By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Fans of horror fandom have plenty of choices these days when considering there’s a wide array of conventions for them to get their spook on. Some are multi-faceted enough to include a section just for them and others are 100% focussed. In the world of horror entertainment, this niche market is mainstream enough to allow them to run independently or be part of a larger show. In Canada, Rue Morgue Magazine runs Festival of Fear as part of Fan Expo Vancouver, and in the United States, Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors occurs in various cities throughout the year. Those are perhaps the most recognized conventions in North America.
In Kyle Kuchta’s documentary, Fantasm, he looks at a host of other shows — Monster Mania, Rock and Shock, Spooky Empire and HorrorHound — that takes place in the Eastern part of the United States. Here both he, fans, producers, vendors and performers explain why attending horror conventions have become a rite of passage. This 55 minute program does not always focus on the appeal of horror to the masses. It looks at the reasons why fandom likes to gather at these events. Through all the interviews that Kuchta has collected in the 2012 and 2013 year at these particular shows, he nicely reveals that the desire to attend these festivals is more about nurturing a passion. Some attendees forge lasting relationships while at these events. Kuchta does a great job at putting together an extended discourse about the passion everyone has instead of going in-depth.
When he reveals that his film is a senior’s thesis than a Ph.D study on the Internet Movie Database, the depth is only as good as the time he has to put together the product for grading. To look at the fandom in his neck of the woods is respectable enough to get a good idea of how far and wide it has reached from the northern part of the States (Indiana) to the South (Florida). If only he had the time and funding to check out Crypticon either in Seattle or its many other host cities, he would have learned that even paranormal investigators have a passion for this genre and they even have their own mini-con (known as Pacific Northwest Paracon) too! These details are not necessarily missed by Kuchta because not every fright fest will have this mini show. This crossover into paranormal television shows (reality or dramatizations) is just as prevalent as to why people love this genre. Sometimes a real life run-in with the supernatural is more frightening!
Even a look at Monsterpalooza in Burbank, California might prove interesting. However, no matter how many shows Kuchta manages to attend, he will find the same answers anywhere where he goes. The information he presents in this version gets repetitive and further editing will only strengthen his point. When his opening narrative creates a focus about him making a spiritual journey to learning about why horror conventions are appealing, he should stick to that flow. For him, it’s about finding a place to fit in. Interestingly, he looks like Narcisse from Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. In that film, all that character revealed is in how he felt outcast and shunned — something this filmmaker can emphasize with. All he wants is a place to belong and that’s why he looks for Midian, a place where the unusual can be celebrated. In the book Cabal to which this film is based on, he’s uncertain if he’s worthy enough to be accepted (which mirrors this director’s own feelings at one time). That’s why he looks to Boone, an all too normal human in biker clothes, questionably asking if he was sent to bring him to Midian. Not everyone will pick up on this detail, and if that was Kuchta’s intention to look like this character, he’s succeeded in giving viewers well versed in horror films a worthy chuckle.
The better parts of this documentary is when he talks a little about his life and how the genre has become like a comforter blanket for him. This edge makes this product worth a watch. To cover the humanitarian aspects of why this scene is appealing shows that he has the chops to go into broadcasting if that becomes his final career choice. Some of the best information about why genre conventions are warm and inviting comes from Jack Bennett of Blood & Guts with Scott Ian and from Joe Lynch of Wrong Turn 2 / Holliston.
For Heather Langenkamp and Amanda Wyss from Nightmare of Elm Street, they explain why they love to go these conventions. Some shows are not as huge as San Diego Comic Convention and thankfully, because they are smaller, these celebrities are able to spend time with the fans and not feel rushed because of a huge line-up.
Fantasm is a very down to earth documentary about why it’s cool to attend a horror convention. When there is a moment with Spider-Man playing hoola-hoop, some viewers will see that the reasons to attend are the same no matter what the genre convention. Crossover is inevitable. Although this video is rough around the edges because of its DIY approach (some may wonder if all this filmmaker used was his iPhone) and micro-budget (most of which was spent in travel expenses no doubt), the information it presents is tailored more for someone new to the scene than individuals well versed. When it becomes available as a VOD product, it’s certainly worth taking a quick look at what the scene is like elsewhere. The DVD that is now available offers more content and hopefully the “extended” interviews are uncut so some further insight is offered. In other parts of this nation or the world where other conventions take place, there’s only YouTube to get a sense of what’s missed.
This video can be bought directly at http://fantasm.storenvy.com/