Horror hounds converge for one killer tent revival.
For me, it was the ultimate geek trek. Three days of ghoulish abandon at the Sheraton Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Chiller Theatre Expo easily lives up to its legendary status as the world's premiere horror and sci-fi extravaganza, and I didn't even go to the biggest of its two yearly shows -- the Halloween blowout. Still, it was elbow-to-elbow fandemonium all three days (April 27-29), with more than 90 guest appearances and two ballrooms overflowing with memorabilia vendors.
My first elevator ride down to the show floor pretty much encapsulated my whole trip. Floors were dinging by until we stoped, the doors open and in walked Furio from The Sopranos (Federico Castelluccio). I muttered under my breath, "Oh man, please don't kick me in the head." The doors closed and Furio waited quietly with the rest of us. He leaned forward to his handler, "Do you have any gum? I just had that beer." The elevator stoped. He exited. I scratched my head and thought, "Now there's a story worth embellishing around the water cooler." That's Chiller. You're constantly running into someone relatively famous, and doggoneit if they're not just regular folks. Occasionally, in need of a mint.
First Stop: Tromaville
I'm overcome by the spirit of Troma while in the presence of Joe Fleishaker and Lloyd Kaufman.
After a couple circuits around the main ballroom, I met up with Ronni "Raygun" Thomas of Troma Entertainment. He's the fella responsible for making the two-disc Terror Firmer set kick so much hiney. And while I rested my dogs, Thomas lit a cigarette and filled me in on some exciting new releases from Troma. First, we discussed the Toxic Avenger box set due this Summer. It'll feature the first three films, plus a NUON-enhanced fourth disc with all sorts of goodies (including Toxic Crusader toons). Will there be an open slot for the future release of Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV? That's still being debated. They might even need more than one place holder, especially if Thomas' plans for another two-disc gut punch become reality for Citizen Toxie (due early 2002). Regardless, fans will surely celebrate the DVD debut of Part 3 (also NUON enhanced) and the newly mastered Director's Cut of Part 2. The set will also include a booklet featuring excerpts from Lloyd Kaufman's book All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger.
They've also recently completed the "Before There Was Toxie" series featuring the early work of Kaufman and partner Michael Herz: The First Turn-On!, Stuck On You!, Waitress! and Squeeze Play. As well as five of Al Adamson and Sam Sherman's B-classics: I Spit on Your Corpse, Angels' Wild Women, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Blood of Ghastly Horror and Satan's Sadists.
Other works in progress include: Daniel Kraus' documentary, Jefftowne, which chronicles the likes and dislikes of Jeff Towne a 38-year-old with Down Syndrome. The disc for the film-festival favorite will include two documentaries on, ahem, the documentary. The 60-minute zombie fest Buttcrack will be loaded down with around two hours of extras. Also in production are Real Time, The New Gladiators and the interplanetary drag epic Vegas In Space (under the creative control of director Phillip Ford).
Thomas and Kaufman are also deviously conspiring to release Witchcraft 7 as Witchcraft 7: Broomstick Up My Butt and lavish the disc with extras befitting a "Super Deluxe Collector's Edition." If their celebration of trash cinema works, Thomas hopes to see his own guilty pleasure achieve digital nirvana: Nightbeast.
Speaking of Sam Sherman, the exploitation legend was on hand signing copies of his DVDs and also led a Q&A session where he shared his Secrets of B-Moviemaking. But, I have to admit, I was a little distracted by Blondezilla (Rachael Robbins) who was curled up in a seat nearby, wearing a sinfully-snug, black catsuit. What was that again, Sam? Oh yeah, he's also inked a deal with EI Independent Cinema to release eight titles on DVD as part of their Retro-Seduction Cinema line: Inga, The Seduction of Inga, Swedish Wildcats, Cinderella 2000, Nurse Sherri, Blazing Stewardesses, Naughty Stewardesses and Female Animal. But the biggest news of all is his collaboration with Sid Pink on Reptilicus 2, which will be shot in Florida and feature a CGI beast.
Gunnar is the nicest homicidal maniac I've ever met.
Gunnar Hansen, best known as Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and FX guru and genre actor Tom Savini also took questions from fans. Hansen told the story of accidentally letting his live chainsaw fling into the air when he slipped during filming. It came to rest inches from his head. Talk drifted to creature pictures, as Hansen had done battle with giant insects in Mosquito (where he also had an accident with a saw). He admitted that the classic Them! terrified him as a child. I suggested it was because insects are the closest things to true aliens, or monsters we humans encounter on Earth. Savini readily agreed. When I asked Savini about his future collaborations with friend Robert Rodriguez, he wowed the crowd by saying Rodriguez was interested in using him in Predator 3. Let us all say a little prayer THAT happens! He also had less than kind words regarding Children of the Living Dead.
Star Trek's Walter Koenig's session featured moments amusingly similar to Galaxy Quest. He's warm and generous with fans, but seemed annoyed when talking about the preferential treatment Paramount still lavishes on William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. A fact he's had to face yet again, when the studio approached he and the rest of the cast to appear in a documentary for the DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. First, the studio wanted them to do it for free, then agreed to equal pay for all, but when Koenig read his contract, it stated Kirk and Spock were on a higher pay scale. Ouch.
Oh, dear! My most starstruck moment of my adventure in geekdom.
I'd wormed my way to the front of the room with good reason, as one of my boyhood heroes was up next: Dr. Smith from Lost In Space. Yes, the incomparable Jonathan Harris held court for about an hour, regaling the day's largest assemblage of fans with, ahem, colorful stories from his days dealing with "that terrible man" Irwin Allen. Approaching 90, his knees give him a great deal of pain, so he walks with a cane, but to hear him speak you'd never know. He's as full of life (and venom) as ever -- enormously appreciative of his fans and steadfastly proud of Lost in Space. Harris told us how he slowly evolved his character from a snarling baddie into a comic villain, and how he developed "those wonderful alliterations" to harass The Robot like "You bubble-headed booby!" and "You Neanderthal ninny!" Afterward, I followed Mr. Harris to his signing table where I gladly paid $20 for a personally autographed picture and a photo of myself with the sci-fi legend.
Sadly, Darian had no interest in my Erotic CineSchlocker script.
Coming out of one of the Q&As, I ran into nuevo B-starlet Darian Caine. She's the Jersey goth-girl whose movies usually feature the word "Erotic" prominently in the title: The Erotic Witch Project, Erotic Survivor and The Erotic Ghost come immediately to mind. She was peddling her films and various nekkid pictures of herself (with pieces of tape temporarily positioned strategically on them to avoid educating young eyes).
But true scream royalty was just around the corner ... Brinke Stevens. She rose to fame along side B-Queens Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer during the 80s with flicks like the immortal Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. Ms. Stevens has been exceedingly busy. Last year, she made ELEVEN movies, including her much-heralded role in the aforementioned Real Time. Her previous record was six flicks in a year back during direct-to-video's heyday. She credits The Blair Witch Project "for giving independent filmmakers a potent shot in the arm." She also did a picture called American Nightmare shot practically right in my backyard near Dallas. She plays a mother whose child is threatened by sociopath Jane Toppan (Debbie Rochon.)
Later, I wandered out to the signing tent to find Kane Hodder, who swears Jason X will be released, well, sometime. "Hi. It's me! Your Project: Metalbeast fan," I said. He looked at me and shook his head. (We'd gone through a similar exchange at Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors.) He's most admired for portraying Jason Voorhees, and here I am, once again, reminding him of one of his less fondly remembered credits (as Metalbeast). "You can't possibly LIKE that movie," he said. Oh, I do! It's the brilliant tale of a CIA scheme to juice up one of its elite with WEREWOLF blood, and if that weren't enough, they also graft METAL SKIN onto his body. All that and Barry Bostwick as a heavy. Heck yeah, I like THAT movie! I then placed in front of him a copy of the film's shooting script. Kane sat back in his chair, "Where did you GET this?! Oh man, I don't even have pictures from that one." Thankfully, Hodder has a sense of humor, and he graciously autographed the script. Now it's signed by the beast AND one of its victims, Roger (Tim Duquette). Along with my signed copy of the home video, I now lay claim to the world's largest collection of Metalbeast memorabilia.
Me in 30 years?
A few tables over was Michael Berryman who's played a threatening-looking fella in almost every movie ever made. Another NICE guy! That's one thing that really stands out about these gatherings. Folks in the genre community are among the friendliest going. Berryman looked at me as he stood up for a photo, "Hey, you look like a young Wes Craven!" Whatever the big man says, eh? But Berryman should know, as he starred in two of my favorite city-folks-get-terrorized-by-cannibals pictures: The Hills Have Eyes and The Hills Have Eyes II. Both helmed by Craven long before all that Scream nonsense got started.
I could go on and on -- and have. I highly recommend Chiller to anyone with even a passing interest in such things. The show's worth the price of admission for the people watching alone. Accept no substitute! I'll see you there next time. Until then, have a look at some of my snapshots from the trip . . .