A Noble Second Effort, Not Enough Support (or, Why did Fans Re-Route?)
Saturday Nightmares, East Rutherford, NJ
June 13, 2011 at the Sheraton Meadowlands
Anybody who’s kept up with my work, here or on Icons of Fright over the years, should realize that I promote and support what I believe in. When I put my support behind the first Saturday Nightmares show in 2010, I did so because it provided a unique experience that other shows weren’t giving: held in a historic movie theatre, it focused mainly on stars from the catalogue of George Romero, and it even provided a 35 mm screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Deciding to support SN’s second effort was a no-brainer; I’d had a great time at the first one, and the promoter had decided to make some changes that would benefit this year’s con. Instead of the hard-to-get-around Jersey City, this one would take place in Chiller’s old stomping grounds in E. Rutherford. This time around, there would be some A-list talent added to the rank-and-file, with headliners Martin Landau and Tipi Hedren. The guest list included a few convention retreads, but for the most part, it provided a bunch of faces that don’t appear at every show, and some new ones. To top it all off, David Early and David Crawford were doing a live re-enactment of their WGON debate, which would lead into a screening of DAWN OF THE DEAD. Any horror fan worth his salt should have been there. So for the second year in a row, I was happy to promote and support this show. And sadly, for the second year in a row, fans did little to support it, as the light turn out indicated.
I might have taken my new Android’s navigation malfunction as an omen. I’d taken a ½ day from my lousy job, and it was bright and sunny when X came to pick me up, without his TomTom GPS. We were both pretty sure this was the same hotel as the old Chiller, but my lovely TeleNav had its first stutter when it sent us down a side road just as we’d travelled over the George Washington Bridge (and yes, even before 2 pm there was traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. I hate that road. Passionately.). This side path was a true oddity, in that there were gas stations every 30 feet. Literally, in a half mile stretch, we encountered a dozen of them. Whoever decided that setup certainly had crested below E more than once. Once back on the right path, we encountered the second Telenav error: though we knew where to turn for the hotel, the technology showed a slight turn right instead of a full turn onto Exit 16W. Once we went another few exits, it was kind enough to tell us to turn around and go back to 16W. If anybody can please explain to me why these things are called “smart phones,” I’d love an explanation. Sure, I can play Angry Birds anywhere in the country, but that’s no sign of higher intelligence.
When we finally arrived at the hotel, things were quiet. Unlike Chiller, this show had no tent in the lot, which left plenty of space for parking. Far too much space for parking, as there was only a smattering of cars. We headed in to scope the place out, but little was astir. It appeared all the signings would take place on the 2nd floor, with guests tucked into all sorts of nooks, and the brunt of them in the main room, which also served as the dealer room.
But all that jazz was hours away, because X and I had shown up so early. As neither of us had eaten yet, we took another confusing jaunt (not my Telenav’s fault this time, but hotel staff’s) to an open mall where we took as long as we could to eat at Chili’s. The accent of our Russian waitress was creeping me out, but X thought she was sexy. Side note: if you’re a fan of seafood, definitely try the shrimp tacos. They serve a generous portion, and it’s delicious, especially with some guacamole on top.
Even eating really slowly, we still arrived at the con way early. In the lot, I warmly greeted Jim Cirronella, producer of AUTOPSY OF THE DEAD and rep for some guests on the circuit. He sounded hopeful for the show, and it was easy for me to buy into his enthusiasm… until I stepped back inside. Though it was still an hour til show time, there were a mere handful of attendees. My heart sunk. Here was a really interesting show, with a lot to offer from a fledgling promoter, and he would probably take a drudging if things held this course for the weekend. Fortunately, I got some laughs while in the lobby: when I went to get my press passes and, for the second straight year, I wasn’t on any list (a foreign woman wrote my name down on the back of some sheet, “For record,” as she put it); when I realized this year’s TWILIGHT ZONE marathon would be played in the miniscule lobby, on four separate TVs functioning as one, which cut out any image at its center; and when my friend Dom texted me to say he was here, and then turned around and saw me.
Eventually we went upstairs and the show began. Martin Landau was tucked in one of the aforementioned nooks, and his line was “long” to start, with maybe 25 people on it. Some staff came and swung his line around the other side of the concealed hallway, and when I looked to my right, I was again shocked. The RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD reunion was cordoned off in a little room, across the big opening that peered down into the lobby. Next to this room, a guy was selling zombie paintings in what appeared to be a small kitchen. I wondered if he would also sell steak and fries if anyone asked.
It took a short while to get up to Landau’s table, which passed by Tipi’s. Because she showed a little after Landau had started to sign, people toward the front actually had to cut back into the line, which could have created an awkward situation. But the fans were all in good spirits, and no brawls ensued. Both stars were extremely kind and appreciative. What I didn’t appreciate was their prices. I’ve quibbled about this before, and I will again: gouging fans for overpriced signings and then for pictures on their own cameras is bad business, regardless that the fans will pay, and especially in this economy. As proof, X got autographs from both of them, but you won’t find pictures of him with either, because he didn’t pay. Good for you, X.
As we made it into the main room, I suffered my biggest disappointment of the show. Ken Foree and David Emge were at their tables, signing memorabilia from DAWN OF THE DEAD, but conspicuous by their absence were Gaylen Ross and Scott Reiniger. If you read my report of last year’s Saturday Nightmares, you know I finally decided I needed the main DAWN cast to sign, and those two had cancelled. When X exclaimed, “Are you kidding me?” he summed up my sentiment exactly. Fortunately, Gaylen honored her commitment, but Reiniger was again a no-show. Last year, Emge had told us his wife was extremely ill, and it seemed this was his reason again. But I question why Scott would even sign up for shows if he can’t be at them. It frustrates and annoys fans who revere DAWN, and want to meet and greet all four of them, a reunion that SN touted on its main page.
That aside, the rest of the show was excellent. I got Rick Catizione to add one more signature to my NOTLD banner, and he kindly granted me an interview. Rick filmed the still shots in the end credits, and more importantly did the animation for CREEPSHOW and CREEPSHOW 2. As I spoke with Rick, John Amplas spotted me and came over to thank me for the John Amplas Week here on DE. He was genuinely touched, and that alone justifies me running a horror site in the first place. John was kind enough to grant me a follow-up interview for the site. He’s a true professional, and a great man.
Sitting next to Catizone was Michael Gornick, who I had been too lazy to try to interview a year ago at Chiller, and had forgotten to ask for a photo. I got both accomplished this time. Gornick brought some interesting perspective on working behind the camera for George Romero. Sitting next to him was Terry Alexander, and I’m kicking myself for forgetting to bring an 8×10 that Lori Cardille signed for me at Chiller. Fortunately, he’s on the circuit now, and I have high hopes I’ll see him again.
Next it was off to meet Debra Gordon. I’ll admit it is pathetic that I knew exactly which zombie she played in DAY OF THE DEAD from her character description on the IMDB. But hey, a fanatic is a fanatic. She was lovely, and we discussed her lost film EFFECTS, which I also discussed with Joe Pilato at the first SN. She was sitting next to Mark “Beef Treats” Tierno, whom X and I had given a script back at the October Chiller. X kept nudging me to ask him if he’d read the copy of DEADTENTION. Later in the night, we approached him, and he apologetically admitted he hadn’t finished reading our script. Extremely apologetic, as he must have said some form of the phrase “I’m sorry” at least 30 times. X then engaged Debra and him in a conversation about low budget filmmaking, and they both suggested we come to Pittsburgh to make our film, as there were plenty of closed schools there that could function as our set.
When Gaylen arrived, we made our way to her short line. I asked her about why she didn’t use her real name in the credits of the film MADMAN, and she had plenty of disparaging things to say about that production. She happily signed my 8×10 of the foursome from the mall, and posed for a pic. I perused her table for a good solo shot of her from DAWN, but found nothing satisfying. I decided I would return later, and oh what a decision that would turn out to be.
We mingled a little with the DAWN zombies, and discovered that Lenny Lies knew nothing about Long Island. He did have a cool zombie street sign, on which I surprisingly passed. Frank Serrao, Mr. Background Zombie himself, then questioned X about Long Island’s boardwalks, and filming locations. Jim Krut even briefly joined in on the conversation, though Mike “HKZ” Christopher was otherwise involved. Early and Crawford told me this would be the first time since the filming in 1977 that they would act out their debate; and even if Crawford missed a line, as I’ve been told he did, that’s a unique draw. I hope the devout fans didn’t crucify him over it.
This convention wasn’t all about Romero people, though. X had bought a nice WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? 8×10, and getting Charles Fleischer to sign it was one of the oddest celebrity moments I’ve ever encountered. First, it appears that Fleischer’s neck has been removed, as his head sits so low onto his chest. And as for the actual signature, he signed X’s given name “Chris” way off to the side, as if it were graffiti on the brick wall background, and in place of a signature, he drew a caricature of a face.
And then there was the great Claudia Wells debate. The BACK TO THE FUTURE co-star had plenty of good pics on her table, but was charging to take a photo with her. X mulled over her stuff several times throughout the evening, but just couldn’t get himself to go in, because she was too hot to pass up on the photo. This despite the fact that earlier, through the poor vigilance of one celeb’s handler, had ended up with a free autograph. As for Claudia, she didn’t actually spend too much time at her table, disappearing frequently to go God knows where. Something about those Christopher Lloyd co-stars…
We took a break from the main room, and returned to the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, where I finally got to meet Tar-man himself, Alan Trautman. I should’ve met him years ago on my cursed deer trip to Monroeville, but he didn’t arrive til after I left. This time, fortunately he was there bright and early on Friday. I happily found him to be a cheery guy.
On the subject of being cheery, I was pleasantly surprised by two stars at this show. The first was Doug Bradley. I met him back in 2006, at a rare January Chiller, and disappointingly found him to be rather uncheery; in the photo of us together, neither is smiling, a telltale sign of a bad meet. For years, I carried around this 8×10 that Ashley Laurence had signed, in which she was kissing Pinhead’s cheek. We found Bradley in another nook, and I guaranteed X two things: Bradley would refuse to write “Angels to some, demons to others;” and that he wouldn’t smile in the photo I intended to take with him. Count me wrong on both ends. I’ve revised my opinion of Doug, who though not the most personable guy, isn’t exactly the curmudgeon I’d painted him out to be.
Returning to the main room, I debated another cause: whether to have Belinda Balaski sign the 8×10 of Bert I. Gordon’s FOOD OF THE GODS poster, which Mr. B.I.G. had signed for me at another con the same weekend of the deer; or to get an upgrade, as she had two great color pics from THE HOWLING on her table, and I only had a b&w signed. As X planned what we were going to say to Roy Frumkes about how DEADTENTION had come along so far, I decided I would get both. Hell, horror cons are the one thing I truly do for myself in life, so I should treat myself. She remembered meeting me in Indianapolis back in 2008, and she discussed how great it is to see Bert I. every year at the Monsterpalooza show. She also mentioned how Marjoe Gortner had gotten her the gig for FOOD.
I then took a few minutes to meet with Debbie Rochon, who I had snubbed a few months back for only having one picture on her table. This time she had a few more, and I chose the one that was a mock-up shot of THEY CALL ME ONE EYE, an old rape-revenge flick; though the title of her film indicates aliens. Debbie is… well, an interesting character, and I’ll leave it at that.
All too soon it was time to wrap up the night, and I returned to Gaylen Ross’ table to pick up a CREEPSHOW auto. I was ready to get a signature and head out to the car, when Gaylen decided it was crucial to include her character’s name, which neither X nor I nor Gaylen could remember. I assured her I would be okay without it, when she reassured me she could find it on her iPhone. So away she went on her search (had she not realized, as I had earlier in the day, that smart phones were a lot dumber than most gave them credit for?), leaving X and I to watch…. until Tom Savini decided to join in. I’d be lying if I said I’m fond of Savini as a person, because every con experience I share with him becomes unpleasant one way or another. This one had its own bizarre twist. As Gaylen coolly searched every site but the IMDB, this is how our conversation went:
Savini: Wasn’t your name “Fran” in CREEPSHOW?
Fasso: No, that was in DAWN OF THE DEAD. You worked on and starred in that one.
Savini: Is there anybody else from CREEPSHOW at this show?
Fasso: Yes, Tom. John Amplas, who’s sitting directly across from you.
Savini: Amplas was in CREEPSHOW?
Fasso: Yes, Tom. You cast him because he was so thin, for the makeup.
Savini: Wow. Are you sure he was in CREEPSHOW?
Fasso: Yes. (Pause) Do you still have the monkey heads from MONKEYSHINES?
Savini: Yes. All of them. At my house.
Fifteen minutes later, and Gaylen wrote “Becky” on the picture.
I mentioned earlier that I had to revise my opinion of two stars. The other is David Emge. During the Gaylen incident, he took interest, and we started to talk. At last year’s SN, while waiting for Amplas, I’d asked Emge on the Friday night if he would do an interview. He’d seemed listless much of the show, and he turned me down, citing jet lag. I figured I’d give it a second shot, expecting the same result. Not only was he happy to talk with me, but he was jazzed up the entire conversation. As with the majority of the Romero people, Emge is a really nice guy, with fond memories of working for George.
As we headed out to the car, I knew I’d have fond memories of Saturday Nightmares for the second straight year. But will there be a third? I fear not. Granted, I went on Friday, but others told me that attendance was not much more robust on Saturday. Plenty of folks have mentioned that there was another convention a few hours’ drive south, but I’ve also heard that people were leaving that show to come to SN, so I’ll discount that. The biggest problem is marketing. I’ve spoken to convention-goers before both SN shows that had no idea that it was taking place. As I stated in my opening, the promoter did a number of things that should’ve driven up attendance. Sadly, marketing wasn’t one of them. A strong campaign would have brought out more fans, who would’ve spent more money, which would’ve all but guaranteed a success for this show, and another show to come. With just my site and one other throwing it some love, the word didn’t get out in nearly as many places as it should have. I’ll continue to promote, support and attend every Saturday Nightmares con that comes along, as it’s a quality show and I believe in it. Let’s just hope there are many more to come.