C.S. Lewis has nothing on this Wasteland

Ally Melling

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Twice a year the serial killers, vampires and zombies come out to play. Well, maybe three times if you count something normal like Halloween.

At the biannual Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo, where horror and cult cinema is the central theme, families are born through a common love of blood and nostalgia.

Held in the vast lobby of the Holiday Inn Select in Strongsville, Cinema Wasteland started out as a mere video rental service specializing in rare horror and exploitation films of the “Drive-in” era.

Admitted underground-film “junkie” Ken Kish says he created the convention out of personal necessity.

“I left my printing job in ’93 and never looked back,” Kish said. “I’d been a dealer (of film merchandise) since ’87 and went to a lot of shows. I got so tired of people charging for nothing, and I thought, I want to try my own show.”

The name of his business stuck, collectibles and memorabilia were added to the mix, and Kish’s first annual Cinema Wasteland weekend was finally organized in 2000. Its quick popularity set the hotel apart from the rest of the nation as being the only Holiday Inn in the country to make any money during the week after Sept. 11.

Six years later, Wasteland is still growing, comparing favorably to other sizable horror expos, such as New Jersey’s Chiller Theater and Ohio’s Twisted Nightmare Weekend.

Both attendees and coordinators said Wasteland offers a different kind of appeal to its gore-lovers.

“There’s always something great to do here, like the Q-and-A’s,” said Living Dead doll merchant Ed Long. “Wasteland is more cult and drive-in based, so Ken always gets guests that no one else gets. I go to about 12 conventions a year and this is one of the best. More importantly, it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun.”

It’s true all conventions offer similar features: film celebrities, crammed dealer’s rooms, movie showings, television host personalities and trivia game raffles.

“I pride myself on getting guests that don’t ever do things like this and my reunions,” Kish said. “Wasteland has always been a drive-in, independent show. Other shows get the same stable guests that do 11 shows a year. Not us.”

In the past, Wasteland has welcomed the cast of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead twice, making itself the first convention ever to assemble the film’s cast and crew for reunion.

Other celebrity attendees have included Michael Berryman (star of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes), Sid Haig and Bill Moseley (stars of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects), the cast of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the villainous family from Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left and the victims of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.

Maneuvering through the tables of merchandise at the “Spring Spectacular,” held March 31 through this past Sunday, revealed Troma Films founder Lloyd Kaufman, creator of The Toxic Avenger. Kane Hodder, who played Jason Vorhees in four Friday the 13th films, was nearby, signing hockey masks and machetes down the table from two other Jason portrayers.

Near the Jasons sat Hollywood veteran actor Geoffrey Lewis as part of The Devil’s Rejects “victims reunion.” The rest of the “Banjo and Sullivan” team sat down the table from him; Kate Norby, Lew Temple and Priscilla Barnes.

The victims from The Devil’s Rejects abandoned their tables long enough Friday night to sit instead on a Q-and-A panel in a nearby conference room. Kish and other interviewers from Ultraviolent Magazine questioned the actors about their experiences with The Devil’s Rejects, as Hollywood actors and about upcoming projects.

“I would work with Rob (Zombie) again in a second,” Barnes said loudly, wine glass in hand. “He wouldn’t have to ask me twice. All he’d have to do is look at me. I’m not sucking up, honestly, but if I had to pick one film, Rejects is definitely the one I’d want to represent my work as an actress.”

Next Wasteland Convention

When? Oct. 6-8, 2006

Guest line-up (so far)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – Reunion

Caroline Williams – “Stretch”

Bill Johnson – “Leatherface”

Lou Perryman – “L.G. McPeters”

Tom Savini – Make-up & Effects

Cannibal Holocaust

Carl Gabriel Yorke – “Alan Yates”

Bill Chepil – “Bill, the Cop”

James Lorinz – “The Doorman”

Web site: www.cinemawasteland.com

When the dealer’s room closed at the end of the day, Barnes and most of these other low-key celebrities followed the normal routine of walking with shoppers to the hotel bar. There, they laughed over stiff drinks and good jukebox rock, not like stars but like normal, fun-loving human beings.

“I came here to hang out, watch horror movies and drink beer,” Wasteland regular Stacy Silvers said. “Get drunk and buy stuff. Drink with celebrities? Are there celebrities here?”

This spring, the convention itself had the makings of a horror film when the hotel’s power went out for the entirety of Saturday night. Hundreds of Wasteland regulars swamped the smoky lobby and bar by midnight, sporting flashlights, beer and lots of black. Some girls wore only their undergarments and bloody special effects make-up, some friends broke into the hotel pool for a skinny-dip, but the atmosphere of innocent fun and movie geekery was always present.

Like relaxing after a hard day at work, it is Wasteland’s intimate social world that sets it apart from other horror gatherings for both attendees and stars. Dealers joke in their blood-splattered lab coats with movie-lovers dressed as the walking dead, hauling bags of movie memorabilia in their zombified hands, and everyone is happy. For these lovers of the rare, grotesque and cinematic, the whole weekend is a strange paradise.

“I didn’t start it for money,” Kish said. “I started it to prove that a fan can run a show for fans. I believe in it the way my guests believe in their movies. If you create something people enjoy, you’ll never truly die.”

Contact ALL correspondent Ally Melling at [email protected].