Parafest held their very first convention on September 6-8 at the Sands in Bethlehem, PA. I decided to go on a Friday because it began early, and hoped to have a good time. Instead, I had a great one.
Like most, I waited patiently for the doors to open at noon, but as with any first opening, there was a bit of a delay (thirty minutes), that came with the apologies of show organizers. But the diehard fans of all things paranormal and horror maintained their smiles and stood tall. That allowed me to discuss the goings-on with Shannon, a new friend and legal eagle who had driven up from Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore to take part. For once, I only had to drive a half-hour, and that felt pretty damn good.
When the doors opened at the Sands Convention Center, on the site of what was once Bethlehem Steel, we poured in from the shadows of the now silent blast furnaces and entered the massive building where paranormal and horror rubbed other-worldly elbows. In short order, I walked by vendors selling everything from EVP equipment, to make-up kits, to comic books. Psychics read cards and palms, horror authors offered their self-published books, and paranormal researchers offered their expertise.
Since most fans were still lost in 9-to-5 drudgery, and wouldn’t arrive until later, the venue felt intimate. If anything, it seemed as if I had paid for a coveted pre-show pass. Here’s who I met, and what they had to say:
STAN GORDON: If you don’t know Gordon, then you probably haven’t heard about Pennsylvania’s Kecksburg UFO incident. On December 9, 1965, townsfolk saw something strange and bell shaped come down in the woods outside their community – only to have it whisked away by the military. Gordon was a witness to the event, and he’s investigated what had transpired there ever since, as well as other sightings. A skeptical man, Gordon does his best to use science to find answers to everything from UFOs to bigfoot.
DAVE TANGO, BRUCE TANGO, and STEVE GONSALVES: Stars of the hit show “Ghost Hunters,” turned out to be the paranormal investigators one would expect: A group of great guys to hang out with and indulge in conversation. Tango and Steve were cool and welcoming, though Bruce admitted that his son, Dave is their to keep him out of trouble, which got a laugh from everyone in earshot. (I tried to say hi to Grant Wilson, but he was speaking to several people every time I walked by the booth. Like everyone else at TAPS, he was engaging and spent quality time with fans.)
MIKE ZOHN: Co-host of “Oddities” and owner of New York’s Obscura store, Mike’s a soft spoken baritone. When I asked him what his house looked like, he let out a hearty laugh. Currently, he’s in the midst of a move, and his collection of the unique and bizarre is in storage. And as expected, he finds a hard time selling some of his rare collectibles in the shop because he’d rather keep them for himself. But the man needs to eat, so he does what he must.
TONY GOWELL: Though Tony has appeared in several television shows and big screen movies, most fans know him as a zombie from both ZOMBIELAND and “The Walking Dead.” When asked if he foresees more “family friendly” horror films like WORLD WAR Z, his response was “Definitely.” And knowing that WWZ has earned over a half-billion to date, I have no doubt Hollywood will bring us bigger if not watered down horror. My only awkward moment came when he asked if I liked “The Walking Dead.” I said that I tried but couldn’t because the show is like a soap opera. His eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “It is a soap opera!” It was great to have that confirmed.
VINCENT M. WARD: The big guy from “The Walking Dead” is a gentle giant who doesn’t seem like he’d hurt a fly – or a zombie. But I wouldn’t chance it. Regardless, he engaged fans with a great smile and many a kind word. What an engaging gentleman. I think he was having more fun than his nervous fans.
WILLIAM SANDERSON: Though the renowned character actor may be best known for his recent work on “True Blood,” diehard fans know him from “Deadwood” and as the ill-fated designer from the amazing BLADE RUNNER. Sanderson was with his lovely wife, and said that working on “Deadwood” allowed him to afford a home. He also enjoyed being with Harrison Ford and a young Daryl Hannah on BLADE RUNNER, and had no qualms working with director Ridley Scott.
MICHAEL BERRYMAN: Being with him was like hanging out with one of the guys. We talked about everything from politics (along with another fan and new friend named Tom) to his fourteen projects in the making (one of which is with Tony Todd). When it comes to fans, Berryman’s a sweetheart and never minds popping out of his chair to have his photo taken.
TONY TODD: In his movies, Todd has a commanding presence, and he does so in person. At six-foot-five, he’s hard to ignore when he enters a room. Among his pictures for autographing, he has a small black chest, dripping with blood, and the words “Candyman” inscribed on the side. After an autograph, the Candyman offers a sweet treat to the fan. When I mentioned his impassioned performance in the science-fiction tale, THE MAN FROM EARTH, he was grateful. It was clear he loved that film.
While waiting for Mr. Todd, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Parafest’s volunteers, a young woman named Maria, who is an empath and psychic. I understand if one’s skeptical and has their misgivings about such things, but Maria was sincere. She works with police departments and families to help solve cold cases. From her field experience, it’s clear she’s had to deal with a lot of grief. Still, she uses her gift to help others, and presses on.
As conventions go, Parafest is a truly intriguing experience. I’m not used to seeing a mix of horror and paranormal, but it was a great venture, and I indulged in some great conversations. I had a wonderful time and look forward to next year’s event.
My only recommendations to the show organizers: Start later. Although noon on a Friday is fantastic, most people are working, which means celebrities and vendors have to sit around and do a lot of waiting. Consequently, $25 for a ticket is fine, but to pay an additional $8 in service fees at the door is ridiculous. I know it’s a horror convention, but why do you need to involve the always satanic Ticketmaster? Granted, organizers need a return on their investment, however, nickel and diming fans will only keep them away since there are other conventions in the area to attend. And no one wants that.
All in all, I had a blast. Parafest served as the kickoff to fall and Halloween, and that’s a great thing indeed. I have no doubt Parafest will be bigger and better next year, and I’m looking forward to indulging once more.
(Photo from Kootation.)