Mingling with zombies and witches in Texas

Greeting David Naughton from “An American Werewolf in London.”

Suitable for under the Christmas tree? Zombie Barbies.

As people were arriving on Saturday, May 4, for Day Two of the Texas Frightmare Weekend at the Hyatt Regency at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, I stood in line waiting for entry into one of the convention halls and was thinking: Where are all the zombies?

Three weeks earlier, at Monsterpalooza in Burbank, just about every other being I encountered was of the walking dead community. In Dallas they were noticeably absent. But only for a while. Within a couple of hours there were plenty of them lurching around. Maybe they had gathered first for a pre-Frightmare breakfast (brains — scrambled, over-easy or poached). Or maybe there were some security holdups at the airport.

“The Walking Dead” was to be a big attraction at Texas Frightmare Weekend, with nine cast members slated to appear: Jon Bernthal (Shane), Theodus Crane (Big Tiny), Nick Gomez (Tomas), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Vincent M. Ward (Oscar), Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori), Lauren Cohan (Maggie) and Lew Temple (Axel). But by convention time, all but Bernthal, Crane, Gomez, Riggs and Ward had cancelled out, and Riggs would be there only on Saturday.

Still, the most high-profile of those who attended, Bernthal and Riggs, drew long lines of autograph seekers. The two cast members were kept a safe distance from each other, After all, Carl did kill Shane the second and final time, so there might be lingering tension between the two.

Frightmare had plenty of other attractions to keep the horror/sci-fi fans busy. Tom Skerritt (Dallas) and Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) were on hand to meet with fans of the now-classic “Alien” and later appeared for a panel to talk about the film.

Also, the main cast members from Rob Zombie’s recently released “The Lords of Salem” occupied a row of tables and later sat on a panel to discuss the latest Zombie film.

Danny Trejo, a longtime character actor who rocketed to stardom in “Machete,” had a long line of admirers and even convened an informal Q&A. Also making an appearance were Heather Langenkamp from “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Marilyn Burns from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Jeffrey Combs and Stuart Gordon, star and director, respectively, of “Re-Animator,” Denise Crosby from “Pet Sematary,” David Naughton from “An American Werewolf in London,” Steve Railsback from “Lifeforce” and so creepy as Charles Manson in “Helter Skelter,” Diane Franklin from “Amityville II: The Possession” and Zombie film regular Bill Moseley, who also has an impressive list of horror film appearances.

Also on hand were Nick Castle, Lou David, Sean Patrick Flanery, Clu Gulager, Dan Haggerty, James Hampton, Mariel Hemingway, Virginia Madsen, Tom Savini, Chris Sarandon and George “The Animal” Steele.

Vendors were numerous and anybody with a hankering for a T-shirt featuring “The Walking Dead” cast had many selections from which to choose. Horror-themed mouse pads were available, and if your playtime leans toward the macabre, there were zombie Barbies and zombie My Little Ponies offered. In search of an obscure horror movie you cannot find anywhere? Or an old issue of a horror or science-fiction magazine? Chances are you could find it at a vendor’s table.

A packed house crammed into the Enterprise auditorium to hear Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright recall their experiences with “Alien,” which Skerritt said at first was to be a low-budget horror film until Twentieth-Century Fox executives saw dailies presented by director Ridley Scott and poured more money into the film’s budget.

Cartwright still marvels at the intricacies of the sets of the interior of the doomed space ship Nostromo and shudders at the memory of her death scene. Even though she knew the alien was just an actor in a costume, she still felt chills as it approached her for the kill. She admitted she had to do little acting to appear frightened in that scene.

Skerritt in jest dismissed the film as just scenes of a person wanting to rescue a cat, Jones, the pet aboard the ship. Cartwright added that the cat portraying Jones had an attitude because even though it looked like the then-famous Morris the cat, was lacking that kitty celebrity’s stature.

Skerritt expressed annoyance at all the commentary back when the film was released in 1979, as it was seen as a groundbreaking movie in which a woman, Ripley — played by Sigourney Weaver — plays a strong, self-reliant character who ends up prevailing over the alien while all the others are victims. Skerritt said all the analyses were overblown. Either you liked the movie or you didn’t, he said. Just leave it at that.

James Wallace, the moderator, pulled a fast one on the audience, saying that another special guest was joining the panel. He then produced  face-hugger, a replica of the nasty organism that attached itself to the face of Cain (John Hurt) for breeding purposes. The face-hugger elected to sit quietly and allow Skerritt and Cartwright to do all the talking.

Following the “Alien” panel was a presentation on “The Lords of Salem,” featuring the main cast members except for Sheri Moon Zombie: Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Bruce Davison and Patricia Quinn.

Zombie’s films are known for their explicit violence, and moderator Kristy Jett from HorrorHound Magazine asked the stars if they had reservations about being in the movie. Wallace admitted that she hesitated. She had worked with Zombie before in his remake of “Halloween,” dying horribly in that movie. While she enjoys working with him, her role as Sonny in “Lords,” in which she brutally beats a man to death with a frying pan, had her concerned. After all, she’s likely most known for her role as Elliott’s mother in “E.T.” Also, as an internationally known healer, she worried about how this would affect her reputation in that field. Despite this, once she was into the filming, she said she urged Zombie to let her cut loose with some vile dialog.

Judy Geeson had the audience chuckling when she said she didn’t even know who Rob Zombie was. Geeson, whose career dates back to 1962 and has had experience in the horror genre (“It Happened at Nightmare Inn” in 1973 among others), said she did not hesitate to take on the role of Lacy Doyle, the seemingly sweet landlord in the apartment house where Sheri Moon Zombie’s character Heidi Hawthorne resides, but who has sinister motivations.

All of the cast members had praise and respect for Zombie and acknowledged that Rob and Sheri are a solid couple.

“You can tell how much they love and respect each other,” Wallace said.

“They are steadfast, loyal and sweet,” said Patricia Quinn, who plays Megan, another woman with evil plans, and is universally known as Magenta in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” She added that the set had an atmosphere, despite the horrifying subject — a modern coven of witches in Salem set to extract revenge on the ancestors of those who executed witches centuries earlier — that was “bright and humorous, and lots of tea.”

“It’s a comfort to work with a husband and wife team that is so solid,” said Meg Foster, probably the scariest of the characters in the movie, the risen-from-the-dead lead witch Margaret Morgan. “Rob holds so much space,” she said. “He touches and tweaks.”

Moderator Jett asked Foster how she felt about the scene in which during a ritual spits on a newborn baby. “I didn’t know that’s what I was doing,” she said. Foster also spoke in the low, growling voice she employed in the movie.

Before the panel convened, I had a chance to chat with Meg Foster. In “The Lords of Salem” (spoiler alert), the fate of Heidi is never revealed. So I asked Foster, “What did you do with Heidi?” She smiled and said, “Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?” Foster called the movie a “labyrinth” and said when she saw the final cut, “I stopped breathing.”

“I need to see it again,” she admitted.

Texas Frightmare Weekend also allowed me to indulge in being a fan. I appreciated the graciousness of David Naughton — I told him I had sat in on the “American Werewolf in London” panel at Monsterpalooza in April 2012 — and Diane Franklin as they signed autographs and posed with me.

Another weakness drew me in. Representatives from Vintage Stock had bins of used DVDs of horror movies dating back decades and were on sale for $3.99 each with a buy-two-get-a-third-one-free special. That I could not resist.

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