Ed. note– Four years ago, I wrote my very first horror piece for the web, a con report for the Monster Bash 2007. It started my modest gig as a “horror journalist” ***coughcoughinflatedtitlecoughcough*** and, in many ways, it’s the reason I’m running Death Ensemble now. Strange, no? How one little trip can alter your entire life. This report was very elemental, as I was just dipping my feet in the pool of blood. I’ve revised it here, but understand that it still carries the feel of the con, as best I could. — P.F.
IN ZOMBIE COUNTRY
Monster Bash, outside Pittsburgh, PA
June 23-24 2007
One of the niceties of the convention trail is it can lead you to travel to places you’ve never been. I took my first trip to Baltimore because of a con, with a side jaunt to visit the Rocky statue in Philly; and I probably would never have hear of Cherry Hill, NJ had it not been for a convention. But by far, I anticipated my trip to the Monster Bash 2007 more than any other, for two reasons: the promoters were holding the show in Pittsburgh, PA; and Pittsburgh is zombie country.
My first wonder of the day was Pittsburgh International Airport. I’m not quite sure it has the majesty of JFK, but it sprawls out in all directions. And it does have one feature that Kennedy lacks: a life-sized replica of a T-Rex. Not wanting to wait for the shuttle to my hotel, I caught a fairly expensive cab ride. As the car moved through the mountains outside Pittsburgh, I thought I saw rednecks aiming their rifles at the undead. I think this was because of the jet lag. I think. Oddly enough, Jimmy Buffet was playing Pittsburgh the same night, so my meager hotel was crawling with horror shirts and Hawaiian garb, as deadites and Parrotheads came together in one unholy union.
Fortunately, my hotel provided a shuttle to the con’s hotel, saving me several pricey cab rides. Coming off recent trips to the Chiller and HorrorFind cons, I was expecting the same, lofty presence those shows present. Boy was I in for a surprise. Walking into Monster Bash, I was quickly greeted with a very cluttered hotel front lobby. A shirt vendor was setting up to my left; up ahead to my right sat Kyra Schon, the lovely Karen Cooper of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD fame; and directly ahead lay the registration table, jammed uncomfortable with little space to get around it to the dealer rooms. This was a very cramped setup, which caused problems later in the weekend when the crowd got thick (or thicker, I should say; even a small crowd seems large in tight spaces). Producing my receipt, I got my pin-on tag. I have to say, I prefer the bracelet route to the pin, because I don’t like poking holes in the chest of a good horror design. Pinning it to my shirt sleeve, I had to twist my torso every time I entered a guest or dealer room.
Heading down a long hall to my left, I soon discovered that the guests were set up in individual hotel rooms. Because the guest list wasn’t large, this didn’t present much of a problem, but it would have been better if all the guests were in one big conference room, as is the case with bigger conventions. Then again, with the dealer rooms taking up three of the bigger areas, this hotel may not have had one more big conference room. But I put this gripe aside quickly, because it was on to see guests, and I was jazzed. My first stop was a very old friend of mine, Kevin McCarthy (and at 92, I mean very old). Kevin is my favorite convention celebrity, and senile as he is, he always has a certain charm to him. Unfortunately, he didn’t have an undershirt on beneath his pullover sweater.
Across from him was the Creature from the Black Lagoon himself, Ben Chapman. Ben was not only selling pictures, but with each purchase, he was offering a copy of his Creature contract from the 1950s, two photocopied articles about him, and what he affectionately referred to as “Gilly Bucks.” A nice grab, and definitely something different. Unfortunately, McCarthy and Chapman’s tables were crammed so closely together, that it was hard to get in and out of the room, which only held two men.
Next stop was the dealers rooms. There were two very smaller rooms selling nothing of real note, and one larger room. This larger hall held the same problem that plagued this convention: everything was jammed in. I’m a big man, and navigating through the tables and fans was nightmarish at best. The tables sported the normal fare of toys, collectibles and literature. As I was in zombie country, I treasured my purchase of Book of the Dead, by Jamie Russell, 300 pages dedicated to movies of the undead. It would be a comfort on my layover in Baltimore on my way home. For 12 bucks, I also got a signed copy of John Russo’s diary of the making of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. When in Pittsburgh, do as the undead do, I always say.
I then went to meet Richard Kiel, who made me feel small. He also made me feel pain, as he wrapped his gigantic paws around my head. After this, it was off to meet Bill Hinzman, the famous cemetery ghoul from NOTLD . We talked with great affection about his NOTLD knockoff FLESH EATER, but I passed on a picture with him. Hinzman is renowned for dressing up as the ghoul at cons, so I would wait til Saturday for that.
Keeping with the dead, I grabbed an autograph from Kyra Schon. I was a little star struck, I must admit. I got her to autograph the iconic pic of her, and conversed with her about how it was taken outside, and her character is confined to the house. Romero had her take it during a lunch break, for you trivia fans. As with all the stars, Kyra was gracious and kind.
And that was the nicest part of this convention experience. To a corpse, everyone was gracious. Sadly, I’ve met a few snobs at conventions, people who consider themselves lofty stars above the fray, who look down their nose at you as they take your money in exchange for a signature. But at Monster Bash, pleasantly there was none of that.
I caught a shuttle back to my hotel, and immersed myself in zombie literature and Pittsburgh pizza for the evening. Early the next day, I made my return. Chilly Billy Cardille is a local celebrity in Pittsburgh, and was the reporter in NOTLD. He was appearing only on Saturday, and showed up a little late. Fortunately, I was 2nd on a line of about 5 people; sharing a room with him was Elvira, and her line was at least 80 people long. Cardile informed me that his daughter Lori, star of Romero’s DAYOF THE DEAD, had put together the picture I purchased from him, and he had warm memories of his association with the film.
Having met Chilly Billy, there was one more order of business. I zeroed in on Hinzman, who was dressed in full zombie garb. He commented that he liked my shirt from the previous day better, as it was an NOTLD shirt. I really wanted to tell him that I’d have been wearing it in a picture with him had he saved me the hassle of having to wait til Saturday to get it. But Hinzman was amiable, and I chose to be too.
I left long before the party for Forrest Ackerman. The beloved nonagenarian was a no-show at his own convention (note to Forrest: next time you schedule hip surgery, make sure it’s after your own show!). As he obviously wasn’t going to sign my HOWLING poster, I saw little reason to partake in the festivities.
As a convention, Monster Bash turned out to be squarely all right. Spacing issues caused discomfort for the entire proceedings, and the guest list, though tailored to fans of the undead, admittedly was not for all tastes. But I got a great book and met some really kind celebrities I’d never met before. And it’s always a pleasure to see Kevin McCarthy, that charming old stud. Would I go again? I’m not sure, but I had fun, and that’s really all I can ask from any convention.