Horror Conventions

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The horror … the horror

I originally intended to host a book release party for Bliss at the French bistro in my apartment building. Unfortunately, the restaurant was temporarily closed while the proprietor flew back to France and tended to her ill mother. As such, my plans to hold a party for Bliss during the late summer months were suddenly upended and I was sent scrambling for a new location. Ultimately, I decided to push my release party back till the end of the year when the bistro reopened.

It was quite serendipitous that I released my new novel at the same time two local horror conventions were throwing their inaugural events. I’ve been a horror fan since around the time my eyes first opened and quickly came to the conclusion that these cons would be perfect subsitute for my book’s release party.

Scheduled first was the Mr. Hush Weekend of Fear held at the Woodlands Inn & Resort. The convention was thrown by promoter David Lee Madison as a way to advertise his low-budget horror film Mr. Hush and several well-known actors from his film, including Brian O’Halloran and Steve Dash, made appearances. The featured guests of the con were Kane Hodder from the Friday the 13th series and makeup maestro Tom Savini.

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Because this was my first convention as a vendor I went in unsure of what to expect. When studying the other tables around me I admittedly became nervous about my prospects – I wasn’t selling film posters, memorabilia, or products that came with a built-in fan base. Instead, I had to convince potential customers to take a chance on a horror book they never heard of before… but I shouldn’t have worried so much. The reaction to my book was amazing and it was thrilling to have such a successful debut. During the weekend I also gave a number of interviews in promotion of Bliss to outlets like WILK RADIO and the Dark Discussions podcast.

I was also extremely pleased with the approachability of the celebrity guests. Where else can you start the day by receiving a fist-bump from two of the actors who played Jason Voorhees? Kevin Spirtas, who I was familiar with thanks to my well-worn VHS copies of Subspecies: Bloodstone and Subspecies: Bloodlust, was quite intrigued upon reading my book’s synopsis and I gifted him a complimentary copy in return for the countless hours of entertainment and scares he provided me as a youth. Kane Hodder was very gracious to his fans, posing for countless photographs and signing whatever was put in front of him. After the con Tom Savini could often be seen wandering around the Woodlands in his bathing suit, on his way to the hotel pool and jacuzzi.

In addition to the vendor rooms and celebrity signings, Weekend of Fear hosted several other events sure to please horror fans including celebrity Q & As and cast reunions. There were also numerous film screenings over the three days that gave Pennsylvania filmmakers like Bobby Keller a chance to show their work. I didn’t have time to leave my table and attend any of the screenings but I met some of the filmmakers behind Holiday of the Dead and had a great time drinking with them at the after party.

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On Saturday night, Brian O’Halloran hosted celebrity karaoke and I was joined onstage by Clerks star Marilyn Ghigliotti – we performed a rousing rendition of Love Shack and were the stars of the show.

On Sunday night, after the event, I headed down to the streamside bar where I spent the rest of the night drinking with Kane Hodder and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III star R.A. Mihailoff (who didn’t attend Weekend of Fear and was actually in town for another convention but still wanted to spend time with his favorite onscreen Jason Voorhees.) I ended up having a great time at the con while selling books, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and making a tidy profit in the process.

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Sadly, the same couldn’t be said about FANtom Fest thrown the following month at the Scranton Hilton & Conference Center. Never before have I witnessed such a poorly organized event.

A huge embarrassment on every level, I talked to many other vendors that all deemed FANtom Fest as the worst horror convention they had ever attended – I had to agree. The blame ultimately lies at the feet of the con’s promoter: the alliteratively named Nico Nice.

I had a bad feeling about the convention well before the doors first opened. I sent many emails to Nico Nice before the event, inquiring about about the floor plan and other vendor information that wasn’t listed on the crude website – all of these emails were ignored. When Mr. Nice stopped by my booth at Weekend of Fear he apologized for not returning my emails and promised to send out all relevant information the following week. Despite his empty promises, that was the last time I heard from him. If a promoter doesn’t have time to answer a simple email about a floor plan then his event isn’t worthy of your time.

Mr. Nice was clearly in over his head and his lack of proper planning crippled the event. I have been to the Scranton Hilton & Conference Center many times and while it is a beautiful space and perfect for wedding receptions or business conferences, it was a terrible venue for a horror convention. The Scranton Hilton doesn’t have the wide-open layout needed for a proper convention, and the many stars and vendors were stuck in a series of small rooms and hallways spread throughout the floor. The Radisson Hotel, only one block away, would have been a much more suitable venue.

My table was set up in a hallway with two other vendors. We were close to the restrooms but not much else; most attendants didn’t realize we were even part of the event because there weren’t any signs posted directing patrons to our particular hallway until late Saturday afternoon. My neighboring vendors were Michael and Shell DiBaggio, the married creators of Ascension Epochand Horror Show Jack who crafts custom vampire fangs. Mr. Nice had previously told the Ascension Epoch scribes that they would be the only writers at the convention even though I had signed up before they did and the promoter was familiar with my book.

On Saturday morning I arrived at the hotel before FANtom Fest was set to open. Imagine my befuddlement upon seeing that Geisinger Health Systems had set up several booths at the horror convention and displayed signage throughout the second floor of the hotel. Until 4pm my hallway was overrun with doctors and nurses in town for a medical conference – unfortunately these medical professionals were not horror fans and failed to stop at my table.

Geisinger Health Systems monopolized what was intended to be the convention’s screening room with their classes and PowerPoint presentations. Should I assume it was just coincidence that FANtom Fest scheduled movies to begin playing at 4pm, exactly the same time the doctors left, and that Nico Nice had no advance knowledge of the doctor’s presence? We vendors were not informed about Geisinger beforehand or even offered a chance to move our tables to a more appropriate location after the doctors had set up.

Because Geisinger signs were plastered throughout the hallway and FANtom Fest posters were not, horror fans once again had no clue as to our presence. To make matters worse, a wedding reception occupied the space immediately after the doctors left the hotel. The new bride was none too pleased that horror fans dressed like Freddy Krueger and the Grim Reaper were walking around the Scranton Hilton. She began screaming at several of the vendors and hotel security was eventually brought in.

Mr. Nice had promised that his guests and vendors would see over 3,000 ticket buyers that weekend, but in actually less than 1,000 horror fans passed through the maze-like conference rooms of the Scranton Hilton. I felt sorry for Zachary Zbegner and other the camera operators over at Voyager Video who were responsible for filming a promotional video of the event. Voyager Video spent most of their time filming the empty signing rooms and bored expressions on celebrity faces. Unable to shoot any decent crowd shots, they were forced to film the guests at the doctor’s convention and wedding reception, faking the mise-en-scène so it appeared as if the doctors, nurses, and those in the bridal party were actually enthusiastic (and well-dressed) horror fans. That’s definitely some movie magic!

For a horror convention of such limited size, both the vendor tables and ticket prices were exorbitantly priced. One vendor complained that he was charged for two tables but only given one. Other vendors were quoted different pricing for the same amount of space – we all felt bamboozled.

I was also very disheartened by the fact that Nico Nice didn’t even bother introducing himself to the vendors. We paid a lot of money for our tables and at the very least he could have thanked us for coming or even offered a simple “good luck with the show.”

Still, the event wasn’t a total loss and it was great interacting with the fans. After just one previous convention appearance my name was quickly spreading among the horror community and I had some great conversations about my novel and the creative writing process. I also had a great time interacting with the other vendors.

The highlight of the convention was meeting Rochelle Davis, star of The Crow. Ms. Davis was an incredibly nice woman and even bought one of my books – the highlight of my professional career. The Crow was so important to me during my formative years and it was one of the first films that ever made me fall in love with the movies.

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I also met Jeremy London, star of Mallrats, as we stood next to each other at the restroom urinals. What could have been an awkward encounter turned quite humorous when my phone suddenly rang and Mr. London remarked that he had the exact same ringtone.

After a disastrous Friday and Saturday, I hoped that Nico Nice would be able to pull it all together for a successful final day …. but nothing could be further from the truth. Sunday’s film screenings were scheduled to start at 10am with a showing of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre followed by the Halloween remake and end with Re-Animator. For some unknown reason, the movies started four hours late.

Though the convention didn’t end until 5pm on Sunday, a visibly distressed Jeffrey Combs was seen exiting the hotel hours earlier. Due to that day’s scheduling snafu, Mr. Nice had decided to cancel the 30th anniversary screening of Re-Animator. Mr. Combs, understandably upset that his most famous film was no longer being shown, left the hotel and never looked back.

After the convention, down in the hotel bar, I was also fortunate enough to meet Jonathan Tiersten and Frank Sorrentino –  stars of the cult classic Sleepaway Camp and upcoming horror film Blood Reservoir. They both took home a copy of Bliss.

Nico Nice has now turned to crowd funding as a way to raise money for the next FANtom Fest – he’s currently raised $5 of his $52,000 goal. Unlike most crowd funding campaigns that offer prizes or incentives for the donors, Mr. Nice isn’t offering so much as a free ticket or tee shirt – just another example of how entitled Nico Nice feels to the hard-earned money of true horror fans. Like a bad movie monster, let’s hope this is one con that won’t rise from the dead.

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