The return of the original Freddy Krueger headlined Flashback Weekend 2014 in Chicago, IL. Horror fans came out in droves to pay respect to an icon of horror cinema which included a rare photo-op.
When I first heard this event was happening I knew I wanted to be there. I had recently ended my convention hiatus for Days of the Dead in Indianapolis back in June to meet Amelia Kinkade (I’m still glowing, btw). Only real question hovering above my decision was would I plop down nearly $400 and drive to the Windy City from Louisville, KY for a photo. After kicking it around for a couple weeks I bought the photo-op package and booked a room. I mean c’mon, this was more than just a picture. It was a chance to stand next to and interact with a legend. Robert Englund in full Freddy makeup? It would literally be like standing next to him on the set of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Nothing with that kind of novelty carries a cheap price tag, and I knew if I passed on it I’d end up regretting it. Not to mention Robert Englund isn’t getting any younger. Despite the clever marketing on Flashback’s behalf, the “for the last time” hook prompted some concern only because Robert is nearing his 70’s. Realistically, this probably isn’t going to happen too many more times. So, I was all-in.
Arriving at the convention and walking around, the scene was all-too familiar; fans decked out in expensive costumes mimicking their favorite serial killers, vendor booths everywhere, celebrities in every direction, long lines, macabre art galleries, exhibits full of grisly images, fake blood and guts, monsters, and “regular hotel guests” who had no knowledge of a horror convention looking around wondering what the hell is going on. Yep. My kind of party. Got my number for the Freddy photo-op and went wandering around the main vendor hall to kill some time and meet a few celebs.
I went straight for Lance Henriksen’s table only to find he was not there. No worries. I’d be back around. I eagerly trotted over to Zach Galligan’s booth to meet “Billy” from Gremlins, one of my all-time favorite movies (along with its sequel). I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Zach seemed more interested in shuffling me along than he was in hearing anything I had to say. I had asked him two simple questions that resulted in about 20 seconds of conversation before he pointed to a picture my wife was holding of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said “So, do you want me to sign that?” Uh no, Zach. Why the hell would I want you to sign something you had absolutely nothing to do with? You were 10 when that movie came out, and it would be 10 more years before you’d play the one role anyone remembers you for. Sorry if my attempt at being personable and courteous bored you. To his credit, he wasn’t exactly rude to us. Just very much the “Hello, that’ll be $20, thanks BYE!” type that never ceases to irk me. Oh, and he is also the one person we met who charges $5 more if you want him to stand up and pose for a pic with you. No one else did that. Gizmo voice: “Bye, Billy.”
Next, we headed over to Caroline Williams’ table. She was sitting right next to Bill Johnson which revved up my inner chainsaw (wow, how lame was that). Caroline is a hoot! Still full of energy and spunk. We talked about her involvement with Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and Hatchet III and had a very pleasant exchange. I was happy to slap down some cash and buy some of her merch. I also photobombed a selfie of her and my wife.
We talked to Bill Johnson for a bit as well and he was very cool. I finally got to ask him where the “chainsaw shimmy” came from, referring to the ‘victory dance’ type thing Leatherface does in TCM2 where he holds the chainsaw over his head and quickly shakes it back and forth. He said it was suggested to him by someone else on the crew. He’s the only Leatherface who does it, so my inquiry mind needed to know. Very cool to get that answered. I bought one of the limited edition prints of him, Gunnar Hansen, and R.A. Mihailoff together. Score!
We passed by Lance Henriksen’s table a second time and we had just missed him!
We spent the next hour talking and hanging out with a few more horror alumni; Jennifer Rubin, Monica Keena, Robert Rusler, and William Forsythe. All very cool, friendly, and a pleasure to be around.
After we had dinner, my number block for the Freddy photo-op was finally called so we hopped in line for that. Standing around and observing the fans was entertaining. The anticipation on their faces was something to behold. People couldn’t believe they were minutes away from meeting the real Freddy Krueger. The line moved swiftly. When it worked it’s way around and we got into the photo room Freddy became visible. People were in awe, as they should’ve been. Afterall, this wasn’t an impersonator, and it sure as hell wasn’t Jackie Earle Haley. It was The Man himself. Cinema had come to life right in front of us. Fans were eating it up.
As my turn got closer, I couldn’t help but notice just how swiftly things were moving along. I figured it would be rushed, but wow. It literally went like this:
- Person walks up to Freddy; they both turn to the camera.
- You hear “Ready!” from behind the lens.
- Snap, boom, done, outta there.
The whole thing took less than 10 seconds. Don’t believe me? Have a look at this rare, unauthorized footage my sneaky wife snagged:
But, a photo-op is what was advertised, and that’s exactly what we got, so…..
Best believe I’m the ONLY guy on my block with one of these. Maybe the whole town.
It was quick, painless, and ultimately satisfying. Sure, I wished I could’ve interacted with him a bit and had a short convo, but I was in town for two days and the second day of Flashback Weekend featured Robert out of character and signing autographs as himself. That was sure to be much more laid back and I’d get a chance to say a few things to him and hell, maybe I’d even hop in my own Freddy costume and we’d play around a bit. Who knows?
Shortly after the photo-op it was time for the Friday Night Frights event which also featured Robert in full Freddy makeup, exclusive to those who bought the photo package. It was entertaining. After a few guys I’ve never seen or heard of before prattled for a few mins, the lights went dim and Freddy emerged with his Krueger Whores! Funny segment ensued with Robert speaking about various things while slipping in and out of character. Then, they did a quick Q&A where a couple fans came up and asked pre-scripted questions to which Robert responded by going into character and having Freddy answer for him.
This one was amusing. Fan asked: “What was your favorite kill?”
All-in-all, was a good first day at Flashback. Shortly after the Frights show concluded, my wife and I made our way back to our room and retired for the night.
Fast-forward to Day 2. Our initiatives were clear: Meet Robert Englund, meet Lance Henriksen. We got back to the Crowne Plaza early and found Robert’s line just before 10:30am. He was scheduled to sign autographs between 10am – Noon, and again between 2:15pm – 6pm. I was thinking (hoping) we could get there super early, meet him before his noon break, catch up with Lance, then hit the road early-afternoon and be back in Louisville before dark. HA! Talk about wishful thinking. Robert already had a substantial line in the first 20 mins. So much so that the convention staff began handing out tickets with numbers on them, much like the procedure for the photo-op. Our numbers were waaaaaaaaaay down the line from the current group who were lined up to go in. I asked the staff member for a ballpark on when we might get back there. Needless to say, it wasn’t going to be before his noon break.
We hit the hotel restaurant for some much needed breakfast. Steak, eggs, and bacon really hit the spot.
Yummy steak n' eggs (and bacon) from the Crowne Plaza Hotel restaurant in Chi-Town. Pic makes me want seconds. pic.twitter.com/FRYADy9qJO
— LORD KAYOSS (@lordkayoss) August 11, 2014
Now, we had some time to kill. Made our way back into the main vendor hall and conversed with some fellow fans, looked at all the random merch for sale, etc. Made our way over to Lance’s table again…………..
and again, we had just missed him! Must’ve been one of the worst timing cases ever for me.
Frustrated, I headed toward the bar. Posted up in a cozy spot and asked April to grab me a beer as she was heading the bartender’s way.
She came back with two. #BestWifeEver
A handful of cold brews passed the time away nicely. We sat and conversed with other fans about the whole experience. Most were in agreement that the event wasn’t exactly handled the best, specifically in Robert/Freddy’s case. Everything else seemed to be set up pretty well, but there was a general feeling that the event staff were not fully prepared for the horde of fans that rushed the convention for the Freddy promotion when they absolutely should’ve been. Still, the fans were mostly positive and looked forward to getting Robert’s autograph.
We were called up to the line and I almost rejoiced before realizing all this meant was more waiting; standing instead of sitting. During the near hour we spent in the line we spotted Lance Henriksen’s people carrying away the big alien sculpture that was behind him at his table, indicating he was done signing autographs for the day and ending the hope I had of making one last run through the vendor hall and catching him after we were finally done with Robert. Sigh.
Another 20 mins went by and we were getting within 20 people or so of Robert, so I decided to go ahead and suit up. I had been carrying my Freddy costume around in a big duffle bag and didn’t want to put it on too soon because of how hot it gets in there. It’s a quality costume, and fans who were waiting near us looked on while I put it on piece by piece. By the time I was fully suited I had people coming up to me for pictures. The line slowly eased around and we could see Robert who was noticeably rattled by how many people he still had left to sign for. We heard him vocally express his annoyance with the event staff for the way the traffic was being handled. Wonderful. The Freddy op was super-rushed, we got delayed in our trip home because of the poor handling with Robert’s autograph schedule, I missed my chance to meet Lance Henriksen, and now Robert Englund is aggravated just before we get up to him.
Screw it. It was now or never.
We finally got up to him and he was happy to sign the print out of my Freddy shot from the photo-op. However, once again, the whole thing was rushed. Didn’t really get to say two words to him and barely had enough time to get one shot of us before we were pushed along.
You can so tell he’s pissed, and with good reason. Keep in mind we got there before 10:30am. He was scheduled to do the meet-n-greet signings till 6pm. We didn’t even get called up to the line until 3:30pm. By the time we got up to his table they had to cut the line off about 20 people behind us which basically meant if you didn’t get there before 10:30am you were shit out of luck. And those who were there were so rushed due to the staff’s um, difficulties, that we basically got the shut up and give me your money treatment. Not exactly my idea of money well spent. I’m not mad at Robert though. Wasn’t his fault.
The true heartbreak of the situation was the story we all heard about a Freddy fan who was reportedly balling her eyes out somewhere because she was one of the many who was on the outside of that cut off and was told there wasn’t time for anymore autographs. Not long after we left Robert’s room and I slipped into the restroom my wife actually saw her. Her face was full of tears and her eyes were blood red with smeared makeup as she walked passed April and went into the restroom where she stayed for quite sometime. We never saw her come out before we left the area. Of all my own personal disappointment for the way things went down, this story actually pissed me off the most.
I think back on Days of the Dead in Indy and how much that event renewed my enthusiasm for conventions. There was a very warm vibe in the air and every single person I talked to went out of their way to make sure the fans had a great time. I never felt rushed. I got to say all the things I felt like I needed to say to each person, especially Amelia Kinkade. The entire day was just so enjoyable and I left there feeling so invigorated. Contrasting that with Flashback Weekend; aside from a couple things, I was mostly reminded why I stopped going to conventions. And the story of that Freddy fan just topped the shit-sandwich with an ice cold kick in the gut. I really wanted to find her and give her a big hug, but we never saw her again. I only hope she was able to attend the convention on the 3rd and final day and was able to meet Robert (preferably under much better circumstances).
At this point we stepped outside to get some fresh air. I was still in costume and some fans came over and asked to take pics with me, to which I happily obliged. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was a group of people several yards away who had also stepped outside from a separate part of the hotel. They were having a family reunion and were not part of the convention, nor did they have any knowledge that one was taking place. All they saw was Freddy Krueger standing around and randomly taking pictures with people. April alerted me to their presence and told me they were snapping shots of me from a distance. I turned and looked at them and saw nearly a dozen people with their smartphones held up pointed at me. I stepped towards them ever so slightly and could sense they were very timid. I slowed my movements down and looked their way as I inched toward them. When I was within about 20 feet of them I opened my arms and started motioning for them to come toward me, gesturing an invitation for them to get photos with me. I could hear their responses loud and clear. They ranged from “Oh hell no!” to “I’m not going over there!” and so on. I persisted with a calm demeanor. I pointed toward one person specifically who still had her camera aimed my way. I slowly waved her in with my razor-gloved hand and the rest of the group responded. “Ohhhh, he wants you! You better go over there!” They all laughed and continued to playfully poke at her. I stood relaxed with my arm out and still waving her to come my way. Then finally, she took a step forward. Then another. My body language didn’t change. She began to feel a friendly vibe. A security blanket was beginning to form. She stepped the rest of the way over and I put my arm around her. I could feel her body slightly trembling. I then said: “See? It’s just your Uncle Freddy.” She giggled and her body began to loosen up. Much less tense.
Someone from her group took a pic. She smiled huge and said “Thank you!!!” and went back.
Suddenly, the entire group moved my way and we were all hanging out together, sharing laughs and taking pics. The mood had completely changed and everyone was getting in on it and having a good time.
Towards the end of our impromptu get-together as the group began to disperse and head towards their shuttle someone tapped on my shoulder. As I began to turn around I expected to see another fan asking for a pic. To my ultimate surprise, and an instant where I nearly pissed my pants, it was LANCE HENRIKSEN! Are you kidding me!? Talk about the last person on the face of the planet I expected to see. It was him. He was smiling from ear to ear. We shook hands and he said “Hey Man, I just wanted to tell you that was awesome what you did for those people. They were so scared to come over here, but the way you calmly invited them in and got them to loosen up was just awesome.”
He had been watching the whole time.
He then said: “I just loved it. It takes a lot of character and class to have that kind of patience to draw people into your hands like that. You just made their day. You’ve got a great heart, Man.”
Just go ahead and kill me now.
Following that awesome surprise, Lance and I sat down and had a friendly chat.
We talked more about my interaction with the group, our passions in life, the movie business, etc. Of course, the fanboy in me came out and I told him how much I loved him in Aliens and AVP. He thanked me. It was such a casual, laid back conversation between two people you’d think had known each other for years. As great as the Freddy thing was, THIS right here was the highlight of the entire weekend. Lance is such a down to earth guy and a friendly person. Classy, respectful, and a total pleasure to be around.
I told him about how many times we had tried to catch up to him in the vendor hall and somehow kept showing up right when he’d break. None of that mattered now. This was a hundred times better. It was personal, engaging, and completely saved the day for me after all the deflating things we had seen. I could easily go on for another thousand words about just how flippin’ awesome this was, but you get the idea.
Lance, if you should ever read this: Thank you! Freddy was cool, but you are The Man!