It was nice to be back in the groove this year after almost missing the 2007 Screamfest. Byron and I headed out of Jacksonville around 5PM on Friday (he was returning from a business trip in Georgia and continued after that five hour journey almost non-stop to Orlando). It was an amazingly smooth trip with great weather and even better traffic conditions, which led us to rendezvous with our friends, John and Amy Thrailkill, at just a little after 7PM in Orlando. We did our usual dinner and drinks at Alfonso’s Italian Restaurant and then called it an early night in preparation for the next day’s big events. That’s right, events plural, this trip would also mark my first experience with Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights but that is a story deserving of a column of its own.
Saturday morning we fueled up (joined by John and Amy and family) at the International Drive Ponderosa breakfast buffet before continuing the short jaunt to Screamfest on our own. Actually, I should probably start referring to this show as Spooky Empire because it seems like they are re-branding it for some reason, but for this year we will stick to the classic title. Once again, the Wyndham Hotel on I-Drive played host to the creepy con and it was clear from the parking lot, as we pulled in at 10AM, that this was going to be a busy year. Byron was kind enough to drop me off at the show entrance as he began the arduous task of securing a parking space in the maze-like hotel lot.
As I joined the line of eager attendees clambering for the event to start, I encountered my first obstacle of the show. Around 10:15 I began to get suspicious since this was getting even later than the usual late starts this show normally gets. I asked one of the staff what the hold up was and was told that this year only the VIP pass holders were getting in at 10AM and general admission would have to wait until 11AM. This was met by several groans of disapproval from other equally surprised line loiterers and I realized I was in for 45 more minutes in the early morning Central Florida sun! I called Byron and caught him on his way through the hotel to the line, so I recommended he remain inside with the air conditioning while I road shotgun on the ticket train. Most conventions that offer VIP passes allow such holders to enter an hour earlier than the regular starting time, not back up the starting time to penalize the general admission crowd. At $175 for the passes, I can easily do without the extra hour but next year I will enjoy a few more coffee refills at Ponderosa and just arrive at 11AM.
When the doors finally did open, I was able to jump most of the line in front of me thanks to the disorganization of the credit card and cash sides of the line. I was willing to pay by credit card to get in ahead of the sixty or so people paying cash in front of me but once inside at the admission counter, the girl taking cash was insistent about how much faster that was and since no one else had been let in yet I obliged her. The one day admission for the show remained unchanged at $25. Once I delivered Byron’s wrist band to him and we noted that the delayed start would throw off our plans for the rest of the day, it was finally time to get the show rolling.
I immediately headed for the guest area since I anticipated it getting crowded quickly. Screamfest outdid themselves with the guest list this year (after last year being rather lame). There was a reunion of cast members from the original Dawn of the Dead and Hellraiser films (unfortunately, both George Romero and Clive Barker cancelled), actors from the Phantasm series, horror hostess Elvira, and all around screen legend Malcolm McDowell. There were also a number of repeat offenders that seem to be there every year and sell fewer autographs every time I see them. In route to the guest rooms, I ran into Lonnie Dohlen who had apparently been in line since 8:30 that morning and was equally displeased with the VIP situation.
One good thing about the late start was that most of the guests were already there and set up. We started off with the Dawn of the Dead group, who were given their own room, and I had my original one sheet for the film signed by David “Flyboy” Emgee and Scott “Roger” Reiniger. Their signatures joined the ones I already have of Ken Foree, Tom Savini, and George Romero from previous shows. Sadly, the one no-show of the day was Gaylen Ross who played female lead Frannie in the film. Ever the optimist, I asked one of the staff stationed at the DOTD room where she was and was told, “you are at least the fourth person to ask me that, they just give you a shirt and then don’t tell you shit around here”. This honest young lady directed me to another woman she thought might know the answer and this equally uninformed person directed me to look around the main room and see if she was there. Later in the show, I found out from Joel Wynkoop that Ms. Ross had canceled at the last minute and I made a point of updating both women who seemed appreciative to finally have the information. Way to keep the staff informed as usual Screamfest!
Heading to the main guest room, Lonnie and I did a quick once over and then went directly to the Phantasm area. I have been a huge fan of this film series for years (ever since the first one scared me as a kid in the 70’s) and was honored to get to meet Michael “Mike” Baldwin and the freaking Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm! I had both of them sign a reproduction of the “Brother” sphere from the later films (the black one Jody turns into) and a reproduction of the one sheet poster from the first movie. I had also brought along an original one sheet for The Captive Female (the Canadian release title of Scream Bloody Murder which was at least partially filmed in Tampa). Mr. Scrimm (who appeared in the film under his real name, Rory Guy) said that his scenes as a doctor who makes a fatal house call were filmed in Los Angels and he never got to travel to Florida for that one.
FAN NOTE: Rest assured, I did bring up the subject of Phantasm V and was told by Michael Baldwin that he is pretty confidant there will be one. He said the test footage they filmed for it several months ago may not be used but he feels there is still plenty of ground to cover in the series and all of the cast and crew are interested in returning. Given Mr. Scrimm’s advancing years (he looks pretty darn good for 82); I sincerely hope they get it going soon. I can’t imagine a Phantasm film without him as the Tall Man.
As I was wrapping up with the Phantasm guests, I noticed the empty table next to them was supposed to be for Elvira. A staff member at the table informed us she would be there at noon (about ten minutes away) and that we should get in line now if we wanted her signature. This was the one autograph that Lonnie really wanted from the show, having joined Elvira’s fan club years earlier and even once owning one of the standees of her you used to see in the supermarkets every Halloween hocking Coors beer. We dutifully joined the twenty to thirty people already waiting and I struck up a conversation with a gentleman named Paul Murphy, who gets the cool autographed item award for this year. Paul collects pinball machines and one of his prized possessions is an Elvira Scared Stiff model manufactured by Bally back in 1996. He had brought part of the mylar insert for the back glass, featuring some awesome artwork of Elvira, to have signed! I would love to see what that looks like back in the machine.
Around noon, we were told it would really be 12:30 or so before she arrived and at 12:30 we were told she had just left her hotel! At ten minutes to 1PM, we finally saw her arrive at another entrance and 15-20 minutes later, the line actually started moving. While we were waiting, I spotted Joel Wynkoop and Chris Woods feverishly perusing celebrity guests with a video camera so I flagged them down and we all exchanged greetings. Unfortunately we were unable to find them again later in the show and never got to make good on our promise to appear on video for them ourselves.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (a.k.a. actress Cassandra Peterson) turned out to be a pretty cool person even if she did show up late and wouldn’t pose for photos (given the size of the line though that was probably a good thing). I had her sign a poster for The Working Girls, a great ’70’s sexploitation film from her pre-Elvira days where she plays a stripper. She had never seen the poster before (which has some very nice artwork for a low budget film) so I gave her the pressbook I had with it. She failed the “Marina Sirtis Test” when she would not sign the Scream Queens magazine I had brought which contained nude photos of her. She was very apologetic in her refusal and even gave me a free signed photo as a consolation prize. Lonnie got her to sign his original folder from her fan club while I casually moved off to the side and snapped a quick, unposed, shot of the two of them together.
By the time we finally made it through the Elvira line, the one for Malcolm McDowell was almost non-existent, so I decided to get my final signature of the show. I had brought an insert poster for the Stanley Kubrick classic A Clockwork Orange and the star of the film greeted me with “oh, this is one of the originals”. We discussed the film and his recent appearance in a bizarre little psycho-thriller called The Barber. Mr. McDowell was kind enough to pose for a picture with me but right as we looked at the camera, a young lady in a three inch skirt and t-back walked in behind Lonnie. After pointing her out and commenting on the length of her skirt, McDowell slapped me on the back and said “go and give that girl $10”!
Our original game plan had put us wrapping up Screamfest around 12:30 but it was already 2PM and I hadn’t even seen the inside of the dealer’s room yet. Last year, the merchandise selection had been surprisingly good and I had actually purchased a few items. This year was much more in line with past shows and the mix was at least 85% new material. At least one third of the vendors were selling bootleg DVDs, either exclusively or in addition to other merchandise. It seems that as more and more films and television series become legitimately available on DVD, bootleg vendors are still selling their unlicensed counterparts, either to eliminate old stock or to catch uninformed buyers who don’t know a legal copy is available and often at a lower price.
Matt Geuther of Maskmasters had some very impressive masks on display including a Sleestak, the demon from Curse of the Demon, and a green version of the Hideous Sun Demon I initially mistook for the alien in Don Dohler’s Galaxy Invader. CMI Toys, one of the few dealers with vintage items, had an impressive selection of Mego monster figures and their Azrak Hamway knock off cousins, some on the original card!
The dealer’s room was combined with the artist’s area and the layout made it difficult to navigate from one to the other. While there did not appear to be any more vendors than last year, it would still be nice if they got their own room to spread things out a little more. Lonnie and I spent about thirty minutes perusing tables and trying to figure out our way around before we decided we had seen it all. When we couldn’t locate Joel Wynkoop at his table, we rendezvoused with Byron (who had commandeered a couch in the lobby) and decreed our participation in Screamfest 2008 at an end.
As much as I enjoy going to conventions in Orlando, nothing ever seems to top them off quite as well as lunch at the Crazy Buffet. We met John and Amy there a little later than originally anticipated and proceeded to lay segue to their offerings of sushi, grilled to order steak, and snow crab legs! Afterwards we made a brief stop at Comics & Collectibles, a new store John had discovered on Orange Avenue. It is right across the street from the legendary Rock & Roll Heaven record and CD shop that I love to visit any chance I get. Unfortunately we could not spend as much time there as we would have liked because we were due at Universal Studios for Halloween Horror Nights.
For 2008, Screamfest did a very impressive job with the guest list. It would be nice to see the dealer’s room expanded but slow growth is understandable since this show has a more limited focus than most. As long as they continue to draw a significant portion of their guests from classic horror and science fiction films like they did this year though, they could probably do away with the dealer’s room entirely if they had to.
Speaking of Screamfest Dept. I was very saddened to learn of the passing of blaxploitation pioneer Rudy Ray Moore over this past weekend. It was rather ironic that the one time we crossed paths was three years ago at the 2005 Screamfest in Ft.Lauderdale. Looking at his picture from the event, it is hard to believe this gentleman was 78 at the time. He seemed to be in excellent health and was only too happy to share stories of his acting days with fans. Goodbye Rudy and thanks for everything!