So here’s the thing, I really want Retro Invasion to succeed. I love the idea behind it, the philosophy and more importantly, I love that it’s practically in my backyard. It’s one exit down from my office and the easiest drive I’ve ever had to a convention.
That’s one heck of a preface isn’t it?
When I entered the hotel this year I was shocked. Remember how last time The convention space was so packed with the tables that you couldn’t even walk between them? This time around things went the opposite direction… The room was still under blocked that I literally walked in looked around and walked out and asked if there was a second vendor‘s room because this One was so empty… It looked like less than 20 tables, including the guests scared of around a very large room… I’m surprised, because this room really would only take about 10 or 15 minutes to walk through and yet there wasn’t an enormous amount of programming going on either. To put it simply, there simply wasn’t a whole lot to do. Add that to the fact that they were once again going up against a mammoth convention competitor happening in the same market – I have absolutely no doubt that Akron Comicon was siphoning away potential attendees.
Being familiar with the layout from last time I managed to find my way upstairs to the movie room in time for a screening of Night of the Creeps. I’m pleased to see that they’ve marked the rooms this time so it’s a little clearer that these spaces are being used for convention functions. However, that didn’t stop them from having confused patrons and I found myself giving directions and pointing people to the correct rooms on a surprising number of occasions.
I don’t know if the screening for the movie was late or if somebody had simply misestimated the running time, but the film was just getting into the third act when it was time for the Night of the Creeps panel. This overlap is a real drag, because you had to choose between watching the movie and listening to the actors – something that would’ve been complimentary to each other if they’ve been scheduled back to back instead of one cutting the other off. I slipped out of the screening about six minutes early to make it to the panel room.
It was empty.
The lights in the room were dimmed, and I was confused – I checked the schedule and the panel was indeed scheduled to start in the next five minutes but no one, not even the moderators, had arrived yet. I decided to make a quick pit stop in the bathroom to kill some time and started heading back to the movie room when I bumped into a couple of young women in spooky clothing and bright hair. They asked me where the panel room was and I showed them, only to discover that these were the moderators and that they were arriving mere moments before the talk was scheduled to start. I probably could’ve caught an additional 10 minutes of my movie.
Jill Whitlow has a very convention friendly personality, she is polite and likes to see her friends but it’s still very much a convention kind of persona. Jason Lively on the other hand is completely cracked. He’s got very much a surfer dude bro personality, and is fun and engaging. He was a delight to hang out with, and while I was waiting in Whitlow’s line to have her sign my Night of the Creeps poster he kept getting bored at his table and running over to me to show me pictures from last time he was at a con. We chatted about Spooky Empire and Chiller and Jean Claude Van Damme movies. It was so much fun. He occasionally check in with Jill and play with her as well, Lively is very hyperactive, especially for somebody who had had as many beers as he’d already had that evening! The stars of Night of the Creeps are both charging $30 for an autograph with an extra $10 up charge if you wanted a photograph with them. I really hate this sort of pricing, and ended up only getting the autographs. After all, the only person from that film who still looks the same as they did back then is Tom Atkins (and I already have a photo with him)! The guys from The Warriors were just flat out charging $40. It’s kind of a drag and really pushing me away from collecting autographs. There was a time when I would’ve grabbed something from everybody in that room, but not with what they’re charging these days.
The panel was good, and I enjoyed what little I get to see of Night of the Creeps, but overall, Retro just doesn’t have enough to do. The convention really can’t keep you occupied for more than a couple of hours and I feel bad for the dude that was in front of me in line who had driven down from Michigan just for this event. This is Retro’s second try at getting the convention formula right and I don’t think they’ve done that yet. It’s my hope that they’ll still give it one more try and get it right, but at this point the goodwill and patience of the con community has got to be fading fast and I’m genuinely not sure if I’ll be back. Guess we’ll wait and see what happens!
“I’m so glad to know I’m in the right place,” the guy told me as he got out of his car. I bobbed my head up and down in the monkey costume and was greeted by a young woman at the entrance to the hotel.
“I have no idea who you are,” the girl told me, “but I love you.”
Tracy the Ape was feeling very welcome here at retro invasion
Retro invasion weekend is a small convention in its first year in Westlake, one of the shortest drives from my house ever – a mere 20 minutes on the freeway, closer than my office commute actually. They also had the curious distinction of being held in the same hotel where I attended my first Star Trek convention, so it was good vibes all around.
I really dig the philosophy here, Retro Invasion was holding a reunion for the film Just One of the Guys, as well as attempting to hold a Sleepaway Camp reunion. Going for weird little films that were not necessarily mainstream horror but still running with the horror vibe really makes for an interesting convention…
Because it’s their first year, one can understand that there’s going to be some problems… A number of their issues were not their fault, but then again there were also plenty of problems that were. Let’s start with the stuff that wasn’t their fault
Retro Invasion had been plagued with unfortunate cancellations. The first guest to bow out was Courtney Gains who played one of the murderous children in Children of the Corn. His dropping out had been announced months earlier so while it was disappointing, it was expected. However it also appears that Felissa Rose and Kathrine Kamhi cancelled quite late in the game, and this was not adequately advertised. I only knew because I’ve made a habit to repeatedly check convention websites just before the show (Because of what happened way back in 2012 with North Coast Comic Con). I saw more than a few people wandering around in Camp Arawak shirts still expecting the Sleepaway Camp reunion that was no longer going to happen. It also will have seriously cut into the convention’s income as they were offering a special Sleepaway Camp photo op in costume – it was actually reasonably priced and I was actually considering taking advantage of it (and we all know I NEVER do these things).
In any event, the guest cancellations had to have affected attendance. Another factor was Colossalcon happening the same weekend. While there is not a ton of crossover there, I can imagine it weakened the support a bit. None of these things are the shows fault, however there were serious organization problems that really showed
The dealers room was small and cramped. One vendor, upon seeing how tight the room was, asked the promoter if you could just set up his booth in the hallway instead, creating an entire little alcove near the registration desk for his wares. The room itself was divided into three aisles, but you could only access the middle aisle by going behind the tables on the end caps and slipping between that and the tables on the outer aisle… Someone had marked the path with bright pink duck tape arrows on the carpet – nevertheless it was difficult enough to get through that the vendors in the middle aisle were really feeling shafted… And wern’t shy about expressing their displeasure. To get a better feel for the place, check out Neon Trash’s video review (My monkey ghostbuster actually opens the video)
Panels and films were held in a completely different part of the hotel – a problem the late and lamented Shinbokucon used to have. Motor City Nightmares manages to make this work, with photo ops and one of their two movie rooms occurring on a different floor, however the second movie room on that floor only shows skullhouse pictures – their own work. For them, it’s overflow rather than main attraction. With Retro Invasion, the movie room and the panel room were both on the third floor, over in the other side of the hotel. This made for a lot of walking back and forth, and neiter room was adequately marked. After some walking, I found the panel room because the door was open, but I had to ask two different people to find the movie room. It would’ve helped have had these two locations marked with large “Retro Invasion” signs as well as schedules posted outside those doors.
Still, I can’t complain. The film selections were fun and the panels were well done – by the numbers, but on the other hand I had no idea how much fun it would be to watch Danny Hicks and Robert Kurtzman bounce off each other. Retro Invasion offered good programming, but it’s way too hard to figure out where that programming is actually LOCATED.
Overall, the convention was very lightly attended, which will make it difficult for them to secure vendor’s for thier next show. At one point, a panel was announced over the loudspeaker. One of the vendor’s voices rang out “And you’ll have NO PROBLEM finding a seat!”. Around noon, a lot of the vendors in the small room began tearing down and giving up for the day – that’s never a good sign.
I really did enjoy my time at Retro Invasion, though I think the $30 ticket price is a little high for what they offer. I would however, really like to see them succeed – I seriously dig having a horror convention so close to home and like the quirky philosophy that they seem to bring to their show. They’ve scheduled a second go around later this year – on Nov 1-3. Nevertheless, they’re going to have a hard time finding vendors for a second year and unless this show gets better very quickly, it’s going to vanish.
I’ll be back in November. Let’s see what happens.