Ch. 2: Diving In, Pt. 2

The messenger bag!

There I was, standing between Sid Haig and Bill Moseley’s booths, putting my autographed 8x10s in my new Devil’s Rejects messenger bag, which was much needed but almost caused a tin-scraping symphony with a concrete percussion finale. My near disaster with Sid’s lunchbox display was the capper on what had been a series of awkward meetings, all of my own doing, with some of my favorite horror personalities. I felt like an alien even at an event celebrating a subject I loved. Moseley was the last of my “must meet” guests, and I wasn’t expecting much since I was 0-5 in celebrity meetings between this show and Wizard World the previous week.

The people in front of me finished their meeting and, with my nerves at their breaking point, I stepped up to the booth. I was immediately met with eye contact, a hand extended for shaking, and a happy voice saying, “Hi, my name’s Bill. What’s your name?” It cannot be understated that that one gesture of kindness and comfort turned my day, my weekend, and the next fourteen years (and counting) around for the better. All of my stress fell away, my nerves settled, and I wore a smile as I shook his hand and told him my name. He was also standing, putting himself equal with his fans. I bought a Devil’s Rejects photo and he asked if I wanted a particular quote. I was not ready for that, but didn’t get nervous and he chose for me. I even made an error in etiquette when, after I paid for my autograph, I asked him for a favor. He asked if I wanted to take a picture with him, a common thing at shows but something I had no idea people did. I said I didn’t have a camera and asked him to sign my new bag. He did, without asking for money, but later I realized that I should’ve offered to pay. Still, it showed once again his kindness toward an obvious newcomer to the convention scene, and all these years later there has only been one show (and he’s been at most of them) where I didn’t buy something from his table.

Feeling great and noticing I had a little time, I decided to apply my newfound confidence with a stop at Ken Foree’s table. Ken is very personable so he led the conversation, which was just what I wanted, telling me how he enjoyed an early morning run despite the rain. I then stopped to see Steve Railsback, who was soft spoken and very gentlemanly. After that I walked through a little of the vendor area, which was like the most wonderful carnival of creations that couldn’t be found elsewhere, on my way up the escalator to the film room. I was a half hour early and spent the time rearranging my bag, paranoid about the ink on my 8x10s running (they didn’t, luckily). I reflected on the show so far, how much I was now enjoying myself and how well I was doing with guest interactions since Bill Moseley. I was also very intrigued by the vendor area, and felt drawn to go back. And yet, I had a plan, and that was to watch movies I had (mostly) already seen in a conference room for the rest of the day.

The cool thing about the film room was that, despite showing movies that were widely available on DVD, they were introduced by guests. First up was House of 1,000 Corpses. It had been advertised as “a Rob Zombie film” so the room was packed with fans hoping to see Devil’s Rejects, but this was still a great movie. Sid Haig made the introduction, saying he was going to be brief because he had a cold. He said, “is there anybody here who hasn’t seen this fucking movie” and then he was off. It was a perfectly Sid Haig thing to do and got a big laugh. The movie started and, unfortunately, 85% of the audience left, no doubt hoping to see Devil’s Rejects but staying for the introduction.

After the film I was still feeling the pull from the vendor booths so I decided to take a fast jaunt downstairs to check out a few. I made it to only one, the very first, a mesmerizing table with oddities in jars, handmade clocks, shirts and all manner of bizarre, beautiful items. I bought a Leatherface shirt and a Pinhead clock, and then it was a race back upstairs. I was still early and sat in my same seat, and then the room got packed. It was a full house for Reanimator, introduced by Jeffrey Combs. He told us it was a great film to be seeing with a crowd so we could feed off everyone’s queasiness and laughter. For better (audience reaction) and worse (hard to see) the room remained full, but it became bathroom time for a large portion of the room, so all through the film the heavy, loud door near me would open and close, filling the room with light and sound on a near constant basis.

The final film of the day was a new film starring Ashley Laurence, Lightning Bug. Wanting to avoid the massively annoying door as much as possible I moved to the other side of the room, and also solved the sightline problem by moving to the front row. Ashley told us a little about the movie in her intro, and when it was done I was absolutely blown away. It was horror in a very real world/small town way and the emotion throughout was stunning. I wanted to strangle the villain and save the victims. It had a great effect on me, and when it was over I wanted to race back downstairs to see Ashley and gush over the film. Unfortunately it was only fifteen minutes until the show closed and the venue wasn’t letting people back in. I was a little bummed but I still had a ticket for day two, and since my experience was turned around I knew with no doubt that I’d be back. I set out into the rain, luckily only a drizzle at the moment as I was worried about the autographs on my bag, and drove home with The Misfits playing, beyond excited at the new world I’d discovered and massively excited about the next day.

Learning a lesson from day one, I showed up a mere hour early for day two and I parked in a closer, covered garage rather than the first one I saw. Fortune smiled on the fans once again as the firefighter function was an all weekend event so we could wait in the lobby. Upon entering I immediately went to where the event doors were. I endured a lot of obnoxious bragging by an attendee who wanted everyone to know how much he knew, and unfortunately I would learn with experience that you can’t really get in a line at a convention without running into a time vampire. But, my excitement could not be destroyed. I was happy, confident, had a game plan and when the doors opened I was ready.

Much like Saturday, the celebrity area was not yet open, but since no guests were hobnobbing I decided to indulge in the wonders of the vendor area. I very much enjoyed seeing all the amazing shirts, craftwork, movies, posters and all manner of other wares. While looking at photos, where I bought a Crimson Ghost 8×10, Sid Haig came over and talked to the vendor about business. I played it cool. To me celebs not at their tables were not to be bothered, which I still believe. That’s their time. I moved on and purchased a DVD at another booth, and a Hellraiser shirt from a woman who would over the years become one of my best convention friends, Jill (like Bill Moseley, I’ve bought something from Jill at almost every convention no matter the location).

Once the guest area opened my first stop was Ashley Laurence. The awkward tattoo rubbing and heritage conversation from the day before was no longer an issue. I gushed about how much I loved Lightning Bug, going through scenes and their emotional impact and she was genuinely thrilled. I bought a copy of the film and she signed the disc, the insert card and the DVD sleeve. We were both happy and it was a great start to the day. Then, confidence at its peak, I went back to Sid Haig. This was the challenge, and I had redemption on my mind. I said hello and he didn’t remember me, which is what I was hoping for. (I’ve learned over the years that many fans think they are remembered by celebrities, and that’s an unfair assumption. Guests at shows meet a great deal of people each day, and sometimes they remember people but usually they don’t, and shouldn’t be expected to.) I asked him how he was feeling with his cold and he said much better, a good sign. I then told him how thankful I was that he traveled to the show to meet his fans, and how happy his work made me. It was the absolute truth, but I also felt if I led with honest emotion I wouldn’t be awkward. I managed to impress him as well as his girlfriend, and they gave gratitude to me as a fan and supporter. Sid and I were cool, my mood was even better, and I really, really loved horror conventions.

Flying high emotionally, I went back to the man that started my journey into horror happiness, Bill Moseley. Without saying it, I decided to show my appreciation (and make up for the free signature on my bag) by buying several items including CDs of his band Cornbugs as well as 8x10s. I was even prepared with a quote this time! Bill was so surprised that he threw in an original Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 poster for a mere $10. I was happy to make him happy, making good on what I felt was an emotional debt, and eleven years later I finally told him that story.

From there I realized I should be careful with my remaining money, but a monster had been created. I met Jeffrey Combs and told him he was right that watching Reanimator with an audience reaction to absorb was exquisite. I went back to Ken Foree. I met the wonderful Adrienne Barbeau and had a funny moment when neither of us could get the plastic off the Swamp Thing DVD I bought. I then went to Eugene Clark, which offered a question of etiquette. He was on his phone and I didn’t know whether to walk away or not. He answered by getting off the phone, further keeping awkwardness from creeping into the day.

I thought about meeting the four actors from Day of the Dead but was hesitant as it would’ve cost a total of $80 (one of the saddest things to see over the years was the increase in autograph prices, which is determined by the guest and/or their management, but back then almost everyone was $20 and photos with them were free). I still had time before the events I wanted to attend started, so I walked the vendor area again. It was here that I learned two more convention lessons. Sundays are much slower than Saturdays (and when the show expanded to three days the next year I’d understand that Fridays are slower as well). Also, when you have a game plan you tend to achieve early parts relatively quick, and there can be a good amount of wait involved for the next item on the list. That brings about convention boredom. It doesn’t mean that fun isn’t being had, but the excitement going through your body makes the wait and anticipation excruciating in the most blissful way. And in the end, the best way to speed up time is to spend money, so off to the Day of the Dead cast I went.

To be fair, it was an incredible experience. I went to Lori Cardille first. Not only was she an absolute sweetheart but she had a very unique Day of the Dead retailer order brochure for the DVD release. It was then that I had my first of many decisions to get multiple signatures on the same item. That verdict led to the realization that I would need to meet George Romero again, and that was fine by me. I even went to him next, and while I was nervous again as I moved up in the line I was determined not to be confused like the previous day. I got to him and repeated much of the greetings from Saturday, handshake, nice to meet you and Romero’s massively pleasant demeanor, and I gave him my brochure. He looked at the four page form and asked where it came from. A wave of panic rolled through me as it was a similar question to Saturday. I pondered frantically if this was a rhetorical question or not, then took a shot in the dark and told him Lori had them at her table. He looked over in her direction, back at the brochure and said, “oh, I’ve never seen this. I should see if I can get some too.” Huzzah! I answered correctly! We shook hands again and I thanked him, my happiness betrayed by the tiny bolts of electricity still flowing through my extremities. I walked to Anthony DeLeo who was thankfully a very soft spoken, peaceful, humble man, and I settled right down. That was good because Gary Klar was not quiet at all. He was a whole lot of fun, though, very happy to meet his fans and tell jokes and set stories. His positivity flowed over to Joe Pilato’s booth too. Joe was also very talkative but in a more manic way, and he and Gary played off each other very well. At one point Gary came over and asked if he was giving “my buddy Mike” a hard time, and as someone who doesn’t remember names well I was impressed that he remembered mine. I walked away extremely happy that I decided to meet that crew.

Knowing I wasn’t going to top that experience and definitely not wanting to spend more money, I went to the Q&A area to await the Devil’s Rejects panel. Bill, Sid, Ken and Steve all arrived to a packed room in which I had nabbed a front row seat. They were a very funny bunch and told great stories about the film as well as others in their careers, and the hour flew by. From there it was a fast jaunt up to the film room to hopefully grab another front row seat for the last event of the show. I was successful, and soon Eugene Clark came in, his booming, deep voice calling us to attention for his introduction of George Romero. George and Eugene spoke for a few minutes and took some questions, and then they showed the unrated Land of the Dead. It was a fantastic way to end the show, and I walked back to my car feeling invincible. And my journey was just starting.

Michael Welch

You can find more of his musings at his blog, Fitting My Skin.