Every die-hard fan of film conventions knows the game ain’t what it used to be.
Once upon a time, horror movie conventions were a weekly thing from early spring until well into the winter. Every weekend you could travel somewhere in the country and meet one of the guys who played Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers; or, if you were lucky, Pinhead or one of the Leatherfaces. You could fill your film collection with low-budget gore films and listen to filmmakers tell their from-the-trenches stories of working with the likes of Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman. All for one (usually) reasonable price.
But horror, and pop culture in general, shot out of the undignified “nerd shadows” about a decade ago, opening up this niche world to the general, usually eager, public. But now, even fourth-string, already-killed-off actors from The Walking Dead command huge autograph fees and they still attract long lines and even longer wait times. Sometimes, you have to pay just to shake the person’s hand.
The vendor rooms offer fewer handmade items, focusing more on those “hard-to-find” and “officially licensed” gewgaws direct from the studio. And because of the ballooning prices, the average fan is often left in the cold, watching as the lesser-interested swarm over the tables in the hopes of finding something to sell on Ebay later in the week.
Local actor, writer, and filmmaker Tim Gross wants to fix all that. And if “fixing” isn’t possible, he at least wants to give us all something to remind us why we love what we love in the first place.
This Saturday, July 28, GrossFest will be held at the historic George Washington Hotel in downtown Washington, PA. Guests include local filmmakers (Zane Hershberger and Justin Seaman (The Barn), Justin Channell (Die and Let Live), out-of-towners like Thomas Berdinski (The Giant Rubber Monster Movie) and James Balsamo (Cool as Hell). The fest also boasts a full schedule of movies, panels, talks, and horror-loving merchandise. You won’t have to stand in line for hours to meet the “One Big Guest” for 32 seconds before being punched out of line by “Security.” This is a show for the people, by the people.
“Well, [GrossFest] started off as a joke last spring and became the joke that never went away,” Gross tells me. Following the announcement that Horror Realm, Pittsburgh’s staple convention was closing down, Gross and his friends saw a void that needed to be filled. But they didn’t have the same resources that the more-established show had, a situation all first-time shows find themselves in. But that didn’t discourage Gross
“I kept getting emails, phone calls [asking] if this was actually going to take place. And at the same time my brother Tom Gross, [and friends] Terrence and Tammy Main, ran with the idea.”
Gross first connected with this world by volunteering his time to work as an extra on indie zombie and slasher movies. He then turned his attention to “Gross Movie Reviews,” his long-time blog that turned into a series of impressively-thick books. He and fellow filmmaker Daniel Boyd teamed up to make the Pittsburgh-based “yinzer-horror” film, Jagoff Massacre.
GrossFest follows the guidelines of the original cons: Keep it small, keep it simple. It’s all about people who love this stuff gathering in one place to love it together. Who cares if it’s weird, bizarre, bloody or non-PC.A lot of people revel in the “sick and twisted” catharsis of horror. Movies will run all day and stick around for the GrossFest Awards at 4 p.m.
Gross and company hope GrossFest will be “a yearly event that all independent filmmakers, authors, and vendors … look forward too,” and garners enough continued support to keep it going for a long time.
Filmmaker, author, teacher and journalist Mike Watt is the Pittsburgh Current’s “Film Guy.” Contact him at email@example.com