Texas Frightmare: The Horror Con You Need To Attend
I’ve been freelancing in the horror industry now for about eight years. In the last two years, I’ve created this very website you’re visiting, launched a podcast and have met some of the kindest people on the internet. The further I plunge into the world of horror journalism, the more I fall in love with it and try to branch into every avenue that I can. Last year, my best friend and I attended Midsummer Scream, a mostly haunt oriented convention in Long Beach. It’s safe to say I fell in love with the experience, so when the opportunity to attend the fabled Texas Frightmare, I jumped at the chance.
So the night of May 2nd, I flew into Dallas. I’m from Sacramento and didn’t really know what to expect from the Lone Star state, I heard the word “humid” thrown around a lot, and while the precipitation was a little heavier than Northern California fare, it was pleasant. The sky was clear of clouds, the sun was setting, and all I could think as the Lyft driver drove me to the convention center was “this city is SO big.” And then naturally, because I’m California born and raised, the very next thought was “and this traffic is super not bad.”
I met fellow writer Michele Eggen outside the hotel, we were rooming together. We had been friends for over two years at that point and had never even spoken to each other in person. After dropping my luggage off, we made our way downstairs and Michele, a seven year vet at this point, gave me a brief tour. We went downstairs to the convention floor and she pointed out where everything would be. Occupying four different rooms (and one party room), all of varying sizes, I couldn’t help but think about how small the floor space was compared to Midsummer Scream, which took place at the Long Beach Convention Center, or even the various Wondercons I had attended. We made our way up to the bar and almost immediately met up with John and Johnny, two more friends I had through Twitter that I had never met in person. We shared some whiskey and did exactly what you expect us to do: talked about horror. We discussed the panels we wanted to see, the vendors we were banking on visiting, the exclusives we hoped to attain.
As the night drew on, it became more surreal. As I ordered my third beer, I heard a familiar voice behind me and become awestruck when I realized that Lance Henriksen was drinking the biggest glass of chardonnay I had ever seen behind me, enjoying the night, discussing monster movies with another patron. Lance became a staple of the bar area that weekend, happily making his way in and out of the restaurant, making his way outside to smoke a cigarette and sarcastically flip off fans. As if he wasn’t a favorite before, he snuck his way even further into my heart that weekend.
Behind me to my right, Robert Englund entertained a group of friends, casually taking off his glasses and wiping them clean with his shirt. A scant fan would approach for a picture but most of the patrons respected Englund enough to give him space, and it was endlessly entertaining to watch the man who terrified me for decades growing up to be sitting a table away from me, theatrically telling anecdotes while sipping at his drink.
As the evening was winding down, I made my way to the eighth floor to buy a water when a hand reached through the doors. It was Ryan Turek, co-host of the Shock Waves podcast and Blumhouse producer. Ryan was the first person who gave me a freelance job at Shock Til You Drop, all those years ago.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“Grabbing a water,” I almost asked back.
“Fuck no, you’re not. You’re coming to the bar with me for a drink.” So of course I did. Waiting at the bar was Angela herself, Felissa Rose, accompanied by two friends. She politely greeted me before asking what I wanted to drink.
“No, no, no. Felissa, I can’t. You’re…you’re Felissa Rose. I have to buy you a drink,” I sputtered out, flattered and shocked at the nights proceedings. She insisted. After numerous hugs and lots of horror talk (many kind words were thrown towards Joe Bob Briggs) I finally retired for the evening. I had only been here for one night, the con hadn’t even officially started, and already I was living the horror fans dream.
Friday was the official first day of the con, which would open to VIP members at 5 before fully opening at 6 for all ticket members. We spent the day running into people we had met online, specifically the Shock Waves podcast crew, and as the crowd started to gather, I was fortunate enough to meet more of the writers for Ghastly Grinning. Nat Brehmer flew in from Florida with his wife and we immediately hit off, discussing Full Moon horror and non-stop comic book minutiae. Amanda Rebholz and her fiancee Freddy Ruiz, one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever met and hands down one of the only people who exceeds my levels of passion, made a break from helping Dread Central prepare their booth to finally make introductions and hug it out. We have dinner and a beer and anticipate the crowd as we count down the time until we can explore the halls full of shirts, blu rays, comic book, collectibles, and every kind of horror and genre adjacent trinket you could ever want.
The doors finally open and I was right. The space is small. Yet, the people are aware and conscious of that. No hive mind has formed where crowds are barreling over each other to hope to get some con exclusive. I mean, yes, the line for Mondo is massive, but no one is being rude about it. They file into place behind the other attendees and conversations almost immediately start in every corner, every line, every group brushing shoulder.
“I love your shirt, where did you get that?”
“Oh my god, Nick Castle is here, are you getting that signed?”
“Yeah, I’m definitely seeing the Joe Bob panel and I want to hit the Arrow screening too.”
It’s the din of outcasts who have found a home. No longer is it just your tight knit horror friends and then the casual friend who has seen the biggies but probably doesn’t know what Blood Hook is or who PJ Soles is. The first night is spent taking it all in. The Arrow booth, Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, every weird and bizarre blu you could ask for is within reach. Mountains of clothing with your favorite horror icons, and your second favorite, and your thirtieth favorite. Old horror comics fill long boxes across from a booth that has the official tie-in Hot Wheels for various horror movies. Robert Englund sits across from his own final girl, Heather Langenkamp, while I gather my composure at the Shock Waves booth adjacent to them both. I meet more internet friends, DJ and Dustin, and we make the rounds. Nothing is purchased as I’m just a sponge, soaking everything in. As the night winds down, I’m ready for bed, I hear that Saturday is the proverbial party night and I’m looking to have some reserved energy for the evening. Suddenly, I hear my name from behind. “Hey, Ryan?”
I’m with everyone I know so I turn around and meet Trai. He follows me on the various social medias and he goes on to tell me how the sites goal of pushing positivity, as well as my general upbeat outlook online and on my podcast, have helped him in his life and his view on movies. I’m floored. I suddenly understand celebrity. Having a stranger tell you that you’ve impacted their life and in a positive way? It’s the most spectacular feeling in the world.
Saturday rolls around and Michele and I make sure that we see the Shock Waves panel. Accompanied by Ghoulish Gary Pullin, it’s a blast. The crowd loves it. They’re laughing and cheering along. Not a single note of negativity can be felt, in spite of a crowd of people stuck in an under-ventilated room for an hour, and that feeling is felt the entire trip. Sure, you could check online and some people would be complaining, but it was a scant minority. Most of the crowd is smiling the whole trip. You can see the permanent grin on their face as they stop to take pictures with cosplayers, as they wait in line to meet a celebrity, as they order a beer at the bar.
Saturday night is everything that’s been promised. As the attendees start to roll out, the Grinners and I are making our way to the bar. I run into Rob Galluzzo and Ryan Turek and insist on buying them a shot. Almost as soon as the fire water kicks back, someone runs up “G Tom Mac is going to sing Cry Little Sister downstairs!” We power our way to the karaoke room where we are treated to G Tom Mac, dressed as a hand in a theater production, is singing songs from his unofficial The Lost Boys musical. When he covers INXS, the crowd is pleasantly surprised and when he then covers Twenty One Pilots, the crowd is the most fantastic mix of confused and excited. When he finally sings ‘Cry Little Sister,’ the crowd loses it as the English born singer pours every ounce of energy and passion into the same notes that assailed the Santa Carla boardwalk.
As the set comes to a close, myself and some of the writers make our way back up to the bar, where a wearied Shock Waves crew has amassed a group of chairs for beers and discussion. They invite us to sit and we spend the night discussing Hellraiser and Spawn comics, the Scream franchise, and Elric Kane’s tenure as the official podcast for the New Beverly theater. Rob shows us some of the beautiful vinyls to be released for some Dread titles while a who’s who of the industry stops by the shake Ryan’s hand. It’s surreal. It’s magical.
Sunday is a day for relaxing. I leisurely stroll the aisles, which already feel like home, and I say my goodbyes to people who are traveling out that night. I make my way down the bar for my final drink and meal of the weekend and I’m alone. Not even Lance Henriksen is posted up in his usual seat. All I can think about is how crazy cool the weekend was.
Yes, everything you hear about cons is true. The lines are huge. It’s hot and crowded. Yet, these are trivial compared to what Texas Frightmare has to offer. The floor space is small, it forces you to cram together, but horror fans are a different crowd. You aren’t bumping into strangers, you’re bumping into family and that’s something that the folks at Texas Frightmare are able to do. They make the weekend feel huge, yet somehow, still some self contained. It’s personal. It’s comfortable and fun and casual. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find someone you know, or see two Michael Meyers having dinner together. The panels get packed but they’re never too full for everyone. Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it. An interesting panel is happening around the clock, trivia and karaoke are entertaining in the smaller rooms, and even just walking around the floor brings constant joy.
It’s a feeling that you can’t manufacture. It’s impossible to explain, fully, but I’m trying. Something about Texas Frightmare is lightning in a bottle and somehow they keep capturing it every year. Yeah, you will have some big celebrities. You’ll have others that will strike that special chord as a horror fan (seeing Joe Bob live was truly a transformational experience) but that’s not why you need to get to Texas Frightmare. You need to get here because it’s our island of misfit toys, and we’re all here to have a good time. And you will.