First, a little backstory...
My dad and I started going to horror conventions together many years ago and though I don't remember the exact year we first went, I know it was Horrorfind Weekend in Maryland that gave us our first taste. We went to that one a couple times and then my mom decided to get in on the fun and join us, which she has done for nearly every convention we've gone to since - same goes for my girlfriend Jen. I never would've expected horror conventions to become a family bonding experience, but they really have. My brother, though he is a big time horror fan, has only been to one convention with us and that's the one i'm here to talk about today - Monster Mania 5 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. That convention was already all the more special given the fact that he came along and given that it was my first Monster Mania, but what I stumbled into that Saturday night in May 2006 will forever remain one of the greatest memories of my adult life.
One of the best things about horror conventions is that the genre stars appearing there often hang out in the hotel bar Friday and Saturday night, mingling with the fans - this often provides for the most memorable convention moments. Paying twenty bucks to walk up to a table and meet/take a picture with Derek Mears is cool and all, but nothing beats doing a couple round of shots with him at a hotel bar - I would know, i've had that awesome opportunity. Convention lesson #1 - Hang out in the bar. So on this particular Friday night, I was hanging out at the bar, unfortunately by myself because my brother wasn't feeling too hot and had gone to bed by this time. There was a couple guys that I ended up talking with and eventually Greg Nicotero, the N in KNB FX, came over and sat down at the table in the bar we were sitting at.
After experiencing a few horror conventions, you kinda condition yourself to not be so star struck by people you're a huge fan of and you end up treating them like they're just old friends of yours, especially in the bar situation. When these guys come into the bar, they just want to have a few drinks, relax, and chat with some fellow horror nerds. They don't want you drooling all over them and asking for autographs and pictures, they just want to hang. Picture and autograph time is when they're sitting at their tables with pen in hand, not when they're sitting at the bar with Jack Daniels in hand. Convention lesson #2 - Play cool. So Greg Nicotero came and sat down and a couple of the people that I was sitting with started telling him they were huge fans and all that jazz. I just treated him like he was a dude who liked horror movies and chatted with him as such, and I think he appreciated that. Hung out at that table with him for an hour or so and then I went up to bed, thinking that he would have no recollection of me come the next day and not really caring - that one night was enough for me.
Saturday morning we went down to the traditional buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant, another place where you often find the stars hanging out, and who comes walking from the back of the restaurant, right past us on his way out, but Greg Nicotero - and he waved to me! The fact that he had seemingly remembered me from the night before and cared enough to wave to me meant a lot to me. I could've went up to his table later in the day and been all "hey you remembered me lets hang out tonight!" or something stupid like that, but I left it alone - again, the bar encounter and wave were enough for me and again, even when you're geekin out on the inside, ya gotta play cool.
Saturday night rolls around and I was again walking around the lobby/bar area by myself - my brother unfortunately still wasn't feeling too great and went to bed early (although I must say he drank and hung out all day, despite feeling crappy). It's awkward sometimes walking around alone, especially when you're fairly sober, and i've often been in situations where I don't strike up any conversations with anyone and just end up getting bored and going up to bed. This was one of those nights and I don't remember the time, but it was just about getting to the moment where I decided to go back up to the room and call it a night. That is, until some drunk guy came up to me and told me about a big party happening in one of the rooms. But it wasn't just any old room, it was George Romero's room. I'm not sure what gave me the balls to do so, but I immediately knew that I was going up to that room, sober and alone. Thinking back on it, I never even questioned whether I would be allowed in or not, I just went for it. Convention lesson #3 - Make the most of the fact that you're in the same building as your heroes. So I went up to the room, the door was open, and there was a security guard of some kind guarding the door - presumably to prevent people like me from coming in. Before he got the chance to stop me, I got called over to the bar area inside the room. "Hey man, nice shirt! Come here!" It was Greg Nicotero and if it weren't for him calling me into the room, this night would have never happened - I will forever be grateful to him for for this. For the record, it was a Hostel shirt I was wearing, a flick that KNB did the effects for.
I went over to the (open) bar acting like I belonged there, ordered myself a Screwdriver, admittedly referring to it as 'an orange juice and vodka' - hey, I wasn't 21 yet I didn't know bar lingo too well - and chatted with Nicotero a bit. At some point he wandered off and I noticed that sitting in the corner of the room, at a table like a king, was George Romero - this really was his room, that drunk dude wasn't lying! He sat there smoking cigarettes and chatting with a couple people, never getting up from his seat. Respecting his privacy, and realizing i'd have nothing to say if I were to approach him, I never did go near that table. But I did end up spending most of the night hanging out with various Cenobites, drinking free 'orange juice and vodkas', and trying to pick up chicks with Friday Part 3's Jason, Richard Brooker. I don't know how well he did, but all I remember is nearly getting into a fight with a black chick. But anyway, back to the Cenobites.
Due to strong drink and the fact that this was almost four years ago now, the details of the night from this point on are a little fuzzy. I admittedly don't remember exactly which Cenobites were in the room, but I do know that most of them were there as was the writer of Hellraisers 2-4/Barbie Cenobite in Hellraiser 3, Peter Atkins. Looking back at the guest list from that convention, the Cenobites that were there were Chatterer, Butterball, Bound Cenobite, Female Cenobite, Channard, and of course Pinhead, and i'm pretty sure most if not all of them were at that party, but it was Atkins who I spent most of my time with.
Again, details are fuzzy but I remember asking him and Doug Bradley (Pinhead) to teach me their British accents, having him make sure no one went into the bathroom while I was in there (lock was broken - he ended up telling a girl at the party that no one was in there and sending her in), inquiring about writing screenplays, and telling him how I wanted to be an actor (a desire which has since changed). Though I don't remember the whole experience, I do remember that he was one of the nicest and sweetest guys i'd ever met, as was Doug Bradley and all of the Cenobites. At some point the party came to its inevitable end and I was left with no choice but to go back up to the hotel room, sleep off the many drinks I consumed, and brag about it all in the morning.
While I don't have much memory/documentation of this night, I will truly never forget the night that I partied with George Romero, Greg Nicotero, and The Cenobites - there's not enough alcohol in this world to make you forget that. As I said, it's likely that no convention memory will ever top this one but I will continue to seek such memories out. Next month is Monster Mania 14 and with a lineup including Thom Mathews, Gary Busey, and Dario Argento as well as some bar time scheduled with the Fright Rags crew, it's looking to be yet another memorable convention experience to add to the resume!