On that Saturday morning at Flashback Weekend, I was enjoying breakfast with my friends when Svengoolie’s producer, Jim Roche, called to say they were en route. This was a whirlwind weekend for the horror host as he’d be appearing at two major Chicago conventions – C2E2 (Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo) and Flashback Weekend – while filming segments for his October MeTV special – Svengoolie Uncrypted. If you watched it when it first aired back on October 1st (encore presentation this Sunday, October 30th), then you know that Flashback Weekend played a pivotal role during its ongoing skit.
Jim told me about the project well in advance and I was sworn to secrecy. However, as the weeks went on and more and more people started messaging me on Facebook about it, I began wondering if I was the only one who got the memo. In fact, my silence nearly got me throttled by my friends, Don and Bunny, who’ve been Sven-chasing since I was in grade school and were livid about not being kept in the loop. They were in the process of refunding their Svengoolie photo op tickets when Jim talked them off of the ledge and gave them a small role in one of the scenes.
“Uncrypted” was not filmed by Svengoolie’s own capable crew, but rather by a professional documentary team from California with no prior knowledge of their subject. I excitedly made the mistake of thinking this would be a full-length, serious documentary on the Svengoolie character as well as a retrospective on the professional career of Chicago broadcasting legend, Rich Koz. I was honored when Jim submitted my name to be a part of it and did a virtual interview with the filmmakers prior to their arrival. I even spent time standing in front of a mirror practicing the great stories and personal anecdotes I’d share; drawing on my forty-plus years of fandom as well as the times I spent behind the scenes with the crew this past decade.
Now jump forward to Flashback Weekend and I’m watching my friends film a scene with a blobfish puppet. Grant it, I don’t have anything against MeTV’s early-morning cartoon show, “Toon in with Me.” In fact, before I started a new position at work that required me to log on at its 6 am start time, I used to get up earlier to watch it. But for someone who’s been waiting a LONG time for a decent Svengoolie documentary/retrospective, it seemed a wasted opportunity.
On the night it premiered, I invited my friends to come over for a viewing party. Upon seeing the finished product, I will say I enjoyed the commentary from Mark Hamill and the clips of Koz’s past work. Unfortunately, all that great footage gets overshadowed by awkward, silliness. Again, this may be due to my own level of expectations and I’m in no way trying to make anyone feel bad for enjoying it. I should also mention, I have nothing against Svengoolie interacting with puppets…preferably when their names are Tombstone, Kerwyn, or Durwood.
“Uncrypted” also unveiled the “Spawn of Svengoolie” contest which gave the false impression that Rich Koz is retiring. This is NOT the case. I even received an email from horror host historian and creator of “American Scary,” Michael Monahan, mentioning “the end of an era.” I told him not to worry, Svengoolie is enjoying his national popularity way too much and, so long as the station treats him well and he’s in good health, he will hang on to that job like a Pope.
The presence of the additional filming crew also brought a chaotic element to this year’s Flashback Weekend appearance. The two crews seemed to be constantly dodging one another while the rest of us felt like we were perpetually in their way. The whole thing made me nervous on several levels. As the tenth anniversary of Svengoolie’s last heart attack looms near, I was deeply concerned about the extra stress coupled with an already hectic weekend. Message to C2E2 – Get your ass back in late winter/early spring where you belong!
When I arrived to meet the crew, Sven was seated in a chair with his new Associate Producer, Jane Borim. At first, I couldn’t tell which film crew she belonged to. One good thing about her presence, instead of “Mayor” Don Johnston yelling at me all weekend like he did last year, he went after her instead. “I need the next scene’s script!” he barked. Moments later he returned, “No! Not this one! The OTHER scene!”
“Don’t worry,” I told her, “Don’s heart is as big as his mouth.” I truly meant that, by the way. Don’s a great guy and Flashback Weekend wouldn’t be the same without him. Jane must have known, too, as she appeared unphased.
Sven had done his first day of C2E2 the day before and looked visibly exhausted. Meanwhile, Jim (who usually greets me with a big hug) was blatantly avoiding me because he’d swapped me out of a scene in “Unscripted” in favor of the Manson Brothers. Was he kidding? That scene played much better with them than it ever would have with me and was absolutely the right choice.
After they finished filming, Svengoolie and his own crew took off for his photo op while I stayed back and set up his T-shirt table. It was during this time that I finally got to meet professional Texas radio DJ and social media maestro, Sarah Rhodes. She was dressed in her signature Son of Svengoolie attire and partnered up with another familiar face from the Svengoolie Twitter-verse, the talented Nanette Keir. Sarah was something of a media sensation this weekend having been interviewed by Chicago’s NBC News during C2E2, quoted in a Svengoolie-related Wall Street Journal article, and making numerous appearances in Svengoolie Uncrypted. While Sven accepted the Key to the City of Berwyn that following Tuesday, Chicago may as well have handed theirs over to Sarah.
Another person I finally got to meet was David Colton, creator of the Rondo Awards. This site won a Rondo for “Best Blog” eleven years ago when “Best Blog” and “Best Website” were two separate categories (in other words, before bloggers like me became outdated). He surprised me when I introduced myself by responding, “Oh, from the Terror Dave blog.” I couldn’t believe he remembered this site – especially since there’s been plenty of times these past few years when I’ve had a hard time remembering it, myself.
I thanked David for his contribution to the horror community as I’m very grateful for my statue and the fun I had navigating the world of horror hosts. Seeing Svengoolie work his way from a local icon to a national celebrity was really amazing and now there are newer voices with more formidable social media presences such as Sarah, Nanette, and Christopher Hamby who have taken the reigns. These folks help keep Svengoolie trending every Saturday and I couldn’t be prouder of them and everyone else who’s made that possible. After attending over 100 Svengoolie public appearances, penning nearly ten Svengoolie-related magazine articles, and writing countless blogs on him over the past twelve years (and probably the next twelve), I’m content helping him out at appearances and selling his merch. It’s the logical final chapter for this weather-worn, Terror Dave.
And speaking of T-shirts, his sales went through the roof at Flashback Weekend. I think by the time it was over, he’d sold out all his buttons, his hats, and several sizes of shirts. When Jim came back to collect what was left he said, “Great! Now, what am I supposed to sell at C2E2 tomorrow?”
After I finished my T-shirt duties, the crew invited me to hang out with them, but I graciously declined. All I wanted to do was get away from all that “Uncrypted” crew chaos and rejoin my friends back in the Ballroom.
We miraculously all found one another and watched a panel on Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) which I vaguely remember seeing in the theater back in the day. When it ended, David Colton took the stage to present Svengoolie with his Rondo Awards – Favorite Horror Host and “Monster Kid of the Year.” The latter was actually from the previous award season but, with the world in Covid supply chain issues, it didn’t make its way into Svengoolie’s hands until now.
The costume contest had fewer contestants than last year which made things go quicker. I do think last year was funnier with “Stone Cold ET” and that little girl who dropped the F-bomb.
After C2E2 ended, I figured the “Uncrypted” special was a wrap but, two weeks later, they called me for one final scene. It was filmed at a neat tattoo/oddities shop in Chicago and was the backdrop to the scene where Sven sees a place loaded with his collectibles. Those items were taken from three different collections, including mine. Probably the most noticeable of mine was the doll Nanette holds while delivering her lines. During the filming, I got to hold the teleprompter which was a harder job than you’d think. You have to strategically hold the damned thing so that the actors can see it as well as the person responsible for changing up the dialogue. I also was filmed with a group yelling the famous, “NO PERSONAL CHECKS!” but that got cut. Still, it was fun to do and, thankfully, didn’t involve puppets.
Svengoolie was well-rested and much more at ease than he was at Flashback Weekend. This really helped put my mind at ease as well. Hopefully, someday he’ll get that fantasy documentary I’ve been pining for. One that highlights his forty-three years of accomplishments while allowing some of us Chicago fans to share what a privilege it was growing up with him back in the old WFLD-TV days.
Coming up…I attempt to break my blogger’s block by sharing Svengoolie’s last two public appearances…and before Halloween!