Smokey and the Convention
The first horror convention I ever went to was a Chiller. At that con, my buddy X initiated me into a whole new hobby that would lead me, over the last five years, not only to meet over 100 stars from my favorite horror flicks, but also to my position as a journalist here at Icons of Fright. Reflecting back on my first Chiller, it's easy to see just how much this con has changed. Back then, Kevin McCarthy was a big name on the circuits; autographs topped out at 20 bucks with most guests, and were 5 to 10 dollars less if you were getting your own item signed. You could take a pic with most guests for free with your own camera.
Flash forward to the last weekend in October, 2008. Burt Reynolds has just cancelled his Chiller appearance, but that's okay; Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy and Angie Dickinson will still be there. The A list celebrities will charge anywhere from 25 to 40 bucks for items signed, and an extra fee to take a pic on your own camera. If you paid for a weekend pass with early entry for Friday and Saturday, you dropped 65 bucks just to get in the door. Oh how things have changed.
The more things change, though, the more they stay the same. Saturday afternoon is still a mob scene. Long lines are formed everywhere, as people wait sometimes for hours just to get in a designated celebrity area. Fans are still getting autographs signed by their favorite movie stars, and taking pictures with them. Just as it was with Chiller April 2004, Chiller October 2008 is sold out.
Chiller's demographic has changed over the last few shows. What was once a massive show for horror fans has broadened its guest list, adding better known celebrities, thus bringing in more mainstream fans. This has led to consequences that have infuriated many fans who feel put out by higher prices and longer lines. Many were enraged by the convention, blaming the stars and the promoter himself.
Despite all these complaints, I still had a great time at Chiller. People can dog it all they want, but it's still a quality show that offers fans quite a bit. I was the first to gripe about how the con no longer focuses on horror; I even started to refer to it as That 70's Convention. But six out of the nine autographs I got were from horror films, and had Leslie Nielsen had a picture from Creepshow on his table, that number would have risen to seven. As for all the complaints of exorbitant fees, Paul Ehlers charged me 20 bucks for an autographed 8x10 off his table and nothing for a picture with him on my camera, just as he would've five years ago. The same goes for Fabiana Udenio, Catriona MacColl and Jim Krut, and most of his 8x10s were only 15 bucks. And how else, outside of interviewing her, would I have been able to ask MacColl about working with the legendary Lucio Fulci? Just as importantly, eight of the nine were incredibly nice people, appreciative that I was there for them, and willing to talk.
|Phil Fasso with Paul Ehlers (MADMAN MARZ)!
With Fabiana Udenio (SUMMER SCHOOL, AUSTIN POWERS, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR)
Catriona MacColl from THE BEYOND & CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD!
Wih Jim Krut, the "helicopter zombie" from George Romero's original DAWN OF THE DEAD!
As for those hefty prices, the issue reminds me of a conversation I had with my mom about Nine Inch Nails tickets. We were discussing how the high prices of concerts turn some people off. My mother rather sagely said, "Phil, if you enjoy the concert, then you won't think about the price of the tickets. You'll pay it and enjoy the show" She was right, and I apply her logic to Chiller. I took a nice chunk of change with me to Parsippany, yes. But years from now when I'm looking back at those 8x10s, I won't regret a single penny I spent. I'll just appreciate the memories I have of the show, such as when Ed Asner wrote some line from the Mary Tyler Moore Show about "dominating" X that just came across as creepy; or how Linda Hamilton's line was virtually a kissing booth, and I got to watch X lock lips with her. Our conversations with James Lorinz, of Frankenhooker, had me in stitches. And not to sound like a credit card commercial, but... meeting Carol Spinney, the man who essays Big Bird, is priceless.
|Ed Asner from The Mary Tyler Moore Show!
FRIGHT friend X with Linda Hamilton (TERMINATOR, BEAUTY & THE BEAST)!
David Hedison from THE FLY!
FRIGHT friend X with Charlotte Kemp & James Lorinz (FRANKENHOOKER)!
With Carol Spinney aka Big Bird from SESAME STREET!
This doesn't mean, however, that I've become a spendthrift at cons. With Nielsen, I chose to get my 8x10 of The Poseidon Adventure poster signed instead of a Naked Gun shot, not on top of one. If you're looking for a picture of me and Nielsen together, you won't find one; because I chose not to pay for one. If everyone did this, Nielsen wouldn't be charging for pics with him. As it stands, though, he's only taking advantage of what the market will bear. And obviously, from the length of his line, there were plenty of people willing to pay whatever it took to get his autograph and picture.
|Mike C is moments away from meeting his hero, Joe Patroni himself - George Kennedy!
Mike C. with George Kennedy (AIRPORT, NAKED GUN, EARTHQUAKE, COOL HAND LUKE)!
FRIGHT friend Mark with Leslie Nielsen (NAKED GUN, SCARY MOVIE 3 & 4, REPOSSESSED, CREEPSHOW, PROM NIGHT)!
FRIGHT friend Alicia with Corey Haim (THE LOST BOYS)
I also did myself a favor by getting to the convention on Friday at about 3:00. Every time I read a new complaint on the net about the hours long lines on Saturday afternoon, I patted myself on the back for getting most of my business done before Saturday ever came. Even going back the next day so X could get Hamilton's autograph, we made sure to be there an hour before early entry opened, so we were behind just a few people for her. Had we strolled in at noon, I'm not sure X would've even bothered getting her. And seriously, it's not like Chiller ever had a light Saturday, even when it was still strictly a horror show.
One area which the promoter could drastically improve is the con's layout. Guests were scattered all over the 1st floor of the hotel. The tent in the back was doing very little business, even as the madness peaked on Saturday afternoon. I'm fairly sure that's because nobody knew there was a tent hidden back there. Stars were hidden in nooks all over the first floor. Even had these areas been clearly marked with signs, the Hilton in Parsippany, NJ is poorly arranged for conventions of this sort, and not nearly equipped for the high volume of fans. Chiller has outgrown itself, and certainly needs to be held in a large convention hall, such as the Javitz Center in Manhattan.
Location aside, one thing is clear: Chiller Theatre is a show that will divide fans. While some will gripe about the length of Leslie Nielsen's line and his lofty prices, others will happily wait to pay whatever it takes, because just a few years ago, it would've only been a dream to meet him. As for me, Chiller was the first horror convention I ever went to. I've been to every one since, and I continue to enjoy them. That might not be the popular view, but then, I wasn't going to overpay for Burt Reynolds' autograph anyway.