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November 5, 2005

Chiller Theatre Expo

After three prior trips, it pains me to say this: I can no longer recommend Chiller. Not in its present form. Not to anyone. I don't care how brave or how prone to self abuse they are.

Minutes after my 1,600 mile flight from Dallas, I stood in an interminable line among the throngs who'd also flocked to New Jersey in hopes of eyeballing George Romero, Adam West, Barbara Eden or any of the other 100+ assembled B-luminaries. Everywhere I looked ... chaos and bewildered-to-furious faces. "Is this the line?," someone would invariably ask. When they should've been asking, "Which line is this?"

There were dozens.

One to get a ticket. After that, another to enter the autograph tent. (The wait there ticked toward four hours on Saturday.) Once inside -- assuming celebs weren't still snoozing in their rooms or on a smoke break -- one was treated to several "sub-lines" that, again, stretched outside the tent and into the October chill.

Wait! There's still another line if you'd like to bask in the sprawling dealer rooms (or catch a panel discussion). That's where I started and where I might still be standing if not for the kind indulgence of the Chiller staff. (Bless you, Shawn!)

Obviously, the leering (and whining) press has its perks, but what about everyone else? How happy can vendors be when the fire marshall only allows ticket holders to dribble in one and two at a time?

It's rumored San Diego Comic-Con International topped 100,000 visitors this year, yet in stark comparison, it was the picture of organization. Adequate signage. Adequate staff. Adequate space. The latter is probably the Achilles' heel of Chiller. In 15 years, it's simply become too much of a ghoulishly good thing!

So, until they bug out of the Sheraton -- a hotel best suited to host Bar Mitzvahs -- Chiller is a rotting corpse in dire need of a spacious new convention-center style burial ground. They'd also do well to put The Animal on a leash. That lunatic with a megaphone may be a giggle, but he's hardly an effective means of crowd control.

End of rant.

Posted by G. Noel Gross at November 5, 2005 2:31 PM


Attend on Friday night or Saturday night to avoid lines. Longest I waited either day (not counting on Romero's line) was 5 mins. Saturdays are notoriously congested. Stick with the lesser days and get all the sigs you need without the crowd.

Posted by: Stout at November 6, 2005 9:48 PM

According to the powers-that-be at Chiller, this was the last show at that venue. Since they haven't finalized the deal yet, they can't say where the new show will be, only that the line problems will be eliminated.

I went on Sunday this year and the lines were much more manageable.

Posted by: madpuppy at November 6, 2005 10:26 PM

I couldn't agree more.

Chiller has become the epitome of disorganization.

It is apparent that they only care about the ticket sales, and not the people who buy them.

I won't be going back.

Posted by: Steve at November 6, 2005 10:51 PM

Chiller outgrew the Sheraton, and they know it. Future shows will be held elsewhere.

The January show is gonna be at the Crowne Plaza in Secaucus, NJ - the old Hilton where Chiller rocked in the 90s - a smaller space, but the Winter show is smaller anyway. News is a larger space is in the works for April and beyond.

The lines sucked for most people, sure, but if you planned ahead, it wasn't a big deal. I stood in about 30 minutes of lines TOTAL over the three days. So they didn't suck for me. It's just a matter of knowing when to go to the tent and when to go to the dealer rooms.

BTW, there was NO line for the seminar room, only to get upstairs to the dealer rooms (where the seminar room was, but no extra line). It wasn't that long, either.

Remember too, The cost for a ticket aw only $15 (in advance) or $20 at the door - a real bargain for the blast to be had inside.

Chiller is still the best convention experience, imho.

Posted by: JJ at November 6, 2005 11:47 PM

There's a reason why Fangoria only did one convention with the Chiller Theatre people, and why it was their worst convention yet.

Posted by: Andrew Schwarz at November 7, 2005 12:27 AM

Yes, but Chiller outgrew that venue at least TWO years ago.

They still didn't help themselves and their patrons by posting plenty of signs, roping off and clearly deliniating lines or seem to have any grasp of cohesively coordinating their well-meaning staff.

So far, the feedback I'm getting is from people telling me how they "outsmart" this consistently sorry situation or use their special passes to skate around as I did.

The average genre fan isn't so informed or fortunate. They load up the car and absently head off for a Saturday's amusement -- only to end up square in the middle of a nightmare.

Sounds like the setup of most every horror movie I've ever seen.

Posted by: G. Noel Gross at November 7, 2005 7:45 AM

JJ said: "Chiller is still the best convention experience, imho."

Curious on how many you've been to.

I've been to at least five, and Chiller is, hands down, the worst of the lot.

The crowd issue has been an issue for years, and it's been something mentioned on their forums every year.

In addition, their "security" staff are rude and ignorant. Maybe not all of them, but all of the ones I've run across.

I'm not sure how they pay their celebrities, but, if they do, maybe they can lose the Tonya Hardings, the old wrestlers and "that guy who was on Howard Stern" and invest into some training for their staff and some organization classes.

Posted by: Steve at November 7, 2005 9:01 AM

it was the worst convention experience i've ever had. this was my first Chiller con (i've been to tons of comic, sci-fi shows), and it'll probably be my last.

i really wanted to get Romero's sig, and after waiting all day Saturday and finally making it to the autograph tent, i was told that they had decided to shut down Romero's line inside. i was so bummed out, and felt especially guilty for my girlfriend who indulged me all day by waiting with me online outside in the cold.

everywhere was line after line. how do you have line for dealer rooms, or for even going upstairs to another floor?? the worst experience!!

Posted by: Anonymous at November 7, 2005 10:56 AM

I went to almost every Chiller show since 1992, October 2004 was my last one. It was a long time coming but that show was the final straw.

A 4 hour long line that stretched all the way to the back of the parking lot just to get into the autograph tent. I went downstairs to get something to eat and was told I had to get online outside to get back into the dealers rooms. I had to show my wristband to get in and out of the dealers rooms. I left in disgust after only 4 hours with absolutely nothing to show for it, no autographs, no merchandise, no nothing.

If it's true it's moving to a bigger venue then maybe I'll go back.

Posted by: Pat Moore at November 7, 2005 3:29 PM

The lines were pretty bad at the last one I went to (I didn't care for the smoking in the lobby either). Lack of signage was also annoying. I spent a long time waiting to get into a tent I thought had vendors, but was just celebrities.

OH, and two years running the bar didn't have the ingredients to make a Zombie. No ingredients for a zombie, not even when they had a horror convention booked? Lame.

BUT the thing that was really horrible was the lack of bathrooms. One men's room to cover everyone in the lobby, the all-you-can-eat restaurant, the bar, the lines to get inside, everyone in the two outdoor tents, and the lines for those tents.

I can't believe it's even legal for the restaurant and bar to both lack their own bathrooms. There were just three toilet stalls in the lobby men's room. One lacked a TP dispenser. Another had a TP dispenser that was hung, not attached, to the wall, and thus prone to falling.

And all the sinks went completely out of order for hours. Even the celebrities had to use that nasty place! I can't imagine what the women's room was like. I had half a mind to call the health department.

Even when they're not hosting a convention, they need more toilets than that.

Posted by: Chris at November 7, 2005 9:29 PM

Someone asked how many Chiller shows I've been to. Well, just about 20. I've been to all but two since April 1994. There have been ups and downs, sure.

It's no secret the show outgrew the Sheraton. The hotel wanted them out. They were told, specifically, that "we don't want freaks here anymore" and "we want the coprorate crowd and an upscale atmosphere" (paraphrased). The hotel started charging for parking in 2004. They closed bathrooms. The Fire Marshall forced the counting and the lines for safety reasons (the crowd was too large for the venue).

Having said that, most of the people complaining seem more like whining! Again, I've gone to about 20 of these shows. All it takes is planning to avoid lines and to have a great time. I've met tons of great guests (some of the lesser knowns one person here complained about have turned out to be some of the most interesting and friendly people), I've gotten lots of autographs, bought tons of dvds - some rarities to be sure, and met some cool fellow attendees over the years.

I guess I just prefer to look at the glass as half full, to have a positive attitude, to have a good time. If I wanted to be overly critical and picky and compulsive about it, I could find things "wrong" with Chiller. But you know what, I prefer to have a good time - a little vacation twice a year to be young at heart!

Anyway, lighten up, people - some of the posts here are less honest, I think, and more people with an axe to grind, bone to pick or kettle to boil.

Posted by: JJ at November 7, 2005 11:34 PM

JJ, I believe Steve questioned how many OTHER conventions you'd attended qualifying you to proclaim Chiller "the best." (And we're talking organization and staging here over guests, merchandise, etc.)

I shared your "half full" point of view the last two trips I made. But reached my boiling point upon returning two years later to find no tangible effort evident to correct Chiller's problems -- which were legion. How can I, in good conscience, tell my readers: "Hey, it's awesome! Book your trip today!"

You agree "it's no secret the show outgrew the Sheraton." So, if Chiller was gonna keep taking people's money, then it was incumbent on them to scale back their show -- or move.

They did neither. That's cashbox over customer.

Posted by: G. Noel Gross at November 8, 2005 8:26 AM

I've had mucho fun at Chiller for many years and this year was great as well. I actually got in early and escaped late into the night when the gate was open so I didn't have to pay the parking.

But the show was great to me. I had a good time although if you showed up at 7PM I'm sure you had a problem. You have to get there at around 3:00pm to start lining up or getting ready for the flood.

I've been going to Chiller since the early days and I always have fun. I hope their new venue will keep the fun going.

They should teach the "stars" that charging anything over $10 for an autograph is robbery.

Posted by: Vince at November 9, 2005 1:00 AM

Noel wrote: "You agree 'it's no secret the show outgrew the Sheraton.' So, if Chiller was gonna keep taking people's money, then it was incumbent on them to scale back their show -- or move."

Fair enough. I admit I'm not privvy to the business side of how they operate. I believe they were under contract, though, until 2006 -- and thankfully the Sheraton broke it and asked them not to return. They have announced that this past Oct show was the last at the Sheraton.

As to other conventions I've gone to... they number about a dozen -- I admit I've gone to Chiller more since I've had the most fun there and think it's the best. Other shows pale, imho.

Hey, no biggee... check out next April's show (or Oct) at the bigger location they say it'll be held at. If you think it sucks then, by all means say so.

Anyway - glad you had a good time regardless.

Posted by: JJ at November 9, 2005 1:55 PM

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