Ch. 7: The Elm Street Trilogy, Part 2

While the previous year had seen Rock and Shock grow but also incur the trouble of several cancellations, 2012 was able to become accustomed to the expansion. Granted, I was still a volunteer and was spared most of the stresses that Gina and everyone in the office were handling, but as a worker and observer the show seemed to settle into the larger tier it had stepped into one short year ago. Cancellations weren’t a big issue, attendance was good, and things ran smoothly. Of course, no convention is without its share of oddity and frustration too, but I’ll get to that in due time.

My main assignment while the show was being planned was to find more volunteers. With the convention business growing, less guests were handling their own money, sometimes due to advances/guarantees that needed to be paid back to the convention via autograph/photo income, and other times because attendance was growing, which caused longer lines and the need for a table assistant to smooth out the process. There was also an ego driven reason for some, where they saw their peers having volunteers so they wanted one too. Whatever the case, I accepted the mission to grow the roster, a task that came with each year until the end. Along with the returning Rasheed, Athena, Missi, Jeff, and my sister, I recruited my friends and coworkers Justin, Mark, and Dave, as well as Jeff’s friend Ron. Nikki, volunteer coordinator, was also bringing a few people, and even with some volunteers only working one day we still had enough coverage for the weekend.

Though I hadn’t done it the previous year, I also resumed making a soundtrack to play over the P.A. I made it a point to do so because, while I liked some of the songs on the one someone else had made for the last show, it was a very haphazardly assembled compilation that lasted about forty-five minutes, featuring two bands with some songs that would cut out in the middle. Way too much repetition, and not very professional. I vowed to reclaim that task, and made a new mix every year until the end. At this point the songs were all instrumentals from horror soundtracks, fitting on one to two discs, but it would evolve into four discs of metal, hardcore, and rock (our core audience) that would include songs from bands that were playing the show, when possible. Despite the time it took to assemble, I really enjoyed the challenge of making them, even if I was often so busy that I didn’t notice what was playing.

It was always funny to me that, even though I thought about the show constantly and counted the days and hours, it also came out of nowhere and was suddenly upon us every year. That magical Friday (and soon enough, Thursday), doing setup tasks, watching vendors do the same, seeing celebrities arrive, waiting for volunteers, and checking in with Gina, Nikki, Joy, and/or Leah at the venue or at the Palladium, was a rush of adrenaline and panic that was fearsome and wonderful. Thinking back now, in those years I was so eager to help yet so nervous to bother anyone. I knew the production team all had so many other pressing matters that I usually couldn’t help with, and yet I had to ask because I cared. But in those pockets of time in my volunteer years where I had no immediate setup tasks besides hanging info flyers and being generally available, I also was so amped I enjoyed walking around to just absorb the energy and say hello to familiar vendors. It was an interesting switch to flip in the coming years when my role deepened and I never had much downtime during setup, especially when I’d see my volunteers taking in that vibe.

As the 5pm Friday opening drew near, Nikki had her volunteer meeting. Gina had already assigned me to Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), who was making up for having to cancel the year before. She was expected to be a very popular, if not the most popular, guest, along with other big names like Danny Trejo (Machete), the perpetually popular Sid Haig (RIP) (House of 1000 Corpses) and Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects), the cast of Holliston, Derek Mears (Friday the 13th 2009), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), and Kiss’s Peter Criss, who hopefully wouldn’t be as frustrating as former bandmate Ace Frehley and crew were the year before. (Hint: if it was a race it would be a photo finish.)

I took my place at Heather’s booth and right from the start she was heavenly. I was already a fan, especially after seeing her documentary about fan culture and being known as one particular character, I Am Nancy, but she proved to be just as genuine, kind, and without ego in person as she was in the documentary. She was interested in seeing her fans and knowing a little bit about them as the line allowed, and she’d get to see a whole lot of them before the weekend was over.

When doors opened Heather’s booth was the place to be among Worcester area horror fans. The line formed quickly, and I had to be ready. Something I learned out of necessity about working at a single table with a guest is how to subtly make people go where you want. When one fan is at the table they tend to stand either in front of the famous person or in the middle. It’s a difficult spot to be in, because they want to talk to the artist, maybe a little starstruck, but also need to choose an 8×10 or hand over their item, and either way they still need to deal with the table worker first. They feel pressure mounting as they get their money out, knowing the person they admire is waiting, and the tension becomes huge and often keeps the fan on edge for at least the beginning, if not all, of the encounter. Then they tend to rush, especially if a line starts to form, and have a much larger probability of a disappointing experience as a result. As a worker, the best thing to do there is grab the fan’s attention at the start. Initiate the encounter with a greeting so that the fan knows to put their attention on you. Talk positively with them to keep their spirits high. Move through the exchange quickly, explaining price tiers if necessary, and then sit back and let them meet the celebrity they paid to see. When a line forms it’s way easier, because you can nonchalantly shift it so that the fans are in front of you. Then you can deal with one person, and when they move next to you to meet the guest you can have your exchange with the next person. Then if you have to take a photo for the fan you can get a rhythm going where you’ve already dealt with the next person in line, then come around to take the photo, then still get back in your spot to greet the next fan while the person who already paid steps up to greet the person they’re excited to meet. The fan experience starts with the worker at the table (if there is one, of course). Their role is so important, and should be taken seriously. Working with Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) the year before was easy in a way, because we were a couple tables away from him and were just another step to take before the fans got to him, especially since the almost constant line gave them plenty of time to look over all their options. Being one on one at a single table is a whole other matter.

An hour after the show started the film room opened and the first movie out of the gate was one that I had a role in, an anthology called Hometown. It was made for basically no money by fans, not actors, and it shows, but it was a bunch of fun and after I filmed my scene I helped out on the rest of the shoots. Rock and Shock served as our premiere screening, and besides the director, his wife and my sister (who was also in the film), zero people were in attendance. And you know, I don’t blame anyone for not going. An hour after the doors open no one wants to go watch a local movie with no buzz or famous people. Granted I was working, but I didn’t even go and I enjoyed making it!

Heather remained busy for the first two hours of the show before having to leave for a Q&A panel. In that time it became clear that she was going to have to deal with the frequent remarks about her having to cancel the year before. Convention advice: never talk to a guest about their cancelling an appearance. No matter the reason why, it’s none of your business, and even if you mean no harm and are mentioning it because you don’t know what else to say, it might stir up bad memories. Case in point, Heather canceled because her son had to have emergency brain surgery after an accident. As caring and patient as she was, she certainly got tired of being reminded of it really quickly, and had to endure it over and over for three days.

While Heather was away, Dave came up to me, a mere two hours into the first night of his first year, and asked me if I thought legendary ECW wrestler Tommy Dreamer would hit him in the back with his kendo stick. Now, Dave does not have skin of leather or a shell to cushion such an attack, so I was surprised that he was so eager. But Dave is an endearingly curious fellow, which has paid off for him, so I replied, “only one way to find out.” Dreamer was on the opposite side of the celeb room, so I couldn’t see the rattan cane crash across his flesh. But I absolutely heard it. Dave returned moments later, showing off the results of his inquiry, a sizable red welt across his upper back, which I promptly photographed to memorialize the event. And to think, Dreamer said he even held back on the shot.

Heather returned a little after 8:00, and the hour that was left for the celebrity room went by quickly. At closing she signed my I Am Nancy DVD, then Justin and Rasheed walked her back to the hotel while I waited to see Gina to give her the money bag. After that most of my volunteer crew walked the vendor room for a bit as they were open an hour longer. After that we went to the hotel to drop off our stuff and then walked over to the Palladium to enjoy the after party and give the Misfits concert a chance.

While most of the crew chose to unwind in the private upstairs lounge and balcony area open that night to guests and workers, Missi and I braved the Misfits experience in the main concert hall. Well, for about three songs. This version of the band consisted of Jerry Only, Dez Cadena, and Eric Arce, and with all due respect to their history, it was not good. The drums were extra loud and I could not hear the vocals. There was no energy from the players. The drum riser was the coolest part of the show. We ended up being rewarded for leaving early, though, as we ran into Doug Bradley (Hellraiser) and his wife, Steph, at the bar. As regular readers may know, Doug is one of my favorite humans and actors, and we’ve always had a great convention camaraderie. And there we were, the four of us just talking as people, not celebrities or workers, and it was a nice, relaxing conversation. We talked almost entirely about music, and I was beyond thrilled to find out they liked one of my absolute favorite bands, Screaming Females. It was one of the best outside the show conversations I’ve had, even if it ended awkwardly when Doug and I didn’t know if we were parting with hugs or handshakes so it turned into an awkward embrace. After that we hung out in the lounge with the crew for a while before heading back. And it was here that one of my proudest moments as a volunteer coordinator came, as Dave decided to turn his Friday only status into an all weekend stay. He was hooked, and that commitment would start him on a path that would pay off a million times over in the coming years (one I’m very much looking forward to writing about). We offered him a spot in the hotel with the same crew as last year (Missi, Athena, Rasheed, and me), and thus began a multi-year tradition of him sleeping under the desk as the hotel would get more and more cramped. This was also where I learned that it was a good idea to pack a sleeping bag as Dave had, and it would come in handy in the future.

Saturday morning we showed up an hour before doors as usual and did our Saturday morning ritual of volunteer photos. After that I noticed that the Holliston crew (Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Brockie/Oderus Urungus from GWAR—RIP) were set up and ready to go, so I met them. Joe Lynch kissed my head, while Dave drew an Oderus on my DVD sleeve and I wished him a good show that night, and I’m sad I didn’t take a photo with him at that time because it ended up being the only time I’d meet Mr. Brockie before his death. Later that day the cast would perform a live episode reading in lieu of a traditional Q&A, with Dave in full Oderus costume, and while I didn’t see it live it was on the next season DVD and it was perhaps the best panel Rock and Shock ever had. The door for guests to enter the panel area was in the celebrity break area (affectionately called the Green Room) directly behind the curtains at the back of Heather’s booth, and while they waited Oderus was grunting and roaring loudly. I was scared to death that he was going to poke his head between the curtains and mess with us. I’d seen him do it to Leslie Easterbrook (The Devil’s Rejects) in 2006. She screamed from the surprise, and as much as I liked him I wanted no part of it.

Saturday continued smoothly. Heather was very busy, to the point where we had to have security curve the line as it was stretching too close to the guest across the hall from her, but there were no problems. She handled the unintentional guilt trips about her missed appearance with grace, and the long day raced by. The perpetual line, along with the fun I was having, kept me from bothering to ask about getting autographs from other guests. I was having plenty of fun right where I was, except for when I saw Laurence Harvey (The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)) staring at me between the curtains from the Green Room while he had lunch. If you haven’t seen the film, or Mr. Harvey, he looks like a shorter version of Alfred Hitchcock with bulging eyes that stare into your soul. It was probably the creepiest thing I’ve seen in all my Rock and Shock years, and I would encounter him two more times before the end of the weekend, only one being voluntary.

While he didn’t regret his choice to stay the whole weekend, Dave ended up being assigned to Peter Criss, who put in a valiant effort to trump the vanity of his former bandmate, Ace Frehley, from the year before. While Ace’s people had insisted on a pipe and drape maze and fortress constructed in the middle of the celebrity area, Peter’s crew (or, more likely, his savagely overbearing wife) demanded he have his own signing room. That meant he had to be put up on the third floor where the function halls were (also where our film room was), meaning that anyone who didn’t see our information signs/online posts or ask a staff member about his location probably assumed he had canceled. Maybe that was for the best, though, as Peter, his wife, and their entourage were just as paranoid about the items people brought for autographs as Ace’s people had been. The most asinine and arrogant tale was when Criss told one fan he had to keep their record to show his lawyer because he didn’t recognize the cover, assuming it was a bootleg. Danny Trejo and some of his friends also went up to meet him, but Trejo knew how to handle the Criss crew. While the two guests talked, Criss spotted one of Danny’s pals pointing his camera toward them, focusing for a shot. Much like with Ace, fans were not allowed to take pics, so in mid-sentence with Danny, Peter pointed at the friend and yelled, “What are you doing?” Danny looked at Criss and deflected the oncoming storm without hesitation by saying, “He’s taking our picture, homes!” He put his hands on Criss’s shoulders, his buddy got the shot, and the quick thinking was definitely something only a celebrity could get away with in the Criss Room of Paranoia.

Back at Heather’s booth, the line calmed a bit in the early evening, which gave us short bursts to relax in between the waves. (Some fans won’t go up to a guest if they don’t have at least a small line unless they absolutely have to, and I understand those nerves. Going in cold gives less time to peek at their available photos or think of something to say, and while outgoing people tend not to worry, an introvert’s anxieties are usually on fire in such a situation.) We talked when we could, or Heather would take a minute to go to the Green Room for a bite to eat or just a moment away from the table. At one point Sid Haig stopped by on his way for a snack and talked to her about an episode of Just the Ten Of Us they had done together. Heather said something funny and when Sid laughed all I heard was Captain Spaulding. It was amazing. And when 8:00 came and the celebrity room closed, I said farewell to Heather for another night, gave Gina the money, met up with my crew, and the night was ours.

While Friday’s post show saw the upstairs bar and lounge area of the Palladium reserved for Rock and Shock guests to hang out and unwind, Saturday was the big night every year because there was also a catered Italian dinner along with a big sheet cake and other amenities, including full bar service like the previous evening. When there was space (depending on the amount of attending celebrities, managers, etc) volunteers and workers were allowed to partake, and this was such a year. I didn’t eat Italian (I developed a food phobia for most things at a young age), so I’d usually have some candy and water, and I always packed Clif bars. My attending volunteers, however, were in heaven, so much so that right when we arrived they saw me get enveloped by a time vampire and abandoned me. I met their eyes while they walked away! That Italian dinner must’ve lived up to its reputation. To be fair, the vamp I encountered should have been a fun conversation, much like the one with Doug Bradley and Steph from the night before. It was Dale Midkiff (Pet Sematery), someone I had wanted to meet. However, word had gotten around that afternoon that he was hitting on the female volunteer that was working his table to the degree that she had to be switched out for a male. Aside from that, when he latched onto me he clearly had gotten a quick lead out of the gate in the alcohol race. He talked at me while I remained a polite volunteer. The only thing I specifically remember him talking about was why I didn’t have a Massachusetts accent, to which I did not have an answer. My time with him was an annoying screech of the brakes on what had been such a good day, but eventually I freed myself of his time vampire powers, made my way up to the loft and found my team. And then things got weird.

I looked at the food to see if there were any snacks I might like, and that’s where I saw William Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects), an intimidating oddball and fantastic actor, walk past me with a plate of meatballs. He was talking to the meatballs. “Ooh, you look so good and I can’t wait to eat you.” After that I took a seat with the others and we started to talk about our day. Then, to my left, I saw him. Laurence Harvey was sitting by himself with his dinner and staring at me. What. The. Fuck. I acted like I hadn’t seen it and avoided looking in that direction for a few minutes. I then told my table mates and asked one to look nonchalantly over there. Fortunately by then someone had joined him and they were in conversation. And then Michael Berryman’s (The Hills Have Eyes) wife walked off with the entire sheet cake, and by “off” I mean left the venue with it. No one knows why.

It seems weird to say that the GWAR show was one of the more sane things that happened that night, but it’s true. Missi and I checked it out, and after a few songs she, like the sheet cake, disappeared. I thought she was getting a drink or hitting the bathroom, as she said she’d be right back, but about forty-five minutes went by without her returning. Feeling overly responsible for my volunteers I left the show and went to the bar area, where she was with the rest of the gang, a bit drunk but functional. I should have gone back to watch GWAR’s finale (realistically I shouldn’t have left and just enjoyed the show, trusting in her ability to be an adult) but I was feeling pretty fried by that point, so I stayed with my friends. I was also a little high strung, never really feeling like I could be “off the clock,” as I talked about in the last chapter, so that’s on me. In future years, especially with more and more volunteers joining and me getting more experienced with my responsibilities, I would level out and understand that I didn’t have to, and couldn’t, be with them all the time after the show. Only one volunteer ever needed supervision, in 2014, but we’re not quite there yet.

After my usual convention night routine of laying awake, mind racing, while all around me slept soundly, I was up and ready to get to it for the final day. Before leaving the hotel we listened to Rasheed serenade us from the bathroom, singing along to Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose” in the shower, and I’ve thought of him fondly every time I’ve heard the song since. From there it was back to the DCU Center for the final day. Before the show we took some group photos and then I saw friend and agent Mike Baronas, who was there with his clients, Invader Zim’s Rikki Simmons and Richard Horvitz. He knew I was a big fan, especially with my Gir tattoo, and invited me to meet them before the show opened. Both were very cool and opposites in personality, with Simmons (who our crew shared an overly packed elevator with the day before) being the introvert to the very outgoing Horvitz. From there we took our places, got our areas ready, and when eleven o’clock hit the doors opened for a quick and smooth day. Well, except for Athena. She was tasked with sitting at Dale Midkiff’s table, who ended up deciding to double down on the previous night by consuming a bottle of wine at his table and passing out. Most of the attention he got that day was fans taking pics of him sleeping before he woke up and was escorted back to the hotel.

With the lower volume of attendees than the day before I was able to get coverage to slip away for a half hour to meet some guests. First was my pal, writer Jack Ketchum (RIP) (The Lost, Red), whose table was always a calm place for quality conversation. I will always miss him. From there I saw Doug Bradley again for another quality talk, and he asked me what Pinhead quotes to put on the photos I bought because I was always ready to recite his dialogue (this was also the first year I gave him a quote he didn’t remember, which made the fan in me quite happy). I then talked to show favorites Joe Knetter and Sarah French (Blind), who have risen a great deal in the world of independent horror films since then and I am perpetually happy for them. Then, it was time to meet the man who stares. I’m not exactly sure why I went through with it after catching Laurence Harvey’s creepy bug eyes on me twice (that I saw). Maybe it was Rock and Shock confidence, or the fact that before the staring he was on my list of people to see since he is a magnificently creepy actor. Perhaps part of me wondered if it was an act, especially with him wearing a bloody lab coat as in the film. Whatever the case, I approached him confidently even though my nerves would’ve been at their highest volume if they had bells on the ends. And what a nice guy he was! He was odd, to be sure, but we had a pleasant interaction. He clearly loved what he did for a living, and for our photo he held a staple gun to my neck. You know, normal pic for a horror con. As we parted my brain was thrown, a mixture of relief rising and fear falling, and I promptly forgot my autograph. He noticed when I had gotten back to Heather’s booth and brought it to me, my brain again replaying the massive change in perception from one short day ago.

Heather left an hour early to catch her flight, which was something that got more popular in the convention world as the years went on (sadly, in the last couple years of the show the celebrity booths would be seventy percent empty by 3pm, and we were far from the only show like that). She signed an 8×10 to me and then gave me the only cash tip I ever received in my years sitting with guests, a hundred dollar bill that I still have to this day for an emergency. I could never pick a favorite guest that I sat with (though I could easily pick a least favorite), but it’s so easy to say that Heather Langenkamp was a joy from start to finish, and it was my absolute honor to have worked for her. To top off that statement, a year later she did a signing at Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery in Salem and when I saw her she said, “you helped me at Rock and Shock last year, right?” Top notch.

With a little time left I met a few more guests. Bill Moseley was great as always. I then saw Derek Mears, someone who would become a rare convention friend (I do not say that with exaggeration and when I talk to people about conventions I can tell if they are trustworthy by their use of the word “friend” in relation to guests, as most use it for their ego rather than reality). That day we took the first in what would be a series of funny photos over the years. It started simple, with him choking me and my glasses all a mess, but it would get incrementally better, especially when his future wife Jenny (From Jennifer) got involved. Finally, I saw the legendary Sid Haig, who was not leaving until everyone who wanted to meet him got that chance. Then, at the very end of the show, Rasheed asked me to be his photographer to meet David Naughton (An American Werewolf In London). I had endured a frustrating meeting with him at another show in the past, where he spent more time flirting with a woman in line instead of putting any focus on me, the paying fan in front of him, but I certainly wasn’t going to deny Rasheed his chance due to my grudge. To be fair, he was very nice to us, particularly Rasheed since I hung back with the camera. And after that, the show ended. My crew and I were set free, all happy from the weekend that was, many hugs and thanks given all around. And as we got to our cars and went our separate ways, the joy from the weekend already becoming a longing for what was, I took the left out of the parking garage and scared the hell out of the jaywalking star of The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall.

RIP Notes

—Dave Brockie died of an accidental heroin overdose in March of 2014. He, and his band GWAR, played Rock and Shock and the Palladium regularly. He was beloved by his fans and friends, particularly fellow Rock and Shock favorite Adam Green. In late 2014 the band carried on, performing at Rock and Shock and giving a tribute to Oderus that moved me to tears.

—All other passings noted above have eulogies in previous articles.