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Chiller Theatre Expo
BY G. NOEL GROSS | November 14, 2003

Also see: 2005, 2002, 2001

Thirteen years ... and still a cut above! More photos.

It's still the king daddy. The ultimate geek trek. Three days of unparalleled ghoulish abandon at -- of all unlikely places -- the Sheraton Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This Halloween edition (Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2003) of the Chiller Theatre Toy, Model and Film Expo celebrated 13 ghastly years of fan frenzy. This is yours truly's THIRD trip in as many years and Chiller sure knows how to keep we horror hounds hungry for more! From stellar guests to grisly costumes to a truly staggering assemblage of genre vendors -- what follows is my best attempt to sample them all:

Hey! Isn't that ...

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CLINT HOWARD: Oh, if only every day were such a happy, happy, happy day!!! His table has photos from his days as a child actor on "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Gentle Ben." There's also shots from his mainstream roles under the direction of his Oscar-winning bubba. But we B-enthusiasts love Mr. Howard for his ever twitchy turns in countless genre favorites. My personal passion? Ice Cream Man!!! A prolific porn auteur's bid to go legit. Kiddos in peril. A frog-throated Jan-Michael Vincent. And, most of all, Clint being Clint. While he was signing my VHS copy of the flick, I told him about my and DVD Talk honcho Geoff Kleinman's stymied efforts to produce our own special edition ode to the charming, yet depraved classick. Clint was equally thrilled by the notion, especially about recording a commentary, and even gave me his agent's digits in case the new rights holders change their plans (or lack thereof). My chat and snapshot with Clint nearly rivals getting to meet Dr. Smith of "Lost in Space" two Chillers ago.

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MISTY MUNDAE: The latter-day flower child has blossomed into Seduction Cinema's most bankable starlet during the short time I've been covering films such as Erotic Survivor, Misty Mundae: Mummy Raider, Play-Mate of the Apes, Lord of the G-Strings, Dr. Jekyll & Mistress Hyde and, now, the New Jersey-based studio's most ambitious and cinematic spoof yet, SpiderBabe!!! But me? What do I do? Ask a serious question about her first directorial effort, a remake of Nick Phillips' artful sleaze Lustful Addiction, and how she'd said she was anxious to provide a female perspective to sexploitation, yet the meat of her first effort is pretty much just 40 not-so-straight minutes of anatomical acrobatics with Ruby LaRocca. "Well, most of the cast were women," Misty says humoring me. "I'm a woman. And women do love sex too!" Excellent rebuttal. Ms. Mundae's in post-production on her next opus, Confessions of a Natural Beauty, and early next year, can be beheld being roundly mistreated in Brett Piper's Screaming Dead.

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GUNNAR HANSEN: I've locked eyes with Leatherface on a couple other occasions and, just to be on the safe side, usually present him a small peace offering such as an exceedingly sweet portrait a photographer colleague of mine had shot of him years prior. This time, it was a couple copies of my "Texas Chainsaw Road Trip" story for The Dallas Morning News (View high-res PDF | View low-res JPG | Web version.) Gunnar seemed genuinely amused by my misadventure and also anxious to tell all about his father-knows-best role in Chainsaw Sally as well as his teaming with fellow boogeymen Robert Englund and Kane Hodder (also in attendance) for The Last Horror Picture Show, a flick he also co-wrote with Gary Jones, who will direct. Gary wow'd CineSchlockers with Spiders -- the best of the recent creature feature crush.

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... AND A CAST OF THOUSANDS: OK, more like ONE HUNDRED or more "Special Guest Stars" actually make the program. What's always fun to spot are the UNANNOUNCED faces. Folks like CineSchlocker idol David F. Friedman, exploitation producer Samuel M. Sherman and blasts from my adolescent past such as Thom Christopher!!! "Who's that!?!," you say? Well, none other than fine feathered badass "Hawk" from the early '80s incarnation of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. What a terrifically charming fellow HE turned out to be! As for scheduled guests, a few tables over was Marc Singer who seemed just as enthused as myself about the growing possibility of a new V miniseries from NBC. (However, creator Ken Johnson remains cautiously optimistic.) House of 1000 Corpses has given genre greats Sid Haig and Bill Moseley renewed drawing power, yet still shy of Linda Blair's territory. Said hello to Ed Gein and Charles Manson, or rather, B-regular Steve Railsback who's portrayed them both. Always good to see Troma's Joe Fleishaker meeting and greeting fellow genre fans. He had some behind-the-scenes trivia for me on his dual roles as Chester and Lardass in Citizen Toxie. Other luminaries that spring to mind: Fred Olen Ray (B-director extraordinaire), Sybil Danning (Austrian siren), David Carradine (Kane of "Kung Fu" and some film by a dude named Quentin something or another), actor/painter Gary Burghoff (Radar of "M*A*S*H"), Russ Tamblyn (Satan's Sadists), Noel Neill (the original Lois Lane!), Lynn Lowry (The Crazies), Traci Lords (underage porn queen), Don Calfa (Return of the Living Dead), Don Edmonds (director of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS), the seemingly ever-present Danielle Harris (Halloween 4&5) and many, many, many more.

Anchor Bay Entertainment

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DVD producer Perry Martin (right) and film info manager Michael Felsher of Anchor Bay were on hand with the inside skinny on what's dead ahead from the fan-fave distributor. Top of mind being a certain zombie epic, so what follows are their word-for-word comments on ...

DAWN OF THE DEAD: Martin: That's going to be our big release for 2004. It's going to be an amazing [set] ... we're still up in the air as to HOW MANY discs it's going to be. Felsher: To say it's going to be the biggest thing we've done is understating the matter. ... What our current plans are, and please, I wish I could write this above our heads: SUBJECT TO CHANGE -- because we've had so many false starts and stops on this project: We're going to have a single-disc version of George Romero's theatrical cut of the film. I have seen portions of the new high-definition transfer that was done and it looks stunning. Martin: It's amazing. You've never seen the movie like this before and that's before cleanup! Felsher: Even before cleanup it already looks miles better than any other version of the film. So, there's going to be a single disc of that, hopefully with commentary by George Romero and Tom Savini [FX guru]. Martin: We're scheduled to do that in two or three weeks. Felsher: We'll have that out in time for the remake of the film in March. ... Then coming in late summer will be a multi-disc edition of Dawn. At this point, it will be at least three discs and could go all the way up to five. It's going to contain at least two versions of the film: theatrical cut, plus the extended version. ... Just the other day, we recorded a new commentary with producer Richard Rubenstein. It's the first time he's ever done anything like this before and it's very, very cool. Martin: He talked about a lot of things I don't think he's gone on the record about before. That's just one. We're also going to do an all-new commentary, as Michael said, with George Romero, Tom Savini and hopefully Mike Gornick [cinematographer]. There's possibility of even a third. Felsher: We're trying to get a commentary with all four cast members. We know at least three of them are all about it, because I've talked to them at various conventions over the past couple of years. Martin: It's really just a logistical issue. Some of them are in Los Angeles. Some of them are out here [in New York]. We'll fly two of them somewhere ... Also, I'm trying to put together a "making of" featurette that will run a minimum of one hour, maybe 90 minutes ... very comprehensive coverage of the whole production history. We'll interview everybody. Felsher: He's already got interviews with Dario Argento, Claudio Argento, Goblin, everyone ... Martin: We want to do the project justice, so it's going to be quite extensive. It should be a lot of fun. Felsher: Another wildcard, as we're still talking to the licenser, is including Document of the Dead, which is a documentary Roy Frumkes did during the shooting of the film. We've already acquired a director's retrospective that will be on there. Then we're going to get trailers from all over the world. Martin: Hundreds of stills. ... Your thumb's going to get worn out before you get to the end of the still gallery. Felsher: We had six still galleries on Day of the Dead. We're probably going to have almost a dozen on this one. We'll also have the screenplay on there. Martin: Again, the goal is to produce the ultimate DVD version of this film, so stay tuned!

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ALSO AHEAD: Work has begun on an "uncut" ode to the piezest-geekazoid classick Evilspeak! "I don't even care if he talks about Evilspeak," says Felsher. "I just want to hear Clint Howard on a commentary track!" (Clint was asked AT CHILLER and is "extremely excited" to participate.) Meanwhile, streeting in January, the horror comedy Dead Heat with Joe Piscopo, Treat Williams and Vincent Price! Director Mark Goldblatt lends a commentary and deleted scenes. Fans of the spoof TV series Sledge Hammer! can fire their .44 calibers in celebration. Both seasons are in the works with heavy involvement by creator Alan Spencer. Look for the first season late this summer. More "Drive-In Double Features" are planned, some aren't previously-released titles such as the '80s chillers The Pit and The Prey. Other titles touted by the duo included Time Bandits, Smash Palace, Sleeping Dogs, Michael Mann's Crime Story and Three's Company Season 2 (with a special salute to John Ritter.)

Something Weird Video

Like any good hippie, Mike Vraney is still mighty suspicious of the leering press, especially we of the web-slinging variety. "You're not one of those mean guys, are you?," he asks with a wry smirk. Although when pitched the right question, the defacto savior of North American exploitation cinema is a proud papa: "Just where DID you find that chicken-fried political satire by the Godfather of Gore!?!" The picture had been feared lost for all time to the great personal disappointment of Herschell Gordon Lewis himself. "It's INSANE to be able to find Year of the Yahoo! after so many years," answers Vraney in disbelief. "But there it was, in a depot in Indiana." Lewis fans can look for Ms. Nymph's Zap-In soon as well. Vraney says he quit being able to keep up with his ever-expanding catalog back in 1995 and home video's digital explosion has only fed the flames. "Anything that's out now, we worked on 10 months to a year ago, so telling you what's coming out next is tough," Vraney explains. What a great problem to have! In fact, conventioneers with $15 in hand can snag not-yet-released SWV holdings on DVD-R such as The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, Love Camp 7, Marsha: The Edible Housewife, Ghetto Freaks, How to Make a Doll, The Prime Time and The Girl, The Body and The Pill.

Sub Rosa Studios

They put the "Z" in Z-grade and that's why we love 'em. Jess Franco completists should ready for Red Silk, Broken Dolls and Vampire Junction. Writer/director Tim Ritter's aptly-titled Creep is on the way, as is an extras-laden visitation of Ron Bonk's Strawberry Estates. Probably the biggest news, though, is the impending digital debut of Steve Ballot's infamous puke fest The Bride of Frank.

You oughta be in pictures

More photos.
Winding through more than 15,000 square feet of memorabilia vendors, one thing struck me more than years prior, everyone seems to have a movie to peddle! Then again, maybe it was my garish green blazer emblazoned with the CineSchlock-O-Rama logo that screamed my interest in such things. Lord of the G-Strings auteur Terry M. West wades comfortably back into bloody pools of horror with Flesh for the Beast -- a film he both wrote and directed. His ambitious addition to the haunted house genre boasts piranha chopper'd demonettes such as Ruby LaRocca and Barbara Joyce who do much more than bump 'n' grind in the night. The flick is Media Blasters' first in-house production, has been widely screened theatrically, enraptured two audiences at Chiller, and yes, is available on a Halloween-timed DVD that's consequentially rather skeletal. More on that later. Elsewhere, CinemaSky's Michael Russin and pals are all smiles over the second installment of their Creepy Tales saga -- Girls Night Out. Both titles are also available on home-grown discs.

Final thoughts

That about does it for another dizzying weekend in New Jersey. Congrats to honchos Kevin and Susan Clement on a job well done. Your fan-demanded return of the signing tent was a major crowd-control boon! Although more signage and less reliance on shouting staffers would make 20-45 minute wait times in various nebulous lines more bearable. Pesky fire marshalls, eh? Next up, the Clements become the new organizers of Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors with a special Freddy vs. Jason themed extravaganza (Jan. 9-11th) featuring just about EVERYONE who ever got kilt by the surly duo. For yours truly, though, I think my next adventure in geekdom will be the San Diego Comic-Con International July 22-25th. Mark your calendars!

Check out my extensive photo album
from the Chiller Theatre Expo.

From the archives: Coverage of the Spring 2001
and Halloween 2002 shows.

Send your comments to [email protected]

G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.

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