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Bringing horror home: The Famous Monsters Convention

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Before Fangoria, before Rue Morgue, there was Famous Monsters of Filmland - the first Hollywood magazine to exclusively cover science fiction, thrillers, and horror films. This month, it will celebrate 52 years of publication with a convention featuring celebrity guests, film screenings, and panel discussions.

The Famous Monsters Convention (July 9-11) is coming to Indianapolis in the hopes of making locally produced films a more significant presence in the city. With its lack of backing and financial support, our filmmaking community hasn't quite hit the radar. "With the number of filmmakers here making commercially viable films, it's about time that it did," said convention promoter Philip Kim.

Two of those filmmakers are Bobby Easley and Terence Muncy. Kim was so impressed by their slasher film, X that he invited them to screen it at the convention and participate in a panel discussion.

X fits in perfectly with the other cinematic works of horror showing at the convention - and so do its writer-directors. Muncy has been making horror films locally with his production company, Warbranch Productions for several years. His backwoods slasher film debut, The Shack (2007) sold over 300 copies at the HorrorHound Weekend convention. Easley, his frequent collaborator and fellow horror fanatic, is in the process of writing his own films.

Listening to Easley and Muncy, I felt as though I was hearing production stories from legendary horror auteurs such as Tobe Hooper or Wes Craven. Their enthusiasm for the genre is infectious. In fact, when I went home after the interview, I began to immerse myself in the classics - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the list goes on.

X is heavily influenced by these films. However, rather than a mere knockoff of the classics, it feels like a film that was actually made in the late '70s, early '80s when the slasher genre was born. Easley and Muncy hope it will serve as an antidote to the recent onslaught of torture films and slasher remakes. "The horror genre needs the Bogeyman again, it needs new classic slasher characters," Muncy said. The main character of X is unique in that he is not an invincible killing machine in the vein of Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers. Easley explained, "He is the normal guy you see or don't see standing in line behind you at the gas station."

Filmed in the raw, guerilla style of 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, X is about a former-Marine-turned-serial killer. The film is told through his eyes (a commentary on how bogeymen are the characters audiences and filmmakers want to follow). Believe it or not, this character is born out of actor-director Easley's own experiences. Don't worry, he is not a serial killer. But like his character, he was affected by his service in the Marines and the "Dear John" letter he received during that time. "I think you write best about the things you've experienced first hand. And I think there's nothing worse for a fighting man than knowing the main thing you are fighting for back home is leaving you," Easley said. The film's Middle East combat footage (filmed on Indiana sand dunes) and its looming sense of panic will feel eerily familiar to audiences.

X captures the mood of the Iraq War era as effectively as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre reflected the tone of the Vietnam era. The characters are constantly tense and on edge, reflecting our post-9/11 sense of vulnerability. With the inclusion of this film, the Famous Monsters Convention proves to be far more than a mere nostalgia fest. It is a celebration of the horror genre's ability to tap into the zeitgeist and hold a fun-house mirror up to society's fears.

According to Kim, it is now high time to celebrate the substance of horror films rather than the style. "We live in a time of excess which has given way to the lack of thoughtfulness in horror films today," Kim said. "Most are overwrought with CGI and gore. Filmmakers need to go back to good, basic stories and stay true to what we can relate to."

With X, Easley and Muncy do exactly that. "We wanted to see more of what originally scares people. Scary is what could actually happen to you in a normal situation," Easley explained. These "normal situations" are explored in X, such as women being attacked by hitchhikers, lethal fights breaking out in bars and restaurants, etc. These set pieces are practical to low-budget filmmakers like Easley and Muncy.

Filmmaking tools are now so easily accessible that there is no reason more aspiring filmmakers can't follow in their footsteps. "Technology is so inexpensive now that the industry has become more volatile, thus creating more openings for the next Lucases and Spielbergs," Kim said.

During the convention, there will be classes for these aspiring directors, focusing on digital filmmaking and independent film distribution. Classes will be on Sunday, July 11 at 2 p.m.

Expect to see Easley and Muncy at plenty of other horror conventions and film festivals down the road. They are talented filmmakers and they're here to stay. Muncy affirmed, "Everything I do is dedicated to these films. I've made five films in the last five years and I'll keep making one movie per year."

The Famous Monsters of Filmland convention

July 9-11

Wyndham Indianapolis West (2544 Executive Dr.)

Friday, July 9

Pre-Show (4 p.m.)

Show Hours (5 p.m.-9 p.m.)

After Hours (9 p.m.-2 a.m.)

Saturday, July 10:

X screening and Q&A (11 a.m.)

Sunday, July 11:

Famous Monster Film School: Independent Filmmaking and Distribution (2:15 p.m.)

Celebrity guests include: Thomas Jane (The Punisher, The Mist), William Forsythe (Raising Arizona, The Devil's Rejects), Billy Drago (The Untouchables, The Hills have Eyes), The cast of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, Margot Kidder (Superman, The Amityville Horror) and more!

For more schedule info, visit www.famousmonstersconvention.com

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