Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics: Hi, this is Barbra Dillon with Fanboy Comics. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Wendi Mirabella and Lotti Pharriss Knowles, who are the executive director and producer and co-producer, respectively, of the annual Vampire-Con Film Festival running this June 3rd and 4th at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. Ladies, thank you so much for joining me today.
Wendi Mirabella: Our pleasure.
Lotti Pharriss Knowles: Yes, thank you.
BD: Absolutely. Now, as I mentioned earlier, the Vampire-Con Film Festival is in its third year of running in Los Angeles. What can you tell us about the film festival and how it came into existence?
WM: Well, in its first year we did an actual convention coupled with a film festival, so it was like a three or four day event. And, the film festival portion of it was so successful, we decided to do something every year, so that’s how we came to be, where as the convention itself is really a 24/7 job. And, since that was not our primary gig, we just decided that the film festival, we’d put more time and effort into that, and since we’re actually filmmakers, as well, we’re in the process of finding financing for Chastity Bites, which is a film that Lotti wrote and I’m co-producing.
BD: Wonderful. Do you want to tell us a little about Chastity Bites?
LPK: Chastity Bites is a script I wrote a few years ago and now we’re finally seriously moving forward on putting it together as a film. And basically, it’s not a vampire film, but it’s vampire adjacent because it takes the legend of the true historical character of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who, along with Vlad the impaler, was kind of the inspiration for Dracula and a lot of the vampire legends. But, her deal was that she was one of the worst and most notorious serial killers in history. She killed about 600 young women in the 1600s and thought if she bathed in virgin blood, it would keep her young and beautiful forever, so we have her in modern day United States undercover in red state America as an “abstinence only” educator, finding her particular brand of botox that way.
BD: Very interesting!
LPK: So, it’s kind of like I said, it’s vampire adjacent even though it’s not exactly vampire. It’s still definitely horror, there’s a lot of comedy and social satire in there, and it’s just straight up Wendi’s and my alley. Wendi and I have been friends for twenty years, and we bonded initially over horror and we’re just enormous horror fans to this day, obviously, and we’re really, between the Vampire-Con Film Festival and Chastity Bites, we kind of are finally putting that passion as our main job, which is great.
BD: Excellent! Now, speaking of the vampire genre, it’s certainly reaching its peak of popularity right now in today’s pop culture. Does Vampire-Con seek to appeal to all vampire audiences, whether they be Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, and everywhere in between?
WM: Yeah. I mean, from the very beginning. We actually called it Vamp Pop Culture three years ago, and then, even at that time, there was a lot of stuff going on regarding vampires. So, we don’t really think it’s reached its peak, because we feel it’s something really, well it’s cyclical and it’s classic. You know, I think there’s always going to be a series of peaks. I think, in terms, we always felt bad. The whole idea of Vampire-Con was to appeal to the people who had been in it from the very beginning and not really geared towards fourteen-year-old girls who were into Edward Cullen. Even though we love- I love Edward Cullen!
LPK: Nothing from me on that.
WM: Lotti doesn’t. She disagrees with me, but I was really into Twilight. I bought the books for my nieces, and then I fell in love with them myself. But, really, our idea, we have a wide range of historical interests and what not and we’re both film aficionados, horror and otherwise. I must say Lotti is really the countess of horror, but, besides that, the film festival is really to appeal to a little bit different marketplace. It’s not necessarily the Twilight - I mean, certainly they can come. The one thing about Twilight and what not. These kids, it may have reached its peak in some level, but they’re always going to remember that. That’s always going to be their first love. So, if anything, you then have a whole new audience that’s into, not just vampires, but horror itself.
LPK: And everybody gets introduced a different way. I mean, they are maybe through Bella and Edward. Mine was Ingrid Pitt and Christopher Lee and the Hammer films back in the day, that I would watch as a little girl with my dad on TV, and that’s why I have a leaning towards more evil vampires.
BD: And, of course, others have Buffy and Angel, as well.
LPK: Yeah, but, I mean, however people get introduced to that world, we welcome them and we support their love of vampires and horror and hope to encourage that and expand their palette a little bit, perhaps.
BD: Absolutely. That’s great to hear. Now, the film festival has found a home at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. for the past three years. What makes the movie theater an ideal location for the Con?
LPK: We love the New Beverly and Michael Torgan, who runs New Bev and his father ran it for years and years and years before him. You know, it’s still one of the great, independent movie houses in Los Angeles. They were, I think threatening to maybe not to be with us anymore a couple of years ago and, god bless him, Quentin Tarantino bought the place, so that it so that it could continue to run under Torgan family ownership.
BD: Oh, good!
LPK: And, they just have a really specific crowd of fans who show up at that movie theater night after night. It’s always a little bit different, but there’s also a core group of folks who really know movies and they love classics, grindhouse, horror, anything like that. We see them, but we also see our crowd and it’s just a very welcoming atmosphere for anybody who really wants to celebrate any kind of classic, so, for us, it’s been a perfect fit.
WM: Yeah, our films have ranged from, over the years, 1931, the Spanish version of Dracula, to the ‘70s and ‘80s and forward. So, we’re really interested in showing the vintage films and the New Beverly certainly, their audience is really looking for those kinds of things.
LPK: And, the New Beverly, also I should say, they have a tradition where they only want to show films, when ever possible, that are film print. They don’t run films on DVD there except on very, very special occasions. So, even though that has actually hindered us, occasionally, on some of the things we wanted to show, - I mean speaking of Ingrid Pitt, the great Hammer goddess, may she rest in peace, she passed away earlier this year and we wanted to do a night devoted to her films. But, we had a terrible time, Michael and us both, trying to find films prints. So, unfortunately, we’re going to keep the New Beverly pure. We’re not going to show those on DVD. But we will, each night before the regular films we’re showing, we will show trailers of her films, just so we can give the nod to her since she passed away at the end of last year.
BD: Absolutely, I think that’s a wonderful idea. Now, you had mentioned that Vampire-Con shows some classic vampire films, and, this year, you’re showing them from the ‘70s and ‘80s. How are the films chosen each year?
WM: Oh, wow. We have a huge list that we all add to. And really it’s about, we try to do something a little bit different, but it’s also what’s available. That’s really become the key thing, because we have a list of probably of, I don’t know, eighty films we draw from and we keep adding to it, but it’s really about what’s available. It’s becoming harder and harder to get the print that Lotti mentioned and part of the problem too is because a lot of these departments in the studios which still own the film, they don’t necessarily, due to the economy and what not, they don’t pay much attention to delivering prints.
BD: I see.
WM: So, it’s hard to get their attention, even though Michael Torgan at the New Beverly has a really good relationship, that said, when there’s cuts made they usually cut that particular division. So, there might be one person handling a barrage of requests.
LPK: And, also, we do like to do theme nights, as well, so that we have two, sometimes we do three films, that are within some kind of theme. So, this year we decided we’d do a revenge of the ‘80s night, because there’s a new version of Fright Night coming out and we thought, well definitely we want to kind of capitalize on that and give that a nod by saying, “Hey, let’s watch the original classic” which is one of my favorites from when I was a teenager. And then, we thought “Ok, well what can do that is sort of in that same spirit, that’s got sort of that comedic tone and so that’s how we chose Vampire’s Kiss, another ‘80s vampire movie. And also, right now too there’s all this press about Nicholas Cage and a lot of comedians, like Conan, have been kind of spinning on how he has his crazy freak outs on every film, so I thought “Hey, let’s do some Cage crazy along with the Fright Night, you know, Fright Night original. And then, for the ‘70s night I am just a big fan of Blacula, so I thought for Saturday night vampire fever, which has become our theme ‘70s night, why don’t we do the two Blacula films and have and a soul brother edition this year. Last year, one thing we did that was great, Wendi had mentioned the classic Spanish Dracula, so that was a whole night of Spanish vampire films and we did it in conjunction the guys and girl, Irene is over there with them, at latinhorror.com and they’re really committed to classic and new horror from Latino filmmakers, so we partnered with them last year and hope to again in the future.
BD: Oh, excellent! Now speaking of the theme nights, the attendees, if I’m not mistaken, of Vampire-Con are strongly encouraged to wear costumes, and prizes are given out for the most creative costumes. Can you comment on some of the most memorable costumes for each of you or do you have your costumes in mind for this year?
LPK: Yeah, I’m putting mine together. I don’t know about you, Wendi. But we’ve had some great costumes in the past years. One person who always shows up, I’m not sure if you’re with Count Silkula, but he is a great local figure who comes dressed in his vampire garb with his accordion. We has Rena Riffel from Showgirls dressed as Trasherellla, who is a character she did in a film. A couple of years ago, the year we honored Vampirella we had quite a few Vampirellas, so that was fun for the boys who came out.
LPK: But, we see everything. Pirate vampires and I did sort of a Norma Desmond twist on a vampire. Or, one night last year we had one lesbian couple, one who was almost a dominatrix vampire and her partner was her slave girl.
BD: Oh, wow!
LPK: And, some people, obviously, just come in their street clothes to enjoy the movie, but there are people who turn it up for it, so it’s always kind of cool to see what people are going to show up with.
BD: Absolutely. I’m sure it makes it a lot more fun, as well.
BD: Lastly, what should fans be most excited about with this year’s Vampire-Con?
LPK: I think it depends what you’re a fan of. I mean, if you like the ‘80s throwback stuff, which right now it seems like every time I talk to a teenager they’re like “Lotti, tell us about the ‘80s”. So, you know it seems to be kind of popular right now, and, if people like the ‘80s, then Friday night, it’s going to be great fun. But, if you want to the Issac Hayes, Phish, disco funk music soundtrack along with a soul brother vampire, then Saturday is definitely going to be your cup of tea or your cup or blood rather. And, we just try to kind of keep it fun and, like we said, we’ll give out prizes for costumes and sometimes we have special guests who stop by and say a few words just to introduce the films, so I’m going to see if we can get somebody to do that this time, but I think it’s about just coming together in a room with a bunch of people who like classic, fun, scary movies like this, and there’s still nothing that beats the communal experience of getting into a theater like the New Beverly to see them together. It’s a lot more fun than just watching them a home alone on DVD.
BD: Definitely. Well, ladies, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today. It’s really been a pleasure.
LPK: Oh, we’re happy to! Thank you!
BD: And, all of us here at Fanboy Comics are very excited for this year’s Vampire-Con. Just to remind our listeners, it is running June 3rd and 4th at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, and tickets can be purchased on the New Beverly Cinema website. Are there any other locations where fans can purchase tickets?
WM: No, just at the door or at the website.
LPK: Actually, I don’t even think it’s the website, Wendi.
WM: Just at the door?
LPK: Just at the door, ‘cause it’s all through the New Beverly.
WM: Oh, that’s correct. Just at the box office.
LPK: Only seven dollars each night for the double feature. Best price in town, so at the door, just line up early.
BD: Excellent. Well, ladies, thank you again so much. It’s sure to be a fantastic festival of vampire classics, and again, this is Barbra Dillon for Fanboy Comics, and I encourage our fans to check out Vampire-Con.