Phoenix FearCon 2020 horror convention is online


Since its inception in 2006, the Phoenix FearCon film festival has given audiences the chance to see horror movies from different genres and from around the world. This year’s festival is going virtual and expanding to nearly three months of programming.

The screenings of short and feature-length independent films, a vendor marketplace and performances will be available to stream from Oct. 16 through Dec. 31.

Chris McLennan, co-founder of Phoenix FearCon, said the virtual format will allow fans around the world to watch.

“The films are not only going to be seen by people in Arizona. They are going to be seen globally,” McLennan said.

With the help of four judges, Chris and her husband and co-founder Jim McLennan decide on awards such as best feature, short and director. Viewers vote on the audience favorite award. Along with trophies, the winners receive contracts for domestic and international distribution.

“That is the risk of making a short film independently with no budget. It’s very possible that it will never be seen by anybody,” McLennan said. “With independent films, there’s probably a 90 to 95 percent chance that their films aren’t going to be seen anywhere but this film festival that they are in… With us, when they win, they get theatrical, international and domestic film distribution.”

What to expect at Phoenix FearCon 2020

The virtual format enabled an increase in the number and types of films shown this year.

There will be 40 short films and 10 feature films by filmmakers from Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Iran, the Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Turkey and France.

A few films are from Arizona directors, including Mike Marsh’s short film “The Module.”

The feature films will be available on designated weekends, and short films can be viewed throughout the festival’s run.

FearCon kicks off its opening weekend with Ruben Pla’s documentary “The Horror Crowd,” which features interviews with well-known and emerging horror filmmakers.  McLennan has worked with many of the filmmakers highlighted in this documentary.

“A lot of them we know personally from either them being guests at previous FearCons or them actually submitting their films to us in earlier years. Some of these filmmakers aren’t that famous now, but you know that they are going to be superstar famous in a couple of years,” McLennan said.

Many of the films chosen were made with minimal budgets. McLennan said many horror filmmakers use their friends and family members as actors, and some use existing locations instead of building or renting sets to make their films come to life.

One example this year is “Beneath: A Cave Horror Film,” which director J.J. Perez shot at Inner Space Cavern in Texas. Perez was able to gain access because he was an employee, and his coworkers served as his cast and crew.

Panels and workshops

The Phoenix FearCON film festival will offer panels and workshops on different topics, including horror fan films. (Photo: Courtesy of Phoenix FearCON)

Phoenix FearCon also has expanded its panel and workshop offerings. They will be available to view throughout the festival run, so attendees won’t have to choose one workshop or panel over another.

“You can watch them as you like from the comfort of your home, from any device,” McLennan said.

Topics will include the evolution of monsters; the process of writing horror novels or television series; collecting horror, fantasy and sci-fi memorabilia; horror video games and plays; blood and gore effects; evil forces in the works of William Shakespeare; horror fan films; and indie filmmaking.

Among the featured panelists are “Followed” director Antoine Le, authors Owl Goingback and John Skipp, “Bates Motel” developer Russell Rothberg and local directors Dineta Williams-Trigg  and Thommi A’mal.

Innovators will also talk about horror-based technologies and works such as the Slasher mobile app and the Mystery Mansion web series.

Other FearCon highlights

FearCon opens Oct. 16 with a show and Q&A by extreme performance artist the Agents of Lust.

Special guest Dacre Stoker, great-grand-nephew of Bram Stoker and author of “Dracul and Dracula: The Un-Dead,” will take part in several panels, including one on “123 Years of Dracula: From Novel to Stage to Screen.”

Lynne Lugosi Sparks, granddaughter of actor Bela Lugosi, will give a keynote speech and take part in a panel on Dracula.

Bill Oberst Jr., an actor, producer and writer known for his work in Rob Zombie’s “3 From Hell,” “Take This Lollipop,” “Criminal Minds,” “Scream Queens” and “Circus of the Dead,” also will give a keynote speech.

The virtual marketplace will offer horror, sci-fi and fantasy-themed items such as books, fake blood, original artwork, mobile apps, apparel, pet clothing and celebrity merchandise.

There will be performances by burlesque performer and fire eater Lilian Sin; comedian, ventriloquist and musician Count Smokula; and Unipornicorn Theatre, a troupe that does live readings of fan fiction works.

Fans can watch a livestream 45th anniversary celebration of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which takes place at Sun Studios of Arizona on Oct. 30. The outdoor event will include a screening of the cult classic, a performance by the Thinly Veiled Shadow Cast and a costume contest.

‘Indie films wake something up in you’

Throughout the run of the festival, horror historian Jay Michaels will serve as a guide. 

The producer and host of Terror TV’s “Terror Talk” program and a podcast, series of blogs and video program called “In the Passionpit,” Michaels interviewed guests and facilitated and took part in panels and workshops for the festival.

He is a film and TV actor and an avid collector of posters, monster toys, comics, books,  magazines and unusual items such as a marionette in the shape of a vampire, a 1792 edition of “The Merchant of Venice” and a stone gargoyle from an abandoned church. He will take part in panels on memorabilia collection and darker elements in Shakespeare.

This is the first time that Michaels, who lives in New York, has participated in Phoenix FearCon. He said that for virtual events such as this he is able to interview filmmakers, actors, directors and authors from different parts of the globe.

“I’m speaking to people in California. I’m speaking to people in London. I’m speaking to people around the world. A guest that we couldn’t fly out, who wouldn’t have that time,  I’m speaking to them in their living room,” Michaels said.

Michaels has been a fan of horror since he was in a grade school, when he would watch “Creature Features.”  His love of the genre and curiosity to know more about films has carried throughout his life.

“When I watch a movie, I’m not finished with the movie until I know who’s in it, who directed it, why it was filmed. The joy is that now that I’m interviewing (filmmakers), I can hear it straight from them,” Michaels said.

Michaels said indie horror films are powerful to watch and often have strong followings because they often offer something new or surprising.

“Indie films wake something up in you. You are not going to see something that you expect,” Michaels said.

Phoenix FearCON

When: Oct. 16-Dec. 31.

Where: Virtual.

Admission: $25 for an all-access pass.


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Wednesday November 2, 2022