“Darkside In Riverside”: A three-day SoCal Halloween horror fest…

Horror Close To Home…

As a longtime horror fan, I was pleased to learn (via Instagram) that a 3-day horror convention was coming to nearby Riverside, California (20 minutes away from me). “Darkside In Riverside” took place from Friday October 18th through the 20th, and was the very first in what I hope will be an annual event for this old So Cal city. I bought a 3-day VIP ticket for $75 (for three days of programming with premium event seating at the old Fox Theatre and hour-early autograph room attendance).

First Night: Friday the 18th (or was it the 13th?….).

Our first night, Friday the 18th.
A lovely view from our Marriott hotel room on the 10th floor; giving me a very different perspective on the city I called home back in my bachelor days. Our hotel was right next to the Riverside Convention Center, where (ironically) none of the “Darkside In Riverside” horror convention took place; the convention was decentralized, taking place in locales all over the city, including the Municipal Auditorium, the local library, and the famed downtown Fox Theatre.
Blood Night.
The very first stop for me that first evening was to do something that’s becoming a convention tradition for me; donating blood. For all the time I used to spend in hospitals, it only seemed fair that I give something back, so I try to donate a unit or two whenever I can, and somehow donating blood at a horror convention seemed oddly appropriate. At the Lifestream Blood Drive, located downstairs at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium, they had a refreshments bar renamed the “Mos Eisley Cantina” (you can’t get away from Disney or Star Wars… even at a dedicated horror convention). They also screened Christopher Lee’s “Dracula” for donors as we lay down in our couches, compressing the heart-shaped squeeze toys every five seconds to keep our blood flowing. I finished my blood donation at 7 pm sharp, just in time to walk down the street to the historic Fox Theatre…
The historic Fox Theatre in downtown Riverside.
Thanks to my VIP ticket, I was able to pick a seat (any seat) a half hour early at the Fox Theatre for a screening of the 1980 original “Friday The 13th.” I got a nice 2nd row spot, as well as a free Jason Voorhees mask. Before the event began, I took a couple pics of the beautifully restored 1930s vintage Fox Theatre, which never gets old for me, no matter how many times my wife and I have seen it since its restoration. This was where “Gone With The Wind” had its very first audience preview screening back in 1939, ahead of its Hollywood premiere. The Fox was fully restored about 10 or so years ago and, as you can see, it looks absolutely gorgeous inside, recalling the look of 1930s California Spanish Mission architecture. I lived in Riverside a bit over 20 years ago, and at that time the Fox was fairly dilapidated; badly worn seats, faded upholstery/curtains, outdated equipment, etc. It almost looked abandoned. From then to now, it’s been fully restored and has become a great venue for local entertainment. My wife and I have seen comedians Lewis Black, Bill Maher and a (pre-arrest) Bill Cosby perform at this theatre since its restoration. Rumor has it the place is haunted, but the only ghouls and ghosts I saw this past weekend were in the audience…
such as this good chap.
One of the attendees of the “Friday the 13th” panel both with and without his complementary Jason Voorhees mask! This spirit of fun pervaded the almost concert-like atmosphere of the screening. There were serious diehard Friday the 13th fans in the audience, and their energy was infectious.
Puck off!
Wearing my own free “Friday the 13th” Jason Voorhees’ (antiquated) hockey goalie mask, it was very easy to get into the ‘spirit’ of the event. To be honest, I’m more a casual fan of the “Friday the 13th” movie franchise (the Universal monster classics, “Halloween” and “The Exorcist” are more my speed), but I got into the groove of it all very quickly, and wound up having a delightful time. I dare say, this event (which I considered skipping after donating blood shortly before) became one of my favorites of the 3-day weekend.
Q&A with Ari Lehman and Harry Manfredini.
Before the film screened, there was a discussion with original “Jason Voorhees” actor Ari Lehman (in leather), who was only 14 years old when he jumped up from the water to menace costar Adrienne King in the final moments of the film. Many actors (including Hodder Kane) have played the role since, but Lehman was the “First Jason” (which is the name of his metal band as well). Lehman was joined onstage by original “Friday the 13th” composer Harry Manfredini, who created the iconic ‘ki-ki-ki-ha-ha-ha’ Jason motif used throughout the Friday the 13th film series. The discussion was hosted by Joe Moe (“Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine; my very first magazine subscription when I was a kid). During the Q&A, I had the second question in which I asked Manfredini about the origin of his now famous “Jason theme.” Manfredini said it was an abbreviation of “kill her mama” that he deliberately distorted with echo effects to create that ‘ki-ki-ha-ha’ sound. It gave the killer (not Jason in the first film) a theme as easily memorable as the shark theme in JAWS, and it works very well. Manfredini also joked that since I made that very sound myself during my question, I owed him 55 cents in royalties. Great guy. The audience gave both of them a standing ovation, and we posed for a mass selfie wearing our free Jason goalie masks (and yes, I wore mine too…).
During the screening of the film, the audience saw Ari Lehman silhouetted against the screen (arms raised in rockstar mode) during Jason Voorhee’s epic ‘jump-out’ scare near the end (that moment nearly gave me heart failure when I was 13). After the credits rolled, Lehman walked onstage once again to thank the audience for attending and to salute “Friday the 13th” fans for keeping the film series alive. He also promised a little something special to be given away at his autograph table the next day to those fans in the audience who remembered a certain password. I took him up on that promise the very next day, and he honored it. Of course, I won’t repeat the password since it might ruin it for Lehman at any future horror events.
Jason Lives!
Vampira lives!
An excellent Vampira drag cosplayer outside the Fox Theatre, whom I took a pic of as I walked back to my hotel. After the screening of “Friday the 13th”, there was a screening of “Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark” (1988), as well as a short film on Maila Nurmi, who played Elvira’s horror movie-host antecedent “Vampira” back in the 1950s (and of course, in the classic Ed Wood movie “Plan Nine From Outer Space”). I would’ve stayed for both films, but after giving blood earlier that evening I was a bit sleepy. My family and I used to love watching standup comic Cassandra Peterson’s “Movie Macabre” TV series, where she mercilessly skewered b-movies as her Elvira character. I’ve seen Peterson dressed as “Elvira” many times at conventions, and she is definitely a crowd pleaser. Sadly, the hilarious Peterson wasn’t attending this particular screening herself, or I might’ve been tempted to tough it out and stay…

Darkside in Riverside, Day (of the Dead) Two...

Day Two of the convention was (for me) all about getting autographs. I brought a few personal collectibles of mine, and was hoping to get them signed. Having my VIP ticket helped, as it got myself and fellow VIP attendees into the Riverside Municipal Auditorium an hour early to get first pick at the autographs. Unfortunately there was a bit of miscommunication as to exactly how to get autographs (they never bothered to mention anywhere that you had to first wait in another line to buy separate tickets for each autograph). Many attendees were standing patiently at celebrity booths, only to find out they needed to get a ticket beforehand. Granted, this is a standard practice at some conventions (such as Star Trek Las Vegas) but not all. While the crowds at this convention were fairly small, it was nevertheless a minor annoyance that could’ve been solved with a mention or two on the organizer’s website or in the information pamphlet. Each attendee was screened (TSA-style) before entry as well (a wise precaution that I wholeheartedly support for everyone’s sake) and soon we were inside the RMA, ready to get our autographs and check out the dealer merchandise…

Parked along curbs and in parking lots around the city were various prop cars, such as the post-zombie apocalyptic police car from ‘Kearny County’ (not sure where that vehicle is from… “The Walking Dead”, perhaps?) and, of course, the two versions of “Ghostbusters” Ecto-1 hearse; the ‘84 Cadillac (from the 2016 reboot) and the ’59 Caddy (from the 1984 classic).
There were other interesting vehicles as well, such as this Dark Side mobile driven by Kylo Ren. Disney and Star Wars manage to permeate every pop culture event, even a dedicated horror convention. Though in fairness, Kylo Ren does looks appropriately horrific.
Where Evil Lies…
Riverside Municipal Auditorium, where most of the Darkside in Riverside convention was based, including the dealer hall and autograph area. Through the back doors of the main auditorium area were merchandise vendors (and yes, I bought a couple things…), and outside vendors were selling handmade horror-themed jewelry, trinkets and artwork. The auditorium’s somewhat gothic Spanish Mission architecture lent itself well to a horror convention…
Totally P.J. Soles.
The first autograph ticket I bought was for P. J. Soles, who starred in so many films that defined teenage and horror cinema throughout much of the 1970s and early 1980s. While I brought a Halloween DVD for her to sign, I ultimately opted for a photo, which defined one of her most iconic horror moments; her character Linda’s meeting with “Michael Myers” from 1978’s Halloween. Some of Soles’ most iconic roles (beside “Halloween”) include 1976’s “Carrie” (where she played one of the original ‘mean girls’), “Rock and Roll High School” (1979) and opposite Bill Murray in the US Army comedy “Stripes” (1981). Soles usually plays airheads or mean girls (“Totally!”) but she couldn’t be further from that image. She is fluent in several languages, world-traveled and very cultured. Not to mention a kindly, down-to-earth lady. Very much enjoyed meeting her.
The incomparable Tony Todd.
Actor and all-around great guy Tony Todd (“Candyman,” “Platoon,” “Night of the Living Dead [1990]”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine” and 1996’s “The Rock” as well as the new 2019 movie “Candy Corn” with PJ Soles). I just loved talking with this guy.. He had fun saying my name (Sebastian) in multiple accents (impeccably so, I might add). Todd told me a story of when he first watched the original 1968 “Night of the Living Dead” in a drive-in theatre as a kid, and how he was inspired to act by the late Duane Jones‘ performance, whose role of “Ben” was brilliantly reinterpreted by Todd for Tom Savini’s 1990 version. He felt he was destined to play that role (or a role like it) someday. Todd also spoke very fondly of his aunt who raised him in poverty, yet gave him a wonderful appreciation for acting just from watching classic movies on television at night. We shared a warm handshake after he signed my copy of the “Deep Space Nine Companion”. I’ve been a fan of Todd’s work for nearly 30 years, and it was a sincere pleasure to meet him.
The Hands Have Eyes!
That is character actor Michael Berryman (“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” “The Hills Have Eyes” “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) choking the life out of me! Berryman is a horror star with an artist’s soul. He and I talked about his days getting started in show business. Berryman had one day of on-set movie experience (making 1975’s “Doc Savage” for producer George Pal) before Milos Forman’s “Cuckoo’s Nest” gave him months of on-set experience and dramatic training. He parlayed that experience into playing all sorts of unique character roles, all in stark contrast to his personality. Berryman also claims to have helped named the blue-skinned alien race (“Bolians”), of which he played a member of, on Star Trek TNG (Captain Rixx, in TNG’s “Conspiracy”).
Spoils of Horror.
Some of my autographs: Ari Lehman, the original “Jason” from 1980’s “Friday the 13th” (Lehman honored his promise to ‘give something’ to those who spoke a password he mentioned at the “Friday the 13th” screening the previous night). Also got P.J. Soles’ and Linda Blair autographs. Blair autographed a rare, thick collection of “The Exorcist” essays I’d bought on Amazon a few years ago. I’d previously met Linda Blair (of “The Exorcist”) about 8 years ago, at an event in City of Industry. I was surprised that Blair actually remembered that signing event too. Blair wasn’t allowing personal pics at her signing table (unless you paid extra, and I didn’t), so I took my own pics of her later on during her Q&A (with P.J. Soles) at the Fox Theatre. These days, Blair devotes her time to her animal rescue foundation http://lindablairworldheart.org .
The Empire Struck Back!
Once again, Disney and Star Wars are on the scene…even at a horror convention (let’s face it; Disney is in everything everywhere, all the time…). Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and their accompanying Imperial stormtroopers (all members of the Star Wars’ charity group, the 501st) make their way through the Riverside Municipal Auditorium…
Linda Blair and P.J. Soles’ Q & A at the Fox Theatre.
Cool orange mohawk-sporting host Kelly J. (Hot 103.9/103.3 FM; The Mix) interviews actresses Linda Blair (“The Exorcist” “Exorcist 2: The Heretic”) and P.J. Soles (“Carrie” “Halloween” “Stripes” “Candy Corn”) about their careers and current lives. Linda Blair runs an animal rescue charity ( www.lindablairworldheart.org ), and Soles remains active in entertainment, including her new movie “Candy Corn”, costarring Tony Todd (“Candyman” “Night of the Living Dead 1990” “Star Trek”). Blair talked extensively about her passion for animals, working with Richard Burton in “Exorcist 2”, her enjoyment of the horror spoof “Repossession” (costarring Leslie Nielsen) and growing up as a shy person dealing with the pressures of celebrity. Soles talked about her life growing up overseas, living in Germany, Istanbul, speaking several languages fluently, and her original desire to work for the United Nations as a translator! Soles couldn’t be more different from her usual airhead/mean-girl characters. I will never see her character of ‘Linda’ in “Halloween” quite the same way ever again…
Killer Cosplay!
Some excellent cosplay of “Halloween” heavy Michael Myers (Instagram ID: _the_real_michael_myers ), Michael Keaton’s titular “Beetlejuice” and ‘Jason Voorhees’ (Instagram ID: @punisher_from_hell  ) from “Friday the 13th” (the hockey mask was an addition to the character’s ensemble, seen in “Friday the 13th 3D”). Kudos to “the real michael myers”, who gave me the heads-up on their Instagram IDs! All three looked terrific.
What’s in TV tonight?
Some really cool horror-themed handmade dioramas of various movies, including “ALIENS,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, Freddy Kruger (chasing the Scooby Gang), “Hellraiser” and many others. I love how the artist (I lost his card…d’oh!) built the dioramas inside of hollowed out CRT TV sets with built-in VCRs. Very clever!
It’s the Great Pumpkin(s), Charlie Brown!
The famed Mission Inn hotel in downtown Riverside gets into the Halloween spirit with their annual “Pumpkin Stroll” (lining the walkways with hundreds of pumpkins). The Mission Inn hotel is locally (and nationally) famous for its annual Festival of Lights at Christmastime (they usually do the lighting ceremony the day after Thanksgiving). It’s also the hotel where the late ex-president Richard Nixon honeymooned (I can’t even imagine Richard Nixon having a honeymoon, but sure….).
Night of the Living Dead.
Some of the zombies (and victims) of the “Zombie Run”; I personally didn’t partake in this event (old man…need my rest), but these pics came courtesy of my brave wife, who decided to take a look. The event was staged over several hours, increasing in intensity with each stage. These pics were taken during the 6 pm stage of the Run, which was touted as medium-strength. I can only imagine what happened at the 8 pm stage…

Darkside in Riverside Day Three: Final Destination…

Sunday the 20th, the final day of the convention, we were packed and out of our hotel room by 8 am or so. However, thanks to the convention being so close-by, I drove back with my badge and wristband to attend one last event… a Q & A with actors Tony Todd (“Candyman” “Star Trek” “Night of the Living Dead”), Michael Berryman (“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Star Trek” “The Hills Have Eyes”) and John Kassir (the voice of “the Cryptkeeper” from the “Tales From The Crypt” TV series and later movies). It was well worth returning for…

Panel discussion at the Fox Theatre with Tony Todd (“Candyman” “Night of the Living Dead [1990]” “Platoon” “Star Trek TNG/DS9/VGR”), Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes” “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” “Star Trek: TNG”), John Kassir (voice of ‘The Cryptkeeper’ from “Tales From The Crypt”) and host Joe Moe (Famous Monsters of Filmland, FX artist/sculptor). Kassir had a sore throat from doing voices for fans all weekend, but he managed. All three told fascinating stories of how they broke into the industry, the roles that inspired them, and how much they appreciate their fans (particularly Berryman, who asked for a round of applause for the fans in attendance).
Todd, Berryman and Kassir also spoke of how they overcame challenges such as poverty, lack of opportunity (young Tony Todd was raised by his single aunt), birth defects (Berryman’s neurosurgeon father was exposed to radiation at Hiroshima, which led to Berryman’s own birth complications) and lots of pavement-pounding (Kassir hustled his way into auditions, with limited success) in order to fulfill their dreams. Todd told of how he flew his aunt (who’d never flown before) to a film set where she could see firsthand how her faith in her nephew paid off. Berryman also told of his early art career ambitions, which were somewhat derailed when he lucked into an acting career after being discovered by producer George Pal (“War of the Worlds”, “The Time Machine”, “Robinson Crusoe On Mars” “Doc Savage”). Pal thought that Berryman’s unique appearance would work well for him as a character actor, thus bringing him to the attention of Milos Forman, who was casting for “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and a career was born. As moderator Joe Moe said, perhaps these actors’ own stories and struggles might’ve inspired some of the fans in the audience.

Sum Of All Fears.

The “Darkside In Riverside” horror convention is now launched. Yes, there were many glitches common to a first-time convention (some misleading/lacking program information, miscommunications between staffers, etc) but I think that once the bugs are worked out, “Darkside In Riverside” could be a nice draw for the old city. I was comforted to see staffers carrying clipboards, carefully making note of guest issues and complaints. For the price, you got some decent horror bang for the buck (a three-day VIP ticket was $75). I definitely plan on attending in the years to come, if this newborn convention continues.

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