They’re Coming to Get You, Texas!
Texas Frightmare Weekend, Dallas-Grapevine, Texas
February 21-23, 2008
Ed. note- I went to Texas. I bought so many autographs, the airline almost charged me for extra baggage. I ate authentic Texan ribs, and rode a mechanical bull. In short, I had the time of my life. And I haven’t been back to Texas since. Loyd Cryer is promoting the yearly TFW this April. If you’re not in Parsippany getting autographs at Chiller, I suggest you book a flight to Texas now! -P.F.
The dead have taken over the Dallas-Grapevine area of Texas. Reports are that people are dying and returning as walking corpses. The dead are then attacking and eating the living! But wait… they’re also signing autographs!
Okay, anyone who’s read my DVD reviews should quickly realize I’m a huge fan of zombie movies, specifically those made by the godfather of the undead, George Romero. So when I found out that the good ole state of Texas was hosting a zombie-themed convention at the Texas Frightmare, I had no choice but to go. And after all was said and done, I’m jazzed that I did.
The trip started out on a really bad note that had nothing to do with the con itself. Loyd, who runs the con, got his hands on the theatrical film of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, in 35mm print no less, and I was going to see it on a big screen! My plane was supposed to touch down in Dallas at 6:30; this should’ve given me more than ample time to show up at the theatre, which was a mere 7 minute trip from the Dallas Love Field airport. Unfortunately, Continental Airlines did a job on me; my connecting flight from Houston was delayed for more than three hours, so my plane didn’t touch down til 10:30, a half-hour after the celebrity night cap party I paid for had started (Don’t worry. I’ll have my revenge, and a reimbursement from said airline!). So my Thursday festivities were not to be. Frustrated and annoyed, I arrived at my hotel and slept it off. A suggestion to convention goers: if traveling far for a con, it’s definitely best to arrive a day or two early, if you can. This way you won’t miss a thing.
After a night’s rest at the Super 8, I swung by the DFW Hilton on Friday afternoon to pick up my press pass. Joined by my Icons cohort Beth and her boyfriend, I downed a little liquid refreshment at a local Tex-Mex establishment and then returned to the convention. I didn’t know it, but I was in for what may rank as the best convention I’ve ever been to.
A number of factors go into making a successful convention, but after all is said and done, the guest list is what will make or break a show. With this con’s list of celebrities, I was impressed, and I don’t impress easy. The main attraction was the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 40th anniversary tour. This included most of the surviving stars, and the modern day rock god of zombies, George Romero himself. For this past Christmas, my buddy X bought me a huge vinyl banner of the original NOTLD poster, specifically to get them to sign. None of them had ever seen the banner.
It’s always a joy when I present someone who’s signed 67,000 things with something novel; the smile on his or her face is priceless. I was fortunate to get all 8 to sign it, even Marilyn Eastman on Saturday; she’d fallen and broken a hip and some ribs, and when the con’s promoters offered the humane solution of sending her back on the next plane, she persevered and stayed for the fans. This was an act of true class.
Having made my way through the living dead, I then realized I had a slew of other celebrities to conquer. The most crucial of these was Harvey Stephens, the Anti-Christ himself! The Omen’s always been my favorite horror movie. It scared me as much when I watched it in Texas as it did 25 years ago when I first saw it. To meet Damien in the flesh and have the opportunity to interview the man behind the face of all evil was awesome.
With a few hours until closing and a lot more celebrities to grab, I traveled the room and got autographs from Kathleen Kinmont (Bride of Re-Animator); Jason Lively (Night of the Creeps); Kelly Maroney (Night of the Comet); and the legendary Malcolm McDowell, once his line slowed down (at the start of the night, it was longer than Romero’s; fortunately, when I got on with less than an hour until close, only 5 or 6 people stood before me). I’d never seen any of them at a con before; Texas Frightmare was offering me things no previous con ever had.
I added Greg Nicotero, who only does 2 or 3 cons a year. And I topped the night off with an old favorite of mine: Dee Wallace. There is a handful of celebrities who I will get every time I see them. Dee is among them. Not only is she in The Howling, one of my top 5 horror flicks, but in person she is sweet beyond sweet. She remembers me every time I see her, and I feel like I’m talking to an old, dear friend instead of the star of E.T.
With Beth and her boyfriend in tow, I left the con and headed to Whattaburger. I don’t eat meat, but I let myself go and enjoy a triple Whattaburger, among other things. Unfortunately, all that meat transformed into Whattavomit the next morning. Undaunted by my physical unease, I returned to the convention center. As the dead ruled the day, I got autographs from Lynn Lowry, who cut me a deal on two 8×10′s; Joe Pilato and Antone Dileo of Day of the Dead (if you ever get the chance to have Pilato scream his “I’m the one running this monkey house” speech full throttle in your face, by all means, take advantage of it!); Robert Joy, the sympathetic Charlie of the underrated Land of the Dead; Hell, I even threw in the two young stars of Diary of the Dead, so I’d have autographs from all five of Romero’s Dead pictures.
With my pile of autographs slung over one shoulder and threatening to turn me into a hunchback, I believed myself done. Until I saw the one thing that could coax more money out of my wallet: Danielle Harris. Remember that handful of celebrities I always get at cons? She’s on it. Because Kristina Klebe and Scout Taylor-Compton seated next to her, I had no alternative but to get a group shot 8×10 for all three to sign.
As you can probably tell from my enthusiastic review, this was an awesome con. That extends beyond the guest list. The staff was helpful and extremely kind. When I introduced myself to Loyd at the celebrity party, he patted me on the back, shook my hand and said, “Come on in, buddy!” Every celebrity I met (wow, was it really 24?) was genuinely enthused to meet the fans that weekend. The pricing was stabilized- $20 bucks for an 8×10, $15 for my own item- so I had no figuring to do on how much I could afford from celebrity to celebrity.
The only drawback was the actual layout of the hall. The celebrities and the vendors were all in one big room. Every con that follows this layout suffers from the same problem: crowding. Once Saturday rolled around and there were 3 massive lines, for Elvira, Romero and McDowell, movement throughout the hall became a major issue. Navigating from place to place was problematic. In fact, when Danielle Harris showed up, I was hard pressed to find the end of her line, among the labyrinthine tangle of so many others. Still, even with that, Loyd Cryer and company hosted an excellent convention.
I can offer Loyd and Texas Frightmare no higher compliment than this: I live a long way from the Lone Star State, but I want to attend many Texas Frightmares beyond this one. It was an unforgettable trip, in all the best ways for this horror fan.
I’ve never been to a celebrity party at a horror convention, but once Loyd told me my press pass privileges extended to this meet and greet, I knew I owed it to the loyal Icons of Fright fans to go and report on it. Generally these things are expensive; this one ran $65 per person. As per usual, there was a buffet. The drinks were not included. So logistically, the bill after all is said and done cuts seriously to autograph money. Still, I wanted to stay objective. So I used another press pass privilege- I cut the line- and kept my mind open.
The party suffered from two main problems: seating and crowd volume. I’d always thought the idea behind these parties was for fans and celebrities to mingle, to meet and greet without a table full of autographs in the way. Unfortunately, this gathering reminded me of my high school cafeteria. It was the cool kids vs. the normal throng all over again, as the celebrities sat in groups at tables, and the fans sat with each other at other tables.
Only one table broke this rule; two fans sat with George Romero and a group of Dead stars, without a single word uttered between the two cliques. If I had harbored any ideas of getting to know some famous people, I’d have been severely disappointed. Even worse, though, was the crowd situation. If I thought it was bad in the autograph hall, it was magnified here. So many fans came in within less than an hour from start that I literally couldn’t move. It got so bad that I had to leave just an hour into the party.
The one positive experience of the party was that I did get to taste some Texas meatballs before I left. I don’t eat meat anymore, but I grew up with mom making meatballs in tomato sauce. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found these ones drenched in a barbecue sauce. Certainly a different culinary experience, but also an enjoyable twist.
Though I’m sure the celebrity party was a financial success, it failed as a meet and greet. A simple solution would be to sell less tickets next time, and maybe encourage the celebrities to mingle a little more. Fortunately, it did give me an early night. So off I was to indulge in the two non-horror things I set out to accomplish on my first trip to Texas: sampling authentic Texan barbecue and riding a mechanical bull.
Let me tell you this: One of the true joys of going to faraway conventions is that you get to experience new things. Coming off the disappointment of the celebrity party, I found my way to a local barbecue. And by barbecue, I don’t mean some grill behind a dude’s house on Long Island. I mean a full pit with slabs and hunks of meat cooking over a massive flame for days on end. A place where fried okra is a regular menu item, and the Texas ribs are Texas ribs, for real. This was an eating experience, a giant side of ribs on a picnic table with a red and white checkered table cloth. And the waitresses couldn’t have been more kind and hospitable. Kind enough, in fact, to guide me to my final necessary act in Texas. ”Ask the locals” always seems like solid advice, and it’s exactly what my sister advised me when I told her I couldn’t find anyplace with a mechanical bull. One waitress knew of a place about 25 minutes out, and so I was off.
I’ve never been to a honky tonk before, and wow, was that an experience. I parked my rental car at the far end of the parking lot, and made my way through a sea of Camaros and pickup trucks and ten gallon hats. Seven bucks got me in the door of the roadhouse, and through partying cowgirls dancing to the loudest C and W music I’d ever heard. Another five bucks, and I was on the bull. Another 12 seconds, and I was off the bull, and on my back. Just a few minutes and my signature on one waiver after I’d walked in, I was out. The whole ride back, I was pumped on a level I rarely reach. I’d accomplished everything I’d set out to in Texas, and that made me smile.
The rest of the night made up for the less than stellar experience of the celebrity party. All in all, the celebrity party confirmed what I had always suspected: these gatherings are not for me. Don’t let me discourage you from attending one; just go in with the knowledge of some of the complications that I encountered. And if the fest is serving them, try the Texas meatballs!