I offer sexy actresses, gory underground cinema and an endless, flowing river of delicious beer as a rebuttal to anyone who says there’s nothing fun to do in Tampa. Shame on anyone who ignored Friday’s paper and the ads therein, which encouraged you to check out Beerfest and The Halloween Horror Picture Show.
The adventure began Saturday afternoon at Channelside Cinemas. I’d had no experience with the society surrounding B-Horror movies. In fact, until last weekend I wasn’t aware that one existed. The release of these movies and the fan’s conventions aren’t exactly advertised between beer commercials during Monday Night Football. But you learn something every day, and Saturday I learned about a vibrant, eclectic community with an appetite for murder and mayhem in cinema.
I arrived at the Picture Show at 6 p.m. and met up with Rick Danford, the president of Enigma Films. Danford explained to me that the writers, actors, directors and producers of his industry are a close group of people who have worked with each other at one time or another. They cater to a small, highly devoted fan base.
“Actors and directors will come out to screenings to meet fans even if their own movies aren’t being played. We’re all more like a family, really,” Danford said. “Tiffany (Shepis) is here, and you have to meet Debbie D.”
Tiffany Shepis, I was to learn, is something of an icon in the world of low-budget horror, and it didn’t take long to figure out why. Beautiful, charming and flirtatious, she told me how much she loves her work and about her plans to move into directing and producing. She encouraged my date to hold on to me tightly during the scary parts of the movies we were about to see.
Debbie D is an actress in a variety of films. Some are more run-of-the-mill B-Horror (if there is such a thing) and others cater to a more selective audience that seems to have a loose affiliation with the horror society. (How can I put this delicately? Debbie D’s films are violent and erotic in nature. Thankfully, none of them were played at the festival in Channelside. Interested parties can Google Destiny the Vampire Mermaid.) We talked for about two minutes and I was way too shy to ask her about her, umm – work. So, the interview was cut short. I gave Tiffany Shepis an enthusiastic hug and went into the theater.
Of the short films I saw that afternoon, Blood Car stands out as the most entertaining. The movie is about a nerdy, vegan kindergarten teacher living in the near future. Gas prices are over $30 a gallon and nobody can drive, so he tries to build a car that runs on wheatgrass. He accidentally discovers that the car runs on blood, and then realizes that many beautiful, avaricious women are attracted to him now that he can drive. In order to fulfill his burgeoning appetite, he resorts to increasingly gruesome and darkly hilarious ways to fill his demonic car’s tank. One black-comedy scene shows the teacher weeping with vegan guilt and shooting small animals with a BB gun.
Other movies had their own merits. Some were funny, some were scary and some were sexy. One had a few scenes filmed at USF.
In a way it was refreshing to have no idea what to expect and to experience something new and unusual. There’s something hilarious and honest about movies unapologetically packed with gore, cheap thrills and scantily clad actresses.
After a couple of hours of movies, I met up with my photographer and went to Beerfest. Ybor’s Centennial Park was packed with kegs and partiers and throbbing with music. Weak Sauce was performing on the main stage, bringing back wonderful memories from high school with their blend of upbeat punk and ska.
I met up with David Warner, the editor of Creative Loafing, in the V.I.P. area in the back. It was an open courtyard surrounding a fountain, with a Latin Alternative band (Acho Brother) and thick cigar smoke providing a very vintage ‘Ybor’ atmosphere.
Warner told me that Creative Loafing is moving toward becoming a media company and putting on many more events. If Beerfest – of which all of the proceeds went to charity – was any indication, they should be very successful.
Then Warner uttered the mystical, magical words that make any poor journalist’s heart sing and mouth water: “Has anyone hooked you guys up with wrist-bands?” The rest of the night was a pleasant blur of beer sampling.
Bob Sylvester’s Belgian ale stood above the rest of the brewers. He started by growing his own wheat and hops and brewing his own beer in Tarpon Springs. He moved into professional brewing once his recipes proved to be quite popular.
“The timing and the market seemed right,” Sylvester said. “People really like high-quality local brewers.”
When asked about recent trends in beer appreciation, Sylvester agreed that beer is starting to achieve something similar to wine’s status. Its production is being approached more and more like an art form. There are about as many varieties, techniques and subtle flavors in a good glass of beer as there are in a glass of wine.
“This has been going on overseas for a long time now,” Sylvester said. “People in America are starting to catch up.”
Between stouts, pilsners, Belgian ales and many others I can’t seem to remember, there was plenty for an aficionado to talk about. Most of us have rolled our eyes at a snobbish oenophile, and I don’t want to be that guy, so suffice it to say that the beer was fantastic and I drank a lot of it.
Overall it was an extraordinary night filled with things I’d never seen and flavors I’d never tasted before. Sometimes a break from the monotony of Bud Light and Jerry Bruckheimer can be refreshing.
For more information, check out DebbieD.com, Tiffany-Shepis.com, enigma-films.com and tampa.creativeloafing.com. Adult content is contained on both Debbie D’s and Shepis’ Web pages.