A new horror convention enters the ring to challenge the fifteen-year veteran in the wake of their absence in the market. So how did they do? Armed with my Horror Bound press pass, I went in to find out if the first annual Fantasm Orlando has a chance at scooping up a new fan base to keep it going forward after its inaugural celebration.
It’s that time again, Horror Bound loyal. Well, at least here in Central Florida it is. Time for our annual horror conventions to set up shop and show us what they have in store for us. Except this year a newcomer has arrived to fill the void usually occupied by fifteen-year veteran, Spooky Empire, who has opted this year instead for a change of venue and will be doing their annual show out of Tampa later in the month. I’ll be bringing my usual coverage of that one later in November. But in the meantime, I decided to head down to the tourist district of Orlando and check out the first annual Fantasm Orlando convention and bring my coverage to you, the Horror Bound reader.
I’ll be honest, when I saw the announcement for this convention back in May 2019, shortly after Spooky Empire had announced their move to Tampa, I immediately thought it was simply an audience grab, especially when they said that it was going to be held later that same year in October (a mere five months out from the initial announcement). I thought there was no way they were going to be able to pull together a decent guest or even event list in that short a span of time. I have many friends in the business so I kind of know how much goes into planning one of these things. Not to mention the Fantasm website had only consisted of one page at the time of the notification and only one guest announcement, legendary horror character actor, Michael Berryman.
At the time of the statement there wasn’t even any information on tickets or ticket prices. Just one page, one guest, and a hotel. That was it. My skepticism was immediate and I began to do some Internet sleuthing. But imagine my surprise when just a couple months later guest of honor, Don Coscarelli, was announced, an addition I have to imagine was in the works from as far back as the naming of the convention itself. Slowly but surely, the guest list grew, tickets went on sale, and events were added, including a Return of the Living Dead cast reunion. The ball was finally rolling. All that was left was a visit to the fledgling convention. So how did it go? Let’s find out, shall we.
I love attending Friday and Sundays at most conventions because there tend to be less people and, Sunday especially, you can get last minute deals on merch. So, I dropped by just a couple hours after opening on Friday, sans wife, so that I could pick up my press pass and purchase her Saturday pass early. I’ll admit, it was a little desolate just after the 3 o’clock hour, some things in both the vendors room and the outer halls still even needed some setting up, so I just did a once around the premises, then hit the road, opting to spend the bulk of my time the following day, with wife in tow, so that we could enjoy the finished product together (we also had an early reservation at Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, so I had to get back home, scoop her up, and head back down the road anyway).
So, Saturday came, and our first priority upon entering was getting our DVD copy of Bubba Ho-Tep signed by cult classic director extraordinaire, Don Coscarelli. We made our way over to his table and… no line?! Not a single person?! Okay. In fact, the entire convention was still looking pretty sparse. Sure, now everything was set up, any empty vendor tables from Friday were now present and accounted for, but the attendance was still pretty low. No one was in the table-top gaming room and the panels seemed to have attendees in the single digits. Not to be deterred, we made the most of what was there.
My favorite part of all Horror conventions, like most of you, I’m sure, is always the vendors room. Sure, the licensed tee shirts and other collectibles are always great, but for me, the real gems are those vendors who have created something entirely unique and one of a kind from the hard work of their own two hands. I know I’ve said this before in another write-up, but man, the ingenuity and uniqueness of the horror fan and community never ceases to amaze me, and this display was no different. Custom jewelry boxes handcrafted with the likeness of any number of horror icons, lamp fixtures meticulously designed with all manner of fabric and horror kitschy-ness, and original art were all on display and available for purchase by the most hardcore of horrorphile. Of course, my wife fell in love with a small wooden jewelry box emblazoned with Sam, of Trick ‘r Treat fame, and so we just had to have it.
Another staple at most conventions, regardless of fandom, are the offerings in the realm of original art created by the fans, in larger conventions, also referred to as Artist’s Alley. Not much here, again to due to the scaled down size of the show itself, but there were a few purveyors pushing their wares. There was one thing that I did find unique to this particular horror con that I haven’t seen at other horror conventions in the past and that was the representation of horror novelists, they even had their own row. More our Editor in Chief’s realm than mine, the few that were there didn’t ring any bells in my memory, but probably would send Charlotte’s heart a flutter. Still, always nice to see that facet of the genre have a showing at any convention.
Finally, we made our way to the media guest’s section and, comic book nerd that I am, was immediately drawn to Austin Janowsky’s table. Not familiar with his work by name, his table was covered with graphic novels, original comic book pages, and sketches that immediately caught my attention. Super cool, approachable, and knowledgeable industry guy that he was, we spent a good chunk of time at his table just chatting about the goings on in the comic book industry, horror comic books in general, and the horror comic books industry. He gave us the scoop on his most recent project, Zombies: We’re Humans Too, a 100-page graphic novel that he wrote in its entirety, but commissioned several notable artists to handle the art duties on. An inker by trade, Austin regaled us with tales of inking some of the most famous penciling heavyweights over at the big two comic book publishers in his heyday. Mainly for being such a cool dude, but also to support the little guys out there trying to get their due, we purchased a copy of his graphic novel, which he so gladly autographed, and an 11 x 17 print of some promo art for the book which featured a zombie sitting on a bench in the style of the classic Forrest Gump one-sheet.
Our time running short, alas we headed to Don Coscarelli’s table. Still devoid of any patrons, we took our time with the storied director, as we did with Austin before him, and shot the shit on all manner of topics. The horror and vegan nerd that she is, my wife started in with her discovery of his daughter, nationally recognized culinary expert and vegan chef, Chloe Coscarelli’s lineage to him. Yes, that’s right, fans, you heard me right: Don Coscarelli’s daughter is a world-renowned chef and author of vegan cuisine. My wife has all her books and cooks from them regularly, with me as her guinea pig of course. And, no, I myself am not vegan, (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but I digress. Proud poppa that he is, Don told us tales of all her appearances in the Phantasm films, at the ripe old age of ten, as various iterations of the famous demonic dark dwarves and how he also acts as official taste tester of new recipes when she cooks in his kitchen back home. He even took pictures of us from his phone so that he could text his daughter some pics of her fans.
We then dove into the topic of one of my favorite 80’s cult classics, The Beastmaster. He shared with us how hard it was to work with animals in the age before CGI and that if he could reboot the franchise today, he would surely leave the animal antics to the digital visual artists. I asked him if he ever saw any money from the sequel or television series that ran for three whole seasons back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s and unfortunately, he had sold the rights to the character and its accompanying properties shortly after the first film. But that a specific law in Hollywood would allow him to recapture the rights for a short window of time after 35 years from the time of the sale had elapsed. I’m for sure hoping that he does. After a few more stories and a mention of more in his new book, True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking (available for purchase here , folks), we finally got our long awaited autograph on the outer sleeve of our Bubba Ho-Tep DVD, and right above our Bruce Campbell sig to boot, to which Don’s comment upon noticing Bruce’s inimitable inscription was, “My gosh, how long did you have to wait in line for that one?”
All in all, fun was had by all, including the guests, I imagine. If I had any constructive criticism to dole out, it would be that the organizers need to find their footing and zero in on the horror concept a little more specifically. For a gathering whose slug line was “a horror and haunt convention,” I saw a little of the former and none of the latter. Look, I’m a fan of all genre film and TV, but carving out a huge chunk of floor space for a Star Wars display, when it could have been used for something a little more akin to the “haunt” aspect of the convention, well, that’s the sign of an event that still doesn't quite know what it aims to be yet.
But my biggest piece of advice would be to spend a decent chunk of next year’s budget (assuming that there will be a “next year”) on marketing to get the people in there to begin with. On paper (ie: the website), there were a lot of very cool events and happenings scheduled and planned all weekend long: a shadow cast performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Vampire: The Masquerade LARP’ing all three days, a burlesque performance, and a make-up effects contest, but the numbers just weren’t there for any of these to happen with any modicum of success. Although it was a very small showing, I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate, that this was the first attempt of a still young and new convention. Hopefully, they can learn from any mistakes they may have made and prepare for a better showing next time.