It's once again the most wonderful time of the year in Lexington if you're a fan of horror, ghosts, fantasy, sci-fi and things that just creep you out.
The Scarefest 7 Horror & Paranormal Convention wil be taking over the Lexington Convention Center this weekend. While the lineup is chock-full of celebrated actors and creative minds in the world of horror, some of the biggest stars on the bill dabbled in horror while making their marks in Hollywood with diverse acting careers.
For those who are more interested in actual ghosts, there will be lots of familiar personalities from the world of paranormal investigation, including one woman in particular with plenty to say about the field. Here are some of the big names we were able to talk to prior to the event.
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When actor Cary Elwes got involved with the film he's most associated with, it was all for the right reasons.
The Princess Bride was based on a book he loved from author William Goldman, was co-produced by a director he greatly admired (Rob Reiner) and had an incredible cast of talented actors — not to mention wrestler Andre the Giant.
The film's mix of fantasy, comedy, adventure and romance had a lot going for it, but that may have been the problem.
"We were stumped how to sell it. You couldn't sell all the genres," said Elwes, 51, who played Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts in the film. "We were doomed from the word go, really."
Doomed at the box office, maybe, but not in the home video market. The film has become a cult classic. Two years ago it received more than a few 25th anniversary retrospectives and commemorations from entertainment publications and websites. There are even plans to turn the 1987 film into a Broadway musical.
"The Princess Bride is pretty beloved. I call it the gift that keeps on giving," said Elwes, who will be at Scarefest this weekend.
That same expression could apply to his acting career in general. He's acted opposite actors like Denzel Washington in Glory and Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder. He was able to fulfill a comedic actor's dream, working with Mel Brooks and mainly "looking at the camera and mugging" as the straight man and title character in the comedy Robin Hood: Men in Tights. He also made his presence felt in a few TV shows that have their own respective fanatics, first as FBI Assistant Director Brad Follmer in The X-Files and later as smooth art thief Despereaux in Psych.
Elwes' contribution to the horror genre isn't a mere footnote. He played Dr. Lawrence Gordon in Saw, which he said may be the biggest monster horror franchise ever.
He immediately had a great feeling about the original 2004 hit from his first look at the script and his first meeting with director James Wan, he said.
"I knew from the first day I shook hands with the guy that this guy was incredibly talented," he recalls. "The detail this guy put into the movie, nothing was arbitrary."
The Princess Bride holds a special place in Elwes' heart. In fact, he wrote a book about it titled, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. The book features cast interviews and countless anecdotes that indicate the making of the movie may have been just as delightful as the movie itself.
Elwes continues to stay busy with upcoming projects, including The Greens Are Gone starring Catherine Keener and Sugar Mountain starring Jason Momoa, both slated for release in 2015.
Considering he played the title character of one of the most treasured sports films in recent memory (rudy...Rudy...RUDY!!!), you can forgive Sean Astin for making the occasional sports analogy to talk about his career.
He's compared actors waiting to be offered parts to "a pitcher in the bullpen waiting on their number to be called."
Since he's been part of iconic films in three different decades — as Mikey in The Goonies in the '80s, as Rudy in the '90s and as loyal hobbit Samwise Gamgee in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the '00s — he gets called up quite a bit for screen time, but also for events like this weekend's ScareFest.
"All of the sudden, I'm invited to appear at a convention literally every weekend out of the year," Astin, 43, said. "These things have proliferated, so that means guys like me can come do a weekend in Lexington."
Astin makes appearances in-between his work as an actor and director, and they seem to give him the same thrill they did in the beginning. He is always flattered by the exchanges with fans, and he relishes the opportunity to both hang out with former co-stars (as he'll be doing this weekend with The Goonies' Corey Feldman) and meet actors from other projects he admires. The passion that fans have for The Goonies continues to surprise him.
"It is shocking to me that so many people love The Goonies with such intensity. Now, 30 years later, it's more," Astin said. "Basically, what it's done is it's captured the imagination of a certain generation and that generation has turned it on to their kids."
Throughout his career, Astin has built up an interesting body of work in the horror genre. Scroll through Astin's résumé and you'll see gruesome indie horror gems like 2007's Borderland and this year's Cabin Fever: Patient Zero. At some conventions, these films may not get much acknowledgement from fans, but ScareFest isn't one of them.
"ScareFest is another purist experience," Astin said. "It is definitely fun when people discover films that are little-known or little-seen and are excited about them."
But Astin's most recent horror project is kind of a big deal.
Astin was hand picked by visionary director Guillermo del Toro to star as Jim Kent in the FX vampire drama The Strain. Spoiler alert! His appearance at ScareFest will be his first convention appearance since his character met his demise. But it's safe to say based on his enthusiasm that his appreciation for the horror genre and its fans will live on throughout his career.
"When it gets right down to it, these horror films are about focusing attention on your mortality and all the different things that scare us," Astin said. "ScareFest is about acknowledging that on a big level, a community level, that we can scare each other."
Astin will be appearing Sept. 13 and 14.
It might surprise some devout supernatural believers that Williams — a former investigator and television personality from one of the paranormal reality TV genre's most successful programs — might not be as convinced as some of her fellow paranormal enthusiasts.
"I'm more skeptical now," said Williams, formerly of SyFy's Ghost Hunters and the spin-off Ghost Hunters International. "I'm more skeptical than I was in the beginning."
The Massachusetts native has always shown an interest in the lives that came before her. She began studying genealogy at 11 and was subject to more than a few ghostly tales from her family, particularly her mother, who claimed to live in a haunted house.
Williams was doing some local modeling when she ran into Dan Grant, co-founder of The Atlantic Paranormal Society in Rhode Island that would later be the paranormal team behind Ghost Hunters.
While she was intrigued by the idea of paranormal investigation, she didn't want to be on TV and be perceived as a crazy person for a national viewing audience.
She joined the show halfway through the third season as a historical researcher, and when she was on these suspected haunted locations (often seen in night vision), her demeanor was definitely a welcome surprise for audience members.
"I think the biggest thing was I didn't scare easily. I think most women, they are sick of seeing women screaming and crying and yelling," Williams said. "Growing up I was taught by both my parents that being female is not a weakness and it's not an excuse."
When she later became the first female co-lead investigator in the spinoff series Ghost Hunters International, Williams not only got to travel, she got to see a complete cultural shift in how it was viewed.
"In the beginning, Americans are pretty skeptical," she said. "You go somewhere else, they are very spiritual and they don't necessarily need proof."
Nowadays, Williams pursues her interests away from the camera. She was "nerding out" working at Ancestry.com for a year as a genealogy contributor, dabbles in art and conducts paranormal investigations on her own.
Williams makes a point to go to paranormal conventions once a month. She's particularly excited about attending ScareFest for the opportunity to reunite with members of her old Ghost Hunters team like Grant Wilson and Dustin Pari and to have the platform to speak live and unedited. And she hopes to have her faith renewed by meeting fellow skeptics who just want to find some answers to those occurrences that simply can't be explained.
"If there wasn't that bit of curiosity left, I would have written it off by now," she said. "I think it's going to come down to the people who really love the field are going to have to step up and fight a little harder to make sure it stays honest."