By Jason Harris
Northeast Comic Con & Collectibles Extravaganza happens twice a year. The first one is always in June while the second one is in December. They take place at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, MA.
I can promise you you’ve never seen anything quite like Throg (2004), a medieval dark comedy about an idiot who is destined to travel through time for the mere entertainment of a bunch of bored gods on Mount Olympus. Our hero, Throg himself, is a numbskull, yet he still seems to come out on top, despite the havoc that his bumbling ways wreaks.
We first meet Throg (Dana K. Lee) in a mental hospital, where he’s being tortured by Dr. Braun (Stephanie Hughes) and her demented henchman, Billy (Wayne Woodbury). Hughes showcases her stupendous overacting abilities in this role, causing one person who was watching the screening with me to whisper, “I don’t understand. Why didn’t Divine get top billing?” She’s a delight as the twisted tormenter, and makes Nurse Ratched look like a pussycat in comparison. Throg’s treatment at the mental hospital leads to a series of flashbacks, over which the major plot points of this fine film unfold.
We see Throg as a young man, at the moment when his adoptive parents abandon him. Before leaving Throg, his father (Throg the Elder, played by Dale T. Phillips) experiences a moment of tenderness. “Take this,” he says, handing his son a large stone. “It’s the rock we found you under.” This rock becomes a running gag and plot device throughout the movie.
The audience is then treated to a scene atop Mount Olympus, in which the gods decide, for fun, to each choose an avatar on Earth to represent them, and fight to the death. (Which, I’m sure, you and your friends do for giggles all the time.) There’s also a fool hanging out on Mount Olympus (missing from my Greek mythology studies, but hey, I’ll go with it in the interest of fine cinema), and he decides to insert himself into the game for his own amusement. The last avatar left alive wins (or, more accurately, the god that picked him wins). The avatars die horrific deaths one by one, until all that remain are Ares’ choice, Urshag the Destroyer, and the Fool’s avatar. That’s right: it’s poor, hapless Throg.
Over the course of the flashbacks, the audience watches Urshag pursue Throg through centuries of time, where it’s determined that Throg is neither a hero nor passably competent, but remarkably lucky. But his luck can’t hold out forever, and the Fool appears on Earth to help Throg hone his battle skills. What follows is a sidesplitting dance/music montage that makes every minute of this movie that you sat through up until this point completely worth it. Matt Power’s (who also directed, as Matthew T. Power?) performance as the Fool is fabulously campy, and this sequence ranks up there with some of the finest Monty Python skits in its goofiness.
In the meantime, Urshag has a series of entertaining near misses in his quest to kill Throg. The flashbacks end as we see Throg’s admittance into the asylum. It turns out that when he’s confined to the mental hospital, Urshag can’t find him. This creates a bit of a quandary for the great destroyer, who finds that he’s losing his evil powers because he can’t find Throg. What’s a bad guy to do? He winds up responding to an infomercial for a complete makeover, and recreates himself as a hideous demonic clown.
While Urshag is discovering his inner John Wayne Gacy, Throg manages to escape the mental hospital, and after a “groundbreaking” (that’s the same as “bizarre,” right?) animation sequence, finds himself in modern times, working at White Meat Castle. That’s where Urshag finds him for their ultimate showdown. Action, gore, and hilarity abound as Throg and Urshag duel in a final light saber fight, which (spoiler alert!) one of them wins, quite by accident.
The movie pays homage to a wide range of cultural icons. In addition to Monty Python, you’ll spot nods to Xena: Warrior Princess, Highlander, Excalibur, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, among many, many others. (You’ll find yourself shouting out movie references frequently throughout the film. “Better Off Dead! “Empire Strikes Back!” I’m sure there’s a drinking game to be found in there somewhere.) In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m acquainted with Phillips, so I might be biased, but honestly, his performance as Throg the Elder is one of the best in the film. He channels his inner Shatner, delivering witty lines with such gusto that you’ll laugh out loud.
Throg actually won Best Cinematography at the 2004 Boston International Film Festival, so obviously, I’m not the only person who loved this thing. Absurd, hilarious, and silly, I can’t recommend Throg enough. It’s available now to rent or buy on Amazon. This low-budget horror/comedy/fantasy flick is absolutely worth an hour and a half of your life.
An interview with Throg director Matthew T. Power is here.
This convention write-up by NEHW member, Kendra Saunders, for the Pure Textuality wesite.
Arisia in Boston has a longstanding history for being the conference where geeks, nerds and steampunk enthusiasts can party and battle snowstorms. Arisia 2012 was remarkable in many ways, but most strikingly, because the skies overhead were blue and snow-free.
Your intrepid reporter (intrepid? No, that’s a lie. A bit overtired, over-excited and over-caffeinated), left snowy and icy New Hampshire on Friday morning with about three bags full of clothes, writing supplies, books and her well-travelled Loki action figure, and hit the road for southern New Hampshire. After connecting with a considerably more famous author, Elaine Isaak (The Singer’s Crown, The Bastard Queen), the journey continued southwards.
As soon as we hit the MA border, the ice and snow disappeared and the skies turned blue and the clouds fluffy, as if we had stumbled across a lovely summer afternoon. Well, maybe not summer, as the temperature was freezing and the winds quite raw.
The convention geared up late in the afternoon as participants threw their belongings in hotel rooms and rushed to get in line for registration. The lines were a bit long and crowded, and the whole matter was disorganized, but once registration was finished, the guest was free to wander at will. A Starbucks and bar/grill stood guard on either side of the hotel’s lobby, providing caffeine or beer, depending on your mood.
Costumes on Friday night were muted compared to the rest of the weekend, but even so, you might easily find yourself sipping coffee with Robin Hood, a Jedi and three young Victorian chaps. Bowler hats and goggles popped up more frequently as dinner-time loomed, and panels about role playing, writing, corset-design and gender gave way to several spectacles on the ground floor of the hotel. A disastrous but amusing showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show held my interest for ten minutes, but I soon joined the crowds of people that flooded out of the room due to DVD malfunctions (yes, really). Wandering down the hall from the movie room, I heard pounding Goth synths and investigated only to find a dark room of dancing witches, Vikings, teenagers, middle aged steampunk guys and a few curious passersby.
It must be said that if you will ever, ever, ever feel comfortable in the knowledge that you can be dressed in PJs and have curlers in your hair, and you won’t be the weirdest thing on the dancefloor… it’s probably at Arisia. I found myself dancing (badly) to songs by Lady Gaga and Blutengel. The DJ was phenomenal.
After passing out at 2:30 a.m. and waking up around 6 a.m., getting dressed in my diesel punk outfit (20s crossed with futuristic/steampunk inspired fashions) and wandering down into the hotel lobby, I discovered rather quickly just how creative the people who attend these conventions really are. Everywhere I looked, women strolled by in Victorian garb, giant hats, skimpy lace outfits and elaborate animal costumes. The men were dressed in a variety of fashions, though many of them seemed to stick close to the steampunk aesthetic. It was gorgeous. And most of the costumes were made by the people who wore them.
Early in the day, the women of Broad Universe hosted a book reading for women writers in the organization. I was among the readers, and after a bout of nerves, I managed to deliver a chapter of my book with all of the glee and grade-A ham that any of us frustrated actor/entertainers harbors inside. Everyone laughed when they were supposed to, clapped when they were supposed to. KT Pinto gave a spirited reading that had everyone nearly in tears with laughter.
Most of Saturday was dotted with various panels for attendees, but perhaps the greatest draw was the never-ending parade of fabulous costumes in the lobby. Batman posed for pictures, Sherlock Holmes wandered the halls, the 10th and 11th Doctor made multiple appearances, a Dalek drew gasps and Tony Stark smirked while he posed for pictures with hot women. The masquerade ball was allegedly one of the best in the history of Arisia and was talked about loudly for the rest of the weekend.
KT Pinto’s book-signing that evening culminated in one enthusiastic fan kneeling in front of the author’s table for a copy of her upcoming book (shhh!) A cancelled party sent hordes of too-sober nerds back into the lobby, most of them choosing to drink and mope and converse in grumbles about their party being cancelled. A few found solace in watching the football game. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like a bunch of men in Ren-fair clothes yelling at a TV screen and cheering on their favorite football team.
Another late night rolled into a somewhat later morning than the one before it. Sunday at Arisia boasted just as many costumes, but a bit less energy as the alcohol and lack of sleep caught up to the attendees.
Broad Universe and Spencer Hill Press hosted a hugely successful book launch for the Spencer Hill Press anthology, UnCONventional. A dragon cake was consumed, fans were able to get autographs from many of the anthology’s writers and much conversation floated around the crowded room.
Arisia attendees were fed a steady diet of somewhat appropriate food offerings—dry, stale bread, butter, a few bruised fruits, assorted cheeses and crackers and endless tea, coffee and hot chocolate. The food was laid out on multiple tables and left to be picked over by the sleepy maidens, grumpy young peasant children, stiff anime characters and confused men in crumpled business suits. I couldn’t help feeling that it was fitting and, for that reason and that reason alone, clever. So yes, I mostly lived off of stale loaves of bread, warm butter and cups of black tea… just like any good waylaid steampunk girl stuck in a great valley of dragons, street vendors and magicians.
And then more than once I hit up the bar/grill in the lobby for their delicious curry. If you stay at the Westin, try the curry. It’s surprisingly addictive, with or without the suggested French fries. Don’t mix it with Guinness though. I already did that for you, so I could warn you. Awfully kind of me, yes?
JA Starr was on hand to take lovely professional photos and he generously shared some of his honey mead with me. Delicious!
By Monday, most everyone was scurrying about to hug their new friends, say goodbye to old friends, get contact information or just figure out what the heck they did with their (keys, bag, purse, child, etc). I had fallen victim to a nasty bout of vertigo, thanks to the elevators and far too little sleep, so admittedly I was rather happy to see things winding down.
All in all, I suggest Arisia highly for fans of fantasy, fans of role-playing, costumers, steampunk enthusiasts, and writers in the Northeast. It’s a great chance to meet fans, make friends, meet heroes, dress up in your old ballgown (everyone has one, right?) or just gawk at the most creative people in the world (fans, of course!) While I didn’t find the panels to be quite as interesting as I was expecting them to be, the pure spectacle of the costumes and fandoms and vendors are enough to justify attending. And the conversations! Oh, you’ll have conversations with all sorts of people.
Included are pictures of the event and some of my favorite costumes from Arisia. Enjoy!
For more about Broad Universe, a world-wide organization that supports and promotes female writers, visit www.broaduniverse.org.
For more about Spencer Hill Press or UnCONventional, visit www.spencerhillpress.com.
For more about one of the incredible vendors at the show, visit www.etsy.com/shop/EmrysFynery.
For books by Tim Lieder visit http://www.amazon.com/Dybbuk-Press/lm/R1LB59CKVHK136.
For more information on me, visit my fancy-dancy, newly updated website, www.kendralsaunders.com