For those not in the know, I’ve been a writer for Rue Morgue Magazine since nearly its inception – I think the first issue I wrote for – a review of Jack Hill’s Spider Baby – was the 6th or 7th of the long running magazine, which is now up to issue #104. I’ve been with them on and off for 12 years now, but by September 2002 I had begun to burn out on writing about movies and books, interviewing genre mainstays … essentially everything that was taking time off my own writing. It culminated in my decision to pass on what I had been doing for the previous three years, namely cover the Toronto International Film festival. You see, as one who earned a living as a writer, I had no “day job” so to speak, so I, unlike most of the mag’s contributors, could actually spend the ten or so days at the festival, see movies for free, meet the actors, directors, interview them, get the interviews published, and feather my cap so to speak.
But by 2002, I was feeling run-down, to the point where I told Rod, the editor in chief (now a fine filmmaker in his own right) I was done with Tiff. Rod, in his wisdom, used our years of friendship as a wedge and asked me nicely if I’d cover it one last time, because there were a lot of good films playing, and he needed someone to cover it. And since I was so good at it … never let anyone say that Rod Gudino isn’t a Machiavellian genius of high order. So I figured, one last time for the ages; and there was another good reason to cover the fest one last time.
Bubba Ho-Tep was playing.
If you don’t know the story by the legendary Joe R. Lansdale, surely you must know this movie; directed by the equally legendary Don (Phantasm) Coscarelli and starring the immortal Bruce Campbell. Pitting an elderly Elvis against a soul sucking mummy tearing its way through an East Texas rest home, the story is vintage Lansdale, and the film became a successful cult hit with the distinction of actually making its money back, and turning a healthy profit in the process.
Now to tell the story properly, one needs to backtrack to 1998 when at the benefit of the largess of producer Julian Grant, I was granted (sic) an opportunity to help out at the Toronto installment of the FantAsia fest – thirty days of horror, fantasy and martial arts movies. So I did – from July 10 to August 9, 1998 I lived at the Bloor, helping with the FantAsia fest. I worked my day job from 8:30 to 4:30, ran home, crammed a bagel in my mouth and walked to the theater. I tore tickets, sold merchandise, networked, and watched movies — something like 65 in thirty days. Weekends were full. It was a good time and I got to meet a lot of people who were beneficial to me career-wise. I also got to know Julian, and he asked to see some of my work. What I didn’t know at the time was that in the midst of this mayhem, Julian had been approached by Fireworks Entertainment to resurrect ROBOCOP, but that’s another story.
I also met Don Coscarelli there, who was screening Phantasm Oblivion. Talking with him in the lobby, we got on the subject of books and he mentioned he’d optioned this Joe Lansdale story. I asked which one and when he told me Bubba Ho-Tep, my rapturous reaction may have had a small impact on his decision to make it – the fact that some twit in Toronto knew the story and the author telling him, “he, maybe I got something here after all.” Or not. The fact remains that Don Coscarelli is the nicest person I’ve ever encountered in this business. Every time I’ve been to LA he’s graciously met up with me for lunch etc, usually bringing a Phantasm cast member along with him – Angus Scrimm, Reggie Banister — and we still keep in touch.
Jump ahead to early 2002, an actress friend of mine was in town, as was another friend of hers, one she’d worked with many times – Bruce Campbell. Bruce was in town filming a Sci-Fi flick called
(which co-starred Jason Jones, now of Daily Show fame, and one of my former college roommates), and through Tamara’s maneuverings, she arranged for me and the gang to have dinner with Bruce. We enjoyed a lovely meal with Bruce and his wife Ida, had a grand old time, and figured that was an experience for the ages. We’d dined with Bruce Friggin’ Campbell — one of our Bucket List goals accomplished.
Then Bruce started calling us. I think he was lonely (Ida flew back home to Oregon, he was stuck in Toronto) so we ended up seeing a lot of Bruce over that month and a bit. We hung out and watched movies. We went to bars. We even watched Spider-Man with him on its opening weekend. At any rate, Bruce left after filming, but would be back for the Festival, along with Don, as Bubba Ho-Tep was accepted into the Midnight Madness program. So with that a factor, I decided “what the hell” and agreed to cover the fest. On a Saturday night, I watched Bubba Ho-Tep along with another thousand fans at the long gone Uptown Theater, got home way too late, and got up way too early to interview Bruce and Don at a hotel downtown.
The interview ended and Bruce had to bail – he was doing an in-store signing of his book If Chins Could Kill – and the ever gracious Don was due for a private “meet and greet” with the staff of Rue Morgue. He also treated Rod and me and a Phantasm Fan he met on the street to lunch (again, Don is the nicest guy I’ve ever met in the movie biz). We travelled to the Morgue offices and Don spent the next hour and a half meeting the extended Rue Morgue family, signing memorabilia and being an all-around great guy. At the end of the meet and greet, he and I were given a lift back to Fest Central, as I had another screening in a couple hours, and he was due to meet with Bruce for more interviews. So we went over to the bookstore (the Chapters megastore on Bloor, now long gone) to track the Chin down. Upon arriving, we could find no sign of him and were on the cusp of leaving when a publicist recognized us as “Bruce’s friends.” He was in the green room, signing store copies, and she took us up there. As we waited for Bruce, another publicist came up to us and told Don how much she enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep. She then turned to me and introduced herself, offering her hand, which I took in mine. She was from New Jersey, and heading back the next day but we did meet up after Bruce was done and grabbed coffee and had a nice talk about, well, everything. As we — Don and I – left the green room, he turned to me and said “hey, who was that girl?”
Well, six years after that fateful meeting, “that girl” became my wife.
Every anniversary of that first meeting (September 8, 2002), makes me think of Bubba Ho-Tep, of Bruce and Don, of Rue Morgue and Fantasia, and the seemingly impossible sets of coincidence and providence that led to our meeting; a journey that continues down here in NYC daily. If just one thing had been different about that four year span from 1998-2002, we never would have met and I’d be who knows where. I think that’s been the case of the very best things that have happened to me and my life — those moments where I veered left instead of right, where I decided to cover a festival “one more time”, where I decided to ask a girl out for coffee even though she was returning to her home in another country the next day. Nothing good ever comes to those who sit around and wait. If you want it, you have to work for it.