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The rise of Australian horror and the Oz Horror Mini-con

Australian ZombieWe’ve had a first here in Australia this month.

Our first single-genre horror convention, the Oz Horror Mini-con was a pre-cursor to the main Oz Horror Con 2013, to be held in January in Melbourne. Previously we’ve had multi-genre conventions, not least of all AussieCon 4 and World Con back in 2010. That was a great year for horror in Australia, but World Con is still a sci-fi convention, with slight undertones of horror—provided, in this case, by the Australian Horror Writers Association, who held the Nightmare Ball, a costume ball with strong horror themes. The AHWA also held the 2010 Annual General Meeting of the association at the convention.

Now, along comes the Oz Horror Con. Today, as I travel back home from the mini-con, I am excited by the inroads horror is making in Australia. From go-to-whoa, the mini-con was wonderful. Held in the historic Royal Melbourne Hotel, this con was a pre-event for the upcoming three day event, the 2013 Oz Horror Con, which will involve three days of monsters and mayhem in the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds.

The venue itself was perfect for the theme. The Royal Melbourne Hotel has a long and horrible past. Built in the 1850s from bluestone, it was the City West Gaol-house and cells for many years before being decommissioned. A group of infamous bushrangers, the Ned Kelly Gang, were the inspiration for its construction, and the original bluestone cells and multi-bolted doors make for an atmospheric venue for the convention. It has a reputation for being haunted, and with its long and sometimes dark history, it was a great backdrop for the festivities.

Steve Dillon, a lover of all things horror, had the idea for a genre convention a few years ago. Since then, he’s worked hard to bring it all together, and the minicon was a great success.

At the event, we had Pinhead from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Jigsaw from Saw, an Alien xenomorph, Jason from the Halloween franchise, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and many more memorable cosplay characters. Best of all, thanks to Zombiehire.com, we had two very authentic ‘shamblers’ roaming around all day, drooling over people and generally creeping us out. We were all thankful they were fed prior to the event, and there were no unfortunate accidents. Well, none that I saw, anyway, although there were some distinct bite-marks on some of the attendees by the end of the day.

The Australian Horror Writers Association had a big presence at the event. First up, as president, I chaired the Annual General Meeting prior to the start of the convention, and then manned the AHWA table, selling copies of our magazine Midnight Echo as well as other paraphernalia. Later in the day, the AHWA hosted an informal panel on the current state and future direction of horror in film and literature. Cameron Oliver, director’s assistant to Greg McLean for Wolf Creek and the upcoming sequel, and Mark Smith-Briggs, AHWA secretary, author and filmmaker, were both informative and entertaining, fielding loads of questions from the crowd.

The keynote special guest for the minicon was Leslie Simpson, actor in The Descent, Dog Soldiers and the upcoming 2012 horror Crawlspace. Leslie spoke for close to half an hour, reminiscing on the different films he has taken part in. He came out with some amusing anecdotes about the shooting of The Descent. To facilitate donning the iconic ‘flesh-eating-humanoids’ from the film, the cast were shaved head to foot and covered in KY Jelly so that the latex costumes could be donned. They were cold in the outfits, and they only had thermal/foil blankets to keep warm between shooting scenes. Leslie recalls, without fondness, they all froze throughout the entire shoot.

Another interesting part of the event was the paranormal investigation workshop, run by the Australian Paranormal Society and hosted by Bill Tabone and Amanda Wright-Tabone. Bill and Amanda said, “We really hope to be involved in more events of this nature. The environment at Oz Horror con was friendly and inviting to [both] the horror community and the paranormal community.”

Charity wasn’t forgotten at the con, either. Toward the end of the day, donated goods were auctioned off to benefit the Red Cross. Signed books and comics, DVDs and items of clothing, everything went under the hammer, with the proceeds going to the international charity in the name of the Oz  Horror Con. For half an hour, murderers, zombies and assorted ghouls frantically bid on the items, a great outcome for those less-fortunate than the supernatural entities attending the event on the day.

The exhibitors at the event were many and varied. Apart from the AHWA and the Australian Paranormal Society, many individuals and organisations were represented. Jason Franks, Australian author and comic writer, was joined by Paul Bedford, author of graphic novel The List, which was recently optioned for the screen. There seemed a proliferation of comic artists present, with at least three tables offering a chance to buy as well as talk to the artists and get items signed. A local video store ran a horror trivia competition, which saw the side room full of hopeful horror aficionados. Special effects groups displayed their wares on tables that seemed full of dismembered body parts, while two undead girls wandered around with a photographer, attacking exhibitors and patrons alike.

All this could have been impressive as a stand-alone event, but in reality, it’s only a prelude to the main event in January 2013.

With Ramsey Campbell, “Britain’s most respected living horror writer” (Oxford Companion to English Literature), attending the main convention in January, it’s something that many horror fans in Australia are looking forward to. Actors PJ Soles (Carrie, Halloween and The Devil’s Rejects), Mark Patton (Nightmare on Elm Street 2) and Leslie Simpson (Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Crawlspace) will all be attending for discussions, panels and signings. Free films, stalls selling special effects, gothic/cosplay costumes and accessories, clothes, jewellery, signed books, comics, original artwork, DVDs and much more will all add to the event. Finally, also present will be horror makeup artists, psychics, paranormal investigators, photographers, tattoo artists, graphic novelists, artists, and all types of performers based within the horror genre.

This upcoming convention will bring Australian fans of horror running, as well as adding a new vibrancy to the genre here in Australia.

It’s a great time for Australian horror in 2012/2013, and only likely to get better.

GEOFF BROWN

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1 comment

  1. Greg Chapman

    Couldn’t agree more Geoff! The horror writing – and reading – community in Australia is a very strong one. Supportive of its members and there are many members doing great things for the genre across all areas. Let’s hope this continues well into the future.

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