I've mentioned numerous times in these blogs that I was addicted to television back in the 80's, even more addicted than I am now. There was one kind of programing though that I always stayed away from. That would be horror movies. WPIX Channel 11 used to have a special presentation called Chiller Theatre which I briefly remember watching during its' final run in 1982 when I'd wake up in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep. Chiller Theatre was a Sunday morning show that featured classic horror movies and featured some pretty horrific images for a four year old kid to see. Chiller Theatre disappeared after 1982, but still lives in the hearts of horror fans. Since 1990, New Jersey has become the host of the Chiller Theatre conventions which pays tribute to the classic show and is one of the biggest horror conventions in the United States. These conventions originally featured vendors selling horror movie related memorabilia and collectibles as well as legendary horror and cult classic movie stars and artists. Some of the attendees would dress up as zombies, ghouls, and vampires. The Chiller Shows occur twice a year. The first one is during the middle of April, while the second show happens during Halloween weekend (of course!) Yet, as the show has grown bigger and bigger, the Chiller conventions have begun to also include rock musicians, professional wrestlers, and even bigger names in the movie and television industry. What started as a simple horror movie convention has now become one of the biggest pop culture conventions in the United States as well. And since the show was moved from Secaucus Hilton to my neck of the woods, the Hilton in Parsippany, NJ, it was only a matter of time until I would show up to see what all of the hoopla was about.
I believe the first Chiller Show to come to Parsippany was in April of 2008. The guest list was good not but not great. So I decided to pass. When I saw the guest list for the upcoming Chiller show in October, 2008, I nearly crapped my pants. I'd never seen a guest list so amazing for a pop culture convention. Ace Frehley from my favorite rock band, KISS! Sweet! Ralph Macchio from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Karate Kid. Nice! And to really get my mouth salivating, The Sweathogs from my favorite show of all time, Welcome Back Kotter! There was no way in hell I was going to miss this show. I'm not really a big fan of getting autographs, so my mission was to get photos with my heroes (without having to dole out cash!). But even if I couldn't get the photos, just the opportunity to thank these legends for their talents and to discuss their history of work was enough for me. You know how I pride myself on my pop culture knowledge, and allowing these people to talk about themselves per the trivial information I possessed about their careers was going to be awesome.
We got up Sunday morning really early, and were the first ones to arrive at the ticket window. The admission price is a reasonable $25 for the day, but of course that does not include food or autographs. You'd have to give us props for our dedication as we sat in front of the ticket office for two hours to purchase tickets. Staying in line usually doesn't bother me that much at these conventions because you can always kill time talking to other people who share the same interests as you. I can talk about TV and movies for hours, and struck up a conversation with this nice guy named Andy. Anytime you make a friend at these things, it's a bonus. Scott and I also met this strange dude dressed up as an Imperial Officer from Star Wars, who was adamant that the Clone Wars movie wasn't as bad as we claimed it to be. The ticket office opened up exactly at 11:00, and we were ready to go.
Take a look at this guest list, and you'll now understand how awesome this Chiller Show was:
Ed Asner, Robert Culp, Angie Dickinson, Erik Estrada, Linda Evans, Morgan Fairchild, Ace Frehley, Corey Haim, Linda Hamilton, George Kennedy, Ralph Macchio, Leslie Nielsen, Beetlejuice (from The Howard Stern Show), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back), William Forsythe ("That Guy" from so many movies), Billy Garcia (Survivor 13 Contestant), Richard Hatch (not the Survivor winner, the dude from Battlestar Galactica), Sara Karloff (Boris Karloff's daughter, hmm this makes her somebody special?), Charlotte Kemp (from Franken-Hooker), Martin Kove, Ron Lester, Audra Lynn (Playboy Playmate), Kelly Jo Minter (best known for Summer School and Nightmare On Elm Street 5), Kevin Nash, Brian O'Halloran (Dante From Clerks), Terri Runnels, Scotty Schwartz, Carol Spinney (Big Bird from Sesame Street), Sandra Taylor, Tiffany Taylor (Playboy Playmate), Charlene Tilton, Eddie Trunk, Richard Tyson, Fabiana Udenio (Alotta Vagina from Austin Powers), Jeffrey Weissman, Barry Williams, Romeo Williams, Zacherley (The "Cool" Ghoul from the Original Chiller Theatre program), Susan Backlinie (Chrissy, the first victim of Jaws. Damn, I wish I had known who she was at time, would have loved to talk with her), John Schneider, Catherine Bach, Robert Hegyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Ron Palillo, Marina Sirtis (Lt. Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation), Lita Ford, Jay Jay French (lead guitarist from Twisted Sister), Ron Thal (Bumblefoot from Guns N Roses), Kip Winger (lead singer of 80's classic band Winger)
The personal highlight of the show was meeting the Sweathogs from Welcome Back Kotter. Obviously John Travolta (Barbarino) wasn't there, but Robert Hegyes (Epstein), Ron Palillo (Horshack), and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Boom Boom) were. I had heard that Hegyes and Palillo would be obnoxious, but those rumors were laid to rest when I met them. First of all, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs is one of the nicest celebrities on the planet, and probably would have had a drink with us after the show if we stuck around. We talked about Beau (the sweathog who replaced Vinny Barbarino and who he indicated fell out of the face of earth). We talked about his performance on the Jackson 5 movie and how he must have been claiming good royalties because that movie is always on. He also commented how proud he was of the show and how the cast all got along so well. He was more than gracious, and because he knew we were true fans of the show, tried to get the other guys to pose with us while their broker at the table wasn't looking. Ron Palillo was also go gracious and a real mensch. We talked about how he got a nose job back in the early 80's to try to avoid being typecast but he now accepts his place in pop culture history as Horshack. Robert Hedgyes was great as well, and even offered us each a piece of gum. Truly a great experience!
Eddie Trunk was a cool guy as well. We talked about his upcoming show on VH1 Classic, That Metal Show. One year later, and I still think it might be one of the best music-based talk shows ever on TV. Of course, I got him started on his rant about how KISS should be in the Hall Of Fame. Surprisingly, when I asked him about his work on VH1 discussing other genres besides hard rock which he is known for, he said he's glad that he isn't pigeon-holed and can let people know he is fan of other kinds of music. I gave him credit for being able to break out of his shell, although most metal fans probably give him crap for it.
Terri Runnels was a bitch. She looked like she had no interest being there. and screamed at us and put her hands over her face when we took photos of her. Same goes for Charlene Tilton from Dallas.
Brian O'Halloran who is best known for playing Dante from Clerks was in the tent. If you ever want to meet a celebrity who will spend time and chat about anything with you, he's your guy. I had met him a few years back at an expo in Philadelphia, and he was super nice back then. I thanked him for being a Grade A nice guy when we first met him, and he jokingly asked if he was a nice guy today. I already got a photo of him from our previous meeting, but he wasn't charging anything if you just wanted to take a photo with him with your own camera. We talked a little about Clerks 2, which Scott and I mentioned that we couldn't stand the Elias character. He even smiled at that comment. He also told us he just finished a movie with David Naughton. I jokingly asked him if he was singing "Makin It" on set. He was quick to retort no, but he might have been singing the Dr. Pepper theme instead.
Martin Kove made a surprise appearance. Shame on you if you don't know who he is. He was most famous for playing the evil sensei John Kreese in the Karate Kid movies. "Sweep the leg!" Although I didn't want to pay money to get a photo of him, we did talk to him before the show began. We asked where our man Zabka was. He said he had tried to get Billy Zabka to come, but no dice! He also smiled at my brother's Cobra Kai T-shirt. It was also neat to see him give Ralph Macchio a big hug.
William Forsthye is one of my favorite "That Guy" actors. He seems to be in every damn movie. He was Flat Top in Dick Tracy, and appeared in other big films like Out For Justice with Stephen Seagal, The Rock, Raising Arizona, and Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo. Plus he has made numerous guest spots on television. I told him about this book I just purchased about guys like him who show up in every movie, and how it mentioned that his dad was John Forsthye of Dynasty fame. He got really angry and started screaming at us that this wasn't true and he wanted the name of the author so he could sue. I figured that if he was going to be the next show, I would bring the book to show him, and maybe get a photo with him at no charge. To be continued...
Ron Lester looks like a totally different person. He was the really fat dude, Billy Bob, in Varsity Blues and make some appearances on Freaks and Geeks. He agreed to subject himself to an experimental gastrobypass surgery procedure and went from 508 pounds down to 150 pounds. In the process, he flatlined during the experiment and almost died. Now his career is dead, as the work he was getting was only because of his weight. He was just sitting down twiddling his thumbs as I don't recall seeing anybody at his table during the numerous times we passed his table.
I would have loved to chat with Leslie Nielsen, but the line never shortened the entire day for him. He looks great for his age. This is a legend, how could you not love Frank Drebin from the Naked Gun movies?
I had a blast chatting with my first Survivor cast member, Billy Garcia. He was so happy to chat with us as we impressed him with our knowledge of the show. We asked him how real the show was. He admitted that what you see on TV is legit, and they really don't get much food. He did admit that the producers can sway the game if they want to, which I already figured. We talked about the whole situation where he professed his love for Candice, and he gave us the real scoop that he has been working on an alliance with here which you didn't see on TV. He also indicated he was good pals with Ozzy, but that the lovey-dovey action with Amanda was crazy. Ozzy already is in a serious relationship, but plays by his own rules when it comes to appearing on TV. Billy also passed along a card for a Reality School which guarantees you a spot on a reality show if you graduate and can impress the talent scouts. So that's how you get on one of these shows? He tried to hawk us to pay for a photo with him. We joked with him that he shouldn't be charging any money for a photo. I mean if I had to choose between paying $20 for Ralph Macchio or him, who should I pick? He even laughed and knew he would do the same thing. Definitely a cool conversation, and I wished I had my recorder for it.
Man, right about now you must be thinking that I'm such a geeky fanboy! I got no shame in admitting it. The first show might have been the best in terms of actual guests, and opened my eyes that a fan-friendly pop culture expo actually can exist. No doubt I was going to have to hit these conventions every time they'd come around.
Check out Part#2 later this week to see how the second Chiller Experience compared!