To hear Chris Alexander tell it, he’s the last person to expect behind the scenes at Toronto’s newest convention. “Well, I was never fond of conventions. To this day, I’m still not. I’ve always found it a disingenuous way to meet your idols. I would rather sit down and have a beer with somebody that I dig and talk about what they do, instead of dropping down a chunk of money and see them for a fleeting moment. I just found – even back in the early days of Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear – I just felt that I would rather be on Mars than be here.” With that in mind, Alexander (with a little help from his friends) organized the little con that could: Horror-Rama Toronto, an intimate and cozy convention that stands at the opposite polar end of the spectrum of bigger shows like Fan Expo Canada.
Horror-Rama is spearheaded by Alexander and Fangoria‘s marketing director Cheryl Singleton and Luis and Donna Ceriz, proprietors of the Toronto video store/cultural institution Suspect Video, with a singular focus in mind: horror, and nothing but. It all started with Fangoria’s involvement in the London, Ontario based horror/exploitation gathering, Shock Stock. “When I took over on Fangoria, the boys who run ShockStock asked if I would come onboard – give them an ad, take a table – so I thought “why not?” . It was here that Alexander made first contact with Luis Ceriz , and the wheels started moving. “Even though I knew Luis from Suspect Video in passing, I didn’t really “know” him. It was the first or second year we just started connecting and talking. He’s one of the sweetest guys, the most honest and open people I’ve ever met in the business. I trusted him instantly. He’s also very relaxed, when you’re around him, you feel very relaxed. With Luis, it was a very practical, very calm suggestion that we band together for this convention. I brought in some other people I was working with to let them handle it while I was doing other things. Those people left, so it was just Luis and I left standing and I said “well, fuck, let’s just jump in and do it.’ Let’s make the kind of convention that we would want to go to as fans of weird stuff. So we put it together, with friends who love this stuff, working in various ends of the industry, and did it because we love to do it, not because we want to make tons of money. We started this thing with zero capital, and just jumped in. It was the most pleasant, relaxed thing going into this. The guests that we had brought onboard – we populated it with people that we liked. I don’t even think of it as a convention, I like to call it a two-day party.”
The golden rule for Alexander and Ceriz for keeping the show on track? Simplicity. “Suspect has been around for a long time. It’s real “mom and pop” – just (Luis) and his wife that own it – so Luis was key in keeping it very simple, keeping it friendly and fun, no bullshit. Deliver on what you can promise: that was the philosophy for the show. Just promise everyone a good time and I think honestly, that was the secret to our success. To keep it simple. The first year was successful, as far as the vibe. Financially, I would say it was successful too, because we didn’t lose any money. I would say that for a first-year show, that’s pretty successful.”
As part of this year’s upgrade, the show has moved to a bigger venue (downtown Toronto’s Hyatt Regency), emulating the smaller convention model much more prevalent in the US. “The last venue we had was cool and bohemian, but it was also difficult. We weren’t allowed in on the Friday night before the show – we didn’t get in there until 6 o’clock in the morning, and the show opened up at 10 or 11. We were trying to build this thing with very few people. So we wanted something closer to central Toronto… a great room in a great hotel. It’s close to everything, and they gave us the run of the joint.”
As well as space-wise, the show’s guest list for Year Two has also expanded, with such names as Mick Garris, perennial icon Micheal Berryman, horror comics superstar Steve Niles and a quartet of scream queens, including Linnea Quigley, Sybil Danning, Debbie Rochon and Tristan Risk, among many others. “We have a variety of guests this time, but it’s still all our friends. People that we know and love.”
With Horror-Rama’s inevitable evolution underway, Alexander remains pragmatic about everything, keeping the initial spirit and tone first-and-foremeost. “It’s the same show, the same heart, just a little more refined. It’ll still be two days of hanging out with people who like weird shit.”
Keep watching for more updates and interviews, as we get closer to showtime.