MONSTER MANIA CONVENTION 2003: CHERRY HILL, NJ
By Christopher Gullo
In writing this review I will start out by saying that I had high expectations for this convention and that by the end of the show, all my expectations were met or exceeded. Dave Hagan's first ever convention, Monster Mania 2003, was held at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center during the weekend of September 26-28, 2003. My drive in from Long Island, New York took just about three hours (and amazingly I did not get lost!). After checking in at the front desk and dropping off my belongings in my room, I began to walk around and see if I could find Dave Hagan among the masses of venders setting up for that night. This didn't take too long as after speaking with some volunteers at the ticket booth, I spotted Dave walking with some fire marshals who were going over the convention's set up to make sure everything was to code. Understandably very busy, Dave let me know that I would be promoting my upcoming Peter Cushing book in the same conference room where the women of Hammer were signing. Dave had assembled some big names and I was in heaven to spend the entire weekend chatting with Yvonne Monlaur ("Brides of Dracula"), Hazel Court ("The Curse of Frankenstein"), Veronica Carlson ("Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed"), Caroline Munro ("Dracula A.D. 1972"), and Susanna Leigh ("Lust for a Vampire").
While waiting to find out which table I would be setting up in the room, Veronica came in and started chatting with me. For those fans who do not know, Veronica is a very accomplished artist and we talked about her methods used when sketching people - she explained that she always starts a drawing with a person's eyes. After a half-hour, everyone began setting up in the room as the time was nearing for the convention doors to open to the fans. My neighbor for the weekend of Hazel Court and her friend Barry Poland (who I had been in touch with previously through e-mail). Yvonne Monlaur was also a delight to chat with, she was kindness personified. During the course of the weekend, I took plenty of photos of everyone in the room - certainly a rare opportunity to meet up with so many of your favourite stars of film. I should note that Hazel, Yvonne, and Caroline had all contributed their memories of Peter Cushing for my book and that after speaking with Veronica, she too, said she wants to be part of the book.
Although I was in autograph room for most of the weekend, I did manage a quick stroll through the dealers rooms which were packed with fans who could find anything and everything they wanted. Many of the familiar dealers from the bi-annual Chiller Theatre convention were on hand, plus some news faces as well. On the Peter Cushing memorabilia scene, there were posters and films, plus a few items I had not seen before such as a custom mouse pad featuring a great cartoon likeness of Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin from "Star Wars".
On Saturday morning I finally met artist Neil Vokes, who does the fantastic covers to the "Cushing Confidential" fanzine. He had a table displaying all his recent artwork such as the new comic from Image - "Parliament of Justice", and his work in author Denis Meikle's book "Vincent Price: The Art of Fear". Neil is a great guy and seeing his artwork in person will totally blow you away with his moody and atmospheric creations.
Although the guests and dealers were a main attraction of the convention, it was the chance to meet up with fans who I had only been in touch with through e-mail that really made the weekend one to remember. I spent Friday and Saturday night chatting in the hotel's bar until the wee hours of the morning with Kevin Nichelson, Michael McGlasson, Dave Mele, Zach Zito, and a number of other new friends. There is nothing like a convention to bring together friends with similar interests. We talked nonstop for hours upon hours and could have gone on for another week if we had the time.
Another attraction during the convention was the question and answer sessions with all the stars at the show. Although I did not get the chance to go to any, I did get to attend the Peter Cushing tribute held on Saturday night which was hosted by Joe Bob Briggs and featured Hazel Court, Yvonne Monlaur, Veronica Carlson, and Caroline Munro. They obviously all had deep affection for the great Peter Cushing, as recounted in stories about him that they shared with the audience. It seemed like all the fans had come for this tribute as all the chairs were filled and people were even standing in the back. I've said it before and will say it again, Peter Cushing was the most loved man in the film industry.
Somehow, the three days seemed to go like a few whirlwind hours. I wished that the weekend could keep going on but Sunday came up before I knew it. At noon I had a chat with fans and friends about my upcoming Peter Cushing book and then it was time to pack up and head back home (which took a bit longer due to traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike). In summing the review up, I have to say that it was one of the most enjoyable experiences that I have ever had at a convention. The rooms were not too crowded, the guests all gave you their full attention and chatted away with everyone, and there were plenty of old friends around and new friends to meet. Hats off to Dave Hagan who put together one fantastic show. Dave has already made plans for the second Monster Mania convention - it is to be held on September 25-27, 2004 and so far features Ingrid Pitt ("Countess Dracula"), and Lupita Tovar (the Spanish "Dracula").
COPYRIGHT CHRISTOPHER GULLO 2003
No part of this article may be reproduced nor photos copied with written permission from the author concerned.
Photos from the Monster Mania convention below (click on image to see at full size):
Photos by Christopher Gullo (photo of Neil Vokes by Gary Dorst)