Another Texas Frightmare Weekend is upon him, but founder Loyd Cryer is calm and collected. This year is the convention's 11th installment, and per usual the multi-day event will take place at the Hyatt Regency near DFW Airport. Not only is it the sole horror-themed convention in Texas, it's considered one of the best in the country. "It's a passion project," Cryer says. "You don't make a ton of money in this. It's a whole lot of work. It's a year-long thing."
Given how people from all over the world descend on Irving for the convention, Cryer has been tempted to go all out and book Texas Frightmare Weekend at a convention center. But instead he has opted to keep it on a smaller scale. "We're really committed to having it at a hotel," he says. "We really, really love the hotel where we're at. They have an amazing staff. They wear horror T-shirts. The whole hotel gets into the spirit of it. We'd never want to take it to a convention center because that takes all the fun out of it. Everybody likes to hang out at the hotel and do their thing."
The 11 years have flown by. Cryer has loved horror movies for most of his life, and with the support of his wife Sue, he decided to start Texas Frightmare Weekend on a lark. Advance ticket sales were slow at first and Cryer considered canceling the event. "We didn't really know if there were fans of that number in the area that would support something like this," he says. His wife urged him to go through with it, and the walk-up was massive on its opening day. Every year since, the same attendees have returned and also told their friends. "So, thank God for her," Cryer says.
This year's marquee guests include Texas Frightmare Weekend virgins such as Rose McGowan, Peter Criss of Kiss, Matthew Lillard and David Arquette. They join household names in the horror genre, many of whom have appeared at the convention in previous years, such as actors Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder and Lance Henriksen, along with director George Romero. There will be mini-reunion panels of actors and actresses featured in Halloween 2 (the 1981 film) and Return of the Living Dead. And there will be panels on Day of the Dead, The Warriors and a remembrance of Wes Craven.
Something that's been developing in the past few years is the number of screenings put on in partnership with the Texas Theatre and the Alamo Drafthouse. Last night at the Texas Theatre, there was a Q&A with legendary make-up artist/actor Tom Savini after a From Dusk Til Dawn screening, followed by a screening of The Warriors with a Q&A featuring stars James Remar and Michael Beck. At the newly-built Drafthouse near downtown Dallas, Matthew Lillard and Skeet Ulrich also did a Q&A after a screening of Scream.
But nationally- and internationally-known guests aren't the only draw. Texas Frightmare Weekend also seeks to spotlight local talent. There's even more of it represented this year, as members of the legendary metal band Rigor Mortis will be featured, as well as Lyle Blackburn from Ghoultown. Texas horror filmmakers like Josh Vargas, who made Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre, will also be there. And there's the Dark Art exhibit of local artists, which is led by Theresa Jara, wife of Ed Neil, the hitchhiker in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
This year Sue Cryer has also worked hard to weave a charitable cause into the event: raising awareness of depression. As a way of honoring a former volunteer, Michael "Coop" Cooper, who took his own life, Texas Frightmare Weekend is raising funds to start a non-profit foundation. "He was a big part of our family," Cryer says. "I think he volunteered for us for four years. It just happened out of the blue. None of us knew he was in any trouble at all. We want to give back and help out and hopefully help someone in need."
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Connecting with other horror fans is the key to it all. One of the earliest pieces of feedback Cryer received on Texas Frightmare Weekend was how nice people were to each other, constantly saying things like "Pardon me," "Excuse me" and "I'm sorry." Horror might not be a genre for everybody, but it's evident that a lot of open-minded, well-spoken and thoughtful people come to horror conventions. "You just don't see that everywhere," Cryer says. "I really don't know what it is, but I think they're more open-minded people and I think the horror genre itself lends to that."
It can be easy to compare a horror convention to a comic book/sci-fi convention and wonder what the big difference is. But while you can easily find a hardcore fan of Spider-Man on the street, you have to look a little harder to find a fan of Leatherface. "There's definitely a different vibe [at Texas Frightmare Weekend]," he says. "People are excited, smiling and laughing. There's a lot of energy and community at these events. I mean, where else can you go to meet thousands of other fans of the same thing that you're into?"
Texas has long-standing ties to horror movies. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films were made in Austin; The Town That Dreaded Sundown was set in Texarkana; and the classic horror spoof, Student Bodies, was filmed in Houston. It's only logical that a major event like Texas Frightmare Weekend should build on the legacy of horror in the Lone Star State. "There's a huge [sense of] pride in knowing that it's here and we made it work here in Texas," Cryer says.
Texas Frightmare Weekend runs Friday, April 29-Sunday, May 1, at the Hyatt Regency DFW (2334 International Parkway). Day passes are $30; weekend passes are $75. Kids under 12 get in free.