Tom Savini sits in a high-backed leather chair, a bored lord crowded by doe eyes and stuttering fandom. If you don’t know who he is, this is the guy who played Sex Machine in From Dusk Till Dawn. You know, with the gun in his junk.
“It was really funny,” recalls his fiancée at one point. “We were in Las Vegas, and this really drunk guy came up to us and said, ‘Hey, you’re that guy! Pistol Penis!’”
The bulk of his work’s been in makeup in special effects for horror films, though. He was in ‘Nam, too. Panicked and shot at a duck, missed. Was politely asked to leave ‘Nam forthwith and never come back. Hasn’t eaten duck since. There are half-empty glasses of red wine on a small table nearby and a tray of decimated crackers and dip parting the social seas between us. In twenty minutes, he’ll be onstage talking about his life and times. “One Night with Savini,” essentially. It’s an off-the-cuff arrangement; his ladylove is a native Australian and she’s put him up to this during a conjugal, antipodean visit. Behind every obligated man, right?
The privileged few who’ve managed to work their way back here before his 8.30pm exposé all wear some denomination of black t-shirt with bonus obscure horror motif. Mr. Savini scries each one with almost imperceptible hawkishness, seemingly moving from person to person in appraisal of their taste in flicks and/or noting whether or not it’s a movie he was involved in. He nods to himself if it pleases him. The Savini Stare stops short and befuddled on mine. It’s black, too, but the film poster bolstering my chest with nerd-cred is David Lynch’s Eraserhead. One of my favourites, but not one of Mr. Savini’s. I don’t get a nod. His eyes kind of bloat a little, and I worry he’s experiencing a flashback brought on by the I’m-in-the-middle-of-something-fucked-up visage of Henry Spencer.
I’m not sure what to make of him. Presently, I’m not even sure what to say to him. Unlikely icebreakers are usually my forte: “I tell you what, this detox diet is like being on my period.” Tonight I don’t know about talking about my ironic man-rags with a guy who’s been to Apocalypse Now. Prior to coming here as a total ring-in I researched Tom Savini with extreme journalistic savvy (I Googled him). Turns out he’s a bit of a jerk. At least, that’s what some corners of the internet say. There’s one blog missive in particular that recounts a deeply unsatisfying rendezvous with his allegedly uneven temperament at a convention. So this is my opening line.
“The internet says you’re a jerk.”
Mr. Savini is intrigued by this. He loves it, even.
“Yeah. If you le Google ‘Tom Savini,’ this rueful blog is like the fourth thing you come up with. It’s called ‘Tom Savini is a dick.’”
“And then there’s about 80 comments. Anecdotes, really.”
“What do they say?”
“That you’re a jerk.”
I’ve successfully shut down the entire room and someone drops a cracker with dip on it, mid-mouth. Mr. Savini leans back in his Edgar Allan Poe throne and brushes thoughtfully at the wild black mane cascading past his chin (“Please excuse my hair,” he nonchalantly tells the crowd outside later. “I had to grow it for… Quentin Tarantino’s new film”). He lurches forward suddenly and there’s a collective gasp of concern for my wellbeing.
“No, no, I’ll tell you what I think happened there,” he starts, totally alive. “It was a misunderstanding. This girl… you know, I bet it’s her who wrote that. This girl came up to get some things signed at a convention, and as she was packing up her posters and DVDs my agent interrupts me with a call from someone. I said something like, ‘Yeah, as if I want to talk to that person.’ So this girl turns around and throws all of the stuff I just signed for her right at me, and storms off! She thought I was talking about her! Hey, can you ask me that question when I’m out there? I’d like to talk about it.”
“Sure,” I say, even though I probably won’t. Turns out I didn’t need to. Later, he manages to segue into it all by himself off the back of a routine and unrelated query, like: “What was it like being you at this time during so-and-so movie?”
“Anyway, I’m Tom. Who are you?”
“Toby. I don’t even know why I’m here. Is there something on tonight?”
“Why are you in Australia?” I continue cheerfully.
He brightens up again. “To see my sheila!”
I groan audibly and the room lapses into trembling silence again. Some people consider running away, I think; leaping for the door in a slow-mo action dive to escape how awkward they all keep making themselves feel. I keep trespassing on celebrity etiquette, is the unspoken consensus. Tom seems irritated by the fact nobody here can just chill the fuck out. “Bitch, be cool,” I hear Samuel L. Jackson order from my subconscious mind. I wish he was here right now, laying that shit down as if a totalitarian government and/or boss.
“Tom, you can’t say that.” Somehow I’ve ended up telling Tom Savini how to talk.
“Why not?” He sounds worried.
“That’s a daggy word. No-one says that for real anymore.”
“What?” He’s shocked and appalled. “But I bought this Aussie slang book in a tourism shop the other day, learnt all its phrases. How ‘bout a fist full o’ fives, then?”
“It’s ‘bunch of fives,’ and no.”
Tom looks terribly deflated. He’s spent all this time making such an effort to learn how to speak Australian and I’ve ruined everything for him. I owe the Godfather of Gore. Especially for Friday the 13th.
“She’s your ‘missus,’” I tell him, striking the air with my index finger like a match.
“Oh, is that right? My missus.” (“I’m just in town to see my sheila,” he announces later. “Or as I’ve been corrected,” he adds bemusedly, “My ‘missus.’” I stand there in the crowd beaming at everyone as if I’ve just saved the world and no one has a fucking clue why).
“Yes. Also you call your mates ‘cunt’ and call cunts ‘mate.’”
Everyone here wants me to die, but Tom chuckles and nods, hopefully filing that one away for later. The room relaxes. Crazy dynamic in here.
“Hey, I was wondering,” I begin. T-Sav gives me the regal go-ahead. “You’re 65 or something. What’s the question you just don’t know want to hear anyone ask you, ever again?”
There’s a slight murmur of discontent in the air, but these squares are finally circling out a bit. T-Sav rolls his eyes, squiggling the heavens with a silent prayer that nobody ever requests the following of him in a public forum ever again: “’What was it like doing this film, or doing that film? Those are essay questions. I’ll be there all day! I really, really hate them.” Subsequently he gets about a million of them over the course of the evening.
I nod. “May I say you have penetrating eyes.”
His missus cackles from off-screen. “I like that,” she remarks in brutal Queensland ocker. “Penetrating, Tom.”
“Yes,” T-Sav agrees pensively, fingers coiled in front of him, gazing at a fire that isn’t there. “Penetrating.”
Originally written because people talk a lot of shit. Rather than being one of those fuckheads who just believes everything negative about everyone and especially famous types because it makes me feel better about myself, I like to go to the source whenever randomly possible.