“Came, saw, bought a few things, made a fool of myself, went home.”
That would be the summary of my experiences at the 28th Monster-Mania horror convention, which took place in Cherry Hill last weekend.
I fear I’m not in any position to give you a full report, since we spent so much of the evening away from the convention areas. The closest I came to celebrity hobnobbing was sharing an elevator with Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
Actually, I wasn’t planning to write anything about Monster-Mania. We were mostly there to reconnect with friends, and so I could pay too much for “zombie red” contact lenses. (Both missions were accomplished.)
…but when I got home, several readers asked for a review, having come to rely on Dino Drac for some small glimpse into this long-running and now practically legendary horror convention.
So FINE. I’ll play your game.
While I can’t give you many specifics about the guests or the events or even the gory cosplayers, I at least took enough photos to provide highlights of the best part of any Monster-Mania: The dealer rooms.
I’ve trained myself to treat those rooms like a museums. Convention swag rarely comes cheap, and too often, I’ve come home with a pile of unneeded stuff that I could’ve bought online for less. After all, the thrill isn’t in the prices, but in the hands-on exposure. It’s one thing to see a bunch of old toys and new memorabilia when you’re browsing websites, but it can be downright intoxicating when you’re surrounded by it in person.
I picked up a few choice items for future posts, but here are the best things I didn’t buy at Monster-Mania 28:
The Real Ghostbusters GhostZapper! From the late ‘80s, it was one of that line’s very best “pretend play” toys. The “gun” was essentially a odd-shaped projector, which allowed kids to “beam” the images of various specters on their walls and ceilings. (And then zap them out of existence, under a blaze of battery-operated sound effects.)
The sheer number of ghosts you could summon was impressive. Twelve by my count, including favorites like Stay Puft and Slimer, plus more “general” monsters like angry clowns and spooky skulls. Some of them were surprisingly frightening, too!
EDIT: Well, you got six ghosts with the toy, and another six if you mailed away for a second set. So I’m only partially right about that “twelve.”
My VHS collection has grown by leaps and bounds this past year, and I’ve developed something of a passion for it. Still, since I’ve been aiming more for quantity than quality, I had to pass on this beautiful Chopping Mall video. (The seller wanted $15, which by convention standards really wasn’t bad, but that’s still too much for a casual collector who already owns the same movie on DVD.)
If you’ve never seen Chopping Mall, you kind of have to. It shares a motif with any number of ‘80s slasher/horror films, but the difference here is that the killers are ROBOTS. (Or “Killbots,” as they’re affectionately called.) The mechanical murderers look like high-end Radio Shack toys, with glowing red “visor eyes” and tank feet. With a bit of reprogramming, there’s nothing in this world that I’d want to own more than a Killbot.
I was very excited to see this in person. It’s a Freddy Krueger “Horror Buddy” — a tag team effort from Horror Decor and Freddy In Space. (“Freddy In Space” = “John,” who rumor has it was one of the 75 people we shared a hotel room with last Friday.)
Part of a larger line of similarly styled dolls, they faithfully mimic the flavor of the old WWF Wrestling Buddies. They’re part dolls, part pillows, and you can safely beat the hell out of them. Absolutely adorable in their own monstrous way. There are four Freddy fashions available, including a delicious “8-bit Freddy” — which of course is the one I’m gonna pick up.
Monster-Mania has evolved from its horror roots into other areas of pop culture, and you’ll see evidence of this in everything from the guest lineup to what’s on sale in the dealer rooms. (I’d credit part of the convention’s rising popularity to the fact that horror has become more of a “main dish” than an “only dish” — even if some fans would prefer otherwise.)
This movement is especially nice in the dealer rooms, which have become more of a generalized “collectible swap meet.” where anything a horror fan might be into can be found, even if it’s far, far away from the genre itself. Case in point, this vintage TMNT animation cel. Interestingly, these were sold in regular toy stores. Cel collecting is usually limited to the truly dedicated, but in this rare case, just about anyone could partake.
(Note the Toys “R” Us clearance sticker. I guess kids weren’t quite ready to trade action figures for pictures in the early ’90s.)
If you haven’t been paying attention, Funko’s “ReAction” line is one of the best things to happen to toys, pretty much ever. With a growing list of big licenses (everything from The Goonies to Back to the Future), the action figures are intentionally simple and reminiscent of Kenner’s old Star Wars collection.
Not everyone is crazy about them, but for people like me — people who grew up with figures of this scale and magnitude — they’re just wonderful. Whatever “crudeness” they bear doubles as charm, and for figures that you’d expect to get super limited runs at extremely high price points, they’re pretty damn affordable, too. ($10 a pop, roundabout.)
I’m still mad at myself for leaving this Alien figure behind. (It’s only delaying the inevitable. I will own one. I’ll probably own one by the time you read this.)
From an era when every wisecracking kiddy hero had one, here’s Talking Beetlejuice, a big doll that said stupid things when you pulled a string on his back. I did have some small desire to ask about the price, until I remembered that items placed on a dealer’s highest shelf was nature’s way of screaming, “YOU CANNOT AFFORD THIS.”
Further research shed light on what Beetlejuice could say:
“Whoa! Almost lost my head.”
“I’m the ghost with the most!”
“Can I be scary or what?”
…all well and good, but I’ve owned many similar dolls, and after enough pulls, they always lose their ability to speak. Instead, they gain the ability to squeak. (The mechanics that kept the dolls’ voices at a measured pace weakened over time, so you’d end up hearing long lines uttered as Chipmunks-esque syllables. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I suppose.)
Ever since NECA’s game-changing SDCC exclusive, Jason’s “8-bit” look has been on fire, with all kinds of merchandise, and enough fan support to guarantee more. What began as an odd color choice in an old Nintendo game has become one of the slasher’s most iconic looks, and I’m absolutely on the bandwagon.
As much as I wanted this 8-bit Jason bust, $250 was well beyond my scope. This is the kind of thing that makes me dream of winning the lottery. Others may envision expensive cars and tropical vacations… I picture running through horror conventions with wads of cash and a Pathmark shopping cart.
Here we have Stay Puft, Gizmo and Mohawk. They look just like the dolls that you might win from an arcade’s crane machine, but transformed into SUPER MEGA HUGE versions. All three are great, but I’m especially impressed with the Mogwais, since they’re like ten times bigger than they were in the movies. (For Stay Puft to share that distinction, Monster-Mania would need a much bigger hotel.)
Lastly, we have this. Something I actually DID buy.
The photo isn’t blurry merely because it was dark. I took it at the very end of my romp through the dealer room, when I would’ve been, shall we say, “better off in bed.” In those final moments, fueled by alcohol, and fueled by the knowledge that it would be many months before I’d again see a Monster-Mania dealer room, I always panic, and I always end up buying one more thing that I don’t need.
On Friday night, this was it. A box of videos for ten bucks. Even with the dealer’s admission that no horror movies would be found inside, I couldn’t resist. The price was too good. So I lugged this heavy motherfucker across the entire hotel, up the elevator (hi, Hacksaw) and into our room.
I won’t pretend that it was the worst assortment of videos ever assembled, because there were some decent flicks in there. Unfortunately, they were vastly outnumbered by obscure religious specials and self-help tapes. I gave some of the videos to friends, and then decided that I absolutely would not and could not drag that box down to the car.
So I wrote off the $10, and did something charitable:
On Saturday morning, someone on the 12th floor of the Crowne Plaza was in for a treat. So long as they saw my crude “FREE TAPES” sign, at least.
Overall, Monster-Mania was a grand old time, as it always is. I went home poorer, voiceless and physically annihilated. In a few months, I’ll happily do it all over again.