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By Mike Watt | September 19, 2005

We were twelve miles out of Rosemont, on the edge of Chicago, when traffic came to a complete stop. With the immediate outside world choking on the exhaust adding to the 90-degree-plus heat, we were suddenly trapped in the horror of lunch-rush gridlock with a failing air conditioner. It seemed like it took us a bloody month to get to our hotel. It shouldn’t take the same amount of time to go twelve miles as it did the previous five hundred.

This was how we arrived at Flashback Weekend. Our first time at that show and our first time in Chicago in five years (since my prehistoric days at Femme Fatales), and the city was doing its best to ensure that we wouldn’t arrive. Later, when we found ourselves bitching to natives about our auto adventure, the inevitable reply became, “Just two hours? You were lucky.” Apparently, Chicagoans take this kind of traffic for granted. It’s the L.A. of the Midwest.

Our attendance at Flashback Weekend was strictly an accident. While the show had been advocated to us for years by friends, the distance never seemed feasible. Then we ran into promoters, Mike and Mia Kerz, at the Pittsburgh Land of the Dead premiere. A few emails later, and we were on our way up to the show with Amy on the roster as a guest, proving that the Kerzs are wonderfully generous people.

We finally arrived at the hotel, checked in and surveyed the dealer’s room which would be our home for the next three days. It was a good-sized space and many dealers were already starting to set up. We immediately ran into folks who have become part of our extended con family over the years, including Pam and Ken Kish from Cinema Wasteland, Michael Felsher, “The Ultimate Film Fanatic”, formerly of Anchor Bay and currently of his own Red Shirt Productions. Right inside the door was Jill from Lix, who was being accompanied by Damien from the Living Dead Dolls. They were cattycorner to Pam and Jeff of Hell’s Orphans and John and John at Kitley’s Krypt.

This is the kind of shorthand we all seem to give each other when lacking a last name. “So-and-so from such-and-such company”. There are people who only know as “Mike and Amy”, or else they use our entire names when referencing us to others. This is what comes from only seeing people within the confines of a convention. A microcosm forms—not quite cliques, though that happens too. Vendors who make their living at these shows naturally gravitate towards the people that they see every weekend. It’s the herd instinct coming to life amidst a sea of merchandise and customers.

We found our table—across from Ted Raimi and the cast of “The Evil Dead”. Flashback was hosting an “Evil Dead” reunion, with Bruce Campbell as the guest of honor. Of course, Bruce wouldn’t be joining us in the guest room. There wouldn’t be enough room to accommodate his fans and us—as evidenced by the more chaotic shows in the past. So Mr. Killer Chin was sequestered in a private room downstairs, where eager fans, his new book in hand, would wait for their numbers to be called so they could spend a few moments with the big man.

For being a last-minute addition, Amy had been given a prime location, opposite, as she was, the aforementioned junior Raimi brother. She was to the left of Ari Lehman, “The First Jason”, and to the right, said the sign on the table, of Robert Z’Dar. This gave me a bit of a jolt. I’d spent an inordinate amount of time with Bob in the past—particularly at the first Twisted Nightmare Weekend, which had occurred at the height of his most recent drinking and partying phase. Bob was a tough, good-humored character, prone to punching buddies in the shoulder in emphasis as he told endless stories about his long career. At Twisted, lo these two years ago, Bob was particularly cruel to his liver—obviously, they’d had a falling out in the past—and he punished it mercilessly throughout the weekend. Despite my sturdy Irish stock, I wasn’t able to keep up with him. And I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take prolonged exposure to him this weekend.

So it was a bit of a relief, when we returned to the room after a few hours rest and refreshing, to find that Bob had been moved to the other side of Ari to accommodate the backdrop and life-sized statue of Steve Dash, “The Real Jason”. So now Amy was a woman caught between two ‘Jason’s. The wheels were turning again. There’s a lot of weird competition in this business. Would there be a duel this weekend, between the two incarnations of the famous slasher-killer? Was there bloodshed a-brewin’?

Fortunately, no. Dash and Lehman were both pleasant chaps and they got along very well throughout the weekend. On the other hand, Lehman is such a good-natured guy, I imagine he could get along with anyone.

Their stories: Lehman portrayed Jason as a child in the first “Friday the 13th” film. My introduction to him came a couple of years ago from Tom Savini, who created young Jason’s famous make-up. Tom pointed to the famous photo where he stands next to Ari, who is in make-up as Jason, both making the same face. It was hanging, framed, in Tom’s workshop, and he pointed to it, cigar in hand—“You know, Ari isn’t really a mongoloid; that’s make-up, of course. He was a pretty good-looking kid.” And I saw for myself that Tom was telling the truth! Indeed, Ari is no mongoloid. Instead, he is a long-haired musician using his notorious role to promote his band.

Dash portrayed Jason in “Friday the 13th Part II”. The stuntman and actor took over the role from Warrington Gillette in mid-production, during an actor’s strike, and played the killer as an adult throughout the film. He got into the convention business after he discovered Gillette selling a picture of Dash in costume but signing his name to it. Similar to the events surrounding Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon” initial rivalry, Dash decided to put things straight.

In addition to this, there were other little mini-reunions happening at Flashback, including “Carnivale” (Tim McKay and Adrienne Barbeau) and “The Devil’s Rejects” (Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and the late Matt McCrory).

In a retrospective note, it’s very odd to write those last few words. We’d seen Matt at shows over the last year or so. He was always very nice to us, cracked jokes, smiled. We never became friends, though we shared mutual acquaintances. I didn’t think that when we waved at him as we left Sunday night that it would be the last time we’d ever see him.

Over the course of the next three days, we experienced Flashback Weekend from ground level. Since the Kerz’s angle is the resurrection of the drive-in, the dealer’s room closed relatively early—by 6pm on Saturday!—so the hours spent in the room were a bit of a blur. Amy always does better when I’m not sitting behind the table—fanboys don’t like to share the actress with the husband—so I wandered around quite a bit. I sat in on J.R. Bookwalter’s intro for the new DVD of “The Dead Next Door”, met “Bloodletting”’s Ariauna Albright for the first time (though having seen nearly everything she’s done and knowing most of her close friends, I felt like we’d already met), and hung out with “Zombie Bukkake” author Joe Knetter a lot. Joe, his wife Nicole, and their friend Stacy have gotten us through a lot of long shows. And, plus, Joe is immensely entertaining. He does live readings while wearing a toga and sitting on a bloody toilet!

Ironically, we never once made it out to watch any of the drive-in movies. Our “guest” status granted us all-access. What it didn’t grant us was chairs. Flashback is a “bring your own seat” deal—it’s plastered all over the website—but the fact escaped us. Still, we could have watched from the parking lot—or our room!—but it wasn’t the same. I’ll just have to catch “Man with the Screaming Brain” on DVD in October.

We never once laid eyes on Bruce Campbell. His legion of fans arrived to pay him homage and get their “Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way” book signed. But he never made it upstairs in any capacity to my knowledge. Some grumbling made our way, though, with complaints leveled towards how the signings were being handled. Oddly enough, I thought it was the smartest way I’d ever seen a signing go about: numbers were issued to ticket holders, and those numbers were called in groups at assigned times throughout the day. Still, people bitched. Apparently you either had to buy the book or have one in order to get anything else signed. One person told me that only the person with the book would be allowed into the room. Blame was leveled at the Flashback promoters and at Bruce, but I suspect the real culprits behind this were those responsible for the book tour. Such shenanigans are not unheard of in the publishing industry. In any case, I wasn’t there to witness any of this myself. I was, however, during one of my looser moments, tempted to call his cell phone and say hello, but I thought that would just annoy him. But I do a reasonable Ted Raimi impression and was fairly confident I could get away with it…

The highlight for us came late Saturday night when we found ourselves up in Sid Haig’s room, hanging with him, his publicist Suzy Olberg, Joe, Nicole, Stacy, Pam and Ken and some very nice and friendly people I didn’t immediately recognize but knew them as friends of Knetter. A fan of Sid’s had brought him a brownie etched with Captain Spaulding’s face (which had been carved into a few hours previously by a delighted Bill Moseley). It was a nice laid-back way to cap off the hectic day and lead into what was bound to be a quieter Sunday.

And then it was over. By the time we were back on the road—stuck in another hour’s worth of traffic, inching along to escape Chicago’s glue-trap of a highway—I felt like we’d barely just arrived. I don’t think a show has ever flown by that quickly. It wasn’t for lack of fun or activity. I’d fallen into some sort of odd wormhole and came out on the other side landing in Sunday night.

Most of our goodbyes consisted of either “See you Friday”, meaning the next Twisted Nightmare less than a week away, or “See you in Baltimore”, meaning three weeks until Horrorfind. The hearty handshakes exchanged this time around were less heavy than they usually would be.

And sure enough, less than a week later, Amy and I were back on the road, bound for yet another show


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