Fresh Blood: Behind the Scenes at Horror-Rama

For any hardcore horror fan within spitting distance of a large city, the period of September-November is bound to be full of enticing events: spooky film festivals, haunted attractions, and the ubiquitous conventions. Now in its fifth year, Horror-Rama is a Toronto-based convention dedicated to all things horror, featuring iconic guests, vendors, and an event soundtrack that is heavy on The Cure. I sat down with their newest team member, Ali Chappell, to discuss the new Horror-Rama features, the importance of panel diversity, and her deepest convention fantasy.

Congratulations on a successful Horror-Rama 2018! You’re a new addition to the team — what was it like coming on-board an already established convention? Did you have any prior experience with organizing this sort of event?

Ahhhh! I can’t believe how great this year went. Literally all weekend, I was smiling from ear to ear and just trying to hug and throw candy at as many people as possible. We got great feedback from fans and guests and vendors. So amazing! I am the newest (4th) addition to the official Horror-Rama staff, so the pressure was on. The team (made up of Chris Alexander, Luis Ceriz, and Cheryl Singleton) was already a well-oiled machine, they just needed a good-looking rebel who played by her own rules to come in and kick things into high gear (yes, this is how I see myself; majestic and on a motorcycle). Since I’m dating one of the co-founders (this was totally a coincidence, I definitely didn’t plan it this way at all…nope not at all. *shifty eyes*) and I am an aggressive boss lady, I basically just forced my way on to the team.

I have always worked at conventions, trade shows, bazaars, fun fairs, etc. It’s my jam. For the better part of a decade, I volunteered at Comic-Con and FanExpo. I have been a vendor many times at conventions and I have aided in planning film festivals and other events over the years. I honestly just love going to these kinds of events. For a hot minute, I started getting my degree in event planning. Then, I decided that the smart thing to do would be to spend $30k on a performing arts degree, so I did that instead. And look where I am today: working in event planning!

As a patron, I have been going to conventions forever. It’s just like a shopping mall of all the shit you want, with people who are chill. Plus, the idea of wearing a costume on a day that isn’t Halloween is the best. It’s barely even about the guests. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but I just love the atmosphere created when there are so many like-minded people meeting and connecting and sharing their stories or selling their handmade items or introducing you to a vintage rare VHS film or 2018 Canadian film you probably didn’t hear of. Especially at more intimate events like Horror-Rama, where vendors/guests/artists/patrons make friends with each other and you see these relationships and collaborations budding.

As well, our event is all about bringing in those cult legends that you normally wouldn’t get to meet at larger conventions. Louis Del Grande was a huge hit and it was his first convention! He was over the moon with how the weekend went and how many people he connected with — he even ran into his neighbour from 20 years ago and they reconnected!

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With Blood in the Snow’s Melanie Turner

You introduced a lot of new features to the convention (including the Kreepy Kafe & Bar!) What innovations did you spearhead and what was it like bringing them to fruition?

I was like “Ok, here is what I think we should add/do/keep/get rid of etc…” and bombarded them with countless emails to the point where I’m certain they all thought of how they would discard my body. Not all of my ideas were good and some were not even possible (no matter how much having a live sacrifice would’ve made tickets skyrocket), but it opened up the door to see where we could improve and build upon. Social media was a big deal, getting our followers up really helped spread the word about our event. The contests that we held leading up to the event were a big part of that. Fun fact: People love free shit. Connecting with local communities made a huge difference. Never assume people know you exist. Even if you think they might know your event is a thing, reach out and introduce yourself and your event either way. Open that door and see how you can work together to help each other. It’s all about helping each other.

They did have a bar the first year but they hadn’t done it again until now. They have also told me several times why they didn’t do it again and I honestly can’t remember/probably wasn’t listening. But because of our location at 918 Bathurst, you have to leave and walk a few blocks to get food or coffee, which means people leave the event and I’m like “NOPE, not on my watch!” Plus, Shacklands Brewery was amazing and provided us with some killer beer. And honestly, having a café just went with the whole feel. You gotta have food and coffee for vendors, staff, patrons, everyone! Also, full honesty, I’ll take any excuse for me to abuse my sexy lil’ Costco membership. If you ever want to go, we can.  [Editors note: Oh, we are SO doing that.]

In addition, I knew right from the get-go that I wanted to work with the beautiful and amazing Serena Whitney on a special Drunken Cinema screening. Her events are fun — they’re a party in a movie theatre featuring a great classic film. It’s the most fun! I knew it would go hand in hand with Horror-Rama. It sold out months before the event hit and Linnea Quigley was in attendance. We attracted a huge line-up of people who, again, didn’t know that Horror-Rama was a thing and it helped get our name out there. Plus, it was fun as hell and our burlesque dancer did a Linnea-workout-inspired striptease that got the audience out of their seats and moving.

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Ali poses with Chucky and The Spinsters of Horror

The panels this year were more inclusive than in past years — why do you think it’s important to showcase a diversity of voices? And what sorts of panels would you like to see in future years?

I love Horror-Rama but I always felt that they lacked a bit in terms of diversity. Yes, they have had women on their panels but this year I made sure we had POC on our panels, I got Joshua Dare from Queer Fear to host a panel (which went over insanely well, total crush on that guy!) I advocated for Queer Fear to get a panel; I love the LGBTQ2S+ community and wanted them to know that we support them and that they have a home with us. The line-up was out the door and so many people wouldn’t have heard of us otherwise.

AOAS Co-Editor Joe Lipsett was on that panel, too. He was so impressed with the incredible crowd. Who is your dream convention guest?

Honestly, I don’t have a dream convention guest, I’ve met everyone I wanted to, but my personal dream is to one day be a festival darling. I want to be a b-level horror film actress/writer who gets to sit at those tables and fall in love with her fans. I don’t even care how that selfish or self-absorbed that sounds… that’s the dream. It’s a beautiful community and we thrive together. I fucking love conventions and hope to one day get to be on the other side of the autograph row.

As a woman in the horror community, do you feel as though you’re well-represented or considered when it comes to horror events? What do you think organizers should do in order to promote inclusivity and respect the diversity of the community?

As a woman, I always feel like I have to prove something and now that I’m happily dating someone who is prominent in the “horror industry”, I also have to prove myself without being known as “so-and-so’s girlfriend”. I’m thrilled with the strides that are being made in the industry, especially among the women of the community, and I’m definitely seeing an upturn of women supporting other women. Especially in Toronto. There is always more that can be done. If you are organizing events, film festivals, trade shows, whatever, you need to reach out to communities. Never rely on the assumption that people know you exist. Introduce yourself to a new community and ask them if they would like to be involved even something small like running a panel or being a prize sponsor. If you see that every year you are only seeing the same white dudes, then maybe reach out to the other communities who are in the industry and get them involved. That’s what I strived for this year with bringing in Joshua Dare from Queer Fear and it worked! The more we support and play movies and give work to women, to LGBT, to POC, the more we will see them represented properly through their voices.

Thanks, Ali! Look forward to seeing what’s in store next year!

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