Becomes Us: Celebrating the Dead in Austin
By Christopher Head
is all around us. Most of us don’t really want to admit
it, but death surrounds us as much as life. There is not one
without the other.
ever wonder how you are gonna die? Is death lurking around
the corner from you right now? Will you meet a sad ending
with a butcher knife at work or in the fryer from slipping
on the wet kitchen floor on the way to dump the fries? Or
will you die stumbling across Red River Street with too many
Lone Stars in your belly, getting run over by a big red pick-up
with a headache rack and a guy named Billy behind the wheel?
Will your ex-girlfriend's medication run out, and will she,
all of a sudden, remember all the mean things you did to her
only to find herself with a nice warm pistol to your temple?
Or will you die the traditional way of disease and slip away
from your body slowly and painfully? Will it be funny to you
if you die while on the toilet? (The coroner report stated
that Elvis died “straining at stool.”) Do you
take a moment to giggle at the thought?
face it, we are all gonna be confronted with that moment.
Is that why we are so intrigued by it? I realize that I am
asking a lot of questions here, but how the hell will any
of us live if we don’t really realize that one day the
reaper will come a-knockin? It’s all just a matter of
how and when. The entertainment world is full of celebrations
of death, but entertainment never really conquers the fear
of death. The entertainment industry only markets death to
being said, I realize that there is a purpose to all this
death talk. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the
Dead, which is the day after Halloween) is celebrated by going
to the graves of relatives, communicating with them, drinking
and celebrating the lives of ancestors.
have been known to celebrate Samhain, which is dedicated to
the idea of eternal life and our connection to the ones past.
They say that on Samhain the veil connecting the two worlds
(the living and the dead world) is so thin that the two can
come together in celebration, worship and even work.
the States and in our current cultural maturity, or lack thereof,
we celebrate with plastic costumes and candy. But there are
exceptions to that, even though I know that this year will
prove to have more mulltetheads, pimps, whole cast of The
Royal Tenenbaums and maybe even another Papa Smurf. Luckily,
we live in Austin, and we have a city that celebrates this
holiday with a passion.
is upon us yet again, and the city of Austin is getting ready
for another night of ghosts, ghouls and all the other creative
death-appreciative costumes that the fine, sick and warped
minds of this weird city can offer. Ok, most of the costumes
have nothing to do with death, and some even make you wish
you were dead. You gotta appreciate the spirit that this town
emits when the dawn of the Day of the Dead approaches, though.
Maybe one day we will come to celebrate the true tradition
of Halloween instead of just another day to make bank.
on a mission to find a guru of sorts. I was looking for someone
who could fill me in a little on the horror world. So, in
honor of this upcoming celebration, I met up with a man who
has become much acquainted with the different facets of our
American appreciation of death, carnage, blood, gore and the
like. What I wanted to do was get some references to this
highly celebrated subject. I don’t know if I was really
ready, but once I opened the gate, there was no getting the
images of darkness back into their cages.
encounter, I came in contact with a vast array of plain driven
horror. I won’t be able to sum it all up in a nutshell
or anything, but I have definitely been introduced to the
gates of hell and was let in for a look around. Ya know, it
really ain’t all that bad. The Devil’s homies
are just like you and me.
to call someone who could really give me some access to the
dark side. From several telephone conversations and a sit
down discussion with this usher of the underworld, I got the
impression that his fascination of horror goes a little deeper
than most. My perspective of when Stephen Romano sits down
to write is that he doesn’t want you to just get the
shivers. He also wants to feel responsible for what is haunting
you. Scary, huh?! There is no pretty, innocent little girl
getting slashed to pieces. If there was, it would probably
be her fault somehow, because no one is innocent.
down with Romano at the “kingdom” and talk about
where he comes from and why he does the things he does. The
walls are covered from floor to ceiling with every imaginable
comic book and horror movie image. The TV screen flashes trailers
from what I can only assume to be every single horror movie
ever made, because new images flash on the screen throughout
the entire evening. This man seems to know a thing or two
about a thing or two about killing and dying phenomena. You
can take a tour of the colorful array of blood splatters and
demon effigies on his walls with a special pair of 3-D glasses.
opening up for Otis Day and the Knights at the age of thirteen
at the pretty well- known Houston nightclub Fitzgerald’s
to major litigation with a major music network over creative
copyrights (and winning), Romano doesn’t really know
when to quit or when he started. Who the hell does he think
he is? I mean this is that guy that for years I have seen
walk around town dressed all in black and with that mysterious
black briefcase. (I now know that briefcase has been filled
with books, comics and illustrations from various local artists
for different projects that he worked on.)
has an imagination that intends on bringing death to your
doorstep. He has worked on many different comics including
The Gates of Hell (based on a Lucio Fulci screenplay), Phantasm
(based on the movie by Don Coscarelli) and the Invasion of
the Mutanoids, a full 350-page book full of sci-fi carnage
filled with the most creative and dark images of the underworld
of life versus complete carnal war. Word is that there is
a new Phantasm movie coming soon.
Romano was the promoter and organizer behind the Austin premier
of the newest movie by Coscarelli, Bubba Ho-tep, starring
Bruce Campbell and Ozzie Davis, which is being self-released
by Coscarelli. Anyone who made the special Austin premier
knows that this is one of the most weird and ingenious zombie
films to date. Our hero of horror, Mr. Romano, also put together
the Fulci fests that ran from 1999 through 2001 at the Alamo
Romano still loves Motley Crue, and, by looks of his resume
and the traffic that comes through the “kingdom,”
he still lives the rock and roll lifestyle. Well, I mean,
between 30-day fasts and completely throwing off of the cliché
of the rock star, he can binge drink with the rest of them.
though, Romano is concerned with work. He has at least five
major projects in the works all at one time. So, as a writer,
drummer, producer, figurehead and supervisor for the Xmachina
comic book label, this 33 year-old dreamer has been involved
with a collage of different artistic endeavors where he has
been everything from the go-to guy to the mastermind of the
whole damn operation.
has done quite a few drugs, and he is not ashamed to tell
you about it. When I asked Romano if his chemical-induced
journeys help him, he told me that it helped him see things
better. And see he did. Romano’s fiction weaves in and
out of reality with the precision only a few hits of acid
and a bottle of vodka can conjure up. This is not to say that
this man is a lush—just a binge addict. I believe he
has tossed the acid these days, but I know I have seen a cocktail
or two get thrown into his gullet.
told me how he came to Austin to begin his genius, “I
was born in the asshole of the world, which is Houston, Texas—where
you can cut the fungus with a knife out of the air. I hated
that place. I really did. I moved up [to Austin] when I was
eighteen because I had no scholarship, no money. I didn’t
have nothing. I decided I was gonna cast my bread to the water
and see what happens.” And ever since then, Romano has
done just that.
perspective, it looks like Romano has cast his bread like
a kid on the river surrounded by ducks and geese with a loaf
of bread in his hand all while trying to get the geese to
stop nibbling his toes. It seems to be working. He has made
friends with Coscarelli, Bruce Campbell and the “Tall
Man” from Phantasm and intends on maintaining and cultivating
more relationships with these cult classic icons.
promised an interview with Campbell but did not get one in
time for the deadline of this article. So, we’ll just
have to wait a little while to get our fix. However, if you
want to see the Army of Darkness hero playing as Elvis on
the big screen in Bubba Ho-tep you can check out the official
premier Friday, October 24. (Check Alamo Drafthouse listings
for more details). In this movie, you get to see Elvis (Campbell)
and JFK (Ozzie Davis) kick the living shit out of a zombie.
Halloween weekend there will be a convention in Pasadena,
California for the 25-year reunion of the movie Halloween
(directed by John Carpenter). This was the movie that set
the horror formula we all know—the guy with the knife
that you can't kill. Romano and his associates put together
a comic especially for release at the convention called Halloween
Returns to Haddonfield. Though I have not yet had a chance
to glimpse this comic, it promises to reassess the sport of
murder. I believe that there will be a new movie coming out
you are interested in finding out more about the convention,
you can go to www.halloweenmovies.com
for more info.
is so much going on here in our world of life and death. I
am glad that we can all come together and celebrate our fascination
of decay with no shame. Yes, we are all going to die. So,
during our fixation with the epitaph and sling blade, maybe
the only part that we are missing is that this Halloween thing
is not only frickin’ pimp costumes and Superman outfits.
that pumpkin-headed man waiting with shiny blade to slit the
breath out of your throat. It is your dead relatives still
calling you from the grave trying to give you a message that
they forgot to tell you when they were still alive. It is
all the souls that died in lonely prison cells never to reach
the light of day that will haunt our little planet. They all
want you to remember them. If you keep running away from their
voices, they will haunt you forever. If you keep your ears
and eyes closed to the ones who came before, then on your
day of death, will you be lost forever? And if so, who would
you come back and haunt?