Thursday, August 10, 2023

My Flashback Weekend 2023 Recap

 by Patrick Bromley

One of the best weekends of the year got even better!

2023 marked my third year as one of the "hosts" (and my first year as website official!) of Flashback Weekend, the horror convention held in Rosemont, IL, in late July/early August every year. It was started by Mia and Mike Kerz 21 years ago and has grown into the biggest horror con in Chicago, with three days of panels, parties, contests, vendors, celebrity guests, live music -- everything you could want as a horror fan.

One of my favorite things about Flashback is that all the money it raises goes directly into funding the Midway Drive-In, which is owned by the Kerzes and is the best drive-in I've ever been to (we went to a lot of drive-ins during Covid). That felt especially relevant this year as the drive-in celebrates its 90th anniversary. As they say, the drive-in will never die.

Friday of Flashback kicked off with some time in the vendor room before the first panel of the weekend (and my first panel as host) with Terrifier stars Jenna Kanell and Catherine Corcoran. They talked about the unique challenges of working on such a low budget film and with a director who was also responsible for doing all of the makeup effects. Like all of this year's guests, Kanell and Corcoran were kind and funny and generous with their stories, sharing that they had become dear friends through the course of making Terrifier. It's amazing that something so sweet could come out of a movie that fucked up. I enjoyed talking to them so much that I when I went to my hotel room that night I put on Terrifier again even though I had just watched a few days prior. It's the movie that got the biggest of what Adam Riske calls the "con bump," which is a movie you end up liking even more because the people behind it rule.
Next up was the Kane Hodder panel. I've actually hosted his panel for the last three years, so I've grown accustomed to the vibe of interviewing him and his sense of humor. Because this year he would be doing a Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood photo op in costume as zombie Jason (fans could choose between a masked or unmasked photo) and because this year marks the movie's 35th anniversary, I decided to keep my questions focused on Part VII and what it was like working with director/effects artist John Carl Buechler and playing Jason for the first time. Kane is always a fan favorite at his panels and this year continued that tradition.
The next panel saw co-host Nick DiGilio interviewing stunt performer Dick Warlock about his legendary career, with Warlock later telling Nick that it was the best interview he had ever done (this is what you're missing if you're not coming to Flashback!). That segued into Friday's main event: a conversation between horror hosts Svengoolie and Joe Bob Briggs. JBB's co-host Darcy the Mail Girl was scheduled to attend as well, but canceled at the last minute to be with her sick cat (her cat passed away over the weekend; my thoughts go out to Darcy). Joe Bob and Svengoolie were very loose and unstructured, discussing the worst movies they had ever shown and the various complaints they've received over the years. Joe Bob also did 10 minutes straight on why he doesn't like Halloween III because of course he did. The end of their panel was crashed by Charles Band, who got up on stage and did a few minutes with them before introducing two brief trailers for new Full Moon movies. Anyone who knows me can imagine that my head almost exploded at the sight of Band, Joe Bob, and Svengoolie sharing a stage because they're three of my favorite personalities in all of horror.
The night closed out with a party hosted by Band on the hotel's top floor, which features a 360 degree panoramic view. I had spent the last two days running around and was too tired to attend, so like I said I went back to my room and rewatched Terrifier. Charles Band would understand.
Saturday is typically the convention's biggest day, but in the new space (Flashback moved to a larger hotel a few years ago) it never felt oppressively crowded. Many of the weekend's biggest events were scheduled for that day, including the Sinister Visions Costume Contest, a live concert by Alan Howarth, and a number of in-costume photo ops (besides Kane Hodder in his Friday 7 makeup, there was the cast of Terrifier and Terrifier 2 in costume and stuntman Lee Waddell wearing the original Ghostface garb). There were also a number of panel discussions: Steve Prokopy interviewed Alex Vincent and Christine Elise of Child's Play 2 and Chucky fame plus Matthew Patrick Davis, who played the monster in the great Barbarian; Nick hosted a panel with Halloween II's Leo Rossi and his wife Lynn Eastman-Rossi of Phantasm. He and his co-host Esmerelda Leon also did a live recording of the Nick D Podcast, onto which they welcome the three bullies from Christine: William Ostrander, Malcolm Danare, and Steve Tash. They had great stories to tell about working with John Carpenter and got into some of their other films, too. Tash, in particular, told a fantastic story about borrowing a piece of gum in an audition that essentially landed him the part in Ghostbusters
As far as my panels, I only had two on Saturday. I got up and introduced special effects artist and director Tom Devlin, who gave a fascinating talk about the process of creating Kane Hodder's Friday VII makeup that he would be wearing for Saturday's photo op, accompanied by time lapse video of each step. I got to talking with Devlin at his table in the vendors' room prior to his panel and wound up buying a copy of his movie Teddy Told Me To, which I still need to watch. My other panel featured stunt performers/stunt coordinators Airon Armstrong and Corey DeMeyers, who both worked on Halloween Ends (along with countless other projects). I was particularly nervous about this panel because I know so little about stunt work, but Armstrong and DeMeyers talked about the work with such insight and passion and I immediately felt at ease. Also, Erika and Rosie had come to the convention at this point and attended the panel, which helped. Erika was in love with both of them. I get it.
Panels were followed by one of the weekend's main events: The Sinister Visions Costume Contest, a Flashback institution for the last 17 years. I can't say for certain, but this felt like the biggest costume contest to date -- at least, it was the first time I know of that the room reached capacity and I (along with co-host Morgan Gire) was tasked with turning people away at the door. That meant my view of the contest was limited, but I saw as much as I could and enjoyed it as much as always. Svengoolie acts as host and has a good time riffing and teasing the contestants when appropriate. There was a kids' costume contest (featuring several M3GANs) and an adult contest containing a lady Beetlejuice, several Jasons (the best one had a sleeping bag he dragged around all weekend), at least two Herbert Wests, a Pee-Wee Herman (complete with bike!), Burt Gummer, and much, much more. The best costume won by audience vote: a guy dressed as Shaggy carrying a Scooby-Doo puppet he built to scale and from which he got a lot of mileage on stage. It was amazing.

There were a couple of big events Saturday night. Alan Howarth, who has worked with John Carpenter on many of his most iconic scores, did a rare live show that brought the house down. He hadn't done the live show in about seven or eight years so it was great not just to have him back but in top form. Very cool.
There was also a VIP party for Ultimate Ticket holders which, in my capacity as co-host, I was thankfully invited to attend. It's a chance to talk to and/or take pictures with the convention's celebrity guests, and while that kind of thing has always made me super nervous in the past, I sucked it up because I didn't want to miss out on meeting the folks behind Terrifier 2. It helped to have Erika and Rosie there for moral support. I also got to talk to Catherine Corcoran again for a little while and learned that she is a regular reader of F This Movie!, arguably the coolest news of the weekend. I reminded her that she probably started following us a decade ago when I interviewed her in a Starbucks for Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1. Sometimes it pays to meet the people you admire.
There was another party on the top floor of the hotel Saturday night -- this one scored to the music of Goblin -- but again I was tired and there was still another day of the convention to go.

Sunday is typically the slowest day of the convention, but this year it was still very full. That's great! The three final -- and arguably biggest -- panels were slated for the day, which might have had something to do with it. First up was co-host Steve Prokopy interviewing Rose McGowan and Holly Marie Combs about Charmed. Having never seen an episode of the show, I was grateful to Steve for handling that one. It was a great conversation and one of the most crowded panels I've ever seen. Never underestimate the drawing power of the WB.
Next up was the panel about which I was most nervous, both because it was the biggest panel I've ever done and because I really wanted to do a good job on it as a huge fan --the cast and writer/director of Terrifier 2, including Damien Leone, David Howard Thorton, Lauren LaVera, Elliott Fullam, Amelie Mclain, Leah Voysey, and Casey Hartnett. Flashback went all in on Terrifier this year and I was called upon as the "expert" because I've seen and really like those movies. The panel went well, I think, and truth be told I could have talked to them all much longer -- especially writer/director/effects artist Damien Leone, for whom I have so many questions. They were all great: super nice and funny and it was clear there was a bond between them. Fourteen-year old co-star Mclain (Little Pale Girl) had my favorite moment of the panel when they were all asked by an audience member who they admire. She said she admires all of her co-stars and Leone and it was so sweet. I really hope everyone gets to come back when they make Terrifier 3, already in the works.
The weekend wrapped up with a Scream reunion panel hosted by Nick DiGilio and featuring Skeet Ulrich (dreamy as ever), Jamie Kennedy, and Lee Waddell. There was a lot of laughter, especially when Kennedy joked about the Leprechaun going to the hood only to learn that there was already a movie with that exact premise. Skeet Ulrich admitted he had only recently learned that Jason went to space. That's because he wasn't at my Kane Hodder/Jason X anniversary panel last year!
And that was that! My favorite Flashback Weekend came to a close. There are so many people to thank for making it such a a special one! Thanks to the celebrity guests for being so generous with their time and talent and for all being so nice. Thanks to the amazing staff for being great and welcoming. Thanks to my airport buddies Airen, Paul, and Ron for breaking me in gently. Thanks to the Masters of Ceremonies Dann and Morgan Gire for all the cool videos you posted and for all the extra stuff you did all weekend long. Thanks to my Horror BFF Heather for first bringing me to Flashback all those years ago. Thanks to my co-hosts Nick and Steve for being so cool and keeping things running smoothly in the panel room. Thanks to all the nice people I got to meet over the weekend, whether it was because they had a nice word to say about an interview they saw me do or we just struck up a conversation about a t-shirt or a movie. Horror fans really are the best. Thanks to Mike and Adam Riske for hanging out. Thanks to Erika and Rosie (and Charlie in absentia; he was busy catching his first-ever fish) for the constant support and love.
Dann and Morgan posing with the car from Christine, which was also at the con

Most of all, thanks to Mike and Mia Kerz for putting this weekend on every year and letting be a small part of their huge horror family. Every guest I spoke with, from the attendees to the celebrities, commented on how much they loved the vibe of Flashback: how relaxed it is, how well run it is, how much it feels like a family. And it does! Mia and Mike have cultivated that feeling over two decades and it has trickled down to everyone else. I'm very fortunate to have been a tiny part of the best horror convention in Chicago. Thanks, everyone.

How many days until the next one?

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