Fantasm is a new documentary currently in production. It is directed by Kyle Kuchta, and it tells the story of horror conventions, and more specifically, the fans that attend them. Kuchta is originally from Niantic, CT, where he always had a love for the movies, primarily horror films. His grandparents would let him watch Universal Monster pictures like Creature From the Black Lagoon and Frankenstein on their vacations to Vermont, and he became engrossed with the holiday Halloween. As he got older, he always wanted to be behind the scenes making movies, whether it was a stuntman or a makeup artist. Finally, he took some filmmaking courses in high school and worked with a local filmmaking chapter in Connecticut, which cemented his desire to make movies. Kyle is now a senior film major at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.
TheoFantastique: Thanks so much for making some time to talk about your documentary Fantasm. Let’s begin with your personal story. What is your connection to horror, and how did you come to the idea about producing a documentary on fandom related to horror conventions?
Kyle Kuchta: I was always one of those kids whose favorite holiday was Halloween. My grandparents would help me set up Halloween parties for the kids in my elementary school class. It wasn’t anything too scary, but it was fun. Then we stopped doing those when I got into middle school, but I still was big into Halloween and, as I got older, I was looking for scarier things. I don’t usually admit this but, it’s gotta come out at some time. The first horror film I saw in theaters was The Grudge and it scared me. I mean, I was twelve, and I specifically remember my eyes burning due to the popcorn butter on my fingers that were covering my eyes through almost the whole film. But that film kick started my interest in contemporary horror. One thing led to another, and my aunt bought me Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, which became the movie I brought to every sleepover and gathering. I loved the movie so much, I went back to watch Romero’s Dead series, and I’ve just been digging deeper and deeper into horror ever since.
I went to my first convention in 2006. It was Rock and Shock in Worcester, MA, and I convinced my mom to take me so I could meet the cast of The Devil’s Rejects. I went to a few more conventions after this first one. But then I went to college and I couldn’t go to anymore, which sucked a lot more than I expected it to. The idea for Fantasm honestly came from me missing going to conventions, and wondering why I loved the horror genre so much.
TheoFantastique: What is the essence of your film? Is it documenting many of the things that go on at conventions, or is it more about the personal aspects of being a horror fan in community?
Kyle Kuchta: Fantasm focuses on the community aspect of horror conventions. At fifteen, I didn’t really make friends at conventions. No one was trying to talk to a fifteen year-old kid and his mom at a convention. Of course, I wasn’t looking to make friends either. But as I got older and couldn’t go to conventions, I realized how important of an aspect the actual gathering of horror fans is. The documentary focuses in on how welcoming the horror community is and, at conventions, how it’s about that weekend getaway with people who share this common interest in horror. Conventions are something that people look forward to all year. Yes, it includes horror vendors, celebrities, film festivals, etc. But at a deeper level, it’s about being with like-minded people and having a good time.
TheoFantastique: What kinds of questions are you seeking answers for in this discovery process?
Kyle Kuchta: Horror fans all have their individual stories and reasons for why they like horror, and I love hearing that. Horror fans love talking to other horror fans, which is why these conventions are the epitome of horror fandom. What I’m searching for is what a convention means to, not just the fans, but to vendors, celebrities, and convention coordinators. I’m wondering why this weekend out of the year is important to convention goers, while also trying to figure out what drew me into the convention scene. Also, the idea of a “convention family” comes up a lot and, as a person who didn’t have that, I’m wondering what that means to people.
TheoFantastique: Where have you been filming thus far in production?
Kyle Kuchta: I’ve filmed at five conventions so far: Scare-A-Cuse in Verona, NY, Monster-Mania in Hunt Valley, MD, Rock and Shock in Worcester, MA, Spooky Empire in Orlando, FL, and HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis, IN.
TheoFantastique: What stories have stood out for you so far?
Kyle Kuchta: The people that bring their children to horror conventions has always been something I loved to hear about. You hear about so many parents shielding their kids from anything horror related, and it’s so interesting to hear about the parents that embrace it and figure out ways to enjoy their own hobbies with their kids. Then, as another layer to that, hearing about other convention goers who have watched some kids grow up in the convention scene and how one family is friends with another family, so on and so forth. It’s a cool generational thing that I didn’t expect to see.
TheoFantastique: I maintain that at science fiction conventions, for some fans the genre can function almost like a sacred text or myth and that attendance at conventions functions like pilgrimage and one’s friends at conventions become almost like a sacred community gathering. Do you have any sense of something similar happening at horror conventions or is horror a different aspect of the genre that it is difficult to conceive of something like this happening?
Kyle Kuchta: I’ve never been to a science fiction convention. I’ve seen a couple other documentaries on the subject but, as far as I can see, horror differs in a couple ways. The first and most important is that I don’t really see any mythology or something of the sort guiding a horror fan’s experience of the convention, or of their love for horror. Science fiction convention goers usually are invested in one or two series, and that’s what they love. Horror fans, though they may love zombies more than vampires for example, still are interested in a lot of aspects of the genre. That being said, I think horror fans are in a position to be more relaxed and playful about the genre that they love, and science fiction fans really invest themselves in knowing about their specific series. Regardless of what kind of convention you go to, you are there because you love the genre.
TheoFantastique: Where is Fantasm in the production schedule, and when and where can fans expect to see the finished product?
Kyle Kuchta: Well, I’m filming at two confirmed conventions in March, Monster-Mania in Cherry Hill, NJ and HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati, OH. The film will be done by May of this year, and hopefully you will be able to see it at various conventions and festivals.
TheoFantastique: Thanks so much for discussing your film. I hope it does well and that our conversation helps get word out.