This past weekend’s Spooky Empire convention was an improvement over the last and one of the most fun experiences I’ve had at a con in a long time. For a few years, Spooky Empire has been located at the Double Tree in Orlando and has become increasingly cramped as the event has continued to grow in popularity. The change in location to the Hyatt Regency was a lifesaver for everyone involved. It was much more spacious, very clearly laid out and easy to navigate despite the much larger size and allowed for more breathing room and an easier experience overall. Like many conventions, the vendors and guests shared a space but it was clearly marked where one ended and the other began.
As for the events, there was a lot worth turning out for. The biggest problem, which is not really a problem, is that there was just no way to do everything you were interested in. There were many guest-heavy panels, performances and topical and author panels as well. If you wanted to see something like the Fright Night reunion, there may be a great batch of authors talking about particular interests in the genre at the same time that you would have to miss.
As for the Fright Night reunion, just as an example, that panel was very fun. It had a great, positive feel. Attending to celebrate the 30th anniversary were William Ragsdale, who played hero Charley Brewster; Amanda Bearse, who played girlfriend turned vampire-target Amy; and Stephen Geoffreys, who played best friend turned vampire, Evil Ed. There were some interesting topics covered, mostly from fans as the moderator almost didn’t feel sure how to talk about the movie. This was a repeated issue at the panels and the Fright Night panel was far from the worst of it. A few interesting tidbits were revealed. It’s long been rumored that Amanda Bearse was replaced for the film’s climax by a body double when she became Amy the vampire.
But it was Bearse, just under quite a bit of prosthetic makeup. She had, of course, the fang-filled mouth in addition to a long red wig and prosthetic breasts. Apparently, the breasts were what Amanda kept from the movie, but she also auctioned them off a few years ago when she started attending conventions. The cast also talked about what happened with Fright Night Part II. Bearse revealed that there was an early draft to feature Amy before she was replaced by the new girlfriend, Alex. Ragsdale revealed that at least one draft featured Jerry returning for revenge on Charley instead of his sister, and Geoffreys talked in a bit of detail about his decision not to return as Evil Ed, who was in several drafts of the script and was ultimately replaced by a similar character once the actor decided not to return. He cited a few reasons. One was the fact that he didn’t like the way the character was treated and how it was simply capitalizing on what people had reacted strongly to in the first film. Even then, he said he would have been willing to return, but he accepted 976-EVIL at the same time and just chose the project that he liked better.Of course, one of the major draws of the convention and the biggest turnout for probably any event over the course of the weekend was the Scream reunion panel. This was a huge event for fans of that film and that franchise. The cast were all very receptive, very interactive with fans, although it did get awkward when the moderator started one of the earliest questions with, “So, Wes is dead…” The death of Wes Craven was not that long ago and this was a man they all knew personally, even if some of them hadn’t seen him in some years he was an incredibly important person in their lives and careers.
Neve Campbell even bluntly explained that this was not something that she was completely over yet. They each shared a memory of Wes as a human being as best as they could, but the tone got a bit uncomfortable at that point. When the questions went to the fans, Matthew Lillard took over as the moderator to give that level of personal interaction that was really nice to see. Despite being fairly well known celebrities, there was no degree of alienation with them. It became abundantly clear just how much this film means to people when a girl came up to ask a question and simply broke down crying. She was not ushered along, not quieted, but instead was brought up on the stage to receive a hug from each of the actors. There are always attendees who will have that entitlement to think, “Why does she get to go up and meet them and I don’t?” This is honestly the kind of thing and the kind of people that can make conventions no fun. Luckily, I saw less of that than ever before, maybe just a few comments of complaining people as they were walking by.
As for personal interactions with the guests, this is something that can be a mix for convention attendees, but I had a great experience. Most of my experience with the guests came on Saturday; on Halloween. As many people as I’ve been lucky to meet in this genre and this industry, this was still an amazing experience. Tony Todd was the first guest I actually spoke to. He was great, funny, very laid back and even handed out candy at his table.
I had an excellent time talking to the cast of Fright Night as it was a film that shaped me as a fan and a writer. I go back a long time with this movie and these were people I had always, always wanted to meet. William Ragdale was very funny, Amanda Bearse was incredibly warm and Stephen Geoffreys had a great willingness to talk about the movie, especially the intelligence and subtext of it. We talked a bit about the seduction scene between Jerry and Ed. Geoffreys confirmed that absolutely everything was staged as written in that scene and was intentional. Nothing was a “maybe.”