Many of you might remember the recent crowd-funding efforts by Director Kyle Kuchta to complete his documentary Fantasm about the world of horror conventions. Thankfully he was successful and screened it during the Housecore Horror Festival here in Austin. A project like this should feel like a labor of love – something that exists in the world because someone cared enough about the material to do it. Labors of love do have their shortcomings but in the case of Fantasm, it just feels like joy. Joy for the subject, joy for the process and sincere joy to be part of it all.
Kuchta is a young man and at times his youth feels like as much the anchor of the film as a setback. On the one hand, an older, more experienced filmmaker would bring a longer story arc to the film and work a narrative over the footage and interviews to complete a thought. On the other hand, his youthful enthusiasm (never showy or grating) seems to invigorate many of the interview subjects and remind them of who they might’ve been years ago. In this, Kuchta really becomes part of the film and not just the director. Maybe it was his personality, maybe his youth, maybe the novelty of it but the reactions and earnestness he drew out people felt really unique and special. Kind of a perfect storm of regard and respect and a camera to record it all.
The film profiles six horror conventions in different parts of the country and lays them out in a blended sort of way. The only real differences convention to convention seem to come out of the exhibitors’ experiences or memories of times past relating to one specific one or other. A few jokes are made by vendors or guests about how many they’ve gone to or how this one or that one feels like a family. Initially, the cynic in you laughs this off as being superficial or silly but as the film goes along, it becomes a central theme.
Kuchta highlights what it really means to be a horror fan through the obtuse prism of these conventions and illuminates some very sound ideas about fandom and fame and the relationship between the two, especially in horror. Folks like Heather Langenkamp, Lloyd Kaufman, Tuesday Night and Joe Lynch among many others seem to relate to this unspoken theme in different ways for themselves personally. It isn’t pushy journalistic questioning or forcing a narrative that does it, the interview subjects seem to feel and understand why it all is important.
And that is really what it all boils down to, for folks like me, walking into a horror convention for the first time was a wonderful, humbling experience. I was reminded of those feelings of belonging and care and fun watching Fantasm and I hope I never forget it. I sincerely doubt Mr. Kuchta ever will and I for one am glad for that.