By: Trevor Jeffery
At Toronto’s Fan Expo (an annual gathering for sci-fi super fans, comic book buffs, anime addicts, gaming geeks, horror… fans), badge-wearing nerds flock from all around, many garbed as pop culture icons, to enjoy a convention of collective interests. It’s a place where people can gather in community, compliment each other’s costumes, bathe in their favourite entertainment cultures and, of course, enjoy the celebrity guests.
George A. Romero Panel
This year, Fan Expo bagged a whole slew of guests from all genres, and horror… likers weren’t disappointed. The infamous frames of fright, George A. Romero’s glasses, made an appearance on the face of zombie kingpin himself George A. Romero – who provided autograph and picture sessions, as well as a Q&A panel for attendants.
To open the panel, a moment was taken by the Night of the Living Dead director to remember late horror honcho and friend Wes Craven. “I’m terribly sad, obviously, about his passing,” Romero said. “He was a great guy.”
In the unbarred Q&A session, Romero was an open book about his career in film and the highs and lows, sharing vignettes of his filmmaking experiences. Not surprisingly, being a horror filmmaker isn’t glamorous. Bringing up the cockroach scene from his 1982 film Creepshow: “The first thing they do, when you dump them out,” Romero recalls about the roaches, “In order to run, … they shit.” Continuing to answer questions from the attending horror habitués (there it is!), “[The effects team] had all these guts prepared, and it was real animal guts,” Romero began about using real gore effects in Day of the Dead. The story unfolded with the crew having unplugged the guts refrigerator for a week – and they still had to use them. Even the synthetic stuff isn’t pleasant. “The fake blood … is dreadful. The taste is awful,” scowled Romero.
Because his name is synonymous with zombies, Romero himself has become a brand. For the recent Activision video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops, the czar of zombies lent his name and likeness – but that’s it. “[They said] we want you to be part of this and I said ‘okay,’” Romero recalls. “All they did was use my face. It’s not my voice. I was a little irritated.” Even though he has achieved so much in filmmaking, Romero has found it difficult to move into the interactive side of things: “I’ve tried to develop games, but everybody will just say ‘You don’t know how to do a game. We’ll take care of the gaming part of it, we just want your name.’”
Despite this, Romero is still proud of his now over-saturated brainchild (with emphasis on brain), zombies, even though that wasn’t what he envisioned them to be. “I didn’t think they were zombies. I never called them zombies,” Romero confessed. “I thought I was doing a new thing, because zombies were [at the time] magic. Voodoo.” However, that doesn’t mean he’ll endorse just anything zombie related: “Brad Pitt basically killed zombies,” he said regarding the future of the movie monsters.
He went on about zombies, because hey, when you have the godfather of the living dead in the room, you ask him about the living dead. “Zombies can’t run,” Romero volunteered, which was received with rousing applause.
Finally, a child stepped up and asked the most important question of the panel: “What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?”
“I’d go to Max Brooks’ house,” Romero chuckled. “He’s got the weapons.”
The cast of Scream Panel
Among the many enticing horror panels at Fan Expo was the almost-20th anniversary cast reunion of Wes Craven’s 1996 cult horror classic Scream. Featured in the panel was series lead Neve Campbell, the film’s co-murderer Skeet Ulrich, and the face behind the Ghostface voice (or the voice behind the Ghostface face), Roger L. Jackson.
Opening the panel with a brief eulogy to Wes Craven, each cast member reminisced about his warmth as a person and talent as a director.
“He was a phenomenal man,” Neve Campbell began. “Every single crew member and every cast member, we all had a blast and we really appreciated and were grateful for what we were doing and that’s down to Wes … Every time they came back to us for a sequel, for me it was always ‘as long as Wes is doing it’. And I think everybody felt that way.”
“He’s a brilliantly smart man and always approached the stuff I was doing in Scream from a psychological perspective,” added Skeet Ulrich. “It was never about results, it was about connection, and he’s definitely missed.”
“I remember from the first night filming … Wes was by [Drew Barrymore’s] side with his hand on her shoulder,” said Roger L. Jackson. “She was really drawing on some things from herself deeply to get that level of disturbance. He was very kind and always considerate.”
The inclusion of the enigmatic Roger L. Jackson to the panel was a rare treat for not only the super fans, but also everybody in attendance – and the rest of the cast.
“[Roger and I] met three weeks ago,” Campbell said. “Same,” immediately added Ulrich.
“It was really important to Wes that we not meet Roger,” said Campbell. “He thought it was important for us to really have the fear and the apprehension of if we were less familiar with the actor. And he was right.” She concluded by pointing to the Ghostface cosplayer in the crowd, and telling Jackson “It’s weird seeing you here, and that weird Ghostface guy out there.”
Jackson, who is known for his malleable voice used in countless television series and video games, explained logistics behind how he and Campbell were able to be on set together for four films, and never meet. “They set up a room in the garage, and ran a monitor in so I was watching the camera feed. So from then on, I was always off in a room somewhere nearby with a cellphone. So I could see them.” Jackson then added, “And they couldn’t see me,” in the crowd-pleasing voice of Ghostface.
Speaking of, none of the cast thought that the serial stabber Ghostface would become the slasher icon he is today. “I remember us sitting around, going, ‘do you think maybe it will be good enough that there will be a Halloween costume?’’ Campbell ironically pointed out. “It always surprises [Ghostface trick-or-treaters] when I open the door. And it’s always great for me because I don’t have to wear a costume.”
“There’s always Scream masks somewhere,” Ulrich added. “When my kids were littler they found it very funny: ‘Hey my dad was that guy!’ It’s definitely still around. And I think Edvard Munch should be the proudest.”
“Whenever I’d go into a recording session, people would ask ‘would you do my answering machine,’” said Jackson. In a final moment of sincerity and appreciation for the fans of Scream, he concluded, “If Ghostface is iconic and the film is a legend, that’s because of you, not us.”
Malcolm McDowell Panel
Malcolm McDowell graced the film buffs of Fan Expo with not only his presence but also a candid glance into being Malcolm McDowell. He was very candid, so if you’re put off by certain words that start with the letter “f” and violating the third commandment, turn back now.
Immediately having a laugh, the Liverpudlian panelist humourously asks the Clockwork Orange star the way-too-obvious question, “What was it like working with Stanley Kubrick?”
“Oh shut the fuck up,” McDowell playfully retorts. “What an asshole. I’ve got to come to Canada for abuse from a Scouser?”
The Liverpool-raised actor starts the session off with his experience growing up around the Beatle-shaped town. “To be part of that as a teenager was an amazing thing, to be part of musical history.” After several minutes on that topic, and briefly talking about Liverpool’s connection to America through the cotton industry, and back to Paul McCartney’s cousin being responsible for bringing American blues to Liverpool, McDowell concludes “But anyway, who gives a fuck about the Beatles?”
The panelist, from Liverpool himself, antagonizes McDowell after pointing out his lack of a Liverpudlian accent. “Of course not,” chortled McDowell. “Christ, I’d rather slit my wrists.”
Fed up with talking to a fellow Brit, McDowell opened the floor to the audience. “I’m only taking intelligent questions. And I am the arbiter of whether they’re intelligent or not.”
And arbiter he was. “You’ve got your head up your ass,” McDowell responded to his first question, regarding – of course – A Clockwork Orange, and the possibility of O Lucky Man! being an indirect sequel.
“You’ll find that some of these questions are more about the questioner than the answer,” the aged thespian turned to say to the rest of the crowd.
From there, McDowell didn’t hold back his playful-but-aggressive banter with the masochistic questioners. McDowell provided a refreshing change of pace from the PR circuit answers some of the other panelists were offering (looking at you, Neve Campbell. House of Cards is the one franchise you most want to be a part of? Then lucky you for landing a role on it next season). “We’re only joking,” the former droog assured his verbal abuse victims. “This is theatre!”
McDowell painted a brief picture of what it’s like to be a working actor: a fan asked McDowell how an actor of his caliber stooped to acting in TV movie Home Alone: The Holiday Heist. “I’ll tell you, you fucking idiot,” McDowell barks without missing a beat. “It’s called a fucking mortgage!”
“I wish I could say I choose my roles,” McDowell scoffed. “It’s actually the other way around: they choose me. I can’t choose my roles. My name is not Tom Cruise – thank god.”
Another fan wanted him to say that line from that movie, and beckoning him closer, McDowell asked, “Have you got your cheque book on you? I’m a professional fucking actor. When I do a line like that … I expect to be paid.” However, McDowell punctuated his statement with an accommodating, “I was cured, all right.”
“I do not take the part home with me,” he continued on about acting. “I try not to, because I play my fair share of psychos, serial killers, and otherwise charmless characters. But I do try to … make it a three-dimensional thing regardless. I try to make it that the character himself is not all that bad, it’s just his behavior.”
However, he’s more of a do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do kind of guy. “Don’t,” McDowell said when asked for advice about entering the film business. “You don’t want to get involved with a load of lunatics who are basically thieves anyway.”
Despite his demeanor, McDowell was appreciative of the Fan Expo crowd: “Congratulations to people here in Toronto who’ve come up with some really interesting questions. Believe you me, I’ve done these all over North America and this is by far the most intelligent lot.”
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Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery