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Wilmette Theatre’s Halloween Weekend is All Treats: Talking with Chad Byers

Flicks and treats! This weekend, the Wilmette Theatre is putting on a "Spooktacular" Halloween celebration. Treats include double features, live comedy, costume contests and fa-boo-lous prizes.

Flick or treat! How about both? This weekend, the Wilmette Theatre is putting on a "Spooktacular" Halloween celebration. Treats include double features, live comedy, costume contests and fa-boo-lous prizes. One ticket buys a full night's entertainment.

Because it's the Wilmette Theatre, you can be guaranteed there is nothing else like it in Chica-ghost-land. The evening will be M.C.'ed by television horror host, Undead Johnny, the star of World of the Weird Monster Show with a guest appearance by the hilariously paranoid D.K. Ediger. Ediger, a well-known "accidentalist," parodies the dangers of... well, everything, and Halloween provides plenty of alarmist fodder.

And because it's Halloween, you may wonder, who are D.K. Ediger and Undead Johnny really? D.K. Ediger is the creation of award-winning comedian, Chad Briggs. Playing D.K., Briggs recently won national acclaim as an Andy Kaufman Awards semi-finalist. As himself, Briggs was the winner of the 2009 season of "Impress These Apes," the Chicago-based comedy contest. Both Chad and D.K. are in demand at comedy venues nationwide.

Undead Johnny in real life is the Wilmette Theatre's own general manager, Chad Byers. He knows just about everything there is to know about movies, including all things horror. In addition to serving as host of World of the Weird Monster Show, he is also its producer and head writer. The popular show, which debuted on Halloween night 2004, is a combination of sketch comedy and horror film showcase and airs in Chicagoland and other locales around the country. (It airs Fridays at 11:00 p.m. on Comcast Channel 19 in Wilmette and on www.monsterchannel.tv on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. CST).

We spoke to Byers for a sneak peak at Halloween weekend and to find out how he found horror host success.

Q: Tell us about Halloween at the Wilmette Theatre!

A: We like to do something really special, so we're doing a Halloween "Spooktacular": two nights of double features. On Friday, October 26th, we're doing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and then we're showing Shaun of the Dead.

On Saturday, October 27th, we're doing The Rocky Horror Picture Show followed by Ghostbusters. On both nights, The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be the full audience participation experience with a live shadow cast. We're selling prop kits and both nights we'll have comedy from Chad Briggs as D.K. Ediger. D.K. does a presentation that's perfect for Halloween. It's absolutely hilarious. We'll have costume contests. It's going to be a Halloween blast. Both nights start at 9:30 and it's going to be a ton of fun.

Q: Are there any scenes in those movies that you especially love and that the audience should look for?

A: I love all of Rocky Horror. I really like the beginning scene where Brad and Janet leave their car all the way up through "Time Warp." It's very much a tribute to all those old horror movies like The Old Dark House, a great old movie with Boris Karloff.

Shaun of the Dead: that's such a great movie. I love it when Simon Pegg goes out into the world the morning after the zombie apocalypse has started. He goes to the convenience store and is completely clueless that his entire world has changed. That's very funny.

And Ghostbusters. I love Bill Murray in that movie. The scene where he is in Sigourney Weaver's apartment for the very first time is absolutely hilarious.

Q: In case there's anyone who hasn't seen Rocky Horror, please tell them why they should go.

A: A lot of people may have seen it, but never in a movie theater. It's the ultimate audience participation film. There are thousands of cult movies, but there's nothing like Rocky Horror. That's why it's been around for so long. Halloween is the absolutely best time to see it. It's packed and everyone is there to have a great time. It's audience participation to the max.

Q: About the costume contest … who are the judges? Any insider tips?

A: We're having costume contests on both nights. Undead Johnny will be one of the judges and we may have some surprise judges. We always take input from the audience to see what people like. The key, just like Halloween in general, is to dress like you want to dress and have a blast. Your costume will be good if you're really into it and you're having fun.

Sometimes it's the intricate ones that win. Sometimes it's the ones that are really funny. If you dress like Undead Johnny, you're guaranteed to win something. I can say that for sure. If someone comes dressed as me, I'll give them something.

Q: What are the prizes?

A: We have a lot of stuff. The store "Horribles" in Berwyn is giving us some cool stuff to give away. They're like a horror convention 365 days a year. Then on both nights, we're giving away free weekend passes to the "Days of the Dead" horror convention which is going to be in Schaumburg on November 16, 17 and 18. There are tons of celebrities going to "Days of the Dead": everyone from Peter Criss from Kiss to a whole bunch of people from the different Nightmare on Elm Street movies and Rock and Roll High School. World of the Weird Monster Show will have a table there. And we have a bunch of other cool gifts. We're also going to do a raffle, so people can win prizes even if they're not in costume, although costumes are highly encouraged.

Q: When did you first know that you loved horror and monster movies?

A: In grade school I was really into mythology and all those crazy creatures and monsters and I grew up in Rockford and we had a horror host there, Uncle Don. It was Uncle Don's Terror Theater. We got some Chicago stations, so I also had Son of Svengoolie (Svengoolie now).

Those shows introduced me to all the Universal (Studios) horror movies, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, all the Roger Corman-Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe movies, all the Hammer (Film Productions) horror films from England and the big atomic monster movies.

I've always said I would be a totally different person if it weren't for those shows. It was also a great introduction to film. Some of those films were black and white, some color, some from the thirties, some from the seventies. They inspired me to be a horror host myself.

Q: Who is your favorite character?

A: I really love the Wolfman. Of the old movies, that's one of my absolute favorites. I love Larry Talbot, the character played by Lon Chaney, Jr. As a little kid, I really loved the movie Them!, the one with the giant ants. I thought that was the coolest movie ever, with the army fighting the ants in the sewers.

Q: I read that an encounter with William Shatner inspired you to create World of the Weird Monster Show.

A: We thank William Shatner at the end of all our episodes. I saw him at a convention and he told a story, nothing as cheesy as "seize the day" or "treat every day like it was your last." He told a story about horses. He had a noble, magnificent horse and the horse got sick. They had to put it down. He described the whole ceremony they went through.

And it was very clear to him that there was no dignity in that, no nobility or anything necessarily after that. When you were dead, you were dead. I'm simplifying it, but it was very much, "do what you want to do and do it now because this is the time you've got." It really resonated with me the way he said it. So I just went ahead and did it.

I got some friends together and we took the classes we had to take to get a producer's license and use the facility and equipment for free. We did it without knowing whether we would be able to get a two-hour time slot to show movies. We learned as we went. That was in 2004. We've been doing the show since then. I was obviously influenced by Svengoolie and Uncle Don, people like Elvira. We do a lot of sketch comedy stuff. SCTV was a huge influence. But it came from meeting William Shatner.

Q: Do you have a favorite time of the day for writing? How do you fit it all in?

A: I get a lot done when I'm driving. Not actually writing. A lot of stuff comes to me when I'm just focused on the road. Here at the theater even, when we have to put together a movie. It's that kind of manual work where you're paying attention, but your mind is thinking about other stuff at the same time. I jot stuff down all the time. Then I take all those notes and put them together to form the whole sketch.

Or I'll have an idea I think is funny and I'll find a movie that matches it because the show is about a half hour of us, but it's also about an hour and a half of movie. We come on every ten or twelve minutes or so. Or I'll find a movie I want to watch and then base our sketches around it.

Q: So I heard that you had an on-screen fight with Tom Atkins?

A: Yeah, horror fans love him. They call him, "The Man." You would know him if you saw him. He's been in Lethal Weapon and a whole bunch of other movies. He's one of those character actors. They find a home in horror and horror fans love them, but the general populace may not know who they are. He was in some of my favorite movies. The Fog. Escape From New York. Halloween 3. He was, especially in these John Carpenter movies, a seventies man's man with a mustache, drinking and smoking and he always got the girls.

World of the Weird Monster Show was making our first horror convention appearance. We were doing interviews and he was there. I was like, "Since he's a man's man, I want to be punched." So we did a bit where I come up and say, "Hey, it's Tom Atkins!" and he goes to shake my hand and instead of that, he hauls off and hits me. It was great. He didn't really hit me, obviously.

We had to do a couple of takes because he didn't like the first one. There was a Fog reunion there, so Adrienne Barbeau and Nancy Loomis and all these actors cheered him. I got a Christmas card from him the next year with a clip from his local Pittsburgh paper about a local horror host show because it reminded him of us. Doing the show has put us in contact with people we've idolized. We've been able to work with them and sometimes even shoot video for them. It's opened a lot of doors.

Q: That is so cool. It goes to show when you follow your dreams … maybe it sounds cheesy … but when you do what you love, you never know what comes of it.

A: For sure. I got to edit for Troma pictures because I met Lloyd Kaufman, head of Troma, at the conventions. He was at the table next to us. I edited some stuff on his Produce Your Own Damn Movie DVD set. And Don Coscarelli who did Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep. Some of the guys and I shot a bunch of footage for him for, hopefully, maybe someday, an upcoming DVD. Meeting these people, like Robert Englund, and having them do bits for the show has been very, very cool. These are experiences I never would have had if I hadn't decided to get off my butt and do this show.

Q: So my husband said I should ask you, if there were a battle between Freddy, Jason, Alien and Predator, who do you think would win?

A: Oh, man, all four of them together. I could go on for an hour about each one and about their abilities and how this would work. I don't know. That's hard. I don't know who would win, but I can tell you which one I think would get me if I were in a room with them. If you're in the room with Xenomorph from the Alien movies, you're kind of dead. The others I might be able to avoid for longer.

Q: So which movie would be your scariest?

A: When I was a kid, The Shining scared the crap out of me. I vividly remember watching in my basement with the lights out. I didn't have a remote so I was three feet from the TV because you had to reach over to change the channel. I remember being so scared that I would repeatedly change the channel and then after two minutes, change it back.

Nowadays, there's one with George C. Scott called The Changeling. That's a very creepy movie. And When A Stranger Calls from the seventies. The one that scared me the most was a BBC show in the eighties. They had a real life show called Crimewatch. They did one on Halloween night called Ghostwatch, hosted by their equivalent of Dan Rather and Katie Couric. It was about a haunted house.

This was before reality TV, so nobody expected these people to lie. It was a two-hour show, but the TV guide said it was an hour. An hour into it, they said, "stuff is starting to happen, so we're going to stay on the air." They made it seem real and it terrified the nation. They got thousands of phone calls. You wouldn't expect Dan Rather to do a fake show and lie to you, but that's what they did. It's very scary.

Q: Are there any horror movies you've hated?

A: I really can't stand those Saw movies. I saw the first one in the theater. I didn't see the last few. I never got into that franchise at all.

Q: What turned you off about them?

A: I thought it was kind of silly and badly made. I could pick the movie to death, but a lot of people love them and there are a lot of really cool actors in them, but I never got into those movies.

Q: Is there one horror movie you could watch over and over?

A: I love The Wolfman and George Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

Q: Do you have a favorite director?

A: George Romero is one of them. John Carpenter is one of my all time favorites. He did Halloween and The Fog and The Thing, one of the best horror movies ever made. There was a period when everything he did was amazing.

Q: So is there anything unexpected that people wouldn't guess about you or Undead Johnny?

A: If you watch the show, I wear my influences pretty clearly on my sleeve. There's not too much that I keep to myself. I'll tell you one thing. I love Scooby Doo. There's a new show right now called Mystery Incorporated that's on Cartoon Network and I'm not too old to say I love it. It harkens back to [the original] Scooby Doo.

Q: I used to watch Scooby Doo religiously on Saturdays.

A: It's all the greatest things about horror movies but in a cartoon. It's the mystery aspect and the spooky aspect and I love the Mystery Machine. If I could have one car, I would have a Mystery Machine.

Q: I would rather have their van than the Ghostbusters' station wagon.

A: I would agree with that.

The Wilmette Theatre's Halloween Spooktacular is on Friday night, October 26 and Saturday night, October 27. Doors open at 9:00 and the show begins at 9:30. Mature audiences suggested. No one under 12 will be admitted. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at door. Ticket price includes admission to Both Films! Rocky Horror prop kits on sale for $3 each (or 2 for $5!) in lobby before show. Outside audience participation props allowed in are limited; everything you need is in the kits available for purchase in lobby! SEATS ARE LIMITED AND ARE GOING FAST! ADVANCE TICKETS VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Tickets available at box office, purchase or reserve by phone at 847-251-7424, or purchase online at http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events

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