Ch. 6: The Elm Street Trilogy, Part 1

A couple weeks after Rock and Shock 2010 The Walking Dead arrived on AMC and was an instant, massive hit. I had a chance to meet Norman Reedus at a local convention about three weeks after the premiere (he was there for a Boondock Saints reunion), where his autograph was still a reasonable twenty dollars, but passed. When I ended up meeting him a few years later he was known as “celebrity zero” in the fifty dollar autograph club, a plague that swept the convention circuit and raised prices incrementally for almost every guest. That same Boondock Saints reunion was booked for Rock and Shock 2011, and it ended up being a source of many growing pains for the show. I’ll get to the pain later. First I’d like to focus on the growing.

When I told Gina I would be back as a volunteer (merely a formality, really), she asked me if I knew anyone else that might like to join the crew. She was planning to bring in some popular celebrities that hadn’t done the show before, as well as having a local film premier, and the growth of the show (which was happening across the entire horror convention circuit, thanks mostly to the aforementioned Walking Dead) caused a need for more help. For the first time we were going to need line control and dedicated photo takers for a couple guests, and more celebs were going to need people sitting with them. I told her I’d see what I could do. I knew Tim wasn’t coming back due to work, but I also had coworkers at my regular job (Newbury Comics) that were trustworthy friends and may be interested.

While the convention was planned, I helped out by distributing flyers and occasionally giving Gina feedback on potential guests, as well as recruiting quality pals for volunteering. The show was shaping up pretty well. There was the Boondock Saints reunion with Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery (and of course the Walking Dead boost from Norman). Then there was original Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley as one headliner with the other being Robert Englund, who was supported by fellow A Nightmare on Elm Street castmates Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Mark Patton, and Ken Sagoes. Jon Bernthal was booked to add to the Walking Dead drawing power. Roddy Piper and Lance Henriksen would surely prove popular, as would Gary Busey with his son, Jake. And there were still another twenty or so guests beyond that, plus the local movie premiere. This year was going to be busy!

Remember those growing pains I mentioned? Here they come, in the form of cancellations. And I don’t mean early cancellations, where we can tell fans in advance before they buy tickets. I mean the week of the show up through the first day. Heather Langenkamp’s son had to have emergency brain surgery so that was absolutely understandable. For various reasons, Gary Busey and Tim Thomerson had to back out. Then, the big punch, Norman Reedus. But, as massively unfortunate as these were, they were done professionally. Gina was informed, even though it was last minute. In the case of Mr. Flanery, however, despite having a flight booked, he never boarded the plane. The assumption was that once Norman backed out he didn’t feel it would be worth his time, but only guesses could be made since he did not return any attempts to contact him. And of course fans blamed the show and silly accusations of “bait and switch” and “withholding information” were thrown. That was the year it was really hammered home for me that no matter what a celebrity does negatively in regards to a convention, the show will always be blamed by the majority of disappointed fans because they held the celeb on a pedestal. Gina told me once when I was starting to get more involved with the show that the more I learned about conventions the less I’d like them, and I’d learn that lesson to deeper levels for the next eight years. I will always love Rock and Shock and be proud of what we accomplished. It’s the greatest professional achievement of my life and personally the weekend I looked forward to most each year. But there are ghosts too.

By show day I had managed to find seven volunteers, four for the weekend (Athena, Rasheed, Missi, and Jeff), two just for the busiest and longest day, Saturday (Sheila, Alex), plus one for Saturday and Sunday (my sister, Diane). Six of them I knew well, most being coworkers/friends from various store branches. The other, Jeff, was a customer from my store that I’d had some quality discussions with regarding horror films and took a chance on. Gina wanted me to be at Robert Englund’s table, feeling I was underutilized the year before with Julian Sands (I even got a very coveted laminate, allowing me access to the green room area in case Gina or a guest needed something) and Nikki assigned everyone else at the volunteer crew meeting before the show. Athena would be with me, and I would take the money while she wrote their name on a sticky note so Robert would have the correct spelling right away. Rasheed would be with us as well, serving as designated photographer for fan pics. Missi would be with Amanda Wyss, and Jeff with Lance Henriksen. Then on Saturday we’d be joined by Sheila, who would be Ace Frehley’s photographer, along with Alex and my sister, who worked line control for Mr. Englund. All other volunteer needs were filled by Nikki’s crew.

We took our places and for the rest of the night (and most of the weekend) I was immersed in the domain of Robert Englund. When doors opened the line became immediate and immense. Stanchions had been set up to weave the line and make use of as much space as possible, but this was also the only year that we had to use a numbered ticket system to handle the overflow, giving them out once line capacity was reached and calling them back over the PA when there was room. Robert arrived with his wife, Nancy, and his appearance agent, Steven. Nancy was a wonderful, kind woman that helped out at the booth and talked with Athena and me as people rather than workers. Steven was the opposite. He only cared about money, moving fans through the line, and making sure we were keeping autograph tallies and writing names quickly (as it was, this was my first encounter with keeping autograph tallies at all, another sign of how conventions were changing). Thankfully, Nancy mostly kept him at bay, and Robert was one of the kindest and most involved guests Rock and Shock ever had. He countered Steven’s desire to sign quickly and coldly by talking to everyone, listening and caring about their stories and giving them tales of Hollywood and lifelong memories.

The short opening night moved swiftly, and Athena and I worked well together. I was glad for my organizational habits regarding the money, as Steven would have me count and band it when there was opportunity (if Robert took a food, restroom, or Q&A panel break). There was a small sense of disconnect compared to previous years, as Robert’s setup saw Athena and me at the first table fans encountered, with the next displaying his photo and DVD options, and the third for Robert to sign and take photos. Previous years had seen me directly next to the guest, even when they had multiple tables, but Steven, further showing his priorities, wanted the money taken before fans chose their item. Fortunately Robert was very animated, and when the line was backed up we would be able to watch him in action.

At the end of the night I counted the money, tallied the autograph count, gave Steven the numbers and handed it all to Gina to go toward Robert’s guarantee. (A guarantee is when a guest is paid an appearance fee up front, which is reimbursed to the show from their autograph/photo money, the guest keeping anything made over the guarantee figure. If for some reason the guest does not make enough, the show loses the balance of the money.) I had brought a couple items to be signed and asked Nancy if Robert would be willing, thinking this shorter night would be the best time to ask. She said he wanted to go back to the hotel but if I gave the pieces to her she’d have him autograph them and they’d return with her in the morning. That was very kind of her.

With the first night down, I checked in with the people I had recruited and the experience had been good for all. Athena, Missi, Rasheed and I were sharing a hotel room, but while they had dinner I had made alternate food plans with a friend who had come down from New York. I reconvened with them later, and after happy conversation sleep was attempted, where I was reminded how hard it is for me to sleep when other people were in the room, especially when sharing a bed. Eight years later, at the last Rock and Shock, it wasn’t any better.

The next morning our hotel crew had a plan. When we arrived at the DCU Center, Rasheed pulled up the People’s Court theme song and the four of us walked in like badasses with our new anthem blasting. No one cared. Our song, however, was nowhere near as obnoxious as Ace Frehley’s booth setup, the most arrogant and ridiculous that we ever had (with bandmate Peter Criss being a close second the next year). In the middle of the celebrity area, which is usually open space for people to walk and lines to stretch, a giant house of pipe, drape, and tall curtain had been erected since we left the previous night. Ace’s people wanted no photos to be taken of him unless they were paid and posed for, and the area was constructed with turns so that you couldn’t even see him until after you’d entered, like some kind of Kiss funhouse, though it sure didn’t seem fun. The silliness continued with the rules. Autographs and photos with Ace were each thirty dollars, which wasn’t bad. However, anything that wasn’t an 8×10 or a CD was considered a “specialty item” and Ace’s crew would make up a price depending on the item. For instance, if you wanted your guitar signed it would cost you five hundred dollars. Their argument was that people were flipping the autographs for profit and they wanted to make their money from that potential sale. That, of course, alienated all of the actual fans, meaning zero people left happy unless they bought an 8×10 or CD. Also, photos had to be taken on their camera and you could download the pic from a website or get it emailed. You couldn’t even hold your own phone or camera upon stepping into the mystical Kiss kingdom. It was inane and I felt bad for Sheila having to be in that environment of entitlement and paranoia, especially as a first time volunteer.

Alex and my sister also debuted that day, and while Di was very good at line control, talking with people and keeping the mood light, Alex flat out hated it, and I totally understand because I had to do it at the end of the final day. People blamed you because they, of their own volition, showed up late, or they would see a short line and think they had it made, only to be mad when you explained the ticketing system. Some would try to sweet talk you to jump in line or offer a bribe. It was frustrating to the degree where when someone was cool about the situation you wanted to hug them. As a result, Alex, who only worked half the day, never volunteered again or even came to the show as a fan, and I feel bad about that.

Saturday, as always, was the busiest day. Before the doors opened Nancy gave me the items that Robert had signed, and I was thrilled to see that in his autobiography he had also done a drawing of Freddy Krueger! After that it was down to business for what was a day that only slowed when Robert left for lunch, his Q&A panel, or the bathroom. In previous volunteer years Saturday would be the day I’d go around getting autographs, but I didn’t even bother asking as the line never stopped. Steven, of course, capitalized by raising the autograph price an extra ten dollars to forty. He was also the first agent I worked for that charged an extra fee to take a photo with his client, another growing fallout ripple of The Walking Dead. It may have been the longest day, but it moved like lightning, and just like a snap of the fingers the main room closed for the night. I was happily surprised, too, when Robert gave us autographed 8x10s and took photos before leaving, a very nice gesture indeed. Talking with him, hearing his soft spoken, intelligent voice delight us with Hollywood tales, I fell into that same happy place that so many fans had that weekend as well. We walked away very happy, but our work was not done.

Rock and Shock hosted their first film premiere that night, a locally produced movie called Inkubus that boasted cameos from Jonathan Silverman, William Forsythe, and oh hey, Robert Englund. Nikki had asked the volunteers about helping with line control, security, etc. My hotel room crew agreed, while others were 50/50. I was assigned the job of checking passes at the escalator, making sure only people associated with the film went upstairs before the screening room was ready. After they were in place and the ticket holders went up I joined the crew on the next floor in time to see the police escorting someone out who was still arguing as he went by. This caused Missi to go off on a rant about how he was in the room across from us in the hotel and would attack if he recognized us, none of which happened and may not have been true.

As for the movie, we were able to watch after the fans were all seated. It seemed to fall into that indie movie hole where most of the budget was spent on cameos from name actors while the story and filmmaking qualities were neglected. But hey, I had two films play at the convention the next two years which were bad too, and we couldn’t even afford cameos! The filmmakers would go on to make more movies and even have another premiere at the show a couple years later, so good on them, you know?

After the movie our assignment was to escort the cast to the Palladium at the end of the block for the Rock and Shock afterparty. Of course, the venue’s Insane Clown Posse concert had just let out, so our task was to protect a group of excited actors and crew in their finest wardrobe from a large squad of juggalos covered in clown paint and Faygo soda (the band enjoyed spraying the crowd with the sticky drink at shows). It was as close as I’ve gotten to feeling like I was in a zombie movie, with fast zombies no less, fueled by sugar, caffeine, alcohol and who knew what else. Thankfully we were joined by Palladium security on our approach, who ushered us into a side door to safety. It was then that I saw what is one of my most potent Palladium memories, that of stage hands sweeping gallons of Faygo off the stage and watching it splat on the floor below.

The afterparty was arranged in the upstairs stage area of the club. There was a bar and catering from a local Italian restaurant. It was primarily for the celebs, who enjoyed the rich food and chance to unwind with those in their trade, but if space permitted the show staff could attend as well. Gina had invited Tim and me each of the past three years and we never went, feeling we didn’t deserve to be there, and she was always upset about it because she is the most generous person I know. This year, though, my crew was all about it so I went along, which made Gina very happy. I still had a hard time unwinding, feeling like I should be “on the clock” 24/7 until the weekend was over, especially now with new volunteers I felt responsible for. And while that year wasn’t bad, especially for Rasheed who hit it off quite well with Near Dark’s Jenny Wright, the next several years (before I stopped going) would be a mix of very cool and very frustrating events.

Sunday morning, as usual, felt like the last day of school. One more day until we said goodbye, only to return next year. The tension was low, celebs and crew were tired from the weekend, and the sense of urgency was gone. And then there was me, who had gotten just a couple hours sleep and laid wide awake through the dark morning hours while the rest of the crew around me was unconscious. Despite the sleep deprivation I was energetic and ready to finish the show strong. I’m not saying that was healthy. I was definitely a bit extreme about my preparedness and how serious I took my duties, but on the other hand that work ethic gave me far more responsibilities and unique life experiences in future show years.

Robert’s table, of course, was steady, not as busy as Saturday but that was a convention norm. Athena and I were still behind the table, with Rasheed on photos and my sister on line control. Things rolled on smoothly, but when I was given my only chance to get autographs I jumped into action. So far, besides Robert I had only talked to one guest, Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead), before the show opened that morning, who told me adamantly that the show needs to work with charities. I told him we focused on local animal shelters and gave them free booths and prime locations on the show floor, but that seemed to go right past him.

I started close to Robert’s booth with Friday the 13th and Hatchet star Kane Hodder. I have a love/hate history with Kane encounters, but I had read his new biography and it was incredible so I wanted to see him. It was a good encounter and I chalked one up in the plus column. I then moved to Amanda Wyss. Of all her credits, including my favorite, Better Off Dead, I asked her about her Cheers appearance, but I’d also learned by experience that guests usually get asked the same questions over and again so I went a different route and we had a fun talk. I then saw Miko Hughes (Pet Sematary) next to her, which was a short but fine exchange, and then Mark Patton. Freddy’s Revenge was the first of the series I’d seen, and remains my favorite, so I was excited to see Mark. He was nice though very reserved, but he wore his Freddy glove for our photo and at the end of the show we shared a goodbye, so I call that a plus. I then went to perennial favorite Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects, TCM2), no doubt my most often visited guest over all the shows I’d attended as well as the reason I met Gina, followed by Suspiria and Cut and Run’s Barbara Magnolfi. She was sweet but I’d learn in 2018 how difficult she was to work with. Ian McCulloch was next, and I was very happy to meet him because he was in Lucio Fulci’s living dead masterpiece, Zombie. Plus he was a client of the fantastic Mike Baronas, one of the nicest guys I’ve known, and Ian was more laid back when he saw we were friends. I also found out he was in the band Ten Years After, though before they got famous. Missi joined me then, as Amanda Wyss was taking a break, and we met I Spit On Your Grave’s Camille Keaton together. She was nice and gave me a smooch on the cheek. I then played photographer for Missi as she met Jake Busey (The Frighteners), and then we saw the star of Laid To Rest, Nick Principe, who I had picked up in Providence on Friday and driven to the show. I had never met him before that but he was an old school hardcore kid so we got along just fine talking about New England clubs and local hardcore/metal bands from back in the day. Missi went back to the booth after that and I finished my celeb meetings with Nathan Baesel from Behind the Mask.

I reported back for duty but Robert was at lunch. There was only about an hour left in the day, and my sister was behind the table with Athena and having fun so I took over on line control. They weren’t letting anyone line up in case Robert didn’t make it back in time, so I had to repeat that a lot, which usually led to the question of when he’d return, which, as I’d just mentioned, was unknown. People wanted to wait anyway, just in case. People complained that he was away, as if he were mechanical and did not need food. When a line was allowed to form, people complained that they’d been there earlier and told there was no line (which of course was true at the time). It was here that I understood why Alex hated his job the day before. But, Robert returned and got through the decent sized line about fifteen minutes after the celebrity area closed (and of course people were mad once the line was cut off at the end of the show, which, like the other complaints, was apparently my fault). Steven gathered his remaining photos and merchandise, packing up as I finished counting his money, and Robert and Nancy said goodbye to us, nice as ever. Then they were gone, but I’d see them again in the future.

The vendor space closed an hour after the guest area, so our crew walked around. It was nice to see and support friends and familiar faces that I’d talked to at past shows. Then, at the end of the show my new volunteer roomies surprised me with some art prints from one of the vendors. It was a great weekend and another step up in responsibility, and I didn’t know it then but there’d be more steps in the coming years.