Staying Alive…at Days of the Dead!

When I submitted my 2020 vacation requests back in December, I had all kinds of fun activities in the works. In addition to taking a week off in March for a Spring road trip that would never happen, I also took a chunk of July off for fan conventions. The idea was to attend G-FEST with my sons, Days of the Dead Indianapolis with my friend Jason, and see Svengoolie at Flashback Weekend here in Chicago. Unfortunately, this would not be the year for any of us to travel or partake in large gatherings. When the world shut down in March, I still hung on to the naive hope things would be back to normal by the summer but it was not to be the case. By the time July rolled around, the only event standing was Days of the Dead. Prior to all this, my friend, Jason had purchased his plane tickets from New England while generously getting us both VIP passes. Exactly a week before the event, and with their guests dropping like flies, I persuaded him to postpone his visit for Chicago in November (assuming things are better by then). Jason successfully switched his airfare and DOTD had no problem swapping tickets. They also offered folks who did make this show “half off” on their next one. This amiability, however, would not prevent them from getting roasted on social media by many who found them irresponsible for not just postponing this show in the first place. Undeterred, DOTD would remain steadfast as long as it was legal for them to do so. In a related story, the city of Atlanta shut down there next show in August just days before this one. I’m not sure why they went through with Indianapolis amidst all the controversy but I’m guessing it had something to do with whatever arrangement they had with the Marriott. Regardless, there was no question that this would be a crippled convention; hemorrhaging vendors and guests right up until their doors opened last Friday. For my part, I decided to honor my hotel reservation, follow all safety guidelines, purchase a regular weekend pass, and go by myself. I had the luxury of self-quarantining afterward since my kids would be with their mother and I was not due back to the office until August. Furthermore, I looked forward to pampering myself in a nice hotel while taking a little break from single parenthood and having worked my ass off throughout the shutdown. I make no apologies for my attendance and, at the risk of being judged, will now share that experience. 

I arrived at the hotel about a half-hour before registration. Now I’ve been to the Marriott Indianapolis East many times for past horror cons but this was the first time I had no trouble finding a parking spot. Obviously, social distancing was going to be a lot easier than I thought. The hotel made it clear that no one could enter without wearing a mask and, to ensure its enforcement, had a man standing guard at the door.

Floor stickers designated spaces six-feet apart for people to stand on during check-in. They never touched my license nor my credit card, simply looked at it from a distance to see that it matched my reservation. The woman assisting me was wonderful and after I told her my friend wouldn’t be joining me, switched my room from a double to a king bed suite at no extra charge. This room was located in the tower section of the hotel where the celebrities were staying and near all the convention activities. Since I’d packed food and beverages, I was pleased to see it was also equipped with a full-sized refrigerator along with a conference table I could stage my collectibles on for signing. The TV included Netflix, Showtime, HBO, as well as YouTube – perfect considering I’d be spending 90% of the weekend alone in my room.

After unpacking, it was time to register so I went downstairs to do so. I could tell by the small line (even with people standing six feet apart) that the turnout was far lower than I expected. Instead of a wristband, I got a neat badge I could wear around my neck. It was a shame so few people would get to appreciate this year’s design which was a cool homage to MARVEL Comic’s Godzilla #1.

Before going back upstairs, I checked the convention hall to see which celebrity guests had shown up. Thankfully, the first one I saw was also the main reason I wanted to be here so badly. Ricou Browning played the title monster in The Creature from the Black Lagoon during all the water scenes. His presence was a genuine surprise since I assumed he’d be the first one to drop out. At 90 years old, he’s the last remaining cast member alive from my favorites Universal monster film. I was perplexed by a man his age coming out to greet fans amidst a pandemic but, then again, I work with Insurance companies and know full well those Medicare supplements ain’t gonna pay for themselves. The last time I saw him was with his late costar, Julia Adams, back at Monsterbash 2012.

With Julia Adams at Monsterbash

I quickly went back upstairs and grabbed all the items I’d brought along for him to sign. These included a Blu-ray Steelbook of The Creature from the Black Lagoon featuring the stunning artwork of Alex Ross. Ross is a close friend of national horror host, Svengoolie, and I had the honor of meeting him at Brookfield Zoo some years back. It was a surreal moment as I was volunteering at the zoo and felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was Rich Koz (Svengoolie) and Alex Ross! Ross’ Universal monster Steelbooks are the pride of my physical media collection and I really wanted “the Creature” to sign it.

Alex Ross Creature from the Black Lagoon Steelbook art

I also brought two 8 x 10 photos signed by Julia Adams. Although I’m pretty sure the man inside the creature costume in these pics was actually Ben Chapman, I couldn’t resist having Browning add his signature to hers. I stood at a distance and watched him finish up with another fan. “How did you get picked to be the Creature?” the man asked while gathering his things. Browning responded dryly, “Because I could swim.” 

Prior to the event, I picked up an assortment of metallic sharpie pens and decided which color I wanted which guest to sign with. I disinfected each marker while wearing gloves and packed them in individual Ziploc bags. After they were used, I let the guests keep them. This was particularly important to me in regards to Browning.  As someone who rooted for the Creature ever since he was a kid, I sure as hell didn’t want to risk hurting him in real life. Browning had a large assortment of photos and posters for fans to choose from. In addition to the items I brought, I also purchased one of his 11 x 17 posters to sign too. I already had this same poster hanging in my apartment but decided to swap it out with this signed one when I got home.

There was a young woman assisting Browning who also brought some of her own Creature artwork to sign. She was very friendly and mentioned how much they both loved Julia Adams when she saw my 8×10’s. In addition to mentioning how saddened they were by her loss, she also commented on how much they loved her book. Adams had given them both copies when they were together at that aforementioned Monsterbash.

The celebrities were given the freedom to set their own guidelines in terms of masks, distance, and selfies with fans. In the case of Browning, you could take a free photo with him in the background and at a distance.

I ran my items back to my room and grabbed the next set for Toni Moran a.k.a. the unmasked Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). But first, I carefully laid out all the stuff Browning had signed on the conference table with a fan blowing on them to ensure they’d be dry before packing things up. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t sleep without a fan and figured I may as well put it to good use. When I got back to the convention hall, I held up my badge for the two volunteers standing at the door but they quickly waved me off saying they remembered me from before and not to bother. Later, I saw them do this with other people which is yet another testament to the low turnout. 

When I got to Mr. Moran‘s table he was out eating dinner so I chatted with his assistant/girlfriend. She was really nice and told me this was the first time she’s ever assisted him before. She let me sit my collectibles at the table and I gave her the Sharpie I’d designated for him. Despite telling her I’d disinfected it beforehand, she said she would do so again just to be safe. While she might have been safety-conscience her boyfriend was anything but. He showed up like a whirlwind announcing that wearing masks “was a bunch of bullshit” but he’d put one on if it made us feel better.

Tony Moran shares stories with fans

The only words I can use to describe Moran would be unpolished. That’s not to suggest he was unfriendly because that was far from the case. He was not only nice but easy to talk to. He’s like that neighbor that comes over to your garage and has a beer with you after hours. I presented him with my Halloween Steelbook and he said, “Wow, this is gorgeous! Where did you get this from?” I told him it was an FYE exclusive. “Oh, yeah.” he said. “We have one of those but the damn place is on life-support.”  I told him I was pretty sure that’s the case for all of them these days.

He was also impressed with my Halloween poster. “Jesus Christ, how long did it take you to get all these signatures?” I told him it had been about ten years and counting. He was surprised I wanted him to sign with a bronze marker rather than the silver everyone else had but, truth be told, I still have a couple more signatures I want to add to this and figured it could do with a little variation. In a related story, I was really unhappy that Flashback Weekend shut down because they had Sandy Johnson a.k.a. Judith Myers on their guest list and I could have finally added that signature as well. Of course, the holy grail would be Jamie Lee Curtis but I’m thinking my chances of that happening are somewhere between slim and none.

Halloween is awesome but I confess, Child’s Play (1988) has always had a special place in my heart. Aside from the fact that I love the “killer doll” horror sub-genre, it’s the first horror film I was able to drive myself to in my own car. I was a teenager back in the ‘80s and, prior to that, would have to beg and plead to get someone to take me to a horror movie – getting turned down nine times out of ten. Thank God it was the age of Fangoria Magazine, video stores, and “Paperbacks from Hell” or this horror fan would have withered on the vine. Child’s Play was a fun movie that took place here in Chicago. I’m not as keen on the sequels and remakes, though I do own them and watch them on occasion. Last year I obtained an original movie poster from a collector and saw the 2020 Indianapolis Days of the Dead as a golden opportunity to get it signed. Prior to the apocalypse, this event boasted Brad Dourif (Chucky), Catherine Hicks (Karen Barclay), Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay), and Kevin Yagher – the man who created and engineered the doll. Of all these celebrities only Vincent would show up.

Prior to his arrival, he wrote on Instagram how hard he struggled with his fear of COVID-19 versus the financial hardships he’s experienced because of it. This is a very real struggle that many in this world have had to face. Because I’ve been fortunate to be employed throughout this experience and have not suffered financially, I’m in no position to judge people for these choices. Vincent was very kind I had actually met him years ago. It took me twenty years to get my MARVEL KISS Comic signed by all of the original bandmates. I have no problem waiting to add the missing signatures for this poster. 

Before calling it a night, I had David Naughton sign my arrow An American Werewolf in London (1981) box set and Andrew Divoff a.k.a. The Wishmaster (1997) sign my Vestron video Blu-ray collection.

By 6:30 PM I was done for the night. I came upstairs and enjoyed some sushi and Camp Crystal Lake wine. This is part of Adrienne King’s Friday the 13th collection and something I save for special horror occasions. It was a difficult decision opening this bottle since she signed it for me but I do have full signed case of these back home. 

I popped on Showtime and watched a movie I hadn’t seen since it came out over twenty years ago – Urban Legends (1998). It ended up being a bittersweet choice considering two of its actors (Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris) were supposed to have been guests at this event! 

Tomorrow I figured I’d give a couple panels a try.

Coming up…Tyler Mane and Scout Taylor Compton discuss Rob Zombie’s Halloween!




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