Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Them's Fightin' Words

Greeting, Pickers and/or Grinners!

In my humble opinion, one of the worst things you can call someone is a "redneck". Which is kind of a pity because the term began innocently enough as a literal descriptor for poor, hard-working farmers who could easily be identified by their sun-charred necks.

Eventually "redneck" began to take on another, darker meaning. Since many of the people described in this manner weren't exactly the most educated, urbane or open-minded folks, the word soon became synonymous with bigotry, ignorance and rigidity. In turn, it's a label that every single Southerner has been unfairly tarred with; a prejudice that's as myopic and intolerant as any other.

Even though I personally don't understand the appeal of NASCAR, buck hunting, Will Hoge, camouflage bed-sheets and half-ton trucks (especially as a Canadian), I do know that just because people like these things it doesn't automatically make them inbred, Bible-thumping racists. As you might expect, folks get a tad prickly when you call them "redneck" just because they have a fetish for watching cars drive around in a semi-circle.

Which is why you've seen a redneck reclamation effort recently. Hell, Sarah Palin nearly got to within one step of the Presidency on the back of her oblivious, corn-pone "charm". Both Jeff Foxworthy and Larry The Cable Guy have inexplicably managed to parlay the concept into nominal, one-note comedy careers. Tyler Farr had a tryin'-too-hard hit this year called "Redneck Crazy". Daryl Dixon is justifiably the most popular character on The Walking Dead. And although Honey Boo-Boo and her clan aren't exactly rocket scientists, they aren't a bunch of intolerant assholes either.

And then there's the high water mark for redneck chic:

Having never watched a single episode of Duck Dynasty, I can only guess as to why it's so ludicrously popular right now. Here then are my theories:
  • "It's got jen-you-wine FAMILY VALUES which is in short supply on the TEE VEE nowadays."
  • "If'n you get the right idea and you work hard you can go from RAGS TO RICHES."
  • "It's great to see real people on the TEE VEE that'r jus' like us and not like them uppity Kardashians."
  • "Even though some members of your family are COLORFUL CHARACTERS that GET ON YER NERVES, you still love 'em anyways."
  • "It's also nice to see someone on the TEE VEE openly express their FAITH IN GOD."
  • "I jus' love it when Phil, Miss Kay, Si, Willie and the rest of 'em get into all them hi-jinx. IT'S JUS' LIKE MY OWN PACK O' NUTS!"
  • "It's nice to see good, honest, God-fearin' people win out for a change instead of all them over-edumacated snobs that Rick Santorum is always talkin' about."  
If you insist on frittering away chunks of your life watching the empty mental calories of reality T.V., you could actually do a lot worse. At face value, Duck Dynasty is just a modern-day, real-life spin on The Beverly Hillbillies: with innocent, well-intentioned, "new money" hayseeds who rock the rich establishment with their own home-spun brand of down-to-earth charm. We root for them for the same reason we cheer on Kathy Bates as the "Unsinkable", and refreshingly sassy, Molly Brown in Titanic.   

But ever since Duck Dynasty became a cultural phenomenon, I've wondered just how legitimately "rednecky" these guys really are. After all, it doesn't matter how back-woodsy these guys claim to be, if they're multi-millionaires, then they have to posses some gar-run-teed, lee-jit-uh-mit smarts. And sure enough, after a cursory bit of research, you can quickly suss out the real reality behind these counterfeit clodhoppers:

Jase Robertson B.C. (Before Camouflage). Is this an errant page from the J. Crew catalog?  

While he attended Louisiana Tech University, Phil had the sort of haircut you could calibrate scientific instruments with.

Willie has a Bachelor's degree in Health and Human Performance with a minor in Business from the University of Louisiana.  Hmm, I wonder if Rick Santorum would call these guys snobs?

Sy was once a clean-cut military man.

But just as I was about to write them all off as a bunch of closeted New England Blue Bloods, Robertson family patriarch Phil recently uttered the following eye-opening quote:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”  

As soon as I read that I was like: "Okay, theeeeere's the pompous, know-it-all certainty disguised as intolerance and hatred that I usually associate with rednecks. Maybe these guys are legit after all."

Confession time: I'm forty-three years old and hopefully part of the last generation to grow up during a climate of open hostility towards homosexuals. When I was a kid, people actually thought that being gay was a lifestyle choice, presumably due to some sort of sexual fetish or psychological deficiency. 

But this never made sense to me. Why would someone consciously pick a sexual orientation that threatened to alienate them from their family and friends? Why would you chose a predilection that would open you up to a lifetime of societal scorn? I know for a fact that there were gay kids in our High School who spent years wrestling with self-esteem issues and depression brought on by open hostility and alienation.    

In the 70's and 80's, broad, stereotypical depictions of gays and lesbians in the media were a constant source of ridicule. Eddie Murphy openly expressed a particularly vile form of homophobia that makes both Delirious and Raw nearly unwatchable today. Gay and lesbian actors and musicians, harshly "outed" by the press, were immediately branded with harsh epithets like "lezzie", "faggot" and "queer" in private circles.

As you might expect, if you spend years growing up immersed in this warped prevailing attitude there's a pretty good chance that you'll buy into it as well. I'm not proud to admit it, but back then when I was a stupid, impressionable kid, I found myself entertaining these idiotic thoughts from time to time. 

But even during my most ignorant and callow days I never, ever openly expressed the sort of vitriol embodied in Phil's quote to anyone. Even when people were being openly hurtful and verbally cruel I just couldn't bring myself to join in. Probably because, as a scrawny, geeky kid I'd been on the receiving end of enough ridicule to know how it felt to be ostracized just for being different. 

In most cases, university becomes the place in which we leave our narrow view of the world behind and expand our minds. Unfortunately, these moronic thoughts were actually re-enforced somewhat during my first few years living in residence. It wasn't until I got out into the workforce and met and befriended some truly fantastic people before my embryonic but omnipresent positive stance on gay rights finally pushed its way to the vanguard. 

During this time I swiftly came to recognize my borderline-redneckian leanings for what they truly were: a symptom of my own ignorance and personal failing. With this firmly established I went out, got myself informed, divorced myself from these infantile thoughts and now I'm a much better person for it. 

So I beseech everyone reading this: please, please stop referring to yourself in such oxymoronical terms as a "proud redneck". Now I'm not saying that you can't sport a mullet, attend Monster Truck rallies and watch CMT, just don't characterize yourself in such limited way.   

To me, a redneck is someone who's given up on trying to make themselves a better person, someone who is 100% convinced that they're right about everything and everyone else is wrong. They cling stubbornly to their own narrow point of view, even when their woefully under-informed opinions are filled with bitterness, insecurity and hate.

So if anyone ever calls you a redneck to your face, you have my permission to punch them right square in the larynx.     
EPIC RANT  This is what happens when one particularly awesome Southerner gets tired of being depicted as a bigoted asshole:

EPIC FUNNY   Comedian Patton Oswalt perfectly sums up my own thoughts on gay marriage right here. Not suitable for work, even though it should be.

HUMANITY FAIL   If you recognize any portion of yourself in the following GQ Magazine interview then you got some work to do on yourself, son. Phil's insistence that poor, segregated blacks were "Godly...and happy" and no-one was "singing the blues" back then is equally baffling, but that's a blog entry for another time.       

Sunday, December 22, 2013

In Transit

Here's how my flight home last year played out in a series of desperate and pathetic Tweets:

12:27 PM 
Sorry that the weather's completely shite today, guys, but I'm flying today.
12:28 PM
The airport: the only place on the planet where a bottle of water is more expensive then a tall Starbuck's dark roast.
12:30 PM
The airport: where young people bliss-out with digital distractions and old people cling doggedly to boredom.
12:34 PM
The airport: where an elderly black woman can dress like Diahann Carroll in the "Star Wars Holiday Special" and no-one bats an eye.
12:39 PM
Hey, moron, if the airport waiting area is totally silent then everyone can hear your "private" phone conversation.
12:50 PM
A hyperventilating older woman continues to linger just outside the still-open plane door.
12:51 PM
The stewardess has now linked arms with her in case the old woman passes out and rolls down the steps.
12:56 PM
Dude to panicked lady: "You'll be alright, maid! In a few minutes you'll be back there playin' cards and havin' a smoke!"
12:58 PM
Stewardess seems to have pacified the panicked lady with a premature offering of pretzels and O.J.
1:00 PM
Pretty sure the dude seated in front of me has been marinating in Captain Morgan and Aqua Velva. 
1:00 PM
God, I sure hope the pilot flies better then he drives.
1:03 PM
Oh...my...God, I just heard the stewardess refer to our pilot as a "new hire". #thingsyoudontwannahearonaplane
1:06 PM
So, apparently the chemical used to de-ice planes first turns ice brown, then it turns ice green and then and only then does it melt it. 
2:31 PM
Plastic cup just popped out of the seat flap in front of me, spilling ice and O.J. into my open backpack.
2:36 PM
The two things that have caused me the most hearing loss in my lifetime are rock concerts and Dash-8 airplane cabin noise.
2:46 PM
Dash-8 planes: slightly less leg room then a go-cart. Inadvertently molested my seat-mate while fishing my iPod outta my backpack.
2:47 PM
2:51 PM
Feet pinned under backpack and not enough room to pull bag up between shins and seat in front of me. "HALP!  I IS TRAPT!"  
2:52 PM
3:12 PM
Seeing the smiling faces of the 'rents in the terminal widow = priceless.
EPIC LOOP    See how far you can get through this before you end up joining her in the chorus... 

HOLIDAY SPECIAL FAIL     "OoooOooo...OOOO! We are excited, aren't we?"

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Perfectly CON-Tent: HAL-CON 2013

Greetings, Fellow CON-Testants!

I had a couple of minor hiccups at HAL-CON last year, mainly centered around entitled dweebs armed with Warp Passes and well-meaning but militant volunteers trying to annex our free-play game tables. Neither of these niggling issues were enough to deter me from procuring a three-day weekend pass for this year.

In fact, these tiny glitches were nothing compared to the irritants which plagued some attendees at this year's event. If ticket-holders made the mistake of pressing "SNOOZE" on their alarm clock Saturday morning or if you kept tabs on HAL-CON 2013 in the media as a spectator, you probably already know what I'm on about. Personally, I can only comment on my own individual experience.

And I have to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was my favoritest HAL-CON evar!

"Stay awhile and listen and I shall regale thee of my tale of high adventure..."


Andrew picked me up at my place just smidge after noon. I had to get him to back-track up into Bayers Lake so that I could pick up a few new digital video tapes.

To future-quote Jewel Staite: "Tapes. Remember tapes, guys?"

Yep, I bought my video camera back in 2008, which might as well be the Mesozoic Era in technology terms. At that time, on-board digital storage and memory cards were still in their infancy. Ergo, I had to snag some extra tapes for my camcorder before heading down to the World Trade and Convention Center. Given the scarcity of the damned things this is becoming an increasingly-difficult prospect.

While I was waiting for my first mandatory event of the day, I spent some time roving around the convention floor. With my happily-fed video camera cranking away, I captured the panoply of sights, sounds and yes, smells of HAL-CON whilst casing the expansive vendor section for some choice acquisitions. As you can well imagine, the time just flew by and the next thing I knew it was time to meet up with a childhood hero.

Now, I've already ranted at length about how impactful Star Wars was to me as a kid, but let's face it, the adventures of Luke, Han and Leia were few and far between. The wait between 1977 and 1980 was a long and protracted one but mitigated considerably by the appearance of Battlestar Galactica in theaters here in Canada.

The brainchild of producer Glen Larson, Battlestar Galactica posited that the race of man first originated "amongst the stars". In some distant past, the human race has been engaged in a protracted struggle against the Cylons, a population of murderous automatons who've been trying to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy. When the Cylons extend an unexpected offer of peace, the twelve human colonies jump at the offer, anxious to bring an end to a thousand years of constant warfare.

The most vocal olive-branch skeptic is Adama (Lorne Greene), a decorated war-hero and the Commnader of the titular Battlestar. True to Adama's predictions, the Cylons shatter the temporary truce and during the resulting Pearl Harbor job the human race is all but extirpated. All that remains is a "rag-tag, fugitive fleet" led by the Galactica. Their goal: to find a planetary promised land known only as "Earth".

Lured in by the spectacular trailers on television I was one of the few kids lucky enough to see Battlestar Galactica in theaters in 1978 at the tender age of eight. I was completely blown away by the Viper ships, the Raiders, the Galactica, the Basestars, the insect-like Ovions and the creepy, mechanical Cylons. As amazing as all of this visual spectacle was, I was also engaged by the movie's human element.  

Richard Hatch's Captain Apollo was at the core of the film's emotional heart. Despite losing his brother, his mom and his wife to the Cylons, Apollo's resolve never wavered and his moral compass was always set to "Paragon". As an idealistic young kid, he was definitely the character I identified with the most.

Needless to say, it was pretty cool meeting Richard Hatch. In addition to getting his autograph, Richard subjected himself to a guerilla-style interview, the results of which can be peeped right hur.

Well-spoken, affable, and relentlessly enthusiastic about his past and future endeavors, Richard was a delight to talk to. His infectious positive aura virtually assured that I'd be attending his Acting Workshop later that evening. Leaving Andrew to engage in a four-player game of Firefly, I stole away to the "Clockwork Room" and grabbed a seat in anticipation of Richard's arrival.

Immediately I was thankful that many of my fellow conventioneers decided to show up and there was a respectable amount of butts in seats. There's nothing more awkward then going to one of these workshops only to find yourself in what amount to a midnight screening of After Earth. That's just sad.

Then, from out of nowhere, local Hali-famous actor Rhys Bevan-John, plunked down into the seat next to me. I absolutely love this guy. Earlier that day, in a move perfectly in step with the rest of the costumed masses, Rhys was strutting around the convention hall in his "Best Of" cape and crown.

I don't blame him for being proud. Just a few days earlier Rhys was named "Best Male Theater Actor" in The Coast's annual "Best of Halifax" survey. I saw him play the lead in Shakespeare By The Sea's performance of Hamlet that past summer and he (along with the rest of the cast) were uniformly awesome.

When Richard arrived it looked as if he was dressed for winter, bundled up in no less then four different shirts and/or jackets. Can't say that I was surprised; during our interview he'd scoffed at my casual reference to the weather as "mild". In fact, I think he characterized the temps that day in Halifax as "Arctic-like".

It wasn't long before Richard started shedding some of those heavy layers of fabric. Dude's a very dynamic orator and if you ever get a chance to see him speak in any capacity I highly suggest you do so. Over the course of the next hour-and-a-half Richard offered up some tremendous insights into the business of acting, auditions, self-motivation, encouraging the creative spark, avoiding career pitfalls and parlaying personal experiences into effective performances.

The workshop concluded with a gloriously loopy improv session featuring a pair of brave aspiring actresses, one playing a put-upon hospital supervisor and the other posing as a drug-addled janitor (!). Things got even weirder when Rhys was thrown into the mix as a stern-but-inexplicably-merciful manager. Just as the scene started to come together we had to stop.

Honestly, I could have stayed there for another two or three hours but the room was booked for "Adventures with Vampires and Publishing". *Pffffttt*, as if there isn't already enough of that crap around!

On the way out I congratulated Rhys on his terrific showing in Hamlet and asked about his recent starring role in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When Rhys gave me a quick demonstration of his transformation scene I promptly kicked myself for missing out on what was surely another bravura SBTS production. Go see more live theater, kids! It's a blast!

By the time I got back to the games room, Andrew had pulled out a win in Firefly and also played a few games of Mr. Jack Pocket with a friend from work named Fraser. The three of us then broke out the awesome co-operative game Hanabi and by the time that game was over it was definitely time to pack it in for the evening.

All told, it was a great first day. We'd gotten the lay of the land, Andrew had played a bunch of games, I'd met and then hung out with a childhood hero and the crowds were pretty sedate. Not too shabby.

But then there came:


I faced another early rise the next day but I really didn't care. I knew that it was going to be a crazy day and I wanted to get down there early. I pitched at the Starbucks on Barrington Street around 9 am and waited for Andrew and Mike to turn up like a pair or bad pennies. In a stroke of synchronicity, my friend Chad, his wife Jeanette and the rest of their enthusiastic clan stumbled in to get their caffeine fix. We discussed strategies for the day and then prepared to wade into the fray.

With Andrew and Mike delayed, I decided to hike up to the convention center in order to establish a beach-head in the games room. In retrospect, this was probably a good move since the place was already starting to fill up. One major reason for this was the fact that the vendor section was open to the public, which I think inspired a lot of people to buy day passes right there on the spot.

In fact, my own significant other, who is usually leery about attending crowded and sometimes, shall we say, aromatic events like this, even trolled through the merch section with me for awhile. She picked up a gorgeous, elaborate-looking, Steam-punky watch while I got a fabulous deal on two awesome board games.

That's when we ran into two more friends, Sabina and Mark. Although Sabina's HAL-CON attendance was never in doubt, Mark had declared days ago that he wasn't going because of the crowds. He changed his mind at the last second when Sabina managed to procure a free weekend pass through work. Although this awesome spate of good fortune proved to be irresistible to Mark, the shoulder-to-shoulder throngs of colorful humanity probably did nothing to cure his agoraphobia.

Seeing the crowds rise like the water line over the bow of the Titanic, Sabina, Mark and I decided to retreat to the gaming room on the third floor. We waited there until Mike and Andrew showed up and then promptly left them behind. I'd been so busy with writey-type stuff leading up to HAL-CON that I didn't even have a chance to look at the schedule. Having Sabina there was great because she knew exactly what, when and where things were transpiring.

As such, she urged us to get down to the Main Stage about an hour early to score a good vantage point for the Billy Dee Williams Q&A. This worked out great because I arrived at the perfect time to capture Richard Hatch's presentation which I wasn't even aware has going on at the time!

During the subsequent half hour and change, Richard shared his views on narrow-minded studio execs, the dearth of speculative fiction on television, and how current technology provides creative freedom. Oh, and he also gave the attentive crowd plenty of insight into both incarnations of Battlestar Galactica as well as his forthcoming web-series The Great War of Magellan.


After watching this it's not hard to see why Richard is one of the most sought-after acting coaches and public speakers on the convention / lecture circuit right now.

With the imminent arrival of Billy Dee Williams, the Main Hall became as jam-packed as a Hyundai crammed with drunken university pledges. In fact, it got so crowded that it prompted a funny exchange with a couple that was standing next to me. 

"Wow, can you imagine what would happen if the fire alarm went off right now?" they observed.

"Oh, God, it'd be total anarchy," I replied. "The average Dexterity score for most people in this room is probably only around five or six so just picture a thousand of Hans Moleman's kids trying to get out of here all at once."

The wait, and the encroaching tide of humanity, was quickly forgotten when the Coolest Dude in the Galaxy™ walked out on stage. Over the course of the next forty-five minutes, Billy Dee Williams charmed young and old, male and female alike, regaling us with stories about The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Tim Burton's Batman and Robot Chicken

For pop culture nuts such as myself it was also great to hear him reflect on his celebrated artwork, his challenging appearance in Brian's Song and his debut on stage in The Firebrand of Florence at the tender age of seven. By the time he called a fan a "double-crossing, no-good swindler" at their request, we were all collectively wrapped around his finger:

The thing that resonated with me the most was when he likened himself to Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, a character who naively floats through life, having random adventures and innocently getting into and out of trouble. You can see this yourself at the fifteen minute mark of the video.

"Even at my age at this stage in my life I'm pretty naive about a lot of things," he told the enthralled masses. "I was so protected as a kid growing up that I kind of found myself bumbling through life." 

Amen, brother.

When the Q&A was over, I lost Sabina and Mark in the resulting tsunami of bodies. While inching my way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds I first began to hear fleeting references to "over capacity", "fire marshal" and "clearing the building". About around that same time I bumped into Chad who told me that his kids had left the convention center to get lunch and couldn't get back in. Although it pained them to do so, Chad and Jeanette left to collect them knowing that they weren't going to get back in. Needless to say, a day pass refund would be in their future!

I finally managed to claw my way to the escalator and get back to the Games Room on Level Three. I briefly re-united with Andrew and even managed to get in a fleeting game of Mr. Jack Pocket before I had to take flight. 

I'm glad that I had the foresight to bring my own lunch with me. After our game was over I bypassed the concession stand on the same floor and then eked out a spot in the impromptu dining area where I wolfed down my home-made ham sammich, pausing occasionally to capture a few incredible costumes on video.

Oh, by the way, I despise the word "cosplay" with the fire of a million suns. Dressing up like an elf is goofy enough without giving it an infantile handle like "cosplay". Sounds like some sort of weird sexual fetish involving Cliff Huxtable and a Jello Pudding Pop. I actually had a great costume that I could have worn but if someone asked me what I was "cosplaying" as I probably would have beaten them to death with a plastic tricorder.

After scarfing down my lunch like a gluttonous anaconda, I scrambed down to the second floor, knowing that my window of opportunity to meet Billy Dee was drawing to a close. I jumped into the lineup and ended up having an extended yarn with the dude standing behind me who, in addition to being a Star Wars fan, was also a big horror nut. We both expressed our desire for a dedicated horror convention here in Halifax. 

"Yeah, wouldn't that be great? Especially if they got someone like Bruce Campbell as a guest? God, I'd freak right the f#@k out!" he confessed.

"Oh my God, that would be so friggin' awesome," I gushed. "I'd be a complete mess if I ever met Bruce."

Like a couple of 'tween girls talking about One Direction, we spent some time affirming our mutual love for The Chin. Then, when he told me that he'd met Texas Chainsaw Massacre star Gunnar Hansen at "Summer Fear" in Tatamagouche a few years back I was nearly overcome with jealousy.

"Dude, there's only one Leatherface, and that's Gunnar Hansen!" I maintained, having just re-watched his performance for a recent blog entry.

Also in the lineup was an uber-dedicated Mom who was looking to get her son's Lando Calrissian action figure signed.

"So your son couldn't be here? Is he studying for exams or something?" I asked.

"Oh, no," she replied. "He's a software developer for Valve in Washington. But when he heard that Billy Dee Williams was going to be here in Halifax he wanted me to meet him and get his action figure signed!"

And the "Mom of the Year" award goes to...

That's the great thing about coming to events like this. Even if you find yourself waiting in a barely-moving lineup, you'll find no shortage of awesome people to talk to, the lion's share of whom have built-in interests in common with you.

Meeting Billy Dee Williams was a real treat. I swear, if I could hop into a time machine and go back to around 1981 and tell L'il Dave that I'd be meeting one of my cinematic idols I'd probably plotz.

I do have one minor gripe about the way his autograph booth was set up, however. I've been to enough of these signings by now to know the drill off by heart:
  1. You wait in a big-ass line-up. 
  2. You eventually get to meet the person at the end of said lineup.
  3. You get to exchange some brief pleasantries with the person at the end of the lineup or heap some barely-comprehensible gushing praise on them.
  4. You hand over the crap your brought along so they can notarize it or get them to sign one of their free 8"x10" glossy photos laid out on the table in front of you.
  5. You get the f#@k out of the way post-haste for the other hojillion people nervously tapping their feet behind you.
But Billy Dee's set up was kinda odd. As you slowly began to approach the goal line, there was a large table set off to the right which bore all the available signature swag. When I tried (and failed) to pick up my chosen 8"x10" my weary brain eventually told me that the damned thing was taped securely to the table. Noting my confusion one of my line-mates leaned over and said:

"I think they're all up at the signing booth," she said, indicating a large wooden box set off to the side which resembled a low-fi filing cabinet.           

So, naturally, when I got up to the table I started to flip through the box to find the photo I wanted to get signed. Suddenly Billy Dee's assistant turned towards me and offered the following admonishment:

"Okay, you don't touch that," he said sternly. "I can find it for you. Which one do you want?"

For a second there I almost expected him to produce a ruler and whack me on the knuckles. After making a concerted effort to wipe the glare off of my face I indicated which 8"x10" I wanted Billy Dee to sign. Even though I'd deliberately held off until the tail end of the signing in a vain effort to avoid the initial rush, it was still pretty damned busy. As a result I didn't a chance to talk to Billy Dee very much.

I started by giving him a gift. Knowing that he was still catching heat from Star Wars "fans" for Lando's "betrayal" of Han Solo, I'd made up some joke flash cards that he could just hand out to people instead of wasting his breath:

This quote is actually taken from an interview that Billy Dee did with Wired in which he explained, in his own words, what Lando was up against. Cripes, even at the time as a ten year old kid I completely understood why Lando did what he did. After all this is Darth freakin' Vader we're talkin' about here!

The flash cards seemed to amuse him and I even got a chuckle out of his assistant. While Billy Dee signed the 8"x10" we had a chance to talk shop about art. I told him that my dad is a visual artist and how awesome it was to come home from school every day to see how his paintings had progressed. We also talked about his own formative arts-based education, a stark contrast to my crappy High School which cherished math and science above everything else.

But alas, a signature line-up waits for no one so I quickly thanked him, bid him farewell and then stumbled away with my newly-acquired treasure.   

As I slowly beetled my way out of "The Cave of Wonder" (more like "The Cave of I Wonder How I Get The F#@k Outta Here?!?") I was lucky enough to bump into Sabina and Mark, who'd found another mutual pal Angela. After "Ooooo"-ing and "Awwww"-ing over our new acquisitions, Sabina jumped into the autograph line-up for J. August Richards. When she returned from that encounter she was positively beaming. By all accounts, he was one of the most approachable and genial guests of HAL-CON, something I came to realize myself later on that same evening.

"Much love?" What the hell were they talking about over there?!?!

I briefly returned to the Games Room where Andrew had gotten himself immersed in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and Mike was embroiled in a heated match of Battlestar Galactica. At an event as jam-packed as this year's HAL-CON there was certainly no rest for the nerdy. Up next was Jewel Staite's Q&A which was set to begin at 2:30 pm sharp. Again, to make sure that we got a decent seat, we went down about forty minutes prior to the big event.

And its a damned good thing we did. The halls were still completely choked with bodies and the air was rife with rumors about people being turned away in droves at the door. When Angela's boyfriend Matt left the premises to get his equipment for a demo with the Society for Creative Anachronism, his re-entry was in doubt for the longest time. It was really scary when scuttlebutt seemed to indicate that we'd all be evicted from the premises and the entire event might get shut down.

But there was no confirmation of this as I staked out some standing room in the Main Hall. Regardless of how many people were packed into that place, the audience became downright reverential as soon as Jewel Staite took to the stage. Winsome, smart, funny, candid and more then a tad cheeky, Jewel immediately captured the hearts of everyone within earshot.

She covered all the bases and then some, dishing about her work on Higher Ground, Firefly, The X-Files, The Killing, Stargate: Atlantis, The L.A. Complex and even talked about her preferred super-power, the rewarding world of food bloggery, the insane world of Nathan Fillion and the joys of cooking bacon in an oven.

It's a darned good thing that I'd left my bags with Sabina and Mark. Wisely, they'd ducked out just prior to the end of the Q&A, beating the resulting crush of humanity that followed. Since I was videotaping fairly close to the stage, extricating myself from the room proved to be a Herculean effort. 

Mercifully, I found Sabina and Mark right off the bat. They'd expertly located the proper place to queue up for Jewel's autograph and I quickly joined them at the back of the budding line-up. During the subsequent wait, we had plenty of time to recant the many highlights from Jewel's entertaining Q&A and concluded that she'd be an absolute blast to have a drink and shoot the shit with.

And let me tell ya, folks, if you think that Jewel exudes scads of charisma on screen as Kaylee in Firefly or as Jennifer Keller in Stargate: Atlantis, well that ain't nothin' compared to meeting her in person. Knowing that she maintained an excellent food-related blog and had already patronized a few local eateries I opted to steer clear of any typical questions and go the foodie route.

As she signed an 8"x10" for me I couldn't help but needle her a little bit on the subject of haute cuisine.
"So, Jewel, y'know...there are people in this world who think that food is nothing more then something you stuff in your face to make hunger go away."

Upon hearing this she stopped what she was doing, lowered her pen and then fixed me with a steely glance.

"Those people are idiots," she said, half-joking and half dead-serious. 

"Whoa, whoa!" I protested, holding my hands up to ward off her mock ire. "I totally agree with you! In fact, since you already mentioned The Bicycle Thief I have a few more suggestions for you!"

"Oooo! Wait! Hold up!" she said excitedly, reaching for a conveniently-located pad of paper. "Okay, shoot!"

"Alright, so right across from The Bicycle Thief in Bishop's Landing is Ristorante a Mano, another great place for Italian food."

"Ristorante a Mano. Okay, check, I got it."

"Now, I also know that you're a huge burger fan."

"Oh, yeah! Now we're talkin'...whattaya got?"

"You need to check out Ace Burger."

"Ooo! OooOooo! Where's that?"

"It's down on Agricola Street. Now, be warned, at face value the place can look a tad...divey."

"I don't mind," came her plaintiff and emphatic reply.

"It's in Gus's Pub. And let me tell you, it's to die for."

Jewel stopped scribbling for a moment.

"Can I walk there from here?" she asked. When I made the mistake of hesitating for a beat she promptly turned to her assistant asked the exact same question. 

After assuring her that a cab ride would be well worth it, I thanked her and told her to enjoy the rest of the Con. She replied in kind and I strode away with yet another unique story and one shiny autograph.

I quickly located Sabina, Mark, Angela and Matt and collectively we all tried to puzzle out our next move. 

Even though it was just shy of 5 pm we were all getting pretty pooped. I'd been on the go since 7 am so I almost packed it in when Sabina and Mark said that they were getting out of Dodge. But since Angela and Matt were sticking around, I decided to stay for the J. August Richard's Q&A at 6 pm. And, man, am I ever glad that I did.

As Richard Hatch mentioned during his talk, Cons can be pricey affairs where your wallet starts to hemorrhage money as soon as you pass over the threshold. You really need to pick and choose who you get autographs from and photos with and what to buy in the vendor section. It's a constant struggle.

I'm saying this as a prelude to the following statement: I gotta meet J. August Richards one of these days. During his stellar Q&A he answered a slew of audience questions about Angel, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, Gray's Anatomy and, hell, even Goodburger fer cryin' out loud. Somehow karaoke, Star Wars, board games and superhero stuff also crept into the mix. As you watch this video just take stock of how genuine, enthusiastic, warm and friendly this guy is.        

One of these days I hope to meet the guy, if only to tell him that he delivered my all-time favorite line in all five seasons of Angel. It came during the second-season closer "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb" when Wesley and Gunn were facing certain death at the executioner's block:

Gunn: I got a plan.
Wesley: Oh, thank God! What is it?
Gunn: We die horribly and painfully, you go to Hell and I spend eternity in the arms of Baby Jesus!

This took us up to 7 pm; way past my anticipated check-out time. Even Andrew and Mike had retreated to play games in relative peace back at Chad's place. Although periodically I'd been forced to battle against the tide of humanity, I left that night feeling perfectly content about how things had gone down. In fact, it wasn't until I got home and popped onto Facebook when I realized just how bad things had gone for some people that afternoon.

Regardless, I got myself prepped for Day Three, hoping that it would be a much more casual affair that was chock-a-block with board gamey-goodness. 


To paraphrase Emperor Palpatine: "everything transpired according to my desires" on Sunday. This time there was no mustering at Starbucks; I just made a bee-line for the first open gaming table I could find and pledged to sit there on my ass all day and play games. When Mike and Andrew joined me not long after I proceeded to fulfill the crap out of that humble goal.

As such, I played Jaipur, Forbidden Desert and something vaguely resembling Lost Legends. I also had a football-sized roast beef sandwich that I'm probably still digesting Sarlaac-style. I also took fleeting video of some awesome people in some very cool costumes.

And then I went home and I was sad.

EPIC EXPERIENCE  My video love letter to this year's HAL-CON.

EPIC GUEST Going back to my point about J. August Richards, you really have to pick and choose who you want to meet at these things. Given a second chance I would have gone out of my way to meet the incredibly classy and selfless Peter Davison. I started to pick up on the man's indelible qualities when I was waiting in the lineup to see Billy Dee Williams. Even then Peter was going well-above and beyond the call of duty with everyone he encountered.

As a neophyte Dr. Who fan, my experience with the character is woefully limited to the current modern iteration of the show which kicked off in 2005. Well, no more. I'm going rectify this personal deficit and seek out every single episode featuring the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.

When he heard that scores of cold and frustrated fans were unable to get inside, Peter took it upon himself to go out, mingle with them and take a bunch of photos. With so much money flying around at these sort of events it's pretty easy to get jaded but with amazing guests like Peter in attendance, you really can't go wrong.

The Seward Clan were delighted to meet legendary Time Lord *slash* class act Peter Davison.

P.S. Who fans old and new owe it to themselves to watch Peter's fantastic short film The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. It's rife with awesome cameos, self-effacing humor and plenty of great in-jokes.

NERD RAGE FAIL  Now, I know that a lot of folks had a very trying time of it this year, but I can only judge HAL-CON 2013 by my own experience and my own experience was nothing short of spectacular.

Having said that I can also sympathize with fans who were barred from entry on Saturday. I can only imagine how frustrating it would have been if I'd made the pilgrimage to Halifax from some remote corner of the Maritimes, rented a hotel, and got down to the convention center around noon after wrangling the kids only find out that my entry was barred. 

Let's face it, selling day passes without a specific date on them wasn't very swift. Having said that, throwing the vendor section open to the public was actually a pretty smart move in theory if not in practice. I have a sneaking suspicion that when hordes of curious shoppers swarmed the first floor they probably thought: "Wow, this is awesome! Let's get a day pass and check out the costume contest!" The result: "Stern-Faced, Lantern-Jawed Fireman" quickly became the most popular costume at HAL-CON that day.

Having said that, I can only accompany people down Frustration Avenue only so far. When apoplectic displays of internet rage in the form of "legal action" or verbal and physical threats get bandied about, then I'm afraid you and I have to part ways. If you think that the organizers of HAL-CON deliberately wanted to over-sell the venue, incur the wrath of the Fire Marshall, piss off a bunch of fans and issue a metric shit-ton of refunds, then your Stormtrooper helmet's on waaaaay too tight.

By the contrary, the HAL-CON gurus have always seemed like a reasonable and well-intentioned bunch of dedicated volunteers. In fact, they've always taken the time to personally address and rectify every single issue I've ever publicly voiced via this blog over the past few years. I'm willing to wager dollars to 'droids that next year a finite amount of day passes will be earmarked for each day of the Con.

We need to view this for what it is: growing pains for an event that continues to expand by leaps and bounds every year. If attendance was dwindling, HAL-CON was on life support and the chances of it coming back next year were looking bleak, then I'd be worried.

PERSONAL FAIL Man, I really wanted to meet Monte Cook but there was JUST...TOO...MUCH...TO...DOOOO!!! Please come back, Monte!!!  PLEASE!!!    

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ten Weird Things About The Assassination Of JFK

Hello, Healthy Skeptics!

Fifty years ago on this very same day, the last fully independent and autonomous President of the United States was callously shot down in Dallas, Texas. In my opinion, every man who's held this office since has been little more then a convenient and transparent shill for corporate interests and the insane demands of the military-industrial complex.

To mark the occasion I've assembled ten things that still baffle me about the Kennedy assassination. As someone who's actually stood in Dealy Plaza in Dallas and visited the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository, I still have plenty of questions about that fateful day. In fact, this entry could just as easily have been titled "Forty Weird Things About The Assassination Of JFK".

Okay, ready?  Here goes...

(10) On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary, a lot of people are asking themselves "Where were you when you heard the news?" Naturally, this simple question tends to evoke a veritable flood of painful and vivid memories. That is, unless you happen to be George Herbert Walker Bush.

(9) Kennedy's bodyguards were deliberately pulled from his motorcade:

(8) JFK: conspiracy nut: 

(7) Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald actually knew one another:

(6) This creepy, like-it-or-lump-it memo, released just three-days after Kennedy was killed:

 (5) The limo was cleaned up and refurbished just hours after the assassination, destroying valuable evidence in the process:

(4) A slew of expert marksmen, including former Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura, have tried and failed to re-create Oswald's miraculous firing sequence on several occasions:

(3) Bill Newman, who was standing within ten to fifteen feet of the President when he was shot, was never interviewed by the Warren Commission:


(2) This former FBI Agent's powerful testimony:

(1) Jackie Kennedy was actually suspicious about the Vice President's motivations and Jack was terrified by the prospect of an LBJ Presidency:

Sorry, folks. I'm not one to indulge in overt wing-nuttery, but there's more weird per capita in this lingering story then any other historic event I've ever studied. Apparently I'm not alone since 61% of Americans still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone.

Or at all.

EPIC DOC  A tad alarmist but there's actually some really intriguing elements here:

A FAIL-URE TO INVESTIGATE   "'We’ll never know' has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the American press."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Son Of Obligatory Halloween Post

Felicitations, Fright Fiends!

Even though I'd (barely) survived watching the The Exorcist with my wits intact, there always seemed to be another daunting cinematic dare lurking just around the corner. The horror movie book collection that I lovingly maintained as a kid kept making reference to one notorious film in particular that I knew I'd have to confront sooner or later. Described thusly, I wasn't looking forward to our inevitable encounter: 

"Arguably the most gruesome movie of the 1970's."

- Horrors: A History of Horror Movies by Tom Hutchinson and Roy Pickard

Right away, this spelled trouble. Do you know how gruesome a movie had to be in order to distinguish itself in the friggin' Seventies? When horror, exploitation and grindhouse flicks were at their apex? This wasn't a good omen.

"Macabre and genuinely horrific...like Psycho...(this film) was inspired by the bizarre crimes of necrophile-cannibal Ed Gein."
 -The Encyclopedia of Horror edited by Richard Davis 

Inspired by the murders of a real-life serial killer, huh? Well, I'm sure that won't be the least bit authentic and / or terrifying.

"The founding father of the post-1960's blood-and-guts horror film."

"No stomach is left unturned by (this) movie. But whether you like the modern trend towards upchuck visceralism or not, it has become such a dominant feature of recent horror films that it can't be ignored in any survey of the genre."

"The graphic depiction of horror and violence (on display here) paved the way for the present decade in which the motto seems often to be: violence must not only be done, it must be seen to be done."

-Horror Films by the (ever-excitable) Nigel Andrews

Not good. Back when I was sixteen or seventeen I was still a splatter flick tenderfoot and I wasn't particularly keen to watch a movie that might make me test the Scotch Guard on my parent's chesterfield. 

But it had to be done. So eventually, one late October evening, I screwed up the courage, marched down to the local mom and pop video store, surreptitiously rented up a VHS copy of the flick and then smuggled it into the house. As a swiftly-lapsing Catholic I felt as if I was trying to procure a snuff movie.

I know it's hard to convey this to people nowadays, but back in the 80's D&D was Satanic, heavy metal music was a siren call to suicide and horror movies were the province of social deviants. Since I was a fan of all three of these things, I might as well have walked around town wearing a scarlet letter.

When I pulled that unmarked but nefarious-looking rectangular black box out of my backpack and then cracked it open to reveal the ratty-looking VHS tape inside I literally felt as if I'd just unleashed an artifact composed of pure evil. I could almost sense the residual bad karma and nightmares that the magnetic tape contained within had inspired over the years.

After my parents went out for the night I hastily performed my ritual. I turned off all the lights, powered up the VCR, popped the tape into the machine's ravenous maw and then found a blanket to huddle underneath. Since every single descriptor for the film raved about how gory it was I decided to eschew the usual movie-time snacks and beverages for fear that I'd decorate my parent's T.V. room with my supper.

As soon as the tape began to unspool I cursed the piss-poor picture quality. Apparently I wasn't the only sick deviant in this burgh who wanted to see this movie. This tape had been watched. At lot. After fiddling with the tracking for a little bit here's what I saw:

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Not only was this intro completely unnerving, there was something oddly familiar about it. Later on I discovered that the narrator was none other then Eighties comedic icon John Larroquette, who played uber-scumbag attorney Dan Fielding on Night Court and the Klingon warrior Maltz in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. At the time I didn't have the luxury of associating such relatively light-hearted characters with John's exemplary and somber voice-over work. Nope, I was way too preoccupied trying to keep the contents of my bowels intact.

This atmos-fear-ic intro was the perfect segue for what came next. After "August 18'th, 1973" was established as the current date the screen promptly went pitch black giving way to a series of disconcerting noises, namely the sound of a shovel moving dirt and some creepy heavy breathing. Then the screen suddenly burst to life under the corona of a still camera's flashbulbs, showing close-up glimpses of a twisted, dessicated corpse. Although I was only a few minutes in, the VCR's "STOP" button was definitely calling my name.

Even though this gruesome image faded into daylight, no reprieve was proffered. Instead I got a wince-inducing close up of a drippy, skeletal face, mouth agape, looking as if it was melting under the arid heat of the mid-day Texas sun. Then the camera slowly pulled out to reveal the sort of grotesque artwork that would make the Bodies exhibition look like a Lego display. Adding exponentially to the creep-out factor was the film's dissonant music, rife with cymbal crashes and echoey drums as well as a running radio news report about the desecration of twelve graves in a cemetery "just outside the small rural Texas community of Newt". We also learn that in many cases "only parts of a corpse have been removed, the head or in some cases the extremities removed, (and) the remainder of the corpse left intact". Wheeeeee! 

The trippy main credits that followed were superimposed over a bloody-looking optical effect, resembling something that the U.S.S. Enterprise used to habitually encounter in the original Star Trek T.V. show. At the same time, the audio news reports kept bombarding me with unrelated stories about torture, murder and mutilation. Like many films of that era such as Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust and Night of the Living Dead, it could be argued that I was watching one film-makers response to the constant parade of real-life horrors in the news. This disturbing thought would end up nagging me throughout my inaugural viewing of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and years beyond.

After the credits our clearly-deranged director / crypt keeper Tobe Hooper shows us a tit's-up armadillo lying splattered on the road. When I see this now it just looks like someone's taxidermied prop lying on it's back but the first time I saw it I was convinced that it was a real, dead animal they'd found in the field. The film would continue to blend fantasy and reality for me in a seamless fashion throughout the entire length of its lean n' mean run-time.

I was then introduced to our hapless cast of walking flank-steaks. A "Mystery Machine"-type van pulled over to the side of the road, dis-engorging Kirk (William Vail), Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her wheel-chair bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain). As they pushed him into the bushes to facilitate a pit stop, neo-hippy chick Pam (Teri McMinn) started blathering on about Franklin's astrological forecast:

"Travel in the country, long-range plans, and upsetting persons around you, could make this a disturbing and unpredictiable day. The events in the world are not doing much either to cheer one up." 

"Disturbing and unpredictable" indeed.

Franklin's day starts to go south almost immediately when a large transport truck blows by them and the rush of air sends his wheelchair hurtling down the hill. He falls out, barrel rolls down the embankment for a bit and then finally comes to rest at the bottom of the ravine. I was even disturbed by this scene at the time. Back then I must have thought that putting people with disabilities through cinematic jeopardy was either taboo or in supremely bad taste. Nowadays, I find the scene oddly amusing.

After Franklin is safely stowed back onboard the van we learn that Sally is looking for their abandoned childhood home. In order to find the place they stop at what appears to be a tailgate party for a bunch of drunken yahoos. The omens continue to pile up when one of the besotted old rednecks starts babbling that "Things happen here about they don't tell about. I see things." Wonderful.

Automatically I started to think: 'Hey, guys instead of exploring Defilement Country, why don't we go home, throw on a Lynyrd Skynyrd record and just, y'know...mellow out.'

But, nope, Sally got directions to the old homestead and we were on their way. En route they drove through a noxious cloud of olfactory funk, signalling the close proximity of the local slaughterhouse. Sensitive soul that he is, Franklin decided that this was the perfect time to bust out his classic "air gun going into a cow's skull" impression over and over and over and over again. Watching this for the first time, cracks were beginning to show in my naive "disabled people can never assholes" theory.

In a scene specifically designed to put a final stake through the heart of hippy-era peace and love, Jerry (Allan Danziger) obeys majority rule and picks up a hitchhiker played to corn-pone perfection by Edwin Neal. After taking one good, hard look at their new passenger, Franklin immediately declares "I think we just picked up Dracula." And with that Franklin earned a point back in my books.

With his prominent birthmark, antiquated camera, sassy varmint purse and a head of hair that looks like it was combed with a porkchop, this dude has to be the number one reason as to why no-one ever picks up hitchhikers anymore. The scene starts with a dose of coal-black humor but it turns really sour, really quick. He snatches Franklin's pocket knife away from him, cuts his own palm open and then calmly hands the blade back to him. Then, in a twisted version of show-and-tell, he produces his very own straight razor. All the while I'm watching this thinking, 'Quick, Jerry, his the f#@king eject button! Launch that mutant into the nearest cornfield!'

The Hitchhiker then used his ancient flashbulb camera to take a Polaroid of Franklin and then promptly demanded to be paid for the resulting photo like a Caribbean beach huckster. After our "hero" flatly refused to participate in this extortion we all watched in horror as the Hitchhiker created a nice little tin foil funeral pyre, charred the picture with gunpowder, and then calmly pocketed the remains. After this standard operating procedure was concluded the Hitchhiker then whipped out his straight razor, grabbed Franklin's arm and then started sawing away at his wrist like it was a porterhouse steak.

Aaaaaand that's when I shut the movie off.    

In my previous horror movie encounters I'd managed to contend semi-successfully with demons, werewolves, ghosts and zombies but this was completely different. Never before had I witnessed such a harrowing and convincing portrait of good, old-fashion human mental illness in a film before. Edwin Neal's portrayal of the Hitchhiker was just so damned weird and disjointed that you got the feeling that it made perfect sense within his own fevered brain. And whereas it was possible to discount supernatural threats as pure fantasy, I knew that there were people out there in our own world who made freaks like the Hitchhiker look like Jason Bateman.

After taking a few deep breaths and indulging in the scaredy-cat mantra of "it's only a movie...it's only a movie..." I acted contrary to my better judgement and hit the "PLAY" button again.

There was a flurry of smoke, screaming and chaos as Jerry pulled over to the side of the road and the Hitchhiker was unceremoniously chucked out. As the van tore away, yon weirdo decided to do a little speed painting on the side of the van using the oft-overlooked medium of blood.

As if in direct rebuttal to my silent plea to turn around and drive home, the kids started telling me about their script-convenient gas woes. After pulling into a service station manned by a pair of genetic casualties the manager informed them that "my tank's empty! Transport won't be here until late this afternoon. Maybe not even 'til tomorrow morning."  Although the kids don't get any gas they decided to help themselves to some "barbeque".  Which is why I always ask: "Okay, yeah, I get that it's 'barbeque', but what kind of 'barbeque' is it, exactly? Beef brisket? Pulled pork? Smoked sophomore?" Sorry, but I still put "human flesh" above "deadly nut allergy" when it comes to my food sensitivities. 

Eventually the kids found the old abandoned Hardesty house and I was "treated" to some more ominous and echoey music as they walked up to it. The wiggins factor continued to rise for me after Kirk spies what appears to be a giant cellar spider orgy in the corner of an abandoned room. Awesome. Despite the fact that I actually owned a pet tarantula at the time, I couldn't believe that Tobe Hooper and his cinematographer Daniel Pearl saw this and said, "Hey, look, that's totally disgusting! Quick! Get a shot of it and we'll include it in the movie!"     

Meanwhile, Franklin got left behind outside the house and for a moment my young, pathetically-sappy self felt bad that was being excluded because of his disability. That is until the fat bastard pitched the worst sort of temper tantrum, replete with extended dance mix raspberries and a mocking impersonation of his sister and her friends:

"'Hee, hee, hee! Come on, Franklin! It's gonna be a fun trip! Hee, hee, hee!' If I have any more fun today, I don't think I'm gonna be able to take it!  

Suddenly cruel thoughts began stampeding through my head. This nasty little flick was starting to have a bad influence on me!

'Yeah, I got yer 'fun' revvin' up right here you fat f#@k,' I thought to myself. 'God, I hope you become chainsaw fodder!'    

But then, when Franklin nearly rolled over this weird bone fetish altar thingie, noticed a matching totem hanging overhead and the soundtrack suddenly raised hackles up my spine with a rattlesnake-tail sting, I quickly changed my tune. I wouldn't wish this budding nightmare on my worst enemy!

I then watched as Pam and Kirk made their way down to the ol' swimmin' hole back behind the property, which turned out to be all dried up. That's when they caught a glimpse of a windmill and the top of a roof on the horizon. As they approached the property they could hear the distinct sound of a gas generator, leading Kirk to theorize that the owners might have some gas to spare.

But as they wandered through the foreboding property my Spider-Sense started to go nuts. What kind of freak ties a bunch of rusty old junk onto tree limbs? What's the deal with all those abandoned cars? And, more importantly, why are they covered up with camo netting?

Kirk knocks on the front door of the house but there's no answer. As he turns around, his foot kicks up what appears to be a discarded molar which he then helpfully deposits into Pam's unsuspecting hand. Naturally she freaks out, drops it like a One Direction CD and then storms away in disgust. Kirk then goes back to pounding on the door which opens up just a crack. Apparently in Kirk's twisted world, this is an open invitation to barge in and make himself at home.

As he crossed the threshold, warning klaxons started sounding in my head. As he ventured down the hallway toward the crimson-hued back room covered in animal skulls and taxidermy projects we both started to hear what sounded like pig squeals and grunting noises. Just before Kirk got there he tripped on something underfoot, stumbled head-first into the room and came under the auspices of, in my humble opinion, the scariest villain in the history of horror cinema.

Suddenly the doorway was dominated by a hulking brute clad in a filthy short-sleeve dress shirt, a blood-splattered butcher's apron and, because he takes pride in his job, a jaunty little tie. Of course, he was also wearing a mask made entirely out of stitched-together bits of human flesh, so I guess that last statement's a bit of a wash.

So "bang, bang" Leatherface's silver hammer came down upon Kirk's head. After falling to the floor, actor William Vail decided to add a distressingly-authentic touch to the scene by going into convulsions. Non-plussed, Leatherface gave him a few more smacks, picked him up like a side of beef, hucked him off to the side and then slammed the metal door shut in a fit of super-human rage.

And that's when I decided it was time for another intermission.

Now, up to that point I'd seen stills of Leatherface in my horror movie books but to see him come to life on screen right in front of me was just too much for my poor adolescent brain to process. Between his crazed vocalizations, horrifying appearance and rage-fueled physicality, actor Gunnar Hansen managed to give me weeks worth of bad dreams within a few short seconds!

I turned on every light in the house and walked around for a little bit, trying to remind myself that all was not dire and repellent in the world. Eventually I shook off my feelings of despair, slowly trudged back upstairs, took up the remote with a heavy heart and then voluntarily re-immersed myself back into that living nightmare.

Tired of waiting for Kirk to come back, Pam returned to the house to look for him. This was accomplished with a terrific low P.O.V. shot which not only showcased Teri McMinn's amazing red shorts but also made the house look overwhelmingly imposing. Frustrated that Kirk wasn't answering her calls, Pam entered the house and then make the mistake of stumbling into the ironically-named "living room".

Pam's shellshock mirrored my very own as the camera took a brain-melting inventory of the biological detritus scattered about the room. There were piles of feathers, scattered bones, a live chicken crammed into a tiny cage, chairs re-enforced with tibias, hanging skulls with a horns driven through the mouth and plenty more charming bric-à-brac. All the while that horrible discordant music was clawing away at our tenuous grasp on reality.

After sharing my own impulse to dry-heave, Pam managed to get to her feet and run for the door. Just as she came around the corner, however, the metal door to the back room flew open revealing Leatherface who  immediately let out his signature (and terrifying) bull-moose call and then chased after her. Yeah, she didn't get very far. After snatching her up, Leatherface dragged her kicking and screaming back into the killing room and then chucked her up on a conveniently-placed meat hook. Still alive and dangling there, Pam watched in desperate horror as Leatherface fired up his titular chainsaw and then proceeded to massacre her boyfriend right before her unbelieving eyes.

Which meant it was time for another pause.

It was just too much, too goddamned realistic. I'd joked before about smuggling a snuff film into the house but now I was starting to think that I'd inadvertently succeeded. The film's gritty, lo-fi sensibilities were really driving home the possibility that what I was watching was within the dark boundaries of real-life human madness and cruelty.

When I fired the video up again I was delighted to get a temporary reprieve. There we were: back at the van again with good ol' Jerry, Sally and Franklin...yay!  But then good ol' Jerry had to cock everything up by going off in search of Pam and Kirk. Accompanied only by a disjointed audio panoply of cymbal crashes, echoey steel drum and an incessently-roaring generator, Jerry approached the house and then found the towels that his friends had brought along with them for their swim. Naturally this led him inside the house.

Now, you may be tempted to think 'C'mon, Dave, these people are all idiots and they deserve what they got!' but permit me to play screenwriter's advocate for a bit. You're in the middle of nowhere, your van is out of fuel, you find a house that has a gas generator, you're stuck and you really need some help. Sure, the decor inside the house is a tad eclectic, but never in a million years would you ever expect that the place is home to a homicidal, hammer-wielding ogre who would just as soon bash your face in as look at you.

But to give credence to your unspoken objection, Jerry did go a helluva lot farther then I ever would. First off, he knew that his overdue friends are somewhere on the premises because their towels are on the porch. He could also clearly tell that they weren't answering his calls. And most importantly, he started hearing a weird girlish giggle coming from deeper inside the house. Did he think that it was Pam?

Regardless, Jerry ventured inside and then made his way to the exposed back room. After hearing thumping noises coming from inside the deep freezer, Jerry opened it up only to find Pam lying there like a box of frozen fish sticks. To make matters worse she suddenly sprang to life, causing me to pee a little and startling the crap outta Jerry who promptly stumbled right back into Leatherface's raised mallet. After Jerry was dispatched I almost stopped the tape again but then something interesting happened, something that made Leatherface infinitely more interesting to me then fellow slasher juggernauts Micheal Myers and Jason Vorhees.

He actually started freaking out. Still making his characteristic hoots and grunts, he ran over to the window, frantically looked around outside and then collapsed into a nearby chair, holding his head. That's when it dawned on me: he's actually scared. He's fretting over the appearance of all of these pesky kids and wondering if they'll ever stop coming. For a second you almost feel bad for the poor shlub. Almost.

Which brings me to another point which I can't stress enough: IMHO only one actor has ever played Leatherface and his name is Gunnar Hansen. Every subsequent depiction of this character in the Chainsaw "franchise" has been decidedly L.I.N.O. or "Leatherface In Name Only". From Bill Johnson's hyperactive, two-stepping goofball in the direct sequel to Andrew Bryniarski's neckless, meat-headed goon in the remake, every other portrayal of Leatherface has been miles off the mark. Only Hannsen succeeded in making the character authentic to me and, subsequently, completely terrifying. 

Back at the van, Sally and Franklin are blowing the horn and shouting their friend's names into the Stygian darkness in the hopes of guiding them back. They argue about whether or not they should jump in the van and leave but when they realize that Jerry has the keys, they decide to go out into the woods and look for him. I can only only imagine Sally's burden here, trying to push a bloated, whiny Franklin through the underbrush in a wheelchair. Good times.

When they saw lights from the house up ahead Sally doggedly redoubled her efforts. Then, all of a sudden, Leatherface and his roaring chainsaw popped up from out of nowhere and quickly turned Franklin into a Jackson Pollock painting. Although his sudden appearance scared the friggin' bejesus out of me, the video quality was so dark and muddy I had to assume that Franklin had just been eviscerated in the most painful and protracted manner possible. I won't lie to you; the mere thought of this kinda gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

Sally screamed and ran away and Leatherface promptly fell into hot pursuit right behind her. And whereas our heroine kept getting snared up in the brambles Leatherface just hacked his way through that shit. With her attacker just a few strides behind her Sally finally broke free and managed to reach the house. She ran upstairs only to stumble upon the remains of two dessicated corpses sitting there in repose. For me it was a shocking scene that rivaled the classic reveal of Norman's Mom in Psycho.

When Leatherface cornered her upstairs, Sally did the only logical thing she could do: jump right the f#@k outta the window. By now I'm screaming "RUN, SALLY, RUN!" at the television like someone's dementia-riddled grandmother who's totally convinced that what they're watching is real.

Sally slowly got to her feet and hauled ass back into the woods, only to get knocked down again by a low-lying branch. She barely managed to escape just as Leatherface was closing in with his still-buzzing, disconcertingly-authentic chainsaw. After another extended chase scene in which Leatherface closed to within swiping distance, Sally stumbled upon the very same gas station they'd all visited earlier. Overjoyed that she'd finally found sanctuary I watched with growing interest as she burst into the office and ran into the manager who immediately tried to calm her down.

My relief at the time was palpable; our heroine finally had some back-up! Elderly back up, mind you, but back-up nonetheless. But right away something about the station manager's demeanor seemed kinda off to me. Instead of freaking out, locking the door and looking for a weapon, the old man tried to pacify her.

"Call the police!" Sally wailed.

"There's no phone here!" the old man replied. "You just stay here. I'll go get the truck!" 

Then, all of a sudden, the crazy old bastard just marched outside,oblivious to the fact that there's a chainsaw-wielding lunatic lurking just around the corner. This left Sally sitting there all alone, vulnerable and frantic with the office door wide open.

A close up of Sally's stricken face showed that the poor girl was completely traumatized. Then director / sick little monkey Tobe Hooper served up a lingering shot of the gas station's BBQ cooker. The blood-red light and abstract-looking meats sizzling inside dovetailed with the film's only other audio: more news reports about the local rash of grave-robbing. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with a sinking feeling that things were about to get much, much worse.

And sure enough, when the gas station manager re-appeared, he was inexplicably holding a bag and some rope. My heart wilted as the horrible realization dawned on me that this freak is actually in cahoots with Leatherface.

Sally grabbed a knife and tried to defend herself but the old reprobate knocked the weapon out of her hand with a nearby broom. He then proceeded to whale the snot out of her, a sadistic and pervy sort of glee lighting up his twisted features. After he knocked her out and tied her up, he crammed a legitimately-filthy-looking rag into her mouth, threw the bag over her head and then chucked her into the truck for the long and painful drive back up to the House of Horrors.

Within the span of a few short minutes, actor Jim Siedow made the Cook one of the most reviled and repellant characters in cinema history. As if beating Sally into unconsciousness wasn't bad enough, he then spent the entire drive back to the house alternating between comforting her with reassuring words and then roughly jabbing at her with his broken-off broom handle. Between the perverse script and Siedow's eerie portrayal it's one of the most convincing depictions of mental illness I've ever seen in a movie.

This necessitated another extended pause for me.

Just like my horror movie tomes had warned, I was starting to feel sick, but not because of any graphic depictions of gore. In fact, most of the violence thus far had been implied. No, the thing that was making me queasy was the unrelenting, cumulative depiction of aberrant human behavior. Although I wasn't sure whether or not I'd finish watching the film, I did know that a forty-minute shower was somewhere in my future.

What really amazed me about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was how, just seconds after thinking "Well, it can't get any worse then this!", it did. Like, a lot worse. En route back to the house the Cook stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. Yep, that's right kiddies the Hitchhiker. As it turns out our l'il buddy from the beginning of the film is a card-carrying member of the same whack-a-do clan of degenerates. As I kept watching through a web of interlocked finger, the bizarre family dynamic of these mondo weirdos started to come into focus.

On sight, the Cook immediately started beating the Hitchhiker with the broom handle, chiding him for unearthing all those graves and drawing media attention to the area. Also, in a glorious moment of dark humor, he proceeded to lose his shit after seeing the state of the house:

"Look what your brother did to the door!!! Ain't he got no pride in his home?!?"

After the Cook took a few pot-shots at Leatherface with the broom handle I noticed that the big lug had switched faces, presumably to prepare supper. The "Old Lady Mask" was even more disturbing since it revealed his abject willingness assume the matronly role in the family. I don't think I need to explain why this goes above and beyond the traditional definition of "disturbing". Given the fact that Leatherface and the Hitchhiker have been marinating in an environment rife with violence, fear, intimidation and cruelty things actually start to make a weird sort of sense.

Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel then proceeded to blow the needle right off of the ol' DISTURB-O-METER. The Cook told the "kids" to bring Grampa down from the attic who, as it turns out, is still (barely) alive. I then watched in total revulsion as the Hitchhiker slashed Sally's finger open and then crammed her bleeding digit right into the old man's maw, who then proceeded to take a long, lingering, contented suck. It's a tender mercy that she passed out at that moment. I certainly wish I did.

Eventually Sally woke up to find herself seated at the family "dinner table", her hands and feet bound to a skeletal chair. At the far end was The Cook, to her left the Hitchhiker and to her right Leatherface, sporting yet another new mask in honor of the special occasion. This time he'd assumed his "Pretty Woman" guise, replete with makeup, a saucy black wig and a spiffy black suit. This just seemed to intensify the squirm-factor for me. 

Regaining consciousness in such hellish surroundings, Sally reacted the exact same way any self-respecting captive would: by screaming her ever-lovin' guts out. In a maddening twist, her three degenerate hosts started screaming and howling right back at her in a mocking parody of her terror. Based solely on this performance alone, Marilyn Burns belongs right up there with Faye Wray and Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the greatest Scream Queens in cinema history. I'm sure the harsh shooting conditions inspired a lot of method acting; her agony, suffering and mental deterioration is so realistic that it's still almost impossible to watch.

Hooper then clobbered me with a succession of knockout blows. We get a series of twitchy, microscopic closeups, perfectly conveying Sally's wide-eyed horror. The Hitchhiker mocks her torment. The Cook exhibits leering, perverse delight. Leatherface leans closer, emitting a series of distressingly-porcine sounds. As the industrial-style soundtrack reached a crescendo, Hooper hit me with another orthodontic close up of Marilyn's mouth agape in a soul-rending scream. Watching this for the first time I literally felt as if my own wits were unraveling along with Sally's.

"Hey, Grandpa, we're gonna let you have this one!" the Hitchhiker enthused.

"Grampa's the best killer that ever was!" the Cook chimed in. "Never took more then one lick!" 

I didn't get a lot a lot of solace from that statement, especially as Leatherface dragged Sally over to the decrepit old mummy propped up in the chair. Simultaneously, the Hitchhiker produced a large, ominous-looking metal washbasin. Oh, God, this did not bode well.

My worst fears were confirmed when Leatherface roughly positioned Sally's head over the metal bucket and the Hitchhiker tried to shove a mallet into Grandpa's barely-conscious hand. It immediately slipped out of his grip, grazed Sally in the head and then fell to the bottom of the basin with a loud "BANG". Realizing that Gramps was too old and infirm to hold the hammer, the Hitchhiker put the weapon back into the old man's hand and then took a few practice swings on his behalf. Employing this clearly-unsportsmanlike method, the hammer connected with the back of Sally's skull a few times and her screams came anew. 

"Nope! Sorry! I'm done! I quit!" I said out loud, mashing the "STOP" button on the VCR. With the last vestiges of my inner child now huddled into a fetal position, I had to bring an end to my self-abuse.

'Seriously,' I thought to myself, 'what sort of damaged brain comes up with this sick shit?' And that's when I realized that this fictional edifice was nothing compared to the real-life cruelty being inflicted on people every day by other people. Back then I was barely aware of the concept of serial killers and the news didn't strive to turn them into notorious celebrities. This was art imitating life, not the other way around.

Praying that I was getting towards the end of the flick, I pressed "PLAY" again for what would be the final time. I writhed at the edge of my seat until Sally finally experienced a Herculean adrenaline rush of strength,  broke free of her captors and then jumped out though the nearest window. 'Cripes, this chick's gone through more panes of glass then friggin' Batman!' I thought to myself. 

Bleeding from head trauma, lacerated by a slew of glass cuts and hobbled by her awkward landing, Sally got up and started to run / lope down the dirt road away from the house, screaming bloody murder all the way. In a flash, the Hitchhiker was right behind her, slashing at her exposed back with his straight razor. Suddenly they burst out onto the main road where Sally's pursuer experienced a spectacular and wholly-overdue tête-à-tête with a speeding livestock truck.

As soon as the driver got out of his truck the first thing I thought was 'This guy is awesome!'. Morbidly obese, dressed in "slacks", wearing a pup-tent sized yellow t-shirt and sporting a righteous 'fro I could tell that this guy (actor Ed Guinn, BTW) was the prototypical Seventies-era exploitation film actor. Anyway after jumping out of his truck to check on the street pizza, Mr. Perfect caught a glimpse of the approaching Leatherface, quickly concluded "F#@k this shit!", grabbed Sally and then retreated right back into the truck.

Sawing vainly at the driver's door, Leatherface finally noticed that his quarry had retreated out the opposite side. Just as he cleared the truck, the driver beaned him right in the melon with a heavy thrown wrench. Down he went in a heap, the chainsaw's blade coming to rest on the meaty part of his thigh. 'Yeah, how does that feel, ya creep!' my inner cheerleader enthused.

As good fortune would have it a pickup truck happened to drive by. Sally flagged him down and barely had enough time to crawl in the flat bed just as her pursuer's wild-swinging saw roared within a few inches of her battered body.

Not needing any more incentive, the pickup driver quickly tore off, the sound of Sally's involuntary screams slowly degenerating into peals of maniacal laughter. Even though she was now physically safe, it wasn't difficult to tell that her sanity was clearly in tatters. The very last shot is of Leatherface, spinning around like a whirling dervish of impotent rage.

Slowly I found my way out of my state of shock. When I came to I was watching the closing credits; the accompanying music sounding like rusty farm equipment tumbling down a bloody metal sluice. I sat there for the longest time, studying the names of the sick bastards who'd just inflicted all that mental and emotional abuse on me. I vowed to find these deviants and personally congratulate each and every one of them for hauling me kicking and screaming through one-hundred and twenty minutes worth of escalating, sustained, mind-shattering terror.

It's not too often that a film changes you somehow, but I can safely say that the me that sat down to watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that evening was not the same me that now sat gaping at the closing credits as if I'd been struck in the back of the head with a vulpine hammer. My inner child had taken quite a few body blows and I didn't feel quite so squeaky clean and innocent.

For the first time ever a movie of all things forced me to consider the genuinely horrifying fact that truth was stranger then fiction. I was left to wrestle with the troubling concept that dark things were happening in our world which made the events depicted in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like an episode of Scooby-Doo. That's a pretty harsh pill for a kid to swallow but I also think it's important to have realistic expectations about the darkness that resides within some of our more twisted fellow human beings.

Oh, and there's one more very important thing about this movie that haunts me to this day:

What the hell happened to that poor cattle truck driver?     
EPIC MAKING OF DOC  An ample amount of real-life, behind-the-scenes horror likely contributed to the film's authenticity:

FAILED FRANCHISE That first film was so good it's a bloody shame that the "story" was continued for purely mercenary reasons