For all of the noise about the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars, let’s not forget that another bit of cultural flotsam premiered four decades ago this week, with an arguably longer and more insidious influence. At least with this, we won’t be seeing ridiculous “Sid shot first” revisionism.
In all of the obvious love shown to Texas Frightmare Weekend, don’t think that it’s always perfect. No, there’s always someone who takes issue with what the Triffid Ranch is doing. The plants are living things, they yell, you shouldn’t be selling them, they yell, at least not something I can’t smoke. By way of example, for the first time, I share pictures of a heckler. The character came below and did nothing but take offense that his brethren and sisters were available for sale in glass bottles and containers, and he let me know it. Well, he kinda did: he was rather hard to understand, and random grumbling and wheezing counts as heckling, right?
Very seriously, it’s no exaggeration that I now spend the entire year getting ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend in one way or another, and I hope to pull off a display in 2018 that’s not affected by a sudden gallery eviction and relocation. Many thanks to everyone involved with Frightmare: attendees, guests, staff, support crew, and fellow vendors, and thanks in particular to convention founder Loyd Cryer: if not for him ignoring the various voices in the area telling him that a horror convention in “as conservative a city as Dallas” wouldn’t work, we wouldn’t be having THIS much fun. Here’s to seeing everyone next year, because the only way I’d miss it is by being dead, and even then.
Trying to describe a show like Texas Frightmare Weekend to folks completely unfamiliar with the concept is hard enough, but trying to explain the costumers is harder. Part of it comes from the assumption that the costumers are just nostalgic for Halloween, or from the cliche of the convention costumer circa 1985. Both work from an assumption that costumes should be quick, flashy, and quickly discarded once the event is over. And that assumption is so wrong that it’s saddening.
As someone who first started attending conventions in the early 1980s, and who only became a vendor during the great costuming renaissance of the 2000s, this is another area of fandom where I have no interest or urge to go back to the Good Old Days. The sheer professionalism of costuming these days makes it worthy of further study: in fact, it’s the reason why so many TV and newspaper crews come to events like Frightmare to get images and video of the proceedings. In many ways, they treat Halloween the way Hunter S. Thompson handled New Year’s Eve: that’s the day you back off and let the amateurs have their fun.
As for being a vendor? I get to watch literally thousands of enthusiasts go by, and I get to ask questions. For a short time in the Eighties, I took inspiration from such makeup effects maestros as Dick Smith and Tom Savini and wanted to dive right into the world of movie illusions. I’ve gone off in a drastically different direction since then, but a lot of what I learned back then still influences plant enclosures today. How do I make this illusion? How do I put it together for the maximum effect? Does it grab the audience in the same way it grabbed me? I may be using live plants, long-fiber sphagnum, and perlite instead of silicone and resin, but it’s still the same thrill.
One of the things that’s hard for people outside of the dealer’s room at a big convention such as Texas Frightmare Weekend is that it’s WORK. Heck, it’s hard for some people in the dealer’s room to understand, for that matter. (And no, I’m not naming names, although it’s tempting.) This means that very few of us have the time or opportunity to break free from the booth to view preview movie screenings or guest signings. This means that while the attendees are heading out to catch after-hours parties and concerts, we’re usually either heading home or to our hotel rooms to get some sleep before it starts all over again. This means having to cancel dinner plans with near and dear friends because a customer asked for a special commission that has to be ready by the next day. For anywhere from two to four days, depending upon the length of the convention, it’s a matter of scrambling and dancing and occasionally throwing things (you get really good at hitting trash cans from a distance when the crowd is too thick to get to it directly), and none of us would give it up for anything.
And why wouldn’t we give it up? That’s because the party comes to us. At Frightmare, that meant anywhere between six and nine hours of fascinating people coming from all over the planet, in costume and out, all with different stories about why they were there. It’s a three-day Troll Market, and everyone involved simultaneously wishes that it could go on for years AND thanks Odin, Marduk, and Arioch that it doesn’t go on for a solid week. I don’t think any of us could handle more than five days, just because there are limits as to what the human body can endure.
As an aside, it’s time to share the Great Doughtnut Dropoff story. When Texas Frightmare Weekend moved to its current location at DFW Airport five years ago, we made a run on a grocery store for drinks on the last day of the show, and decided “what the heck: let’s pick up a flat of doughnuts to share with the vendors and the staff.” Considering how many vendors were waiting for their final sales on Sunday to know how much gas money they’d have (yes, things were a bit tight that year), the box was denuded within seconds. Since then, things have gotten considerably better for the vendors, but the doughnut tradition continues. Every Sunday at the end of Frightmare, it’s a matter of going over to Donut Palace in Garland, one of the best doughnut shops in the whole of the D/FW Metroplex, and picking up a few dozen for the staff. They’re exhausted from running the show, so the sugar pick-me-up is important, and it’s a very careful thank-you for the realization that while all sorts of emergencies may have occurred over the weekend, attendees and vendors didn’t know about any of them. (Remind me to tell you about the fire alarm at Space City Con in Houston in 2014 some time.)
This year, it was the usual: seven dozen, all fresh out of the fryer, and a suitable mix so that everybody got at least one of their favorites. By the end of the show, though, one box remained on the registration desk, with two or three remaining. By the time we finished packing up the truck and did the traditional “Did we get EVERYTHING?” inspection of the booth before leaving for the night, one was still there. It looked perfectly edible, so was that last one left because nobody wanted to be That Guy Who Took the Last Doughnut (And Thereby Had To Dispose Of The Box), or did someone write “Lovingly prepared by Tyler Durden” on the bottom? Next year, I’m setting up a remote camera, just to check.
Just about everyone who has ever worked in horticulture can appreciate this one:
Now, not that this year’s Frightmare was perfect. The horror lay in leaving the show. Everything packed up perfectly, we were all done and loaded into the truck at least an hour ahead of schedule, and it looked as if the few remaining plants would go back into the gallery before dark. Everything was going great, until the truck encountered the tollbooths at the north exit of DFW Airport. Judging by the scars on the concrete barriers separating each toll booth, a lot of drivers discover that they don’t have very much clearance at all. In my case, I came to the booth, inserted my original toll ticket and the parking validation from the hotel, started forward, and caught a lovely “BLAM!” Starting forward a little further, the right wheel was making a lovely whup-whup-whup sound, so it’s time to pull over. One of the wheel struts had broken, so it was a matter of waiting for a tow truck to haul the beast back to the gallery and from there to a repair center. (A little bit of advice for first-time vendors at conventions and shows: if you get to the point where you need a truck to haul merchandise to shows, go for a rental to each show until you reach the point where the rentals are costing more than payments on a new truck. If you rent, always, ALWAYS buy the offered insurance, because that $20 to $40 expenditure every show is much better than the $2000 or more that will come out of your hide if something should happen. Thirdly, if you find a dependable and friendly rental service, stick with these people, and let them know how much you love them at every opportunity. Not only can I depend upon U-Haul Moving & Storage of Garland, but I let them know much they’re helping, every time I pick up a van.) U-Haul driver support was exceptional, the tow truck driver was a hoot, and I was able to get everything unloaded and in the gallery within minutes, with only one broken flask. Not exactly how I wanted to spend a Sunday evening, but it beat waiting on the side of the road, wondering what I’d do next.
The eternal question at this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend was “When will the gallery be open?” That was a very reasonable question if a bit surprising, because we had no idea how many people were waiting for that answer. The eternal response was “Well, I could get the gallery ready or I could get ready for the Frightmare show, and Frightmare wins, every time.” And oh boy, this one was one for the books. Not only was it the largest show I’ve seen in nearly a decade of them, but the crowd was one of the most mellow yet enthusiastic I’ve ever dealt with. Texas Frightmare Weekend already has a reputation among Dallas conventiongoers for an excellent experience all the way around, but the number of people coming from all over the planet? That’s always surprising.
As far as the traditional pre-show incidents were concerned, nothing comparable to last year’s lightning-struck box truck happened this time, but the show starts earlier and earlier. That is, the doors open at 5:00 on Friday evening for VIP attendees, but previously that gave just a little time for people to wander back through the dealer’s room and check out the sights. Not this time: at 5 sharp, the crowds were already rushing back to see what we vendors had this time, and it didn’t let up for six hours. This normally isn’t a problem, but that was about the time the Dallas Observer photographers came through to take photos for its annual Frightmare slideshow. Naturally, I show up in the last slide, crusted with salt from hauling plant tubs inside, and no chance to change into decent clothes before the mob hit. We should all have such problems. (The additional joy was having Robert Whitus of Drink With The Living Dead across the aisle. A great way to keep a sense of humility at shows is to have your very own heckler across the aisle, and since Robert has known me for 30 years, he had a LOT of material.)
More to follow…
Out at Texas Frightmare Weekend. Don’t wait up.