment when I was convinced something was going to grab at me from under the movie seat was when we went to see "Young Frankenstein". Though the movie came out in 1974, when I would have been five, I'm pretty sure it was re-released a few years later. I'm not sure exactly how old I was when we went to see it, but can say that I really only remember the beginning. As much as this movie is decidedly a comedy, and has become one of my all-time favorites, when seeing it for the first time I didn't really get the comedy part of it. I thought it was a straight-out horror movie. The black-and-white photography and the accurate re-creation of the look and feel of a 1930s monster movie probably had a lot to do with that. I don't remember much from that screening (or how long it actually took me to realize that it was supposed to be funny), but I do recall that in the first few minutes I was indeed pretty scared and had that uncomfortable sensation that something was under my seat and about to grab me in the darkened theater.

I also saw a couple documentary-type movies with my sister which need to be mentioned in this conversation. She took me to see "In Search of Noah's Ark" (1976), which was right up my paranormal alley. as mentioned above, I had a keen interest in odd, unsolved mysteries like this. One of my favorite shows on TV was the Leonard Nimoy-hosted "In Search of...". "In Search of Noah's Ark" wasn't scary in any way, but I found it incredibly fascinating as a kid. I remember that when we left the cinema I looked up in the sky and saw a cloud formation that looked like a gigantic cross. It was probably just a couple of crossed contrails or something, but I was convinced that it was a sign from above that Noah's Ark was really sitting up on Mount Ararat, waiting to be found. I guess it didn't occur to me that we saw only one of many screenings of the movie in one of many cinemas that were showing it. If it had been a true sign, then I would assume that the same sky-based cross would have been made visible over every theater showing the movie every couple of hours as the movie ended and the audiences watching it went to the parking lots all across the country (and what about screenings that got out after dark?). But I digress...

Another "documentary" (which was actually a docu-drama of sorts, but was a documentary as far as my youthful mind was concerned) that we saw was "Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot" (1977). This would probably have to be considered the ultimate going-to-the-movies-with-my-sister movie. Not only was the movie supposed to be scary, the fact that I believed in Bigfoot and was very scared of the creature made it all the more terrifying to me. A few years ago I was finally able to watch the movie again on DVD (though I did see it once on TV a couple years after seeing it in the theater). It is pretty obvious now that the movie is a movie (and not a documentary), but as a kid I really did think that what I was watching was real. I remember that we saw this movie at the Interstate 495 cinema in Milford, MA. The reason I feel confident about this memory nearly thirty-five years later is that when we left the theater after the movie my sister had my nephew and myself climb up on a giant snow pile in the parking lot (of K-Mart, which shared the lot with the theater) and throw snow on her windshield--similar to how a number of Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) threw boulders from a cliff onto the cabin of some loggers in the movie--because she didn't have any windshield washer fluid and wanted to clean her windshield before we left.

Not every movie my sister took me to was at a traditional movie theater. I remember her bringing my nephew and myself to see Woody Allen's "Sleeper" (1973) at the Worcester Public Library (most likely sometime in the late-1970s). It was always cool to see an interesting movie in a non-traditional setting. True, like "Young Frankenstein" was more of a comedy than a horror movie, "Sleeper" is more of a comedy than a Science-Fiction movie, but as a kid watching it in a library it was very much straight-up sci-fi to me.

The best non-movie theater movie my sister brought me to was "Forbidden Planet" (1956) at the Worcester Art Museum. It was a great introduction to one of the best early science-fiction movies, and the art museum setting was a great place to see it for the first time.

Finally, here's an example of a movie that we didn't go out to see. While this one was watched on TV it still ranks as one of the scariest movie experiences of my youth--and my sister was once again very much involved. The movie "The Curse of Bigfoot" (1978) was being shown on late-night TV sometime in the early 1980s. I was sleeping over at my nephew's house and my sister (knowing of my interest in Bigfoot) wouldn't let us stay up late enough to watch it (it didn't come on until around 2:00AM) but agreed to set the alarm and wake us up in time to see it. Her house was out in the middle of the woods (literally surrounded by the woods and about a quarter-of-a-mile from the road on a gravel driveway). Not only that but the living room, where the TV was located, had a wall of windows that faced the woods. The movie is a terrible example of filmmaking, but the combination of my age, the fact that it was a Bigfoot movie, the very late hour and the fact that the entire wall facing the woods was made up of windows (that Bigfoot would have had no problem looking in at us through if he happened to come loping up to the house) made for one of the creepiest experiences of my whole life.

What would I be now if it weren't for these movie experiences I had as a kid? I might be a bit more "normal". I'm pretty sure I'd be a bit more boring. And I definitely don't think I'd be Monster Dad today. All I can say is Thank You Dyan for scaring me (and maybe "scarring" me a bit too in the process) all those years ago. I wouldn't change those priceless, terrifying memories for anything!