Think Comic Con, but for horror enthusiasts — less Wonder Woman costumes and more fake blood. Lots more.
That’s FearCon, extolled as Arizona’s largest independent gathering to scare the wits out of you, this year sponsored by “Fangoria,” a magazine for horror-film fans.
The three-day scare fest features film screenings, panel discussions, vendors, live body painting, musical performances, workshops and a zombie pageant.
The fright runs Oct. 7-9 at Sun Studios of Arizona in Tempe, a brand new venue that boasts two sound stages and a 225-seat theater with surround sound.
Although founded in 2006 by Chris McLennan and her husband, Jim, this is only the seventh FearCon.
“We never did it like every single year, we did it whenever we felt like it was right,” she says. “As soon as we started talking to people about it…we just got a huge response.”
The first FearCon was at a small, now-defunct art gallery in downtown Phoenix called Paper Heart.
“The gallery held like 80 people, and on the day of the event 150 people showed up, which showed me there was a basis for doing this event,” says McLennan. “People liked it, they liked the way that I put the event together, which was not just a film festival. It had other things going on.
“We had bands playing, we had freak shows happening, we had cosplayers involved, we had the vendors, of course, that were there. But then we also started bringing in celebrity guests and it was a little bit of everything. There was kind of like a film-festival convention, Comic Con flavor to the whole thing, so we made it very unique and it kind of dominoed from there.”
This year, special guests include Lynn Lowry, who debuts her film, “Model Hunger,” Tiffany Shepis (“Tales of Halloween,” “Sharknado 2” and “Night of the Demons”) and Ari Stidham from Scorpion, with his directorial debut, “Curse of the Siren.”
McLennan says the team started its call for film submissions in January. Every year, it got 30 to 100 features and 50 to 60 short films. She and her husband dedicate hundreds of hours to watching and analyzing the entries, of which they pick no more than five features and about 20 to 30 shorts for the event.
McLennan says it’s inspiring to see the dedication and passion put into the films.
“You can see that these independent filmmakers put all their money, all their time, all their blood and sweat, into them, knowing that submitting to film festivals isn’t going to guarantee anything,” she says.
The festival awards “Best Feature,” “Best Short,” “Best Actor” and “Audience Favorite,” which are honored with homemade trophies. McLennan makes the base of the trophies out of wood and spray paints them to look like a tombstone. She then hammers in various-size knives for each award, including a giant carving knife for “Best Feature” and a small dagger for “Best Short.” She paints the knives gold and tops them all off with fake blood.
FearCon also partners with several movie-distribution companies. Each year, winners may get their films internationally distributed.
McLennan says some of the submissions are “beautiful, rough gems” from amateur filmmakers who often “need a little more practice.” If they believe a film has potential, they will still show it, even if the acting or editing is rough around the edges.
“Quite a few films over the years that we’ve put on there, that, even though they were rough, were amazing and ended up getting picked up and distributed by either television or Netflix or Redbox,” she says. “It always pleases us to no end to see a movie on there and say, ‘That one was at the FearCon five years ago.’ Things like that are just wonderful for us, to see them getting the exposure that they want and deserve to have.”
McLennan believes that horror is a great outlet for people to relax and have fun. She says she loves horror movies that don’t take themselves too seriously.
“There’s so much horror in the world, but…you go to see a horror movie and it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s scary, it’s just a big release for people to be able to go to a horror movie and enjoy themselves,” she says.
Tickets to the event range from $30 for daily admission to $150 VIP tickets that include a meet and greet, drink coupons and other spooky swag. A percentage of ticket sales go to the Phoenix Shanti Group, a community-oriented organization dedicated to finding work, education and housing for people living with HIV and AIDS. McLennan says the organization is “very near and dear” to her.
McLennan also hopes to cultivate a sense of community through the festival, which celebrates local filmmakers, artists, vendors and musicians.
“We are out there to get the community to notice independent filmmakers, notice people who are in the horror genre,” she says. “Our whole event is based on our involvement in the community. We want to make sure that local businesses get noticed, as well as local filmmakers…to make sure that they get more exposure than they’re already getting.”
Fangoria FearCon, Oct. 7-9, Sun Studios of Arizona, 1425 W. 14th Street, Tempe, phoenixfearcon.com, Friday, October 7, VIP only, 11 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, October 8, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (VIP, 11 a.m. to midnight), Sunday, October 9, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (VIP, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.), $30-$150.