I can safely say this past Flashback Weekend horror convention was my best one yet. That’s in no short thanks to MeTV’s national horror host, Svengoolie, and his amazing crew for deputizing me as one of their own. Despite his having attended faithfully for over a decade, this year was exceptional in lieu of Rich Koz’s 40th Anniversary as Sven. Consequently, he’d have a busier schedule than usual with activities planned both Friday and Saturday. In exchange for my extra set of hands, the crew granted me a special guest pass, paid me to sell merchandise, and threw in a complimentary Svengoolie sweatshirt for good measure. The icing on the cake was getting to stay at the hotel overnight (in a room they provided) and keep an eye on their equipment so they wouldn’t have to lug it all back the next day. In other words, it was about as close to winning the lottery as I’ll likely ever get!
So let’s get started…
Friday, August 2, 2019,11:15am: I arrive at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont, Illinois just like G-FEST a couple weeks back. Thankfully, things are a lot less chaotic this time and I had no trouble finding a decent parking spot. Also like last time the first thing I do is head to the main lobby in search of the manager, Don Johnston. Back then he had a Godzilla-sized furrow but today was back to his amiable self – cheerfully calling out my name while barrelling past the front desk. In an alternative universe, he could have been the Godfather; an imposing mafioso exuding confidence and larger than life personality. Fortunately, in this world, those attributes are used for good, belying a heart of gold. I’ve brought him up in this blog many times and, having seen him run pell-mell all over the hotel assisting others, don’t think he always gets the appreciation he deserves. Suffice it to say, the world is a much better place with Don in it. But I digress…
Don handed me an envelope with mine and the rest of the crew’s passes along with the room key. In addition to holding the crew’s equipment, it would serve as a cooling center for Svengoolie in-between scheduled activities. Considering how hot that hotel gets, I can’t stress enough just how important this is. I’m a natural hotbox who sleeps with a fan on even in the wintertime. Consequently, I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who has to perform in steamy locales while wearing a suit. Although the event didn’t start till 3, I specifically arrived early to stock the mini-fridge with bottled water while setting up a tall fan I brought from home for Sven. After everything was ready I spent the next hour or so relaxing by the window while listening to podcasts. It was the calm before the storm.
2 PM: I receive a text from my friends, “Don and Bunny” (Ron and Angela Urban) who just checked into the hotel. The last time I saw my fellow Sven-chasers was in passing at his Fantasy Costumes appearance last October. I met them downstairs and spent the next hour catching up before the dealer room opened at 3.
3 PM: I have an opportunity to do some shopping before the Svengoolie crew arrives. Before entering the main hall, I pass the registration table and see this year’s official convention shirt. In celebration of this year’s guests, it features Tony Todd’s Candyman hook, slugs from Night of the Creeps, Robert Englund’s Freddy glove, the Book of the Dead for Bruce Campbell, and the hand of an Alien for Lance Henriksen. I usually skip right by convention shirts and would have done the same with this one until I noticed a Rubber Chicken on it…and we all know whom that was supposed to represent. Needless to say, it’s now hanging in my closet.
Inside the main hall were the usual spoils though I was quickly drawn to a large booth selling soundtrack albums. Vinyl has made a big comeback these days and I’ve been playing my old Halloween II record quite a bit – a clear indication of how eager I am for the holiday itself. I’ve also been inspired by a great new book I bought a couple of months back called “Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks on Vinyl” by Aaron Lupton which I’m hoping to review soon. The vintage ones are cool but one of the Flashback vendors was selling newer releases. Since the prices were slightly cheaper than Amazon, I opted to pick Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Krampus here.
A few moments later Don (Johnston) appeared and walked me over to a booth run by a woman who makes horror versions of those old wooden Fisher-Price people. If you grew up in the ‘60s or ‘70s (like me) then you likely had these scattered around your bedroom. Don directed my attention to one that looked like Svengoolie and, of course, I bought it along with a Trick r Treat Sam.
With the exception of Bruce Campbell and the Raimi brothers (who were located downstairs), the celebrities signed inside the main ballroom next to the vendors. The prices were terrible (Robert Englund now charges $100 just for his autograph) but there was no way I was going to leave this event without having met the beautiful Virginia Madsen whom I adore. Though most of the folks at this convention were likely drawn to her role as “Helen” in Candyman (1992), I preferred her as “Maya” in Sideways (2004). The story deals with two middle-aged friends taking a wine-inspired road trip up through Northern California and is one of my all-time favorite non-genre films. In fact, my kids have uttered the line, “You’re watching Sideways again?” on more than one occasion. The funny thing is I really can’t explain why I love it so much. All I know is that I never get tired of watching and its inspired a small collection of wines in my dining room. I also liked her as Republican Senator Kimble Hookstraton on the first season of “Designated Survivor” and as Maria Sunderland in the recent, ill-fated “Swamp Thing.” Actually, I think it’s safe to say I love her in just about any role she plays.
Madsen was sitting alone when I saw her and I quickly headed over. She charged $50 for an autograph and an additional $20 for a photo. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of this blog and it’s hard to believe that back in those early days, on average, 20 bucks would get you both!
Madsen offered a nice assortment of stills but naturally brought along my Sideways Blu-ray cover for signing. I wanted to have her sign a bottle Pinot Grigio but thought better of it. I paid my fees and then, determined to get my money’s worth, spent the next ten minutes gushing over her while discussing my favorite moments of her career. And with nobody behind me, I pretty much went through the gambit. I even brought up The Magic of Belle Isle (2012) with Morgan Freeman whom she said has a beautiful singing voice and would serenade her each morning during filming. Naturally, I also discussed Sideways and mentioned something her co-star, Paul Giamatti, said in the Special Edition Blu-ray’s commentary about having to walk her back to her trailer each night because of a “scary man in the woods.” Madsen laughed and said, “Oh, yeah! There was this guy with a crossbow (Giamatti never mentioned a crossbow) who kept yelling at us from the woods.”
Remember this story, folks. because it’s going to come up again in my third Flashback Diary post.
I mentioned her growing up in Chicagoland (Evanston) and asked if she watched Svengoolie. At first, it didn’t ring any bells until I pointed to his image on my T-shirt. Then she lit up like a Christmas tree and said, “Oh my God, yes! He throws the rubber chickens, right? (technically the chickens get thrown at him, but close enough). I would love to meet him!”
“He’s here at this event celebrating his 40th anniversary,” I said. “You should stop over at his VIP party tomorrow.” She seemed noncommittal but it was enough to know that she knew who he is and that he stood a good chance of getting an interview with her during his customary Flashback “walk through.” We took that $20 photo before I said goodbye and headed upstairs to the room so I could offload my merch.
4:30 PM: Although the Crowne Plaza has its own restaurant, we opted for the adjoining Murray Bros. Caddyshack one instead. The establishment is, in fact, owned by Bill Murray’s brothers and themed after the famous comedy (confession: I’ve never seen Caddyshack). In honor of Flashback Weekend, they offered a special horror-themed menu with items such as “Norman’s Psycho Grilled Cheese” and “Leatherface’s Slaughterhouse Pork Sliders.” In place of sports, all the hanging TV’s played A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) so I opted for a “Freddy’s Dream Burger” without the bun (having recently started going low-carb again) and joined Bunny for an afternoon cocktail ala “Ash’s Boomstick.”
5:20 PM: I receive a text from Svengoolie’s producer, Jim Roche, alerting me they were about to pull up to the hotel. I toss Don and Bunny the cash for my meal and quickly leave the restaurant. Svengoolie and company had arrived, and it’ was time to get to work.
Coming Up…Svengoolie vs the Limp Chicken!
NOTE: This Friday starts my annual “Countdown to MASK-FEST” series so the Flashback Diaries will be posted in-between.