I sat next to Jason Voorhees and lived to tell the tale. In fact, the dude politely waved at me.
Of course, Jason’s not real. I’m simply describing one of the more memorable moments from my Texas Frightmare experience last month. While waiting outside a panel room and dutifully looking over the schedule to plan and pass the time, I looked up and saw this:
The adult in me squealed: Cool, a Jason cosplayer! Oh, and look – he’s dressed like the Richard Brooker Jason from Part 3!
The kid in me, however, screamed: Please don’t kill me, hockey mask monster!
Welcome to Texas Frightmare, self-billed as the Southwest’s “premiere horror convention” with a regular attendance in the 10,000 territory. According to Eric Dyson, a content marketing specialist for a company specializing in conventions and conferences, “Texas Frightmare Weekend is actually one of the largest horror conventions in the country, if not the world.”
Some of the 2018 headliners included Brad Dourif (and the Child’s Play gang for a 30th anniversary panel), Tobin Bell, Ron Perlman, Clive Barker, Doug Bradley (and several of the original Cenobites), and a reunion of six of the Jason Voorhees actors.
This was my first ever Texas Frightmare, though it was the fourth and fifth time, respectively, for the two fellow horror fans I went with. Having only recently ventured out into the world of pop culture conventions, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’ve been to Fan Expo in Dallas and Denver Comic Con, events with estimated attendance figures as high as 115,000. I’ve seen celebrities, new and old, command theater-sized audiences. Heck, one time in Kansas City John Barrowman literally brought the house down, and I was there to see it! Well, actually, some scaffolding and drapes simply fell, but, still, sometime did get hurt enough to need a nurse.
Texas Frightmare is different, I was told. It’s smaller, more intimate, more congenial, yet also more surreal. It’s centrally located in a hotel inside the Dallas-Fort Worth airport meaning most of the guests are staying at the same place you are. The autograph booths are lined across the walls inside the two merch rooms meaning while you’re checking out the latest obscure Blu-Rays from the Arrow Video and Vinegar Syndrome booths the director of Troll 2 and his screenwriter wife might be around the corner signing autographs.
Furthermore, at a Comic Con, you walk around cosplayers representing all different genres of film, TV, animation, and video games; at Texas Frightmare, you regularly walk by people who look like this:
A Comic Con is where you geek out; Texas Frightmare is where you let your freak flag, baby! Or, you know, just geek out about horror.
Often times, I felt like The Simpson’s version of Ozzie Smith perpetually falling down the rabbit hole of the Springfield mystery spot, unmoored from reality but always happy to shout “Cool!’ and snap a picture. I mean, where else do you get to see Jason and Leatherface shake hands while a mini-Jason stands guard?
If it’s beginning to sound like I was more of a tourist than a participant at Texas Frightmare, there’s certainly some truth to that. But I am just now dipping my toes into what it means me to be the type of horror fan who does more than simply watch and enjoy the movies. I might not ever evolve into a cosplayer myself, but I find fascinating the people who do it and felt invigorated by being around so many like-minded fans.
I can’t wait to go back next year, and I will go there having learned these 10 things from Texas Frightmare 2018:
1. A news story sometimes breaks out.
Completely unprovoked during the Child’s Play reunion panel, Catherine Hicks, adopting the tone of a proud mother, announced that Fiona Dourif had just booked the lead role in a new TV series. Dourif, of course, downplayed the news, claiming it’s not actually the lead role, and she would not confirm the name of the show.
That’s ok. Life did that for her just 48 hours later:
According to Ryan Turek on a recent Shock Waves episode, he got to personally witness her discover the news, as did countless others who were standing in line for her autograph. Since the Shock Waves booth was right next to Fiona’s, Turek got to see her step away for a minute to take a call from her agent and learn she’d gotten the part in The Purge. Since Turek works at Blumhouse and The Purge is a Blumhouse show, he knew what was happening. Nobody else had any idea.
2. Podcasters can have well-defined arms too, you know.
Speaking of Turek. He has really nice arms, and that’s not just me saying that. That’s coming from all the ladies around me at his panel, the one where he didn’t give us an exclusive glimpse at the Halloween trailer, as many had hoped.
3. Observe movie fan courtesy and never assume the strangers you chat up on the convention floor have seen or know the endings for all of the latest horror movies.
Apologies to the two sisters from Detroit who were initially too nice to let me know I ruined A Quiet Place for them.
4. Don’t assume they’ll clear the room after each panel.
They simply reserve the right to do so, but they never did at any of the panels I attended. I left the Child’s Play panel thinking we had to, and then couldn’t get into the Hellraiser panel in the same room an hour later.
5. There are only so many elevators, and you aren’t going to be the only one to get the grand idea to simply use the remarkably narrow stairwell.
As a result, using the stairs to head back up to your hotel room instead of waiting for elevators doesn’t save you as much time as you might expect. That is, if your room is more than a couple floors up, or, more fundamentally, if you’re someone staying in the same hotel that hosts the event. Not everyone does.
6. If you have the chance to attend the Dead Right Trivia panel, absolutely do so.
Hosted by Shock Waves Dr. Rebekah McKendry and Rob Galluzzo, Dead Right Trivia is a weekly Los Angeles gathering which has now been transported to Texas Frightmare as a new annual tradition. Not only is it a fun battle of who knows the most random shit about horror movies, it’s a great icebreaker since you must compete in teams of no less than 5. Chances are you’re going to have to team with at least a couple of strangers. It’s a quick way to make new convention friends or finally meet someone who knows more about the Hellraiser franchise than you. Oh, yes, that person exists and you two are fated to become fast friends or instant enemies. But you must be in the room to find out which way it will go.
7. Be respectful, of course, but don’t hesitate to ask for a photo with or of a cosplayer.
Some of them literally crawled at me. Incidentally, the hotel also has a free area where you can go to stage such photos.
8. In the real world, backpacks are useful; in the Texas Frightmare world, they are weapons to be dreaded and avoided.
With each passing year, I’m informed, Texas Frightmare’s attendance grows and thus initiates arguments over whether it has outgrown its venue. Friday night, in particular, was as crowded as I’ve ever seen any convention, relative to the space, of course. With all of us so cramped together, it became increasingly common to get hit in the face by someone’s backpack. I became so aware of it I took off my own backpack and carried it by my side whenever possible. On Saturday and Sunday, I made sure to carry all of my stuff in the modest-sized handbag that came with the book I got from the Arrow Video booth.
9. Be open to the weird and obscure. It’s where some of the coolest stuff happens.
Texas Frightmare, like so many other pop culture conventions, is a choose-your-own adventure affair. Wanna meet famous people and get some autographs? Done. Prefer to browse the merch rooms and pick up cool art, hip Blu-Rays, an almost definitely black T-shirt, or whatever else might be on offer? You can do that, too. Check in on various reunion panels for old horror classics, live tapings of horror podcasts, or maybe just a Q&A with an actor only tangentially related to the genre? That’s certainly an option. Just there to have fun? There’s an opening night party and an always well-attended Karaoke event called, appropriately enough, Scaryoke.
However, you also have the option to take in plenty of horror movies, be they new indies you’ll likely never see anywhere else or equally obscure old Texas-made flicks which went out of print long ago. On a whim, I took in one such screening for an anthology horror film called Tabloid. Made in the 80s – and boy does it show – the flick playfully adapts some of the more outlandish tabloid stories of the time, like the one about the girl and her killer vacuum cleaner or the boy born with a full beard. Amateurish, overacted, but utterly delightful and very much so a project which knew exactly what it was. I was glad I gave it a chance.
Then this happened:
After the screening, several of the filmmakers and some of the original cast members took to the front of the room to not only share how the movie was made but also how this very screening had brought about a reunion of sorts. See, they wanted to track down as many people from the movie as possible, yet they had no record of nor contact information for who actually played the titular boy in the “Baby Born With Full Beard” vignette. So, they took to social media and put out a mock missing child milk carton (pictured above) asking for help in tracking down the child.
It worked. Funnily enough, the child, now a grown man (he’s the one with the ball cap on) with a baby of his own, had never seen the movie before. His parents volunteered him for the part in Tabloid and never told him about it. In fact, they completely forgot about it until the social media campaign finally reached them and their son called up to ask, “Dad, when I was a baby did you guys put me in some kind of horror movie? That can’t be true, right?”
Nope. It was true, and we were on hand to watch them enjoy their much belated moment in the spotlight.
10. Sometimes, you just gotta dance.
That’s Jackson Robert Scott, aka Georgie from It, doing the Pennywise dance. The crowd loved it. Except for this guy in the back:
Eek. That guy scared me.