PARKERSBURG - Fourteen months ago, Coolville resident Dakota Griggs was wearing zombie makeup and menacing some of his favorite professional wrestlers.
On Friday, he got to see how it all came together, as "Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies," the action/horror/comedy movie shot last year in the city, made its local debut at Parkersburg High School.
"I loved it. It was great," said Griggs, who started the evening early with a meet-and-greet for "super fan" ticket-holders at the Pizza Place across from the school. "I was in it about five or six times actually."
“The Franchise” Shane Douglas, a producer and one of the stars of “Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies,” laughs at something said by 9-year-old Belpre resident Javon Young Friday in the cafeteria of Parkersburg High School before the local premiere of the film, which was shot here in 2013. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
Wrestler Facade, left, and WWE legends “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan sign autographs for fans in the cafeteria of Parkersburg High School Friday before the local premiere of “Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies,” which was shot here in 2013. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
Gallipolis resident Amber Simpkins, left, poses for a picture with wrestling legend “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan in the cafeteria of Parkersburg High School Friday before the local premiere of the film, which was shot here in 2013. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
Between the Pizza Place and the school cafeteria, Griggs and about 100 other fans got posters, DVD covers, T-shirts and more autographed by wrestlers and stars of the film "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and "The Franchise" Shane Douglas. More attended the screening itself.
"I just couldn't believe it. All these legends, I watch them on TV and then I get to meet them here," Griggs said.
Griggs was among many area residents who participated in the film and came out Friday to celebrate it. The wrestlers and filmmakers felt the love when they were making the movie last year and again when they returned.
"It was fantastic," said Douglas, an ECW wrestler who also served as a producer on the film. "I can't imagine getting a better reception from anybody anywhere. I'd love to say in my hometown, but I don't think you'd get that much support."
People opened their homes to the film crew and businesses "rolled out the red carpet," Douglas said. A generous tax credit from the West Virginia Film Office already has writer/director Cody Knotts thinking about returning to the area for a possible sequel.
"I'm happy I get to stay the night in the Blennerhassett (Hotel) again," Knotts said Friday. "I want to come back sometime when I'm not working."
Duggan said he appreciated the friendliness he experienced in the city and the work put in by the extras.
"Everybody had a good time, even though it was 3 o'clock in the morning," he said.
And those late hours often came with cold temperatures.
"I work in short shorts and patent leather boots, so it was kind of a cold time," Duggan laughed.
The wrestlers themselves were part of the reason so many people turned out to support the movie. And many there on Friday said that when they met them, they weren't disappointed.
Parkersburg resident Cody Bennett recalled Piper's friendliness when they were shooting a scene in Sistersville.
"He's really cool. He sat there and talked to me and my mom for an hour," Bennett said.
The wrestlers were also a draw for fans who hadn't been involved with the filming itself, like Gallipolis resident Amber Simpkins.
"These are the guys I grew up with, and these are the memories I have with my dad," said Simpkins, who had Duggan autograph one of his trademark two-by-fours for her brother. "I'm bouncing around like a little 10-year-old girl. It's definitely the memory of a lifetime."
Sitting between Duggan and Douglas was Clovis, who had acted in local theater productions and some TV before going to a casting call for the movie at the suggestion of a friend.
"They needed a skinny guy with longish hair," Clovis said. His character, Marcus, is "a real sleazeball and thinks he's quite the ladies' man. And he quickly proves to be about as brave as Chicken Little."
Clovis admitted he wasn't the biggest wrestling fan going into the filming, but he said he loved the experience, especially the friends he made in actresses Taya Parker and Shannon Hart.
"Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies" has not been rated yet, but is expected to receive an R due to violence and language. The movie can be ordered online at www.prowrestlersvszombies.com