Who’d of thought zombies terrorizing an Illinois city’s streets would inspire warm, cuddly feelings of life getting back to normal? That’s what happened last Saturday when I visited “Nightmare on Chicago Street’ – the quintessential Halloween event that many feared would never happen again. Fortunately, a Global Pandemic proved no match for the Undead as I entered the Safe Zone of Elgin, Illinois smiling from ear to ear.
I arrived about 45 minutes before the gates opened and already there were long lines of guests eager to get through each of the three checkpoints. With a clear sky and temperatures in the 70s, Chicago’s Indian summer all but guaranteed a Sold-Out celebration. I decided it was probably a good idea to take as many unobstructed photos as I could before getting trampled. Meanwhile, Event volunteers and creative talents were quickly putting on the finishing touches.
As I headed to Sven HQ, the guests came pouring in…
Festivities ran from 6-11 PM with national, MeTV horror host, Svengoolie, signing autographs at 7. I was slated to assist him with selling merchandise and enjoyed seeing lots of creative costumes en route to Svengoolie headquarters.
This particular Nightmare on Chicago Street had significant meaning for me as my now adult children and their significant others bought tickets on their own accord and drove themselves over. They honored me further by immediately getting in line to meet Svengoolie. I know it sounds corny, but seeing the interests I’d shared with them growing up take root, brought tears to my eyes.
Svengoolie HQ was in the same location as it was the last few times which made finding it a lot easier. Elgin is about an hour from where I live and I hadn’t been there since its last 2019 event. Consequently, I was surprised how fast I remembered its layout. Event organizers, Elizabeth Haney and Alice Moring were already inside. I’d seen the two briefly at “Svengoolie Day” in Berwyn, Ill in August (part of that “Svengoolie Uncrypted” special I discussed in my last post) and they were very kind to invite me back to this event. I offered my assistance to the Svengoolie crew soon after to help with T-shirt sales. Svengoolie was already there and joined by four of his crew members; Producer, Jim Roche, Associate Producer, Jane Borim, Director, Chris Faulkner, and a cameraman named Patrick Payne whom I’d never met before.
Just prior to the signing, Jamie Lee Cortese, and her friend, Gary Luz, came in dressed as zombies. This was not merely for aesthetics as the two were performing at the event. I was unable to see it Live but Jamie sent me a clip of them dancing to the old novelty song “Zombie Jamboree” which I listen to often this time of year while playing old Dr. Demento Halloween radio shows. It was really something!
The first person to greet Svengoolie was Superfan, Nanette Kier (also mentioned in my last post). Before Sven’s arrival, she introduced me to her friend, Drew Love, who was dressed as the “Svenards” man; a throwback to a pre-national Svengoolie. Back in the ‘90s, the Chicagoland area was inundated with a string of commercials for a home improvement store called Menards. The commercials featured an older man with a very distinct, teethy grin and over-the-top salesmanship. Svengoolie’s “Svenards” parody commercial was so popular, he’d ended up doing two versions of it. It remains one of the funniest commercials in his 40+ year history and illustrates one of the downsides of having your local horror host become a national sensation. We lost that local humor and parody songs of Top 40 hits. Needless to say seeing the Svenard’s man costume brought back a lot of great memories.
After the signing ended it was time to head to the main stage. I was happy he was given more time to rest and the talented Elliot Serrano took on the bulk of the costume contest. Of all the Nightmare on Chicago Street activities, this one historically had its fair share of hiccups but is now a well-oiled machine. It is divided into three main categories: Best Horror/Zombie Costume, Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Superhero Costume, and Best Couples/Group. After a winner is chosen (by audience applause/reaction) from each, they compete for the Best Overall.
First up, Best Horror/Zombie….
And the Winner… Matt Neuman’s “Lord of Darkness!”
Next up, Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Superhero Costume…
Winner…Teven Buccien’s “Enya: Goddess of Destruction!”
And, finally, Best Couples/Group…
And the winner….Colonel Sanders and Chicken (Kristine Long)!
Before the final winner would be chosen, Svengoolie took the stage. He greeted the audience while reiterating how wonderful it was that we were able to gather again for this amazing event. He also commented on the finalists while, naturally, drawn to Colonel Sanders and the chicken.
Meanwhile I spied Jim taking shots of the crowd…
And now it was time to determine a winner…
The Chicken couple actually came close to winning top prize before getting trounced by the Goddess of Destruction.
When it was all over, Elliott ambitiously attempted to take a selfie of the everyone on stage with the crowd behind. I’m not sure how that turned out but, since I couldn’t even see his camera from my vantage point, I’m pretty sure I’m not in it.
In past events, it would be late by the time the costume contest ended but the schedule adjusted for this to take place in-between band performances and it was over by 8:30. With time to spare, I rejoined my kids and we all toasted an amazing Nightmare on Chicago Street!