Dracula 97

Pete Tyers

Pete Tyers wrapped in garlic reviews Dracula's 100 birthday party


Dracula 97 started life as an academic conference, to which was added a literary and fannish convention, and finally the Goths were stirred in. The event was jointly sponsored by the Canadian and American Chapters of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (TSD) and the Count Dracula Fan Club.

The Westin Hotel was large enough and well laid out for the event, but (surprisingly for California) suffered from the affects of smokers. The air conditioning achieved little other than stirring round the smoke and excluding fresh air. I was not the only one with frequent headaches and a longing to get out of a "sick building" and into the "fresh air" of Los Angeles!

Up to eight programme tracks ran through the day. The mornings were taken up by academic sessions (organised by Elizabeth Miller, President of the Canadian chapter of the TSD). I never arrived in time for these, but I'm told they were good and the programme certainly looked interesting. However, there seemed to be few academics around later in the day (rumour had it that they retired to darkened rooms to write learned papers!)

From mid-day, the literary and fannish programming took over (organised by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro). There were many very good items thoroughly enjoyed by the few that attended, but sadly the panellists often equalled or out-numbered the audience!

The evenings were for the "spectaculars". The first night saw the arrival of a fleet of hearses, one bearing a coffin from which "Dracula" emerged and waffled on about how good it was to be back. He was followed by Transylvanian music from Barry Fisher's Dracmaniacs - an amazing collection of instruments (including a hurdy-gurdy and a real, live theramin) which, if the sound had been a little lower, would not have been such a cacophony. Elvira (much admired and much photographed) cracked a few (very good) jokes and presented a humorous summary of Dracula films (I must see the one with Leslie Neilsen!). David Skal ran a series of on-stage interviews - Bella Lugosi Jr. was interesting - after which I left for dinner.

I skipped the second night in favour of the company of old friends and a birthday dinner, which just left the Masquerade Ball on the final night. There were many, many costumes and some were truly excellent - and much enjoyed by both the wearers and the on-lookers. And the Goths were out in force!! My favourites were Sergeant Wolf and Private Parts (a mummy in military camouflage gear), and Little Red Riding Hood and her Wolf-man (my, but what a big snarl you have ...). Oh yes, and there were two bands which were both LOUD (I couldn't make out the music above all that din!)

The main other attraction was the dealers' rooms - lots of memorabilia, books, costumes and clothing, jewellery, and almost all of it vampire shaped. There was also a film programme and an afternoon of "Theatre", but regrettably I never got to either. The make-up sessions by Todd McIntosh were excellent, and the festering wound caused by a bite "inflicted" on the neck of one young lady was so realistic that it prompted reports in a local paper that a fan really had been attacked and badly bitten by a crazed, would-be vampire.

Gahan Wilson was an excellent Toastmaster - and possessor of a very dry wit. He had the audience rolling round just with his descriptions of some of his vampire cartoons in "Playboy". He also had some sharp words about the (dis!)organisation of the event. Fred Saberhagen was the Literary Guest of Honour, and proved to be a delightful man who I was very pleased to have met. Niccolae Paduraru, the head of the TSD, came all the way from Romania (on his first visit ever to the US). And P.N. Elrod was an experience not to be missed (but don't get in the way of that huge, wheeled suitcase full of books!)

The down-side to the convention was the organisation - communication and experience were clearly lacking in many areas. There appeared to be no over-all control or day-to-day management of the event, and no established sources of information or co-ordination. The registration desk was badly placed and the staff poorly informed (but very friendly). The events section of the programme book was very difficult to follow - when the Green Room staff arrived, their first task was to sort out how and where the programme actually ran and then tell everyone else! And there was a desperate need for a "Read Me". Publicity was mis-directed (at least on the fannish side, hence the disappointingly low attendance). The Masquerade judging was actually completed before the event was even scheduled to start. And as for the travel advice from the official travel agent ... The list goes on and on, and the chairman (J. Gordon Melton) must take his fair share of responsibility for this. Some people had obviously worked very well and hard before the event, but it was a good job that there were some very experienced con-runners about to pick up the slack at the last moment.

From many conversations at the time, and from articles read since, it seems that the event was much enjoyed by most that attended. Many were glad for the chance to have met favoured authors, film stars, real Transylvanians, and, of course, other fans.

Likewise, my own favourite moments were the meeting of other fans and guests -- and a few beers (the ones that weren't frozen to death) with old friends!

Further information on the event, the TSD, and related web pages can be found at www.ucs.mun.ca/~emiller.

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