Quantcast Icons of Fright News and Updates: CONVENTION REPORT: CHILLER THEATER 2009, PARSIPPANY, NJ!



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A Truckload of Zombies, and a Return to Form
(or, Burt Reynolds, We Hardly Knew Thee)

It’s nice when people listen. After the last three or four Chiller Theatres, horror fans started to voice their displeasure with the convention; having once boasted a guest list that was about 90% horror, the con had shifted to more of a “mainstream” celebrity show, with the likes of Leslie Nielsen and Angie Dickinson replacing horror stalwarts like George Romero and Betsy Palmer (a sure sign of a turn from horror: Nielsen and Dickinson both have horror movies on their resumes, yet their tables boasted not a single 8x10 from those films). It seems promoter Kevin Clement heard the cries of the fans, and answered them. With a few exceptions, this April’s Chiller Theatre was a return to its blood and guts form, recalling its former glories for horror fans.

X and I arrived Friday night to already brisk business, as many more fans packed the place than usually do on the traditionally quieter night. Fortunately, even with the sizeable crowd, I was able to accomplish a lot. Down in the pit, I quickly snatched up a pic of Tippi Hedren and a crow from Hitchcock’s The Birds, before I was on to Bruce Abbott’s table. Poor Bruce, most famous among genre fans for playing Dr. Dan Cain in Re-Animator, was in a bad spot, and had lots of free time on his hands the whole weekend. A shame, not only because this was his first con, and lackluster business might chase him away from doing more, but also because he was a genuinely nice guy. I then approached 80s pop singer Taylor Dayne, one of my long time loves. Unfortunately, she showed me absolutely no love with her dismissive attitude. This has happened to me in the past occasionally with celebs, and I wish those who have no love for their fans would just stay home.

(With Bruce Abbott - RE-ANIMATOR)

I was then off to the Night of the Living Dead reunion. Having snubbed the 40th Anniversary run last year, Chiller was the first convention to jump on the 41st Anniversary (hehe), adding Charles Craig, a late addition to the 2008 tour, and crewman Gary Streiner, brother of Russ “Johnny” Streiner. Meeting George Romero is always a natural high for me, and he was extremely appreciative when I gave him a bottle of JD as a gift. The legend then offered to pay for my bottle several times, which I steadfastly refused. Craig was quite the personality, playing it up with a phony microphone as if he were still NOTLD’s newscaster. We then headed over to speak with Joe Pilato; watching him berate a 10 year old trying to get a free autograph from him was hysterically funny. I tried to interview Pilato for Icons as the weekend progressed, but he spends so much time walking between his table and the smoking areas, it was impossible to pin him down.

(with Charles Craig - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD)

(with Uncle George Romero - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD)

As X headed off to talk with Rob Granito, a comic book artist who’s become a friend of his over the years, I made my way to the Italian Invasion. We have Mike Baronas to thank for the appearance of many actors from Fulci’s films, as well as the Italian 80s horror in general. Baronas is an extremely nice guy and a gentleman, and I was happy to see his celebs making good money. His Zombie reunion reunited Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, old Worm Eye himself. As the weekend went on, I also met Zora Kerowa, Cinzia Monreale, and Silvia Collatina. Mike told me many of them had never done a convention before and they didn’t know what to expect, so they were thrilled with the showering of love from fans. Unfortunately, changing flight schedules prevented Giovanni Frezza from forming a House by the Cemetery mini-reunion, but Mike Baronas should be proud. He gave fans of the genre a unique opportunity to meet and greet people that many of us probably never expected to encounter. Thanks, Mike.

(with Ian McCulloch - ZOMBIE)

(with Richard Johnson - ZOMBIE, THE HAUNTING)

(with Al Cliver - ZOMBIE)


(with Cinzia Monreale - THE BEYOND)

(with Silvia Collatina - HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY)

The crowd Saturday was not what I expected. Early in the morning, it was a mob scene, as it usually is, but as the day went on, the crowd cooled considerably. Because so many fans showed up to an already sold out Saturday last show, this time there were no tickets sold at the door. Though I’m sure Chiller still made money hand over fist, this was the quietest Saturday I’ve ever seen at this show. Fortunately, this made it easier to get business done. Joined by my friends Nicole and Jonathan, the four of us made our way out to the tent, where Nicole was in awe of Poltergeist’s Oliver Robbins. As it was when X met him the previous night, Robbins engaged Nicole in a 15 minute conversation that I could tell was one of the highlights of her life. As X talked with a guy who voiced Charlie Brown, the remaining three of us went back into the hotel, where I met Tom Towles, of Night of the Living Dead 1990. He and I had this humorous exchange:

Me: Tom, don’t take this the wrong way, but you did a great job of playing a prick.

Tom: Actually, that’s the highest praise you could give me. When you play the villain in a movie, you want people to hate you. Thank you, Phil.

After Nicole fawned over Robert Rusler, I made my way back to the pit to meet Miguel Nunez. Another nice guy from a zombie film, he and I had an interesting conversation about the wig he wore in Return of the Living Dead. X then joined me, and we went on the hunt for Gary Streiner, the one person at the convention I needed to sign my NOTLD banner. Searching to no avail, X then did the logical thing: he asked his brother, Russ. Russ was nice enough to call him and locate him for us, while good naturedly ribbing me and X. Finding Gary was awesome, because he told me of the Living Dead Festival, which he’s hosting in Evans City, PA, the town where NOTLD was filmed. There are supposed to be all sorts of guests from Night that have never done a con before. If you love NOTLD as much as I do, this will be worth checking out. Unfortunately, the October Chiller runs the same weekend in Parsippany. Odd as it sounds to me, I may pass on Chiller for the first time in the 5 years I’ve been going.


(with Gary Streiner - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD)

As X perused the internet from his laptop that night, I wandered the hotel and found the Dead Elvi performing. Whoever controlled the sound board deserved a beating, as the bass level was too high and I could barely hear the vocals. I bounced back to the room, and then back to the concert one more time, where I accidentally caught the Elvi backing Mickey Dolenz! You really had to be there for this one, as it’s beyond my power to explain.

Business picked up again on Sunday, as X and I wrapped up a few odds and ends. This is the second con in a row at which I spent all three days, something Id never done before. But even as large as Chiller is, I don’t think there’s any con that needs a full weekend. That’s not a knock on Chiller, though. Because this April’s show provided a grand stage with a smorgasbord of guests from all ends of the horror genre for attendees to meet, and very little in the way of mainstream celebrities, which is a good thing. Burt Reynolds may never do a Chiller now, but then, Burt Reynolds never played a zombie.

--Phil Fasso

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    Great report! I've got a Chiller video on the way, unfortunately it's a bit late this time. should be ready in a couple of weeks.

    Hellz Dave! Meant to email you to ask if you put together a video this show.

    Looking forward to it! Let us know when it's live!

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