Two conventions, two weeks apart, one city. Was Dallas big enough for two conventions? Could fear fans stretch their wallets that far? And most importantly, would the city of Dallas ever be the same after spending two weekends with the Fright staffers?!
End of last month it was Texas Frightmare, this first weekend of March we hit up FearFest 2, this time sponsored by DreadCentral.com and Pit of Horror.com. An unexpected blizzard kept everyone in suspense on Thursday night, causing not just serious delays in getting half of your Fright Staff there, but stranding many guests, vendors, and attendees at airports and hotels across the country after the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport saw almost 90% of the incoming flights canceled late Thursday afternoon. According to a local we ran into on the plane, it snows here once every two to three years—lucky us. Not long after we arrived we ran into convention organizer and manager John Gray. Gray looked like he was turning green. With a fully booked hotel, hundreds of VIP passes sold, and half of his expected guests at the mercy of the weather and the airlines, how would he, the DreadCentral crew, and his small staff of less than 30 volunteers be able to pull this thing off?
Fortunately, the weather broke early Friday morning, and the convention events weren't scheduled to begin until 5:00 that evening. This gave us a rare opportunity to step out of the confines of the hotel and hit up some of the famous sites in Dallas, and as we were leaving the hotel we saw many of the featured guests arriving and checking into the hotel. Sadly, while the weather remained clear enough to allow many people to arrive at the hotel, it was going to be far too cold for the FearFest to run their planned outdoor drive-in style screenings. Fair enough, while this writer likes being scared out of his socks, he prefers those socks not to be doubled-lined thermals with a heat pack tucked in. Moving the screenings indoors to the hotel ballroom worked for me.
However, due to unexpected technical issues, as well as the task of moving the event indoors, the Friday night screenings got off to a late start, and pushed the schedule way into the early morning hours. The “Fright Night” screening originally scheduled for 9:00 didn't begin until close to 11:00, and the highly anticipated “Troll 2” reunion screening started at nearly 1am. Sadly, many convention goers were exhausted and missed out on their opportunity to enjoy real live double-decker baloney sandwiches and green Nilbog milk, provided especially for the “Troll 2” screening. Then again, at 1am, the sparse consumption of tepid green milk and mayonnaise slathered cold cut meats by boozed up conventioneers may have been best thing to happen to John Gray and staff all day.
Late Friday night we'd gotten a sneak peak at the dealer and guest room, and were confident that by Saturday morning, FearFest would be back on track, and sure enough, we arrived at the ballroom level of the hotel early Saturday afternoon to find things in full swing. Your usual crop of fans in costume, dealers vending goodies and celebrities signing swag were all gathered together in one room, and the exciting schedule of panels was underway in the main ballroom. (Report continued below)
The Dallas Cowboy Fearleaders?
Fans get the chance to pose with Freddy, Michael Myers and Jason!
We usually write up separate reviews for the guests and dealer room, but FearFest chose to put both guests and vendors together. Despite some word from attendees that the show at this point was crowded and oversold, we never had a problem getting into this room, or mingling around the vendor or guest tables. Guests were lined up mostly around the center of the room, with vendors along the wall. People complaining of an oversold event must have never attended either a Chiller Theater show, or the more heavily attended MonsterMania events. At no point did we have to wait on a line to get into the guest/vendor area, and there were plenty of seats always available in the panel room. Well-attended? Yes. Overcrowded, and oversold, not by this writers standard. Things seemed to be very well organized and running smoothly.
Of course, DreadCentral provided their usual breadth of free swag—tons of posters, pins, shirts, free “Funny Games” white gloves, even some toys for the lucky fans who snatched them up! Dread's fast becoming the horror convention Sandy Claws. Seriously, if you bought a $25 admission ticket all you'd need to do is hit up the DreadCentral table and fill up your bag with, easily, $50 worth of free stuff!
The one snag FearFest organizers ran into was the Gold and Silver VIP ticket package, which had a guaranteed autograph session for each ticket holder with star attraction Robert Englund. As Dave Hagen, manager of MonsterMania events in New Jersey, found out on his first event, selling a guaranteed ticket for this particular guest is a major pitfall for any convention. Robert England takes his time with guests, and with a package that included a photo-op, and several hundreds of these package sold they were without a doubt setting themselves up for many fans waiting in a long, long line all day. They did attempt a virtual line by assigning numbers to attendees, but it seemed like this whole concept was either miscommunicated, or worse, ignored by staff or fans. There was always a line-up for Robert throughout the weekend that stretched throughout the main hallway.
Now, Icons of Fright understands that Mr. England appearances require a certain guarantee (we won't say how much, but let's say it's got 4 zeros in it) and of course a convention manager needs to sell enough tickets to cover this minimum. However, at this point, England and his team should know how much time this requires to meet the demand of fans, and convey that to those running the event so they don't oversell. This isn't the first convention we've attended where there were either sorely disappointed fans who never got to meet Robert Englund, or fans who paid for an autograph and had to wait on line for hours to collect it. Robert—get it together, dude. This ain't your first time at the rodeo, buddy. And future convention organizers take note—best way to handle a guest of this caliber: Sell your admission tickets and let the fans line up and take the chance. If they get signed, good, if not, tough luck. Guarantee nothing. Autograph voucher packages are Nightmare on Pissed Off Fan Street. (Report continued below)
Fan favorite Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) attracted the longest lines and signed non-stop all weekend!
The fine fiends from Nightmare Gloves.com!
Jason Craig, artist of the FREDDY VS JASON VS ASH comic book series!
There were fewer, if any issues, with the other guests in attendance. FearFest was able to organize two major reunions: “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise reunion, and a “Fright Night” reunion. In addition to Robert Englund, representing the Nightmare Team, all the way from California, the one, the only, the wild and hula-hoop lovin' Heather Langenkamp (Nighmare's “Nancy”). Too often at conventions I've attended in the past Heather had been either stuck in a room by herself, or only able to sign for a limited time (like at a Fangoria show), but at FearFest, she was out and amongst her fans, and she really does seem to enjoy interacting with them! And, boy, does she know how to hoop it up after hours (see—we have photographic evidence). Ronee Blakely added a great touch of class to the convention. Hey—how many horror conventions do you get to meet someone who not only worked with a horror legend like Wes Craven in a classic like “Nightmare on Elm Street”, but was also nominated for an Oscar while working with the legendary Robert Altman? Also, the man himself, John Saxon, whose film pedigree not only includes “Nightmare” but work with Dario Argento and Bruce Lee rounded out the “Nightmare 1” team. From “Dream Warriors” and “Dream Master”: Ken Sageos, Andras Johnson, Penelope Sudrow, Jennifer Rubin, and Rodney Eastman, all presented by the great folks at Scars Magazine, spent the entire weekend signing in the guest area. Langekamp, Blakely, Amanda Wyss, and Saxon all gathered for a panel hosted by Dread Central's Uncle Creepy. (Report continued below)
Heather Langenkamp chats with a fan!
Gunnar Hansen gets into a discussion with several fans at his table!
Kane Hodder signs Jason pictures and HATCHET DVD's!
Brand new limited figures of Victor Crowley (HATCHET) and Hucklebilly (2001 MANIACS) from Horror Idols.com!
Paul "Madman Marz" Ehlers signs at his table and reveals a teaser for a new MADMAN movie!
The Fright Night guests included Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark, Stephen Geoffreys, Julie Carmen, and directors Tom Holland and Tommy Lee Wallace. The panel for this reunion was hosted by Icons of Fright's own Rob G! During the panel Tom Holland revealed that he would soon be taking a meeting regarding the “Fright Night” remake, as Sony Pictures had already burned through 3 completely unusable scripts, one of which Holland remarked sounded more like Tobe Hooper's “Funhouse”. He also hinted at something that would soon be appearing exclusively on the internet.
We also caught the “Doomsday” panel, hosted by Johnny Butane, and featuring director Neil Marshall and his wife Axelle Carolyn Marshall. Neil gave hints that his next project would be another horror project, while discussing his upcoming film. (Report continued below)
Neil and Axelle Marshall sign DOOMSDAY posters! They were among the only guests signing for free.
Writer/Director Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS, DRIFTWOOD) had a steady flow of fans at his table all weekend!
Comic book writer Andy Mangels had vintage Innovation CHILD'S PLAY and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET comics for sale!
The lovely Jill of LIXONLINE.com!
Gris Grimly gives Icons the "rock" sign. Visit: www.madcreator.com!
FEAR.net was on hand all weekend as well!
Jonathan Lewis was present to promote his new film BLACK DEVIL DOLL!
Immediately following all of Saturday panels, which also tended to run a bit late, was a FearFest concert featuring Viper Rash, First Jason (fronted by “Friday the 13th”'s Ari Lehman), The Horrifics, and ex-Misfit Michale Graves. Not quite sure what to make of “First Jason”, but with songs like “Jason Never Dies”, the cheesetastic lyrics and Lehman pounding away on a keytar (is that what you call it?) you sure couldn't deny it was at least a campy good time. The Horrorics delivered a strong horror-rock set (and if you missed it, check them out on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/thehorrifics). (Report continued below)
THE SHOW: Dread Central's Johnny Butane opened the show with his band VIPER RASH!
Delivering an absolutely amazing set was Michale Graves. Now, Grave's was part of my favorite era in “Misfits” history, no apologies. I liked “The Misfits” with Graves better than with Glenn Danzig. “This Island Earth” is my favorite Misfits song, and “American Psycho” my favorite “Misfits” album. Losing him was the worst thing that ever happened to that band. Still, I have never followed his solo work, but I'm going to be goddamn certain that I do from now on. Mixing up his new songs with his “Misfits” era material it was a great show, and I'm sorry I've been a lazy fan for the last few years. Mr. Graves--we must do an Icons interview in the future. (Report continued below)
Michale Graves (formally of THE MISFITS) headlines Saturday night's show at the convention and completely rocked the hotel!
MIDNIGHT 2001 MANIACS SCREENING:
Tim Sullivan and Robert Englund greet fans at the 2001 MANIACS screening!
While Heather Langenkamp gets a bit tipsy and hula-hoops in the lobby!
The Fright staff had to leave the convention center a little early on Sunday afternoon to make our flights back to New York, but from what we saw the convention was running smoothly and on schedule. One thing we discovered on Sunday was a new film called “Zombabies”. We only caught a glimpse, but Fright Fans, look this one up—as much as it seems inevitable what me and Rob G. saw had us laughing out loud as we prepared to leave the show. (Report continued below)
SUNDAY: PJ Soles (HALLOWEEN, CARRIE) gladly talks it up with fans!
Ronee Blakley from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
Andras Jones (NIGHTMARE 4) and Rodney Eastman (NIGHTMARE 3)
Miko Hughes (PET SEMETARY, NEW NIGHTMARE)!
Paul and Jonathan Ehlers!
Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface)!
Tom Holland (writer/director FRIGHT NIGHT, CHILD'S PLAY)!
FRIGHT NIGHT alumni William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse chat!
FRIGHT NIGHT's Billy Cole himself, Jonathan Stark!
The FRIGHT NIGHT reunion was among the weekend's highlights. William Ragsdale, Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon and Jonathan Stark!
Tom Holland and Stephen "Evil Ed" Geoffreys (right) pose with fan David Munoz (center) who owns this actual prop from FRIGHT NIGHT!
Henry Thomas signed for FREE all weekend at the RED VELVET table, the new horror film he was here to promote!
Overall, Texas FearFest was a very well run show. Considering how bleak things look on Thursday evening, and considering all the difficulties in getting the guests to the hotel after the blizzard John Gray and his staff pulled off an amazing show. Aside from some scheduling difficulties, which really seemed unavoidable, FearFest was well organized, professionally run, and had a great guest line-up, and all involved showed a real passion for the fans and for the genre. Considering this is only their second convention, Icons of Fright is impressed. Every show is another lesson learned, and should this show continue to grow it could easily become one of the stronger regional conventions. –Mike C.
PANELS PICS: Dread Central's Uncle Creepy moderated THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND panel with writer Sean Clark and the "babysitter" twins Electra & Elise Avellan.
Amanda Wyss, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and Ronee Blakley take part in a NIGHTMARE panel.
Dread Central's Johnny Butane moderates a panel with Neil and Axelle Marshall for DOOMSDAY!