Update! Tom and I have spoken since the publication of this article way back and since then some really strange stuff has happened. I cover it in this episode of Cinema Suicide on Youtube.
Back in 1998 I was a student living in Orlando, FL. I caught wind of a collectables show happening at the convention center on I Drive and promptly drove over to Waxtree Records to sell some of my black metal cds in order to acquire some money for bootleg tapes and admission. Upon entry, I found myself in a magical world of people selling goods ranging from yard sale junk to banofide collectable items. There were comic books, action figures, vintage lunchboxes at ridiculous prices, collector priced Transformers and so on. The main draw for me were the sprawling tables of bootleg videos. Entry to the show was cheap, but I didn’t have much money, so I blew it all right away on copies of Chinese Ghost Story and The Storm Riders.
I was also supposed to meet some friends at the show, but I got there before they did, so after I’d spent my money, I spent some time wandering around the floor, looking for them. I’d never been to a convention before at this point, aside from some comic shows, but those don’t really count. This was also more of a high-end flea market than a con, but as I wandered, I was surprised to see a “celebrity” area at the back of the show where people lined up to get autographs. The lines were huge! Lou Ferigno was there, Ron Palillo who played Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter, the guy who played Will Robinson on Lost In Space, Boomer from Battlestar Galactica. All of these people has crowds. All of them, that is, except for Tom Savini, who I discovered sitting mere feet from me.
Understand that Tom’s line wasn’t just small, it was non-existent. I looked down and to my right to see him sitting there and jumped back slightly. This was a shock. I took a look around. There were four or five sweaty fanboys standing around, wearing X-Files shirts, clutching their Xena action figues and staring at Tom as if they recognized him from somewhere, but couldn’t place him. He looks like that guy with the crotch gun in Dusk Til Dawn, doesn’t he? I quickly assessed the situation to make sure that these assholes weren’t, in fact, in some kind of zombified line to get the man’s time then I made my move.
See, the night before this show, I watched Maniac and Dawn of the Dead and this was some kind of coincidence. I approached Tom’s table quietly and tastefully expressed my appreciation for his contributions to that which I hold so dear.
“Hi, Mr. Savini. My name is Bryan. I’m sure you get this all the time, but I’m a huge fan and I just wanted to let you know that I love your work. It’s an important part of who I am today.”
Or something to that effect. I didn’t jump all over him and foam at the mouth. I didn’t speak a mile a minute and lay some heavy shit on him. I also didn’t buy any of his overpriced merchandise OR shell out for his autograph and that may have influenced what happened next.
At the close of monologue, I extended my hand as if to shake his. Tom, already looking grouchy, cast a cold eye to my extended hand where it lingered for a minute, as if he were trying to burn it off with his laser eyes. He looked back up at me, crossed his arms and sank back into his folding chair, casting his glance longingly to Horshack’s mile-long queue and casually blowing me off by spitting, “Yeah.” through that trademark moustache. His angry eyes returned to me, only this time he didn’t make eye contact, looking past me for another con-goer who might pay the 95 bucks he was asking for that photo of him in the Dawn of the Dead motorcycle rider getup.
Shocked, I looked around, hoping that these Xena-clutching jerks hadn’t seen me get burned, big time, by the man. Sheepishly, I retracted my hand and probably muttered something like, “See ya.” and turned to leave. I walked maybe ten paces before the outrage struck me. Had this really happened. Am I dreaming? Is this some kind of hallucination? I turned to see if Tom was, in fact, sitting ten paces behind me and there he was! Still trying to burn a hole in me with his angry, laser eyes.
It wasn’t much later when I found my friends and recounted the story. I guided them back to the table where Savini was sitting to point him out because they weren’t really horror movie fans and had no idea who I was talking about. Robin took one look at him and proclaimed, “The crotch gun guy!” The best part was that Tom honed in on me as soon as he had line of sight and recognized me immediately as that guy. He was still shooting daggers!
To this day I have no idea what caused that reaction. Fango loves to write about Savini and his interaction with fans. For years I’d been hearing about people running into him and striking up a conversation to find that he is the charismatic fan favorite that you think he might be. Not I. I got the distinct impression that Tom wanted to kill me. Maybe it was because I didn’t buy any of his overpriced stuff. Sue me. A friend of mine walked up to Michael J. Anderson (the backwards talking midget from Twin Peaks) at a con, bought nothing and did the same thing I did with Savini and he turned out to be awesome! What the hell, Tom? A few years back I recounted this story to another con guest who told me not to put his name to it, but he and his wife said that Tom is like that all the time and they get the Savini treatment every time they meet, closing the story by repeatedly saying, “Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em. But don’t tell him I said that.” (fuck it, it was Joe Pilato). I don’t feel so bad about it now, but back then, that sucked! I was extremely disappointed and my impression of the man hit rock bottom.
Since I started showing up to cons, I’ve had a lot of celebrity encounters and most of them are nice people who understand the power of the characters they have played. The understand what it means to be on the other side of the autograph table. However, I’ve also been burned by Bruce Campbell and The Misfits, which I may talk about later on.
In closing, I once told this same story in a much more truncated version on Ain’t It Cool News’ horrible, awful, talkback system for a report about how awesome Tom Savini is and how Vampirates was getting the greenlight (fat chance there). I wound up getting banned. It probably had something to do with me calling Savini a bag of dicks or the mere fact that I insulted a holy chao on the dorkiest fanboy website on the interwebs.