You Meet the Nicest People in Burbank

Harper's CornerMonsters in Burbank
By Jessica Harper
April 2012

"Doing a fundraiser for PXE International, I found you can always depend on the kindness of monsters..."

There’s an annual event in this California city called “Monsterpalooza.” It is a convention for people associated with horror movies, attended by thousands of fans. Actors come to sell signed photos, makeup and special effects artists network and demonstrate their skills, family members of horror icons (think Karloff and Chaney) sell memorabilia, and there’s even a museum dedicated to the craft of monster creation. The halls are teeming with dozens of fabulously costumed, scary creatures.

I had lead roles in one horror classic (“Suspiria”) and in a sorta-horror cult movie, a rock-and roll redo of “Phantom of the Opera” titled “Phantom of the Paradise.” So I have been invited many times to attend such events—yes, there are many, all across the country—but have always declined. Although I truly admire those who make the great movies of this genre, I actually don’t really like watching horror movies: I never enjoyed the feeling of fear and can’t imagine paying for it.

But this time, when I was invited to Monsterpalooza, I had a brain flash. I would do it for PXE International. It seemed like a no-brainer way to raise a few thousand quick bucks for my favorite non-profit group.

Monster headsI went to the Burbank Marriott on that Saturday morning with a bit of trepidation. I mean, who knows what might happen in a building packed with thousands of horror fans, not to mention dozens of monsters? It was clear that this event had great potential for turning gnarly.

I had a rep, Carol, who meticulously set up my table, arranging a variety of photos of me in various damsel-in-distress poses, along with some posters also offered for sale. At the next table was Caroline Murphy, a gorgeously aging actress who’d appeared in a couple of horror flicks but was best known as a Bond girl. Carol explained that Caroline would sell hundreds of pictures based on that pedigree alone. Her buyers would mostly be middle-aged men with lingering crushes.

On my other side was Chris Sarandon, and beyond him many tables dedicated to the cast of “Fright Night.” Jon Landis was selling a new book (“Monsters”) and other actors and directors sat at tables beyond him.
And the fans poured in.

I think it’s safe to say that 99% of them wore t-shirts, usually black ones, with some kind of horror logo printed on the front. This seemed to be the uniform of the day. Many of them bought photos, but many brought other things for me to sign—DVD jackets, original soundtrack LP covers and random posters. Some brought things they’d made: an etching of a scene from “Phantom,” a plastic replica of the mask the phantom wears in the movie, and a beer glass with the phantom’s masked face etched on it.

The fans ranged in age from five years old to seventy-something, and they were, without exception, gracious and respectful. Each one expressed interest when I handed them a PXE postcard and helped them pronounce pseudoxanthoma. All were touched and pleased that their money was going to charity.

This was the highlight of my day, this genuine interest in our cause. It’s always reassuring to be reminded that one can, even in the most unusual settings, depend on the kindness of strangers.

Other highlights of Monsterpalooza were as follows:

  1. Meeting Boris Karloff’s daughter.
  2. Having my picture taken with the most fabulous monsters I have met, well, ever.
  3. Watching a makeup artist transform an ordinary fanboy into Schreck.
  4. Going home Sunday feeling like Scrooge McDuck carrying a bulging sack with a $ sign on it.

I was thrilled to have made over $4200 for PXE International, but Caroline Murphy really cleaned up. Next time I do this, I think I’ll try selling a picture of myself with my head photo-shopped on a scantily clad, Bond-quality body. I’d certainly double my take.


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