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Chiller Theatre Expo 2009 Convention Report

21 April 2009 by

Chiller Theatre Expo is a New Jersey convention suffering from an identity crises and a growth problem. I attended Chiller Theatre Expo 2009 this past Saturday with my boyfriend, and a friend of mine from Orlando, and our general consensus was a resounding: “ehhh.”

Chiller Theate Expo was held at the Hilton Parsippany, in Parsippany, New Jersey April 17 – 19, 2009. The hotel is obviously not meant to host conventions of any substantial size. There was only one large ballroom, which was dedicated to the vendor room. Small side conference rooms were mostly reserved for artists and displays (of which there was a pretty limited number). The celebrity guests were squeezed into an area of the lobby, some side conference rooms, and a tent outside. Yes, a tent. The tent was crowded. It was hot. And I’d hate to have been one of the poor people forced to sit out there.

The corridors that led to the various conference rooms were narrow and crowded. We likened the experience to being inside a submarine. The aisles in the vendor room were too narrow in most places, and it made it extremely difficult to walk from one end to another. There were some moments where we just gave up trying to get down certain aisles, and walked all the way around the room to approach them from the other side.

The Hilton Parsippany wasn’t all bad. I will say that the location had free parking, and ample overflow parking lots. It also had a decent selection of food options available to attendees. Although food areas were a bit crowded right around the peak of lunch time, there were few (if any lines) throughout the majority of the day. Yes, the food was pricey, but that is to be expected and is not something I hold against the con.

As for the guest list, while we did appreciate the variety it had to offer, the convention did seem to be struggling with its identity. The name “Chiller Theatre” implies a horror convention, and yet there were Star Trek stars, former rock stars, wrestlers, Playboy Bunnies, and even the woman who voices the pink haired chick from the Esurance commercials. The crowd seemed to be there for the horror, however. The autograph lines for the Star Trek actors were practically non-existent, and I saw one attendee in a Starfleet uniform. In contrast, the line for George Romero seemed endless. Even the vendor room seemed mostly geared toward the horror fans.

Despite the way it might sound, the location and the odd mixing of genres was not the reason we can’t give this con rave reviews (I mean, those elements contributed, but weren’t the reason). The fact is, there was a complete lack of stuff to do. Once you looked at the vendor room and got your autographs…that was it. I actually overheard someone say, “we could bang out this whole con in two hours!” The three of us ended up going home before the con even officially ended because we were completely bored.

There was one discussion panel on Italian horror, there was one movie that was screened (over and over and over), and there was a concert on Saturday. There were no celebrity guest events. They had all of those great people there, and there wasn’t a single guest Q&A session. There were no workshops. No costume contests. No independent film contests. No real activities to speak of, aside from the three I mentioned. We couldn’t think of any real reason to buy a two or three day pass. My friend actually had a second pass for Sunday, and decided not to even use it. “Why bother going back?” he said.

Chiller Theatre Expo has a lot of potential. But I think the organizers need to strongly consider a new location, plan more activities, and figure out what audience their convention is meant for. A con doesn’t have to be exclusively for one genre (look at Dragon*con or MegaCon for example), but it does need to find ways to keep people entertained and coming back for more. It is in the convention’s interest to get people to buy those weekend passes, and want to stay for the whole thing. Otherwise the con turns into a giant geeky mall, where people come in for a few hours and then leave.

You can take a look at our Chiller Theatre Expo 2009 photos at the official Convention Fans Flickr Stream!

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