“For The Love of Horror (and Facing Your Fears) – Manchester 2021”
13 minute read
I didn’t want to get out of bed.
It was 5am on a cold, wet, Saturday morning. My alarm had sounded, the snooze button had been pressed, and I immediately pulled the duvet back over my head.
Despite having waited more than a year and a half for this day, I didn’t want to move; and the part of me that would normally be buzzing with excitement was nowhere to be seen.
What the hell was wrong with me?
The day I’d been waiting for was For The Love Of Horror; a horror-themed fan convention in Manchester. It had originally been scheduled to take place back in October 2020, but as with almost everything that had been planned throughout 2020 and much of 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic had forced the event to be postponed.
If you’re not already familiar with these events, let me bring you up to speed.
They usually take place within some form of convention centre (or glorified industrial unit) and it gets split into sections that are made up of autograph tables, photography areas, and memorabilia stalls. Throughout the day you can meet your favourite film and TV stars, collect their autographs, and have your photo taken with them.
Despite sounding a little bit nerdy, they’re actually really good fun and offer some escapism for the day; although they can often feel a little bit awkward, like when you see a bit-part actor that hasn’t worked much since that bit-part that they’re not-very-well-known for, and they’re sat all alone and nobody visits them.
For example, a couple of years ago I was at an event in London and I spotted an actor who’d had a small part in Game of Thrones, and he was waving frantically in my general direction (1). I was walking towards where he was sat, but I chose to ignore his gestures as I thought that maybe there was an old friend of his behind me that he’d not seen in ages. His enthusiasm was that great.
As I got closer towards him, his waves and smiles intensified; but even though I made glances in his direction, I kept my head down and walked straight past him. There was no way such enthusiasm could have been for me!
But, glancing over my shoulder I could see that nobody else was there. There was no old friend. Not even an old flame. Nobody. His enthusiasm had actually been for me. Elliot.
But what I’ve not mentioned to you yet is that his table was situated right next to the men’s toilets. So as this friendly young man thought he was doing a great job in welcoming an approaching fan, I was in fact just going for a piss.
I left him standing there with his hands on his hips, shaking his head, shrugging his shoulders, and most likely calling me a wanker under his breath.
I felt terrible.
Anyway, back to the Manchester convention and my aim for the day had been to collect four more photos and autographs for my Friday the 13th collection.
Yes, you heard that right. And yes, I am a nerd.
Growing up in the eighties, I managed to catch the tail end of the golden era of the ‘slasher movie’, and it was the hockey-mask-wearing, machete-wielding Jason Voorhees that was always my favourite (2). The sixth instalment of the twelve movie franchise was the focal point for today, with three key players from Jason Lives (Thom Matthews, CJ Graham, and Tom McLoughlin) being at the event.
On top of that, the star of the very first movie (Adrienne King) was also going to be there, and I had photo sessions and autographs booked with all four of them.
It was a fantastic line-up and I had an exciting day in store, yet despite knowing this I still didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to move. Instead I wanted to just stay in bed and to avoid all human contact.
Fuck the convention.
A few weeks ago a friend asked me what the biggest impact of Covid-19 had been for me, and after a short time pondering this question the answer soon came.
“It’s made me feel socially anxious.” I admitted. “Like, not only have I lost the desire to go anywhere, but I also feel uneasy about talking to people. My confidence has gone.”
This man, who has travelled alone and made friends with people from all over the world, who has gone to public speaking classes and travelled around the country meeting complete strangers (check out these articles – Meeting the Dull Men of Great Britain and The Mission); I no longer feel comfortable with the idea of doing any of that.
Even though lockdown had initially made me feel desperate to be free and to be myself again, now that freedom was available to me it’s like I didn’t know what to do with it. It seemed alien to me.
And so now, faced with the prospect of driving up to Manchester to meet more strangers, along with having the added pressure of them being the stars of my favourite set of horror movies; I felt completely and utterly terrified.
The duvet remained over my head and the snooze button continued to be pressed, yet after a little while something began speaking to me. Something deep down, like the voice of past memories, was telling me to get up, get showered, and get going.
And eventually, I did.
By the time I reached the venue my nerves still hadn’t settled, and on a couple of occasions I’d very nearly turned the car around to come home.
On top of this there was an insanely long queue that stretched the entire length of several of the surrounding streets, and with time rapidly ticking by I was now at a very genuine risk of missing my first photo session.
As I entered the venue, almost twenty minutes after my allotted time slot, all I could do was charge towards the photo area with my ticket in hand.
The lady looked up at me…
“The photos have already been taken.”
I could feel my heart sinking, but then she smiled.
“But I think we can get Thom to do one more.”
The next thing I know I’m charging through the winding sets of barriers, left and then right, and after taking off my glasses in a vain attempt to get the best possible looking photo, I stepped towards a blurry figure that I was pretty sure was Thom Matthews.
“Hey man. Good to meet you.” I heard a man’s voice say as his hand met my shoulder.
But was it really Thom? Or had I approached a totally random person? It had been thirty-five years since the movie was released and so this meant that Thom would also have aged by thirty-five years (obviously). I’d not even thought to check his IMDB page to see what he looked like now, and even if I had, without my glasses on he was just a blur. Everything was.
The camera clicked, I said thank you to the blur, and then I made my way to the photo desk.
I waited patiently, worrying that I’d be presented with a picture that showed a completely random person’s arm around me, with his thumb up to the camera and a goofy face that proudly suggested he’d just hijacked a photo session, while the real Thom is stood in the background with his palms turned upwards and a ‘what the fuck is going on’ expression written across his face.
But a few moments later, and much to my relief, I was presented with a photo that confirmed that the blurry figure was in fact Thom, and that he was looking well. In fact, you’d never have believed that thirty-five years had passed.
I should’ve gone back and asked him what moisturiser he uses.
After a quick stop off at the bathroom to put my contact lenses in, my next photo was with CJ Graham; the mountain of a man that played Jason Voorhees in Part 6.
I’d had a photo taken with CJ a couple of years previous in London, but at that event he was dressed in full Jason costume. And I’ll never forget that day.
I’d been queuing for a while behind some temporary screening that kept CJ – I mean, Jason – out of sight. The whole thing was a mystery and I had no idea what to expect. And so when it was my turn for a photo I stepped nervously around the corner and walked into the room, coming face-to-face with the 6’ 3” Jason Voorhees.
I looked up. He looked down. And through the eye holes of his iconic hockey mask I could see the rage in his eyes.
And I nearly shit myself.
“Oh fuck!” I exclaimed, completely involuntary.
CJ was no joke, and staying true to his character he grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and held a knife to my throat until the camera went click. And then I felt his grip ease before he patted me on the back and nodded, as if to say…
“Thanks for coming. Have a nice day.”
Thankfully for me, I’d packed spare underpants.
Anyway, CJ Graham was in regular dress today and this time he was full of smiles and welcomed me in a completely different manner than he had in London. And thankfully, I left the photo area without any bruises and with clean underwear.
The frenetic start to the day had forced me to get straight into the photo sessions without having any time to dwell upon how I’d been feeling, but now that I had a couple of hours to kill until the next set of photos, it meant that my nerves had a chance to get the better of me.
It was time to begin collecting the autographs that I’d come for, but this meant making conversation; and making conversation in a forced situation was the very thing I’d been dreading the most.
“Hey, how did your photo turn out?” Thom Matthews asked, smiling.
The very first person that I had a photo session with turned out to be the very first person that I got an autograph from too; and Thom instantly put me at ease by showing that he remembered me. He was also no longer a blur.
“It turned out great thank you. And how’s your day going so far?”
As Thom signed his name across a photo of himself he told me a story about the two other actors who appeared in the same photo. Thom – most likely picking up on how nervous I was feeling – handled the moment like a pro, and he made sure that I left his table feeling good about the meeting.
One down, three to go.
But who should I approach next?
To my left was Adrienne King.
And to my right was CJ Graham.
I decided that while I was feeling some degree of confidence from meeting Thom I should perhaps approach Adrienne.
Now to the uninitiated, let me explain it like this. As the star and survivor of the very first Friday the 13th movie, Adrienne (aka Alice) is a big deal. In fact, she’s an icon. If you were to compare it to, say, Star Wars (3), meeting the character of Alice is a bit like meeting Luke Skywalker; although I accept that this is a pretty terrible comparison to make, but, you know, fuck it (4).
Anyway, Adrienne greeted me with a warm smile and was every bit as hospitable as I imagined she’d be. She asked me where I’d travelled from and I asked about her experience of fan conventions, and once she’d completed the best personalised autograph that I’ve received to date, Adrienne asked me if I’d like a photograph taken with her.
This really took me aback as it’s usually the fan that would ask this question, but she hopped around the desk and threw her arm around me, ready for the camera.
After the photo was taken we spoke briefly about the Camp Crystal Lake (5) tours that are run sporadically in New Jersey, and I made a promise that I’d look into it.
“Maybe we’ll see you there.” Adrienne said, and then we said goodbye.
As I mentioned before, there are times when fan conventions like this can feel forced and awkward, and then there are times when they exceed your expectations. Meeting Adrienne King was one such time, and in all honesty, it was nothing short of being a true privilege.
I felt truly humbled by her.
The rest of the photos and autographs went with ease, and I was truly on a high.
Although, having said that, there was one awkward moment when I met Tom McLoughlin. As the director of the sixth movie I felt he was the best person to ask about what inspired the infamous opening sequence in which Jason is resurrected from the grave.
For those of you that aren’t already familiar, it goes a little something like this.
Tommy Jarvis (played in this movie by Thom Matthews) is still traumatised from his earlier encounters with Jason Voorhees (which took place in Part 4), and who can blame him; Jason had killed his mum, his dog, and a bunch of other people too.
And yes, you read that right. Jason killed a dog (6).
Tommy (played by a young Corey Feldman) managed to get the better of Jason in that fourth movie, first of all by confusing the simple-minded mass murderer and stopping him in his tracks; and secondly, by slamming a machete into his head and then hitting him with it repeatedly while screaming DIE, DIE, DIE with blood-curdling effect.
It’s all pretty fucked up to be honest.
But in Part 6, Tommy needs convincing that Jason Voorhees is still dead and buried, so he drives off to the cemetery with his mate and digs up his grave. Sure enough, Jason is in there, and he’s completely lifeless and rotting. Honestly, there are maggots and everything.
Tommy stands over Jason’s body and has audible flashbacks of the DIE, DIE, DIE situation, and then he loses his shit. Climbing back out of the grave, Tommy rips a piece of metal railing from a fence and then repeatedly skewers Jason’s chest with it while screaming really loudly.
But that’s not enough reassurance for Tommy and so he decides to set Jason on fire and burn him to ashes, just for good measure.
But this ends up being one step too far.
Because as Tommy climbs out of the grave to fetch the gasoline, he leaves Jason unattended who is still impaled by the metal railing. And with the metal railing having punctured the area of the chest where Jason’s heart should be (wait for it), and with it poking up in the air like a lightning rod (wait for it), there’s now a storm approaching, and…
…have you worked it out yet?
Following a deafening crack of thunder, a huge lightning bolt strikes the railing, which sends a surge of electricity into the chest cavity of Jason’s rotting corpse. Before you know it, his eyes open, and yes, Jason Voorhees is back from the fucking dead.
And 18 more people get killed.
“So what inspired this sequence?” I asked Tom McLoughlin.
“Well, its Frankenstein isn’t it?” He replied, frankly (7).
I was confused because I was thinking, no, it’s Jason. But then I understood what he meant, and so I just nodded.
But now everything had gone silent, and so I thought it would be a good idea to try and make him laugh.
“See, I always liked that sequence because I work with electricity myself.” I enthused.
“Oh?” Tom replied.
“Yes. And I’ve seen electricity do some funny things in my time, but I’ve never seen it do THAT!”
I laughed, thinking I was really funny.
Tom didn’t respond.
And now things got even worse, because I felt like I really needed to make him laugh. So I thought I’d try again.
“Yeah. Like, I’ve seen squirrels get electrocuted and there was smoke coming out of their tails and everything, but I’ve never seen it do THAT!” I repeated, while pointing at a picture on his desk that showed Jason just after being resurrected from the dead.
Tom’s eyes remained on mine, but there was no laughter.
Instead he just grimaced and nodded very slowly.
I swallowed hard.
Somewhere there was some tumbleweed rolling by.
I contemplated trying for a third time, but then I thought better of it and decided to cut my losses. And so I just told him that I thought Part 6 rocked, and that I hoped he’d enjoy the rest of his day.
I turned around and walked away quickly (8).
Despite my initial apprehensions the day had turned out to be a raging success, and I stood in the middle of the Bowler Exhibition Centre and smiled; four photos, four autographs, one happy Lossul.
But as I turned around and started walking towards the exit, something didn’t feel right. Something didn’t feel quite complete.
I look at the timetable for the day and spotted one more photo opportunity; a complete group photo with the three men of Jason Lives; Thom, Tom, and CJ. I looked at my watch, I looked at the exit sign, and then I turned and marched towards the ticket desk.
“Excuse me.” I said, waving at the man behind the desk.
“Yes mate, how can I help you?” He replied.
“Is there still time to get a group photo with Thom, Tom, and CJ?”
“Well, what time is the photo session?” He asked me, although I thought he should know this already.
“And what time is it now?”
I glanced at my watch. “Erm, it’s 3.25pm.”
The man leaned forward and scratched his chin. “Well then I’d say you’ve got about 5 minutes.”
I chose to ignore his sarcasm and snatched my wallet out of my pocket.
“Do you take credit card?”
I charged through the crowds with euphoric glee, like it was a scene from an old black and white movie. You know the sort, where somebody realises they’re in love and can’t let somebody go and so they race through a crowded train station to stop their prospective other from boarding a long-distance train towards New York. And battling my way towards the photo area, I could see the Jason Lives trio in the distance.
CJ Graham was in his full Jason outfit, but minus the hockey mask. Instead he was gracing us with his rotting face, complete with maggots, and I thought he looked beautiful. Well, sort of. I mean, I was in high spirits, and the promise of this group photo made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It was like the final piece of today’s jigsaw puzzle.
When my turn came I walked towards Thom, Tom, and CJ and I immediately felt like I was being greeted by friends.
“Hello there stranger.” Thom Matthews smiled.
“Hello again.” I replied.
CJ was as imposing as ever, Thom smiled for the camera, and Tom looked as though he was still thinking about electrocuted squirrels as he placed his hands on my shoulder.
The camera clicked, and then I turned and thanked the trio.
I took a second to drink in the moment, because there are some experiences in life that you know will never be repeated. There’ll be more conventions, there’ll be more additions to my Friday the 13th collection, but there’ll never be another shared moment with these three guys.
And they’re the moments that are worth living for; the highs that can never be repeated. We can look for those moments, but we can never find them. Instead, they find us (9).
The trio photo shoot was a last minute decision that was completely inspired, and I think it’s no coincidence that of all the photo sessions that took place that day, it’s the one that felt most natural; and as a result, it’s the one in which I looked most comfortable.
I left the convention centre feeling like I’d been a part of something special.
The sun was starting to set as I drove through the Peak District national park on my way back home. It was a beautiful autumn evening in Derbyshire.
I was listening to music, singing really badly, and I was completely buzzing inside. And I thought back to how I’d been feeling just a matter of hours before when I’d been gripped by fear and wanted to hide away from the world. I didn’t want any part of what it had to offer. But somehow, and in some way, I’d managed to push through and did the very thing I didn’t want to do.
I was feeling more alive than I had in months. I felt joy. I felt hope.
I was feeling like my old self again.
At any time in our lives, our greatest moments live on the other side of the fear that stands in our way. But throughout Covid-19 and the many ways in which it has impacted our lives and mental health, the ability to be our true self has become ever more difficult. For some of us, we’ve forgotten who that true self even is.
We’ve had to change. We’ve had to adapt (10). But at our very cores we are still the same.
YOU are still the same.
If you’re feeling lost, you can find your way once again. Just look around you, see where the discomfort is, and head straight towards it.
Life is waiting on the other side.
With my utmost respect and gratitude to Adrienne King, Tom McLoughlin, Thom Matthews, CJ Graham, and everybody who makes For The Love of Horror possible – thank you for letting such amazing memories be created.
Dedicated to Katy and Maryanne – the two people that never give up on me, even when I have.
(1) I won’t share his name out of fear of embarrassing the poor man, but I will say that he worked in the snowy northern area and was good mates with John Snow.
(2) Freddy Krueger was always too camp for my liking while Michael Myers just seemed to be a bit of a plodder. He’s gotten better in the later films, but back in the day he just didn’t do it for me. Nah, it was all about Jason for me; a deformed mummy’s boy that suffered from bullying and neglect before ultimately drowning. But he came back from the dead (don’t worry about the technicalities of biology) and got his revenge, over and over again.
(3) I only make the Star Wars comparison because I often accompany my very good friend Kev to fan conventions, and he’s a Star Wars autograph hunter.
(4) If you can think of a more appropriate comparison then please let me know. Although please don’t get carried away or spend too much time on it as I won’t be amending the article. Thanks anyway.
(5) Camp Crystal Lake is the fictional name of the summer camp in which the Friday the 13th movies originate. It is in fact a true working scout camp that is still open to this day, and guided tours are opened up to fans every now and then. If I get my way, I’m going to be there one day.
(6) Okay, so this bit is debatable. We see the dog. We see Jason. We then see the dog fly through a first floor window as the glass shatters around him. So, the dog either died from glass wounds and the inevitable impact on the ground below. Or, he survived, ran off, licked his wounds, and then found another dog to impregnate and lived happily ever after, albeit somewhat traumatised and undergoing weekly therapy. Either way, the dog isn’t seen again by its owners, and therefore Jason is a bastard.
(7) Pun intended.
(8) In all seriousness, Tom was great, and this sequence of the story should not be misunderstood. I’m actually poking fun of myself as this was a classic example of a time when I tried way too hard to impress, but instead I just made myself look a bit of a knob. And it’s not the first time I’ve done that. Remind me one day to tell you story of the time I met Snow Patrol.
(9) I’m pretty sure I’ve made this same point in an article before. But, it’s a good point to make and so I thought I’d say it again. You’re welcome.
(10) The ability to change and adapt in life is essential for survival. This is a good thing. But what I’m talking about here is, don’t lose sight of who you really are.
Did this article resonate with you and do you know of anybody that could benefit from reading it? If so then please do feel free to share this article wherever you can.
Do you have any thoughts or opinions on anything you’ve just read? Do you have any experiences to draw upon, either good or bad, that others could learn from? Are you a horror movie fan? A fan of Friday the 13th? Or do you frequent fan conventions such as For the Love of Horror? If so, do you have any special memories from those events that you’d like to share? And finally, have you ever seen a squirrel get electrocuted? Or a mass-murderer getting resurrected from the dead? Please feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll begin a conversation.
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