Rob Dimension is a Fort Washington-based jack of all trades in the horror community. In addition to his duties as horror host, convention personality, promoter of The Monster Channel, and founder of the PA/NJ Horror Club, Rob somehow finds time to pursue careers in acting, writing, and filmmaking. Rob took some time out from his busy schedule to speak with Cinedelphia about the convention scene, independent horror films, and his time spent on the wrestling circuit.
CINEDELPHIA: I get the impression that you’re a horror movie fan turned self-styled horror movie professional…
ROB DIMENSION: I’ve been a horror fan all my life. I was involved in pro wrestling for eleven years, I wrote live TV, I was an on-air and behind the scenes talent, and what happened was I’d seen a resurgence in horror hosts. Elvira would be the most common, but there’s Zacherley [The Cool Ghoul] from up north, there’s Saturday Night Dead, which was on in Philadelphia, there’s plenty nationwide. I don’t want to say that there was a need for another one, but what I wanted to do was something kinda different. People usually review movies online through writing on their blog or just sitting in front of a laptop and recording a 15 minute review of a movie. I wanted to make it more fun and more casual and just create an awareness of movies that were on the independent level.
Our show, Late Night at the Horror Hotel, was on over 50 stations, we were on over almost 25 states and we just had problems with production. I would assume that that would be the main reason as to why we stopped. We’re about to announce a new show that will be exclusive to The Monster Channel starting in January. I consider myself a very passionate fan, I’m 40 so I lived through the VHS world of going to stores and renting movies based on the box art. Nowadays we don’t have that luxury, there are no more mom and pop video stores, there are only larger chains and even most of those have evaporated. Netflix, while they do try to cater to everyone, is more Hollywood-based and less independent-based so it’s harder for us to find those real gems outside of word-of-mouth. So I try to be that word-of-mouth guy that gets the message across and says “Hey, this might be something for you to look at.” I’m just trying to help spread the word and turn on the next generation of horror fans and make it a little bit easier for them where they’re not just stuck with what’s in theaters.
C: Stepping back a bit, when did you start Horror Hotel?
RD: Over a year and a half ago.
C: You mention this resurgence in horror hosts. Has there always been an interest in these individuals or is that interest a recent occurrence?
RD: Well, I think that television has changed over time. Originally when cable or even network television were looking to fill space, USA’s Up All Night for instance, they had a need to fill space so this was a very inexpensive way to show a movie. As times changed, there’s less and less, but with the internet it’s possible to have people host a web-based show. There are plenty of outlets for people that are out there now. As far as network TV, it’s a closed market, but as far as public access goes they’re all over the country. We were on some stations that had 300 homes and then other stations in north Jersey that had 300,000 homes so it just depends on stumbling into the right place.
C: How far back does this concept of the horror host go?
RD: Years ago there was Vampira, there was Zacherley, these guys were doing this stuff back as far as the black and white era.
RD: I don’t think there’s too many qualifications. I guess you want to be a likable character, it helps if you have a knowledge of film, it helps if you’re creative. People want to relax by watching movies so I always think that it’s our job to provide entertaining details about the film. Let’s face it, the films that we’re showing 99% of the time are films that are in the public domain that you’ve seen a million times, like Night of the Living Dead for instance. So it’s like “What can we do to Night of the Living Dead to make it better?”
C: I feel like the job of the horror host is to either ease the tension of the film or to make light or create humorous situations related to the film.
RD: Absolutely. Zacherley inserted himself into some of the scenes in the movie, it’s very comical. I know if you look back, the films over time have become less and less scary because our interpretations of the films have changed. A lot of kids, including myself, that grew up watching this on late night television saw the host as a way to get through the movie and possibly as an introduction to the world of horror. If we can make it fun and exciting then maybe the kids will get involved. The adults that are into horror aren’t going anywhere, we need to educate these new kids that are out and about. My son is 11 and he has an interest in horror movies, but he has all of these other things that we didn’t have as kids like video games, cable that has a million channels, there are just so many more distractions that it’s hard to get their attention. So the horror host’s job is to really bring as many people in as they can.
RD: Very much. It was originally myself and my business partner at the time, John, and he had an idea to create a cooking show based around horror and I had the idea of the horror-hosted show so I came up with the concept where we have a hotel and he’s the chef and there’s nothing but problems, it’s very skit-based. When we originally started, we had an hour and a half time slot to fill and we noticed a few things right away. We noticed that we were always doing four skits at an average of four minutes a piece in an hour and a half and the biggest complaint was that there wasn’t enough of us, there was too much movie. I was thinking that the opposite would be true. So then we bumped it to seven skits and a one hour time slot. We went through and edited the film and kept all the good stuff and cut all the bad stuff out so a film that was 90 minutes was now 35 minutes and we had 25 minutes worth of skits. I felt that it was a good mix, John would give his recipe that corresponded with the movie we were showing, I’d do a movie review of a related film or a film we were trying to get people into. I was the dumber character and John was the enforcer character, we had a great time.
C: What were some other films you showed on Horror Hotel?
RD: We did a lot of Gamera films, we did Night of the Living Dead, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Destroy All Planets, Attack of the Monsters, The Living Corpse…it was all public domain. We’ve actually secured non-public domain films for the new show that I’ll be launching on the Monster Channel. The show’s working title right now is VHS Lunchmeat, it’s named after a magazine that’s dedicated to the 80s genre of VHS so we’re trying to make it resemble a video store that’s still in existence where I’m stuck in the 80s. We’ll be showing films that you usually wouldn’t hear of that are on DVD and not in the public domain.
C: So in a way the Horror Hotel was a dry run for the Monster Channel show.
RD: It was a learning process the entire time. It’s just being different, trying to bring humor into it, I’m certainly not a scary guy that’s going to wear makeup and dress as a ghost or a ghoul or a zombie. There’s certainly people out there that do that and that’s awesome, but for me I want to represent the guys that are just like me that are horror fans and have been horror fans for years. I like to ham it up a bit and have fun and be clever with writing. We even incorporate puppets.
RD: Yeah, it also opened up doors for me to act in a lot of films. I just finished the Chainsaw Sally TV show, which has a large underground following. You can pick them up from Troma Films, they’re on Comcast now. I’ll be on season two. I was fortunate enough to be chosen to come to a lot of horror conventions and host a lot of their question and answer seminars with celebrities. The one that I’ve focused with the most is Monster Mania based out of Cherry Hill. I’ve been going to that convention since number two and I think that I’ve only missed three. They’re celebrating their twentieth now.
C: So your convention presence really helped you make that transition from fan to professional.
RD: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. There are times when I’ve been hosting a Q&A and I’m on stage with Robert Englund and I’ve literally been Twitpic’ing a picture, which I’m sure is unprofessional, but how many times am I going to be on stage with Robert Englund? I’m a fan first. I love to watch horror films, I’ve passed it on to my kids, my wife is a horror fan, my father was a horror fan.
C: Can you elaborate upon the horror convention scene for the uninitiated…
RD: I think that you’d be surprised, the attendees are from all walks of life. They can be odd, but there are also very normal people that attend. There are thousands upon thousands of people that come to these conventions. Usually the main attractions are the celebrities so you get a chance to meet and tell these people “Hey, look, I’m such a fan” or whatever may happen. They do a lot of question and answer panels where people can ask celebrities questions, they do screenings of movies, there’s tons of vendors selling everything from t-shirts to bottle cap necklaces to toys, you name it it’s there.
C: You’re quite active online as both a writer and host of your own video blog. I also found some videos you did for FunnyOrDie.com.
RD: Yeah, What Makes You a Strange Kid. That came about by just wanting to be creative, there’s only so much you can do and sometimes everybody is in a position where they just feel idle. I felt that after the show had stopped I wanted to do something else. The video blog was a great way to keep my name out there, it was a great way to be creative, it was a great way to help others because I’d be creating an awareness for websites or movies.
RD: Yes, and the funny thing is that I’ve primarily died in every film I’ve been in so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I just finished a movie called Demon Hunters, a 90 minute feature. I’m one of the co-stars of that, it took three months to film on the weekends. When you’re working on an independent film you’re working with budgets between none and whatever, I was involved with one film that had a $100,000 budget, another with a $40,000 budget. Sometimes you do one and you’re like “What am I doing here?” and then you do another and it’s such an experience.
I’ll say that I am not an actor, at all. I like to have fun and the characters that I portray are usually dimwits. Demon Hunters was a challenge because it was so long and I had to learn tons of lines, I’m a procrastinator so I usually wait until the last minute. I had to learn lines on the hour and a half drive to the set. I was fortunate as they gave me some freedom to create some of my own lines.
The best experience I’ve had so far was the Chainsaw Sally show where they gave me really good material, they knew exactly what they were doing. We were in and out in two days. I’ll be featured on two episodes and though I don’t survive at the end, it’s a horror TV show so no one is ever really dead. Hopefully I’ll make it back.
C: Are things like Demon Hunters and Chainsaw Sally the types of projects that you’re personally drawn to?
RD: To be totally honest with you, I would like to get more into the filmmaking aspect. I’ve really grown an appreciation for simple things like lighting and subtle camera movement and changes in perspective. I’m a big fan of guys like Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, I’m a big fan of these independent films that use their knowledge of having the right equipment, the right lighting.
C: You mentioned earlier that one of your jobs as a horror host is to uncover these gems and expose them to a larger audience. Did that lead to your involvement with the PA/NJ Horror Club?
RD: I was like “Y’know, it’d be cool if we got a few people to come and watch a movie.” If I’m just one guy and I tell you how great a film is you’ll be like “Okay, that’s cool,” but if you have twenty people saying the same thing then things are going to pick up. What I’ve learned with any kind of genre, but especially with horror, is the more hype you create, the more interest you create, the better the chance your film has of succeeding. If you just sit on the film and let it speak for itself then it’s really hard for it to get seen. So we have 12 sessions a year, we try to have a criteria where the film itself has a legitimate budget, it’s not just a couple of guys making a movie in their backyard, we really try to show the best that we can show. It’s at a comic book shop, we all sit around a big screen and watch, 20 to 25 people. If I can help expose 15 more people to a film then I feel like I did my job. We have a message board on Facebook where we talk about things like who played Michael Myers the best. It’s nice to be around people who have the same interests as you do.
C: This is held out in Bensalem?
RD: I tried to come up with a place that was close to Jersey and Philly. I’d been to Capes and Cowls Collectibles, I’m a big comic book fan, so I’m trying to help the shop out as well. I hope the club helps everybody.
C: You seem to be well versed in horror film history. What do you consider to be some of the classics of the genre?
RD: The original Frankenstein with Boris Karloff. I don’t think anyone will ever portray Frankenstein as well as him. My all-time favorite horror film is John Carpenter’s Halloween, it impacted me as a kid and it’s just stuck with me forever. I recently wrote an article called “Growing Up Myers” and it really documents how I got involved with horror. There are so many unsung horror films out there like Hobo with a Shotgun, a good example of an independent. It started off as a trailer and got picked up and made into a film. It’s captured tons of people’s hearts. Dead Hooker in a Trunk. There’s a film that’s coming out from New York called The Super. It’s about a maintenance guy who goes off the deep end and takes things into his own hands. I constantly float where for two weeks I’ll watch nothing but Godzilla films and then the next week I’ll watch something else. Lately I’ve found myself attached to shot-on-video films, pioneers of the home videos of the 80s who shot on VHS and Beta and made these horror films that were pretty groundbreaking. I see that these guys were guerilla filmmakers at their finest. They had no budgets, they used practical effects, films like Video Violence, Cannibal Campout. They just released a new box set called The Basement, it comes with a VHS and five movies and it’s all shot-on-video stuff.
C: Exhumed Films showed Boardinghouse at last year’s Horror-Thon.
RD: Boardinghouse was a film that I recently talked about. It came out in 1982, it was a film that received distribution nationwide and if you’ve seen it it’s terrible, but what really hooked me was the “horrorvision” where you’d see a hand and hear a noise and you’d know that something good was coming up though when it came up it wasn’t that great. It definitely was a film that impacted the shot on video genre.
It’s funny that you brought up Boardinghouse because that’s a film that I saw as a kid and for years I couldn’t remember how the film was, but I remembered the gimmick with the hand. Lately, I’ve been hooked on Video Violence by Gary Cohen.
RD: Back in the ’80s there was a magazine called Pro Wrestling Illustrated, all the insiders at the time called it the “Aptermags” after Bill Apter, a writer who is from the area and used to come into our comic book shop where I became friends with him. I was a wrestling fan my whole life and one thing led to another and the next thing I know we have a promotion and we’re on channel 48 in Philadelphia on Friday nights. I stayed with it for about ten years and only recently walked away from it. I loved it, it really gave me a chance to develop the ability to speak in front of large crowds, the ability to be creative. I made some great friends.
C: So it wasn’t the physical side that attracted you, it was the character-driven aspect.
RD: More than anything. It wasn’t until I’d gotten more into it that I felt comfortable working behind the scenes. I learned a lot about myself, I was mostly known as a bad guy or a “heel”, and I was happy about that, but away from that I’m the total opposite.
C: Did you grow up in the Philadelphia area?
RD: No, Saratoga, about 45 minutes north of Albany. I was a daredevil growing up. When my mom would ask what I wanted to be I’d say “a stuntman.” I’d drive my bike off of stuff and I’d wreck myself. I had a great family, I liked to play sports, so if anyone thinks that I must have come from a broken home since I like horror movies, it wasn’t that way at all, it was the opposite. I had great parents, a great upbringing. I just happened to enjoy something in which people get slaughtered.
C: Do your parents have an opinion on your horror-related activities?
RD: I can tell you my mom wasn’t a fan of the wrestling stuff. I’m 40 but she’s still a mom, she’s still going to worry. My parents enjoy the video blogs, they think I’m just nutty. What can you really say when you see your son chewing his toe and yelling at a puppet?
The PA/NJ Horror Club meets this Saturday, October 22 at 1 pm at Capes and Cowls Comics and Collectibles in Bensalem, PA. This month’s screening selection is a faux documentary called Long Pigs followed by two shorts and a discussion on the topic “What does supporting independent horror mean to you?” Cinedelphia will be there and a write-up of the day’s events will follow soon thereafter.