|by Collin Souter
Every year at around this time, Flashback Weekend ringmaster Mike Kerz takes us Chicagoans back in time for his annual sci-fi / horror convention and drive-in spectacular! Kerz’s annual convention has become the local favorite of all movie cons in the area. Most of these events set up a standard DVD screening room, but Kerz takes the standard convention to a whole other level by setting up an actual drive-in (no actual cars) in the hotel parking lot. For the past three years, horror fans have enjoyed such films as The Fog, The Hills Have Eyes and Day of the Dead via 35 mm prints projected on a jumbo screen under the stars near O’Hare. This year, Kerz brings us a new 35mm print of John Carpenter’s classic They Live, which will be introduced by Rowdy Roddy Piper himself, at which time I’m sure the event will go from a convention atmosphere to a full-blown party. Can’t wait. This week, Kerz was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his labor of love.
1. How did Flashback Weekend originate? What inspired you?
My love of film inspired me to do Flashback. I remember back in the 60s and 70s as a kid being a “film geek” - way before Quentin Tarantino made that “cool.” The theatrical experience then was totally different – I remember going to Grindhouses in downtown Chicago, like the Oriental, where they would show 3 features and you could get in for $1.50! Theatres then would make these movies into major promotional events, with stills, 30 sheets and other unique décor. I would scour the Friday newspaper (which you could buy late on Thursday) and plan my entire weekend. There was no DVD, no video… you went to the theatre and had an “experience”, you saw films like Humanoids From the Deep, Cannibal Girls, and “The INcredible Melting Man with all the associated fanfare. Sadly, with the advent of the multiplex, that is gone now. With Flashback Weekend, I try to bring back some of the showmanship and the flavor of that bygone era.
2. What movies/guests did you have for the First Annual Flashback Weekend and did it turn out as you hoped?
Our First Annual Flashback Weekend included such awesome headliners as Bruce Campbell and an Evil Dead Reunion and Herschell Gordon Lewis! Man, the film line up was f***ing amazing! Flashback 1 had the Midwest premiere of Bubba Ho-Tep and Blood Feast 2 and this version of Blood Feast 2 contained footage that isn’t available – even on the DVD – now! If that isn’t enough…there was a restored print of Cannibal Holocaust and this was the Midwest premier of that film. To top it all off, we showed Mad Monster Party. Of course, these were all 35mm – there’s no other way to go.
Bruce was a great guest – very professional and hardworking. The same should be said about Herschell who is also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.
3. How did the drive-in come about?
Man, I love the drive-in – that’s my inspiration. Drive-ins are a pure piece of Americana and it’s a damn crime that they are being allowed to slowly fade away. So, to keep it alive, I wanted to give people the opportunity to experience the aura of the drive-in – to see a movie (a real 35mm print) on a f***ing HUGE DRIVE-IN SCREEN with all its “TRIMMINGS”. So, I included vintage concession ads (remember the “dancing hot dogs”?), attractions, and of course, trailers (old and new)! There is absolutely no experience like watching a movie under the stars in nature’s auditorium and that is what I try to capture at the Flashback Drive-In.
4. Have you ever gotten into any trouble over some of the films that have been presented at the drive-in?
No, we haven’t any those problems. I’m pretty careful with Flashback about what we show outdoors since I don’t want to mess up the chance to do this! So, I wouldn’t show “Cannibal Holocaust” at the Flashback Drive-in. There are other venues for those films, though and I manage to secure those resources as necessary.
5. What is the actual Weekend like for you? Do you sleep much? Is it chaotic?
There is very little sleeping or eating during Flashback Weekend. Its probably like being on tour. You need to hit the ground running, and it is like that all day. Its not chaotic, we’re organized, but it is totally non-stop and hectic. I usually wind up with very little – if no – sleep the few nights before the con since I’m trying to pull everything together. Seeing the guests happy and the celebrities enjoying themselves is way worth it! Of course, none of this would be possible without our AMAZING FLASHBACK TEAM of staff and volunteers!! They make it all happen. My wife Mia is also very supportive – I don’t know how people put up with significant others who don’t share their interests and understand…she even likes (probably loves) “The Three Stooges” so you know…she’s cool.
6. What (if anything) has been your biggest disappointment in putting these together over the years? Any films/guests you wanted to show up but couldn't?
Honestly, no disappointments. I’ve always seen Flashback as innovative and a leader in new ideas for cons. So, I’ve been able to secure nearly every guest and film I went after using some creativity. I’ve had major coupes – like getting David Boreanz to make his only Angel/Buffy convention appearance ever! Flashback Weekend has started trends, too – James Marsters appeared at our Buffy/Angel con and we set up a performance by his band, Ghost of the Robot to play at a cool venue nearby. We did the same with Christian Kane and his band KANE. We were the first to host those types of events. After that, I noticed other cons doing the same…makes you wonder, huh? I don’t think any con has ever had anything like the Flashback Weekend Drive-in. I’ve had some of my idols appear – like George Romero! And of course, we’d like to have more premiers like Tobe Hoopers Tool Box Murders, for example.
7. What has been your greatest success in putting Flashback Weekend together over the years?
My personal triumph – my total high – was the first year of the Flashback. I looked out of the hotel window and saw the f**king HUGE drive-in screen - it was just set up. Then I walked out and saw it at night…against the darkening background sky! Watching the 35mm concession ads playing during intermission was spectacular. Whoa… never been done like that at any con I know of! I just stared in amazement…it was just…well…breathtaking!
8. What advice would you have for someone who wants to put together a sci-fi/horror convention of their own?
Easy, man…use only money you could afford to lose! I know of a con owner (ain’t me!) who lost $100K on one show…shit! Others have gone into bankruptcy or lost their homes. I have a family. I can’t afford to lose like that – it’s not an option. Through some ingenuity, I’ve been able to avoid those traps with Flashback. So, I advise you to watch your money (no one else will). Don’t make assumptions.
9. What do you hope to accomplish in the future with these conventions?
I really hope to keep the Drive-in experience alive. I hope that I continue to grow this Flashback con idea in a way that horror fans love. I hope to continue to have an event at an actual drive-in like we did in September 2005 at the Hi Lite 30 in Aurora, Illinois. Unfortunately, that drive-in is now closed due to the unethical behavior of certain Aurora elected officials. Innovation is not always embraced - especially by those who lack vision or are corrupt.
Flashback Weekend has always been an innovator – we stage major events. My wife and I took Tom Sullivan of Evil Dead fame, to a play in Chicago called “EVIL DEAD – THE MUSICAL” put on by the New Millennium Theatre Company and I talked to the lead dude, Chad Wise, and invited them to stage a performance of that play at Flashback. Sam Raimi even gave his personal “OK” for that performance to be held at Flashback. That developed into a great professional relationship with Chad and our friends at the New Millennium. This year, they will be staging a Halloween-themed burlesque strip-tease show title “VAMP” – I think our guests will love that! Of course, to put the cherry on the sundae, there is also the Drive-in at night – oh yeah!
So, basically, I hope that I continue to extend the showmanship and innovation of Flashback Weekend!
10. What are some of your favorite horror movies?
I’ll start with the Granddaddy of them all – NIght of the LIving Dead. Seeing the film and reading the preface - written by George Romero - for the novelization for this film got me interested in film making. I learned that knowledge of filmmaking enhances the film going experience. Think about it – 10 people partner, pitch in money and make their vision happen! Of course, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead top the list, too.
Anything by John Carpenter (especially The Thing) – he is a true master of storytelling and his films have incredible style. From Wes Craven, Last House on the Left and THe Hills Have Eyes – pure & raw 70s classics - and his original Nightmare on Elm Street.
The Evil Deadf trilogy has always held my fascination…I like nearly anything by Lucio Fulci – THe Beyond is fantastic. Others topping the list include Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original), Re-Animator, Phantasm, and Alien & Aliens. I enjoy Hammer films – in fact, Horror Of Dracula is probably the best telling of the Dracula legend ever. Argento brings this wonderful dream-like quality to his Horror films, especially Suspiria. I love countless other vintage Drive-In and Grindhouse films…way to many to list here.
Horror films are among the best films ever made. The best have an intelligence about them and convey an important message. Mainstream films just don’t have it. Horror films are also very often independent films and thus, are made without the major studios interfering with the filmmaker’s creativity. In the end, the films are intelligent classics that remain so until this day. And so, that is what I will continue to do with Flashback Weekend…pay tribute to these classic films and the creative individuals who made them!
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1893
originally posted: 07/22/06 14:49:23
last updated: 08/31/06 19:11:44