Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Johnny California: Famous Monsters of Filmland Fest

 by JB

Me and these monsters go way back.

Once again, I was able to take advantage of one of Hollywood’s pleasures and attend the recent Famous Monsters of Filmland Fest at the TCL Chinese Theater over Friday the 13th weekend. I am lucky to live in movieland!

I will spare you my twisted history with this venerated magazine. Suffice it to say that, in my youth, Famous Monsters of Filmland was required reading for monster kids like me. It was edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, who became “Uncle Forry” to the children of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s who loved monster movies.
The magazine itself has had a troubled history. In brief, the problems began when, due to publication issues, the magazine went dark in 1983. Cut to 1993, when an enterprising young man named Ray Ferry revived the magazine, with Forry as editor... at least for a little while. Then Ferry and Forry had a falling out. Ferry fired Forry. Forry sued Ferry. Forry won. Ferry declared bankruptcy. Enterprising young man Philip Kim bought the rights to the magazine from the bankruptcy court. Kim revived the magazine for a time. Forry passed away; he could not be revived.

Philip Kim recently sold Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine to Corey Taylor, lead singer of the band Slipknot. This past weekend’s film fest was the inaugural event of Mr. Taylor’s ownership. If the film fest is an indication of the future, the magazine is in good hands. I wish Taylor well.

When I first saw notices about this film festival on the Twitter machine, I thought, “How can I NOT go to this? This was made just for me.” I fought my wallet, my hatred for leaving the house, my hatred for driving anywhere, and my hatred for physical movement of any kind for any purpose, and bought myself the FANGTASTIC FRIDAY ticket. Boy, am I glad I did!

These are my people.
As my wife wrote so eloquently at the end of last year, the TCL Chinese Theater is dripping with history. It may also be the single most beautiful movie theater ever built. It’s more like a cathedral... an impressive place to dream. I avoided eye contact with the crazed-looking religious zealot trying to block the front courtyard. He wore a boombox on his chest in a baby carrier, said boombox blasting Christian Rock. The boombox’s father screamed at me as I exited my Uber that I was going to HELL and there was nothing I could do about it.

Now, THIS is the way to start a monster festival!

As I sat and enjoyed the festival, I couldn’t help but compare it to similar fests I had attended in Chicago for forty years. Hollywood has its film-festing game down pat. Consider the following list my notes on how any film event organizers could easily up their game:

1. It’s called a soft opening. When theaters host day-long film festivals, they often let patrons form a long line outside the theater prior to opening the doors. Stop that! I realize that sometimes logistics dictates this dubious practice, but, when possible, let people in early. Reward people for planning ahead. Your posted start time is 8:00 pm? Let people wander in at their leisure starting at 7:00 pm. Genius! You’ll thank me.

2. The lobby is your friend. Someone at the new FM arranged to have life-sized monster statues fill the lobby. Look! There’s Frankenstein’s Monster! There’s Vampira near the bar, languishing on a fainting couch! There’s Hitchcock! There’s a full-scale wax model of Forry Ackerman himself! I have died and gone to heaven. Film Fests should fill the lobby with cool stuff—not just vendors.
3. Prints matter. Adam Riske and I have long commiserated about our mutual hatred of repertory screenings that begin with a DVD player menu. Shit! We once attended a screening of Creature from the Black Lagoon at Chicago’s late, lamented Patio theater that featured star Julie Adams in person, introducing the film and sitting for a Q & A afterwards. The screening was advertised as being in “3-D,” but it was actually in “Glaucoma-Vision.” It was impossible to wear the glasses because they gave you a headache, and taking the glasses off turned the screen into a blurry mess. People are paying to see the movie: MAKE SURE THE MOVIE IS SOMETHING THEY CAN SEE. I can’t believe I need to say this out loud.

The prints at the Famous Monsters of Filmland Fest were astounding. The new owners clearly care. The staff of the TCL Chinese Theater clearly care. Maybe because it’s such an iconic Hollywood theatre, their bar is set much higher. I’m guessing filmmakers themselves frequent this place and have high standards for presentation and projection. I later learned that we were not watching 35mm prints; they were showing Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs) and they looked GREAT. The Chinese Theater must have the best digital projector ever made. Outstanding images! Great sound! Bravo, TCL! Bravo, FM!

4. People enjoy extras. The fine folks behind Fabulous Fleischer Cartoons Restored! were at the Fest, selling merchandise and overseeing the screening of a classic cartoon before each feature. Long ago, going to the movies was an evening’s entertainment: short subjects, newsreels, cartoons, and coming attractions were all part of the mix. Now all we get is Noovie, featuring the dubious charms of Maria Menunos. Sigh. The cartoons screened at FM Fest were carefully curated to include the horror-themed shorts, as well as thoughtful acts of serendipity, such as screening the Betty Boop short "Minnie the Moocher" before Creature from the Black Lagoon. The connection? Friday night, John Landis introduced Creature. John Landis also directed The Blue Brothers, in which Cab Calloway sings… “Minnie the Moocher.”
5. Clean, Clean, Clean! Here was a first. Though the Chinese Theater was very well-attended last Friday night, the management cleared the theater between each screening and cleaned the theater thoroughly. This theater employs a small army of workers to sell concessions, clean the theater, and... be still my beating heart... actually USHER. You can find actual ushers at every auditorium entrance, armed with red flashlights, ready to help you find your seat.

Locally, the “Music Box of Horrors” would benefit from cleaning the theater during the fest... more than the “no times” they currently clean the theater during the fest.

Clearing the theater also helped the management and the FM Fest people distinguish between patrons who bought tickets to a single screening and people who had festival passes. How are you going to know if people have tickets to a particular screening if you don’t check?
Obviously, I had a great time. I got to see the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera for the first time in an honest-to-God movie theater. I got to see the Boris Karloff Frankenstein in one of the most beautiful theaters on Earth. I got to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D, introduced by fellow monster kid John Landis. Landis’s speech was a lovely tribute to Forrest J. Ackerman. Landis loved Famous Monsters of Filmland as a kid, and as an adult became friends with Uncle Forry. (You can see Forry sitting behind Michael Jackson in the theater part of the "Thriller" music video, which Landis directed.)

I got to talk to an usher. I got to talk to fellow film fans. Someone came up to me and asked if I were Guillermo del Toro. (Regrettably, I am not.) Turns out, Mr. del Toro was only a few blocks away that night at the new Academy Museum, hosting a screening of Avatar: The Way of Water.

Hooray for Hollywood!


  1. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! You were that close to John Landis!? (If this happens again can you please ask him if he's got an extra copy of Akroyd's phone book first draft of the Blues Brothers script lying around? Legit holy grail for me)

    Thanks JB! Love this write up...so living vicariously thru ya!!

    Peace .n. Monster Movies 4 Eva


  2. You’re in luck. If memory serves, the paperback novelization of The Blues Brothers was based on that elephantine script Ackroyd dubbed “Apocalypse Blues.” I remember reading it in the Eighties. I bet you can find a used copy on Amazon or eBay. I remember a lengthy section about two band members working security at a suburban tract house development that wasn’t quite finished…

    1. AHHHHHHHHHHH! seriously!? i definitely have it but havent read it as i assumed it was based on shooting script. sweet tap dancing hezues im gonna read lickety split! Thanks again for all your west coast reporting. I dig it the most!

  3. Del Toro should direct the Forry Ackerman biopic.