The glory days of horror conventions

As much as I love the horror genre, I was pretty much a late comer to the whole horror convention scene when I went  to my first convention in 1998. 

It was Chiller Theatre back East in New Jersey, and I had enormous fun. Like trying to chase the dragon, I’ve been to many horror conventions since, but none ever matched the fun I had that weekend.

For many years, the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors was the big one to go to for many years, but that convention, like the magazine itself, has absolutely seen better days.

I did go several years in a row when the publication and the convention were in much better shape, and despite the heat that would hit the San Fernando Valley during the summer, it was usually a lot of fun to make the trek. (For some reason, these conventions are usually in the Valley suburb of Burbank, near Disney Studios).

Horror has endured many ups and downs, and the last time I actively went to the Fango cons, it was on the upswing, to the point where Scream / Vampire Diaries creator Kevin Williamson had trouble getting in the door on a sold-out weekend. (Before the magazine suffered financial melt-down and had to sell off the rights to their convention, they were actually doing sold out three day events).

As one fan told me at my first Fango jaunt, “I got my annual Fangoria friends that I only see at the conventions, and we get together and have a good time.” 

Horror is a very fan oriented genre, and keeping in touch with the people is very important. John Russo, screenwriter of Night of the Living Dead, made his first horror convention appearance in 1985. “That opened my eyes to it,” he says. He’s appeared at hundreds since then, and still goes to eight to ten conventions a year.

Russo, who is still actively making films and writing novels, says, “One thing I like about these conventions is you get a good feeling about what the fans want to see and read. It keeps us in touch, and we can write and produce to please the fans. That’s what we started out to do with Night of the Living Dead, we wanted to make a movie that would really pay off with horror fans, and that’s what we’re still doing.”

With the stockpiles of memorabilia for sale at horror conventions, it’s really easy to blow a lot of money quickly. It’s sort of like Vegas for film geeks. A familiar site at any horror convention are homemade silk-screened t-shirts with reproductions of horror film posters. Like metal fans with their favorite bands, horror fans love to represent their favorite movies with these shirts.


One booth I visited had shirts for horror popular and obscure including The Shining, Videodrome, the 1979 T.V. mini-series Salem’s Lot, The Fog, and Halloween III?! The one about the evil toy-maker that had nothing to do with the first two movies?! (The guy tells me it’s actually a popular shirt that sells.)  The graphics for these shirts are sometimes taken from DVD screen grabs that are cleaned up with photo shop. Shirt sizes often go all the way up to XXXL because there’s a lot of people at these conventions who spend more time sitting around watching movies than they do on the treadmill.

Like metal fans trading tapes, when your favorite movies and T.V. shows aren’t available at the local Tower, you often seek out fan created bootlegs on DVD. Some gore films can take years to reach the States, and some have never seen an official U.S. release. You often hear about movies too sick to ever be released here theatrically that become urban legend among fans.


Horror fans demand their favorite films uncut and in the best quality, and some dealers will search all over the planet for the best version of a film. They’ll tell you the Japanese DVD release of a film usually has the best quality (at first it’s a bizarre experience checking out your favorite gore film with Japanese subtitles, but after a while you forget they’re there).


There were also two cool companies that sell authorized DVDs you can buy from retail outlets: Drunken Masters, who specialize in Asian cinema, and Media Blasters, who put out a lot of obscure horror and B movies.


Rick Stelo, the owner and founder of Drunken Masters, says a lot of the current interest in Asian cinema is because of Quentin Tarantino. “There was already a big underground following for it with Jackie Chan, Jet Li and John Woo, but Kill Bill really blew it up on a bigger level.”


With one DVD dealer I made myself look like a total doofus when I asked if he had a Lucio Fulci movie I’ve been looking for in its uncut, European version. Fulci of course is the late Italian auteur of gore who directed Zombie, Gates of Hell, and The Beyond, to name a few. “Everybody’s got Fulci stuff,” he scoffed. “I’ve got the hard to get sh*t!”


For those who haven’t experienced the full blown geek fun of the horror convention scene, I absolutely recommend making the trek to the Jersey Chiller Convention if you can, and Rue Morgue, Fango’s competition from Canada, also puts on its own fest if you can make it there as well.