Happy Labor Day!
Before delving into my experience at 2014’s Flashback Weekend featuring Svengoolie and his LIVE talk show with Robert Englund, Lance Henriksen, and a host of other cast members from A Nightmare on Elm Street films, I should probably explain just where the heck we Terror Daves have been this past summer. This time last year I think I’d covered about nine conventions as opposed to this year’s impressive…er…ONE but, rest assured, we’re both still alive.
We did formally discuss taking a step back earlier this year, though I surprised myself by actually following through on that. We both took the time to devote energy on our animal interests which, for me, involved volunteering more hours at Brookfield Zoo while focusing extra attention on my AAZK (American Association of Zookeepers) Chapter (the same group that hosted Svengoolie last March in a story David covered HERE). The funny part of the story is that our site’s traffic actually increased instead of decreased. I guess the previous four years of hard work had paid off with older posts like my story on meeting Pam Grier, David’s 1980’s “Boglin” toy retrospective and the one he did on Asia Eriksen’s “Werepuppies” becoming large draws. The revelation that the break didn’t end up harming the site was pretty fantastic but, what wasn’t so great, was missing out on a bunch of Svengoolie’s summer appearances…
I’d been attending Svengoolie events long before becoming a Terror Dave and its something I’ve particularly enjoyed during the traditionally Non-Halloween, summer months. The last time I saw Sven was this past Memorial Day weekend; notable to me for being the fiftieth time I saw him. No, seriously, that’s a literal number.
The next time I’d see him was as his alter ego, Rich Koz, at the zoo when he came up to me and said, “Hello.” He was visiting the park with friends and family so we didn’t have much time to talk but most of that conversation revolved around his upcoming appearance at Flashback Weekend. I gave him my well wishes but wasn’t planning on attending this year due to budgeting myself for a zoo related trip. It was a decision I’d made around the same time we Daves both decided to pull back and one I’d later regret as the summer wore on and new Flashback developments arose.
Sven has attended Flashback Weekend many times over the years and his appearance usually involved signing for fans before hosting the annual costume contest. Robert Englund was the headliner this year but that wasn’t new either. Englund had been the top celebrity guest at this Chicago event a few times before, though we Daves met up with him in Massachusetts back in 2011 (Ah, it seems like only yesterday…pretend the world just got fuzzy and revisit that moment HERE). While Englund and Svengoolie had inevitably crossed paths at Flashback before, this year would take things to an entirely new level.
For the first time since 2003’s Freddy vs Jason, Englund would don the Freddy Krueger make-up once more! This would be accomplished with the skills of FX aficionado, Robert Kurtzman, and would be a ONE DAY feature. For fans willing to shell out the extra cash, they could not only have an opportunity to meet Englund but get a photo with him as Freddy. Best of all, after the signings were over, he’d participate in a LIVE talk-show hosted by (you guessed it) Svengoolie! Did I pick the wrong year to skip out on things, or what?
Englund (along with a few other notable celebrities) became a fan of Svengoolie after the Chicago-based show began hitting national airwaves a few years back via MeTV. With the two already familiar and fans of each others work, great chemistry was guaranteed. Not to mention, having attended a past forum featuring Englund and having read his book “Hollywood Monster,” I knew he was a wealth of information and getting him to open up would NOT be an issue.
Aside from a full “Freddy,” other guests included Lance Henriksen and a group of actors from the Nightmare franchise (Amanda Wyss & Ronee Blakely from Nightmare on Elm Street, Robert Rusler from Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Jennifer Rubin from Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and Monica Keena from Freddy vs Jason).
Tickets to attend the show weren’t cheap and part of either a $365 or $295 package depending on which one you wanted (or could afford). I know many reading this might be shaking their heads in disgust as price gouging has become a customary horror convention feature these days but money raised at Flashback was specifically to benefit the preservation of The Midway Drive-in and Diner in Sterling, Illinois and not for lining anyone’s pockets. In fact, this was key to Robert Englund even agreeing to do the whole make-up thing in the first place.
Regardless of its altruistic purposes, it was not in my budget and I came to terms with the fact that I’d be relying on Sven’s assistant, Jim Roche, to share his pictures of the event. Actually, that part would still hold true as ALL of the shots featured here were taken by him. So let me take a moment to offer a HUGE thanks to Jim – not only for sharing his photos but for he and Svengoolie making my unplanned presence there a reality.
Less than two weeks before the event, the wonderful Mr. Roche called and asked what I was doing that night. He inquired if I’d be willing to show up at Flashback Weekend the night of the aforementioned talk show and help them out. The understanding was that I’d be there, not as a Terror Dave, but as an extra member of his crew. In exchange, I’d be able to hang out with them behind the scenes and watch the show. The only stipulations were that I was to wear my Svengoolie T-Shirt (and you can order your own by clicking HERE) and leave my camera at home. I was also told to be prepared to “work hard.” I should note that even if they’d requested I dress up like a rubber chicken and go onstage to cluck for his fans, there was NO way I was going to pass up such an amazing opportunity!
The next two weeks I could hardy contain my enthusiasm until finally, the fateful night arrived and I made my way up to The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont – yes, the same venue that that aforementioned lone event I covered this year, G-FEST, took place in July. Since I was already familiar with the layout, I quickly made my way around the building to the main lobby where I bumped into the manager of the hotel; my friend Don Johnston. Don looked frazzled but remained on top of all the activities taking place which couldn’t have been easy. We said hello and I was just about to take a seat in one of the lobby’s comfy chairs when Don summoned me join him in front of the hotel. Sven’s director (Chris Faulkner) and camera guy (Aaron Covich) had arrived and Don wanted to be there personally to welcome them. I know I’m dating myself with this analogy, but seeing Don standing outside while wearing a suit reminded me of Ricardo Montalban’s character greeting the week’s celebrity co-stars on TV’s Fantasy Island. All that was missing was his vertically challenged sidekick, “Tattoo, which I suppose in today’s politically correct world probably wouldn’t go over so well (though I sure wouldn’t mind playing his horizontally challenged one if it came with free room and Wi-Fi).
I met the crew at the car and helped them carry in camera supplies which, incidentally, was pretty much the extent of the “hard” work JIm mentioned. We brought everything into the ballroom where the talk show would take place and Aaron and Chris immediately got to work on setting up the cameras so footage could be taped for an upcoming “Svengoolie on the Road” segment.
It wasn’t long before Don announced that Svengoolie and Jim had arrived and he took off so he could bring them directly to Robert Englund (who was already wearing his make-up for VIP fans) for some photos.
After that, Sven & JIm joined the crew making sure the sound and lights were set up for their specifications. Vintage clips from when Svengoolie had aired the first two Nightmare films back in the ’90s were played and prepared for audience. Its always surreal for me to watch “Svengoolie” with Svengoolie and, for a die hard fan such as myself, it was one of the evening’s many highlights. I was so grateful to Rich and Jim for asking me to join them and it’s a good thing since, looking at the photo below, you can clearly see that I was a BIG help to them.
With everything set up, there was nothing to do but the hardest job of all – waiting for the big moment to arrive. Sven seemed a bit nervous because nobody was entirely sure which celebrity guests would actually show up; especially after a long day of signing autographs. Consequently, that left little opportunity to prepare. While this may be a normal reaction for the average person, I knew that Rich was a master of improv an did not share his concern. Because it was Friday and Sven would still be appearing the next day for his usual Flashback activities, the crew secured a room at the hotel so the equipment could stay overnight and we all hung out there until it was time to go to the hotel’s make-shift “green room.” One of the hotel staff took us to a room in the lower level located near an elevator unavailable for the general public. This led to an unintentionally funny moment as that room had apparently been the site of a dinner gathering earlier and trash and half-eaten food was all over the tables. Jim joked about how lucky it was we arrived after the apparent Zombie Apocalypse and I thought I was going to wet my pants from laughing.
Pretty soon the hotel attendant told us it was time to get to the ballroom. He took us up a service elevator and we stood backstage while the celebrity guests joined us. I made sure Sven was hydrated and got him some cold water before placing it onstage for him. I only allowed myself a moment to look up and see the room full of fans staring back at me. Yikes!
I returned to the backstage area and the celebrities had arrived. Robert Englund and Lance Henriksen were horsing around and BOY did I hate not having my camera. With nothing else to do, I was given permission to take my place out in the audience. The show was about to begin…
To be continued…