They’re Coming to Get You, Parsippany
Chiller Theatre, Parsippany, NJ
April 26-27 at the Parsippany Sheraton
I keep my convention reports from Icons of Fright and Death Ensemble in a file called “Tx Frightmare Review.” The very first report covers the 2008 Texas Frightmare Weekend, under the title “They’re Coming to Get You, Texas!” Some of the highlights include my flight problems, meeting fellow Icon reporter Beth, enjoying Texas bbq and riding a mechanical bull. But the thrust of the piece is a love of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. 2008 was the 40th anniversary of Romero’s first masterpiece, and TFW was the beginning of a number of the actors and Romero himself traveling together to promote four decades of the film. During that show, I caught up with Judith O’Dea and we had a lively discussion about her character Barbra. That was my second time meeting Judith, and when I saw her listed for this past Chiller, it brought back fond memories of our conversation at what still stands as the most fun I’ve ever had at a con. As the Romero Retrospective is such a large part of Death Ensemble, I had to ask her for an interview. She graciously agreed, and our chat is the highlight of what was the best Chiller show I’ve attended in years.
A warm, sunny April day gave X and me an auspicious start to the weekend. And even the routinely insanely heavy traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway didn’t hamper our spirits. Incidentally, the Cross Bronx is THE MOST atrocious stretch of road on the planet, a four mile jaunt that can take hours to, well, cross. Hell awaits every time I head onto it.
As X headed off to get his bracelet, right off the bat I knew we were off to a great show. The pre-show started at 5 pm, and about 75% of the guests were already there, ready to sign. As I’ve reported previously, the pre-show is usually a bust, as most celebs disregarding the early start time. It was a great surprise to see Judith, David Warner and a whole slew of others raring to go. I could’ve hopped on autographs early, but out of loyalty to my friend of 15 years, I waited on line with X, taking in some sun and discussing Godzilla movies with some other fans. Once X was set to go, the fun began.
Van Williams and Larry Wilcox
I often wonder why X goes to cons anymore. For years he’s been my most consistent con partner, and yet he almost never buys any autographs. Even if he’s got a potential list of seven or eight guests who intrigue him, he’ll usually talk himself out of getting more than an autograph or two (part of it is that he’s notoriously parsimonious, part is limited wall space to hang autos at his house, but I think X is just generally unimpressed with most celebs). This Chiller would be something else.
X started with Van Williams of The Green Hornet and Larry Wilcox of CHiPs. For expediency I hopped on Larry’s line as placeholder as X waited for Van. Oddly, Williams sold his last copy of the best 8×10 on his table to X, roughly 20 minutes into the show. Joining me, X then met Wilcox. Years ago we met Erik Estrada at a Super Mega Show, so this was supposed to be a high point for X. At least it served as one until four days later, when X left a rant on my answering machine complaining that Wilcox wrote, “Enjoy CHiPs” on the photo. I thought Larry’s encouragement was nice, but X bitched about how this was really a suggestion for him to dig in on a bag of Lays.
And speaking of photos, as X almost always goes with high end guests but won’t pay for a pic, he got only one with a guest. But that’s for later…
Debbie Gibson and Peter Tork
I had planned to meet Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson, so I could get them to sign an 8×10 for MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS. Now that would make an awesome multiple signing, right? Well it would’ve had either one of them had a shot from it. The only other shot I would’ve gotten was Debbie on a giant Rubix Cube, and I tried to sell X on that one, but he went with a sexy shot instead. Talk about not taking advantage of an 80s icon acknowledging she’s an 80s icon.
X then added Peter Tork to his Monkees pic, previously signed by Mickey Dolenz, who was in the same room, and the late Davey Jones, who was not. Tork launched into some story about how, like X, his brother’s name is Chris, but then elaborated on how it’s actually his brother’s middle name… which made the story irrelevant. Tork then suggested trying to get Mike Nesmith to sign it outside a show; mega-rich Nesmith’s mom invented liquid paper, so he isn’t likely to do a con. X and I smirked at this.
There was only really one disappointing experience this show, and it was the Sheraton restaurant’s fault. I’d conned X into getting Akira Takarada on the same GODZILLA poster he’d had Haruo Nakajima sign. X loves the multiple, and this was a great one in my book. X was 2nd in line for Akira, who was wearing a flashy suit, so I figured this would be a quickie as Friday night came to a close, and that it would make for a great pic.
Yeah, only it didn’t quite happen that way. Takarada was eating in the overpacked hotel restaurant, which had a long wait. X stood for over an hour past the “Be back at 9 pm” sign on Takarada’s table, and almost bailed several times. When he finally got in (I wasn’t with him), he found that Akira spoke great English and was very apologetic. And then X’s camera died just as he was about to pose with him. Some guy behind X snapped one for him and was supposed to email it to him, but I don’t know if he ever did. I wish I would’ve been there for a classic X flip out, but I was busy…
Interviewing Judith O’Dea
With a few exceptions, all of the Romero people are great. Whatever movie of his they worked on, they’re generally kind folk, and certainly appreciative of their fans. Judith O’Dea is no exception. This was my third time meeting her, and I was thrilled at the sheer number of great shots she had from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Earlier in the evening I bought a great 8×10, and asked if she would be willing to do an interview for DE later, when she wasn’t so busy. Graciously, she said yes. Check it out.
I’ll leave it at this: roughly half of the interviews I’ve conducted for DE fall under the Romero Retrospective, and I love every one of them. Of them all, Judith’s is my favorite. She’s been answering questions about the film for 45 years, and yet her enthusiasm made it feel as if it was her first time discussing it. I felt as if I were chatting up an old friend over a cup of tea, instead of interviewing an actress about her iconic film role. I bought one more 8×10, and when I mentioned how I have all of my NOTLD autos in chronological film order in a book, she asked me to show it to her next time we meet.
Thank you, Judith, for being a classy, eloquent lady and a great interview.
David Warner et al.
Unlike NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE OMEN doesn’t provide cons with a slew of guests. Many of the major players are dead, and I can’t see Gregory Peck doing shows even if he were still alive. My only previous experience with an OMEN guest was at that TFW in 2008, and it was the crown jewel, Harvey Stephens who played little Damien. After nearly a decade of shows, Chiller offered up a second Satanic thrill, David Warner.
Warner’s been in a number of great films, and even in the bad ones he’s stellar. He had an 8×10 from the cemetery scene, and I discussed how it was my all-time favorite horror scene. Imagine my thrill when he expounded on what it was like to film it! We chatted for nearly five minutes, and I had such a great time with him. As this was a rare meeting and Hell, it was THE OMEN, I broke my “no pay for pics” policy and coughed up the $10. In my 9 years of cons, David Warner stands out as one of the true highlights.
Sitting next to Judith was Will MacMillan, from Romero’s THE CRAZIES. Other than Lynn Lowry, I’d never met anyone from that underrated flick, and so I was jazzed to meet him. I was shocked that he looked so old, but he was spry and we had a quick chat about Romero.
Stephen Macht is awesome. I’ve seen him in about 67,000 films and he always makes interesting acting choices. He’s one of Dom’s guys, so Dom introduced us. As I picked up an 8×10 of him as the dick boss in GRAVEYARD SHIFT, I noted his accent in the film. Macht launched into a long story about how a real Mainer taught him to speak like one. He holed up with the Mainer and avoided the rest of the cast, despite the director’s protestations that he’d alienate himself from the rest of the cast, exactly what he wanted. They hated him, and it shows on film. I was hoping, after this story, that he would write some nasty stuff in-character on my 8×10, but Macht was just too nice for that.
The Robert McNaughton experience
I’ve know Dominic Mancini for almost 10 years. Through Monster-Mania, we became friends years ago through our love of Romero. When Dom started repping actors and directors at shows, he graciously started hooking me up for interviews with some of his clientele, both over the phone and in person. I owe Dom a lot, both personally and on behalf of DE. So when he asked if I could sit with Robert McNaughton from E.T., I said, “Of course.” I must admit, I wasn’t jumping at the opportunity of sitting with the elder brother from the film, as I thought we’d have little to discuss. But man, was I wrong, and I’m sorry I prejudged. Because Robert was awesome.
As Dom’s Aussie friend Brett went to enjoy a smoke and some fresh air, I slid into the chair next to Robert. Knowing this could get lethally boring, I started chatting him up. I’m glad I did, because Robert had all sorts of stories about working with Spielberg, Dee Wallace and a fork lift in his current job for the U.S. Postal Service (and yes, I shared with him that we both drive fork lifts, a cool thing to have in common with someone who starred in E.T.). Robert was jazzed to meet fans and share stories. And take pics of them with his action figure, with which he’s obsessed (hey, if I had my own action figure, I might be obsessed with it too). I had such a fun time with him Friday night that I was eager to sit with him again for a few hours on Saturday.
I regret that I didn’t get to interview Robert, but I’m sure I’ll see him again.
Kevin Van Hentenryck
X also sat with a guest and helped out, but not one of Dom’s. A few years back X repped John Caglione at a Cinema Wasteland and met Kevin Van Hentenryck from the BASKETCASE films. The two spent some time catching up, and as I was sitting with Robert and later interviewing Larry Cohen, X hung with Kevin and helped out. Kevin was kind enough to give X an interview, and later I stopped by to get a few autographs and pics with Kevin and the basket. This guy is really cool, and an accomplished sculptor, which adds levels of depth to him beyond starring in horror films.
Reflecting back, sitting on the other side of the table is a whole different experience from approaching it as a fan or conducting an interview. It intrigued me to see what exactly touched fans about E.T., how deeply the film affected them, and what items they brought with them for Robert to sign. I wouldn’t want to be behind the table regularly (I’d done it once before for Dom, sitting with Kate Hodge and Donna Wilkes), and I’m sure the personality of the celebs would dictate just how good a time I would have, but I have so say the two times I’ve done so for Dom have been rewarding experiences.
Larry Cohen, THE STUFF, and chicken wings
I’ve never conducted an interview like the one with Larry Cohen. Larry directed two of my favorite blaxploitation flicks, BLACK CAESAR and HELL UP IN HARLEM, both of which starred my idol Fred “The Hammer” Williamson; and he was the man behind the IT’S ALIVE flicks and Q: THE WINGED SERPENT. A writer/director/producer, Cohen is an auteur in the truest sense, and he’s had a long, varied career. He’s also on Dom’s roster of clients, so I had to snag him for an interview. Little did I know just what an experience that would be. Larry pointed to a chair and told me to take a seat, and then the strange turns began.
Larry’s table had been quiet for a while, but as soon as I sat down, he got bum rushed by fans. He’s got a sarcastic sense of humor, and his fans ate it up. As I watched him sign film-used foam cups of The Stuff, I knew I was in for a raucous time. After about 15 minutes the swell died down, and we set forth on our interview. But not before Larry’s lunch arrived. Someone from the Chiller staff showed up with—I kid you not—about 2 lbs. of hot wings. And Larry was hungry. So he dug in, and at several points during the interview he was still chewing as he replied, God bless him. Even better, Larry offered up some of his wings to me. I’ve done plenty of in-person interviews, and this was a first. Hell, Dom had already bought me dinner and I don’t even eat meat, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. This was even better than the previous night when the waitress at Applebees joined in with me on a rousing round of making fun of X.
Larry was generous with his answers as well as his food, and he gave in-depth replies to all my questions. So much so that the interview ran about a half-hour, until some Chiller staff came along to snatch Larry up for a Q and A. At which point the woman repping Marky Ramone accused me of stealing her chair and wanted it back. I thought Larry’s departure was the end of our chat, but when Larry returned a while later, he suggested we wrap things up, and so we did. Which gave me the chance to thank him for feeding me on the record. I couldn’t make this Stuff up if I tried, folks.
As X and I grabbed a few slices of pizza before heading home, I was jazzed. This was the best Chiller in many years, and reminded me why this is my favorite show and always will be. It also had me reminiscing about TFW all those years ago, and why I love going to conventions in the first place. And I thank Judith O’Dea for putting me in that place.