A celebration of slashers


Taking over the first lower level and eighth floor of the Daley Building on Saturday, April 28 was DePaul’s sixth annual Pop Culture Conference. Previous Conferences focused on topics like “Supernatural,” “Doctor Who” and “Harry Potter,” but this year’s theme was slashers.

“Every year we pick a new theme and it is always timed around some sort of pop culture anniversary,” said Paul Booth, the organizer of the event. “So I made a list of all the anniversaries I could find that where going on in 2018 … I had a list of about 40 and my wife looked over my shoulder and said ‘if you don’t choose slashers I’m going to divorce you.’”

The organizers started putting out feelers for guest speakers and marketing about a week after last year’s conference, Booth said. However, it was not until October that they shifted things into high gear, advertising at Halloween events. The result was an event with around 200 registered visitors over the course of the day, with the first panel beginning at 9:15 a.m. and the final ones ending at 5:45 p.m..

The day kicked off with the first Keynote speaker, Dr. Wickham Clayton, a lecturer in Film History and Theory at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, United Kingdom. Clayton has several published works on film form and aesthetics, and his hour-long presentation focused on the re-marketing and continued commercial relevance of 1980s slasher films. This time block also featured screenings in packed theaters of the 1983 Robert Hiltzik production “Sleepaway Camp” and the  “An Eye for an Eye” from director John Schlesinger.

After Clayton’s speech there were two hour-long segments that each featured several panels with film students, film professors and film enthusiasts from the Chicagoland area and beyond. The panel “CadavercastCast Podcast: Who the Al is Freddy Krueger?” featured DePaul film professor Jef Burnham and his six-year-old son, Al, recording a live episode of their monster movie podcast. To honor the slasher genre, the topic of the podcast was Burnham asking Al, who his dad said wasn’t old enough to see “Nightmare on Elm Street,” what he thought the film was about.

In  the panel that followed, an alternate narrative in “Nightmare on Elm Street” was created wherein Freddy Krueger is a pizza delivery driver which a wicked thirst for revenge. There were a few moments of nerves, but Jef Burnham thought the live show went well.

“I thought it went fantastic. I think it was best case scenario. Worst case is (Al) could have just cried and run away,” Burnham said. “But that’s not him, that’s not Allister. But I can imagine any other six-year-old might buckle under the pressure.”

The 1:00 p.m. keynote speaker was Rachel Talalay, who made her directorial debut with “Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy’s dead: The Final Nightmare.” She also had a hand in making the first four films in the famed horror series, and she has since directed episodes of “Sherlock,” “Doctor Who” and “Supernatural.. Her speech was aimed at critics, where she argued slasher films should be understood  in their historical contexts. She went through each “Nightmare” film, explaining how each came to be and some of the difficulties she faced, whether it was rushed effects, not having a writer or the pressure from executives to target a certain audience. For each film, she selected a few contemporaneous few critic reviews and then explained why the constraints she faced during production may have lead to some of the criticism the films received. She also argued why she felt some of the criticisms  where not valid, such as the sixth film not being scary enough when in fact the focus of the film was not on being scary, but rather on embracing the humor of the franchise.

“She really talked about the difference between artistic filmmaking and a business … it is a business, but what you control within it and the pride you take in your work can be different,” said Kasbella Menichiello, an attendee of the event.

The day ended with a few more rounds of panels, including  one on the 1978 John Carpenter film “Halloween,” and a “Handicrafting Horror” workshop where viewers learned how to bead embroider a zombie. At 5:45 the winners of the silent auction were announced, with items such as autographed copies of “The Final Nightmare,” a brain-shaped chocolate mousse cake and a Jason Voorhees replica mask. As in previous years, the proceeds of the silent auction were donated to a charity selected by one of the keynote speakers. This year’s charity was the Full Flood Endowment fund, as selected by Talalay.  

While the crowds were not as big as last year’s Harry Potter conference, Booth still considered this year a success.

“I judge these events by whether the people attending are having a good time and I am seeing smiles and hearing people laugh,” Booth said. “Last year was the Harry Potter event and it was really packed, so I didn’t expect as may to come for the slasher one. But

The people who are here are energetic, excited and having a good time.

— Paul Booth, event organizer

Next year’s conference was announced to be Disney-themed in honor of the 30th anniversary of “The Little Mermaid” and the 50th anniversary of The Haunted Mansion ride.