Mike Kerz was dying to see "Night of the Living Dead."
It was 1974, six years after the film's 1968 release. Kerz, then 14, had read about George A. Romero's zombie movie in the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and his anticipation rose like an undead corpse from its grave.
Flashback WeekendLocation: Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare Hotel, 5440 N River Road, Rosemont, (847) 647-3124 or flashbackweekend.com
When: Registration starts at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, and 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 11
Tickets: Day passes $30-$35, ticket packages $60-$215
He scoured the newspaper for months until Wheeling's Twin Drive-In listed a double feature of "Night of the Living Dead" and "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein."
It took some begging, but Kerz's father brought Kerz and his sister from their home in Niles.
"It was such a powerful experience," said Kerz, now 52. "('Night') creeps me out to this day."
This October marks the 45th anniversary of the movie's release. To celebrate, Kerz has made the film the centerpiece to this year's Flashback Weekend, Chicago's largest horror convention that will haunt the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare Hotel in Rosemont from Friday, Aug. 9 to Sunday, Aug. 11.
Romero will be on hand to introduce "Night" at the Muvico Theaters Rosemont 18 before the theater screens a 35 mm print of the horror classic at 9 p.m. Friday. The director will also be signing autographs and meeting fans all three days at the convention.
Actor Danny Glover from "Saw" and the "Lethal Weapon" series and actress Patricia Quinn from "Rocky Horror Picture Show" will appear, along with cast reunions of the 1979 "Dawn of the Dead" and "Pet Sematary."
Chicago's Svengoolie will host the convention's costume contest.
All the proceeds go to the digital restoration of the Midway Drive-In Theatre in Dixon, which Kerz and his wife, Mia, own.
Kerz founded Flashback Weekend in 2002 with Mia. He said the goal was to maintain the big-screen movie experience. The revenue from the convention helped pay for horror screenings at the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge for the first two years.
From 2004 to 2006, Kerz set up a 40-foot screen outside Rosemont's Crowne Plaza in the parking lot off Balmoral Road and played the movies from a 35 mm film projector.
"It was like a rock concert, only celebrating film," Kerz said.
When he lost permission to show the movies outside, the screenings were moved to the Muvico.
In 2007, Kerz took on another project: the Midway Drive-In. After seeing drive-ins in Rockford and Aurora go under, Kerz decided to buy the Midway and renovate it. He said he and his wife have spent about $100,000 of their personal funds on the project.
Drive-ins -- or "nature's auditoriums," as Kerz calls them -- have always been a source of childhood nostalgia for Kerz.
"(Drive-ins) represent the best of America's values: friends and family," Kerz said. "It's really an opportunity to get away from life's problems when you pull into a drive-in. It's like another world."
Kerz said he loved the showmanship of drive-ins. From the dancing characters selling popcorn and hot dogs to the double and triple features, the experience "was a treat for me," Kerz said.
At the Midway, Kerz hosts the same kind of special events he saw as a child. They regularly show multiple "Planet of the Apes" movies, a throwback to the "Ape-thons" of yesteryear.
Bruce Campbell visited the Midway Drive-In in 2010 to show the three "Evil Dead" movies and his own film, "My Name Is Bruce." Kerz said more than 500 cars came for the event from 40 different states and Canada.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, drive-ins were the primary theatrical outlet for horror directors, including Romero and Wes Craven.
Kerz wants to preserve the big-screen experience for horror movies. He said the Midway's upgrade will include a $75,000 digital projector -- crucial to the theater's survival as Hollywood phases out 35 mm films.
"If you're going to hold a convention and take money from the fans," he continued, "it should support the industry that gave birth to the convention."