Upon entrance, I was immediately met at the check in table by staff who brought me to Brian. It was the nicest greeting I’d ever received as a “journalist”. For me, cons are very much like family reunions. I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with so many of my cinematic cult heroes, as well as dealers and artists, that a great deal of my time is usually spent bullshitting and catching up on current events and gossip. It wasn’t too hard to make my rounds at this show as the entire dealers’ area was in a medium-sized ballroom. There were about two dozen vendors, including the usual array of bootleggers, autograph dealers, and t-shirt salespeople. Across the hall, there was an extra room reserved for the headliners. Upon my arrival, only Gunnar was present. The man is the size of a parking garage, but he still looked lonely in that room all by himself.

Fridays are always slow at cons. Work-schedules interfere with recreation, and that’s a just another cross horror fans have to bear. Still, with the room staying open until 9:00 pm, I figured it would pick up a little. By a little after 8:00, the show had a few more than a dozen paying customers.

There was some dissention among the dealers. “If it’s like this tomorrow, no way I’m coming Sunday,” one told me. Amy was a cheerleader for both promoters and vendors. “Fridays are dead; Saturdays are always good,” she insisted. We took off, undeterred and believing that Saturday would, indeed, be better.

And it was. The Ultimate Warrior (“The” to his friends), proved to be quite the draw. Not as big as everyone had hoped, but still… Another blow was delivered, however: Savini cancelled. They think. There was no official word given, but regardless, he never arrived. I had been fairly certain he was shooting that weekend, either in Ohio for some anthology or L.A. for “The Hollywood Strangler”. So up went the cancellation notice inside the door. It was the right thing to do.

But as nice as the Saturday crowd was, it could have been much better. The question, then: where was everybody? Lollapalooza was blamed. A friend of Brian’s and Lisa’s went down to the musical event posing as a rep of a local radio station and passed out fliers for the con. The lure of Jane’s Addiction was greater than that of gore and wonder. Other scapegoats were the lousy weather (see my aforementioned near-death experience) and the location itself. The airport is out-of-the-way, difficult to get to even by car. Take into further consideration the expense of parking and the ridiculous prices of food at the hotel restaurant… well, even that wouldn’t be enough to keep away the hardened fan. So back to the question.

Sunday, it was answered. It was discovered that prospective attendees were being turned away by the hotel staff; callers informed that “there is no con going on this weekend”. This was allegedly witnessed by at least two guests and, later, actually confirmed by several attendees who braved the journey anyway. One man was told at one desk the con had been cancelled. Walking back through the lobby to his car, he stumbled upon the Monsterburgh registration table. As it turned out, there was a bit of tug-of-war between the hotel management and the promoters over hidden costs and – a bit of speculation here – the “appearance” of some of the prospective attendees. Horror fans aren’t the most fashion-conscious on the planet. Folks in zombie costumes don’t exactly blend in with expensive hotel décor. It is suspected that the Hyatt didn’t exactly know what they were getting into by renting out to the conventioneers.

There were other allegations leveled. One guest was billed twice for drinks at the bar. After paying in cash, anonymously, the night before, she discovered the charge on her bill the next night. How did the bartender get her room number? And, of course, said bartender was not in that day to face her charges of fraud. The money pocketing can be expected, occasionally – the invasion of privacy on the part of the hotel was inexcusable. Other guests, at the end of the day, had similar complaints of double-charges. Most, however, were outraged that parking was not validated for the paying guests. The parking charge, actually, was the cardinal sin of the convention.

As it turned out, Saturday was the sole day of commerce. Sunday rivaled Friday for slow, and most of the vendors packed it in early, many feeling disappointment at having lost money at a potentially profitable event.

No blame was leveled towards the promoters – nor, really, should there be. In my estimate, they did everything right. They co-coordinated an entertaining convention, it was perhaps the best organized I’d ever attended (without the contribution of co-coordinator extraordinaire Mike Shiley! – those who are intimate with East Coast conventions know exactly who I mean). But circumstance, bad luck, and more than a little bit of corporate sabotage, torpedoed what could have been a highly successful convention.

What’s important, however, is that Brian and Lisa were on their guard the whole weekend. They were taking notes on any potential problem, and made sure the staff were dutiful to the guests and made them all feel well looked after. Most important is that they were undaunted by the bad luck. There will be another Monsterburgh, U.S.A. next year, at a new location (with free parking), with more of the budget set aside for additional advertising. Most of the guests assured them that they would be honored to return next year. These are all hallmarks of strong character, and a con will generally mirror the character of its promoters. With conventions, the tenet “if you build it, they will come”, is often followed by “eventually”.

Posted on July 31, 2003 in Features by

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