Monster-Mania held their first of three 2019 conventions on March 8-10, once again situated at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, NJ. It was a chilly weekend, with temperatures hovering around the 40-degree mark, but things were nice and toasty inside as fans packed the hotel for the popular horror event.

The guest list boasted several impressive entries, led by Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV), Christina Ricci (Sleepy Hollow), and a reunion of The Craft with Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, and Rachel True. This event marked the first time the four ladies who starred as a coven of witches in the popular teen horror movie were together since 1996.

The con hosted a crop of Halloween franchise stars, including Nick Castle, Will Sandin, Sandy Johnson, and Mickey Yablans from the original movie, scream queen Danielle Harris from Halloween 4-5, Rob Zombie’s Halloween 1-2, and James Jude Courtney and Jibrail Nantambu from the 2018 Halloween sequel. Each had solid lines of eager fans, though Courtney’s (who played the new Michael Myers) was impressively long, reflecting the positive reception of the new film.

The guest list extended to several more popular celebrities, including Meat Loaf (musician, Rocky Horror Picture Show), Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story), Monica Keena (Freddy vs. Jason), Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy), Tommy Flanagan (Sons of Anarchy), Shawn Michaels (pro wrestler), Kane (pro wrestler, See No Evil), C.J. Graham (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives), Phil Fondacaro (Troll), and Jen and Sylvia Soska (writers-directors).

In addition to meeting guests, attendees had the chance to watch movies and enjoy Q&As, plus a few other events. Monster-Mania always shows films on Friday and Saturday that feature guests, so for this con they showed Halloween IV, Troll, Masters of the Universe, Freddy vs. Jason, Sleepy Hollow, The Craft, Scream, and Halloween (2018). The panels included Q&As with Fondacaro, Keena, Graham, the Soska sisters, Lundgren, and a Halloween reunion. The VIP party was held Friday night, in which Lundgren decimated an Ivan Drago cake, and the costume contest was held Saturday night.

There were three main vendor rooms and two hallways where dealers and artists sold all kinds of horror goodies. As is customary at a horror show, several sold DVDs and Blu-rays of everything from popular mass market movies down to the indies and out of print flicks. Artists were stationed throughout with character prints, sketch cards, movie posters reimagined, pop culture designed purses, painted Christmas ornaments, drinking glasses and mugs, and even lanterns made to look like carved pumpkins. They had toys, action figures, VHS tapes, jewelry, buttons, first edition books, magnets, hats, vests, and lots of t-shirts. Several vendors expressed that they were having a profitable weekend and more than one said that Friday was their most successful opening day yet.

The weekend was a success for the triumvirate of attendees, guests, and vendors, which is doubly good after the difficult show that occurred in March 2018. That con boasted a giant guest list with Tim Curry, Paul Reubens, Cassandra Peterson, John Carpenter, Richard Dreyfuss, Kathleen Turner, five cast members from 2017’s It – which was still enjoying feverishly positive attention, and six Jason Voorhees actors, plus a few others.

Eager fans stuffed themselves into the Crowne Plaza during March 2018, to the point that the fire marshal was on-site to control the dangerously growing crowd. Making things more difficult, a guest cancelled the day of the show, which added to the long photo-op lines as people sought refunds. Parking, which has been a growing issue, caused major problems as attendees clogged side streets, local businesses, and created their own spaces wherever possible. Lastly, a separate event tent that was to host panels was forced down by the fire marshal, which meant that events were cancelled and/or rearranged. (Full coverage on that convention can be found elsewhere on Scoop.)

Monster-Mania rebounded for their August show (also held at the Crowne Plaza), by implementing a few key changes to the event. The guest list was more practical for the size of the facility and the increasingly loyal attendee base. Most importantly, they had preset ticket limits and instituted new scannable wristbands to negate counterfeiting.

But, as the guest list for March 2019 continued to grow, it was starting to look like Monster-Mania could repeat crowd issues that occured at the hotel last March. The announcements of Lundgren, Ricci, Meat Loaf, and Courtney built significant anticipation, then added in Campbell and Balk – who were costars in The Craft, but are also known for other horror-related projects. When the con added The Craft’s other two leads – Tunney and True – anticipation spiked. Speaking as a fan of the show, I was getting worried that the amount of attendees could be too big again, even if just for my own personal crowd size preference.

But, Monster-Mania had put forth significant effort to keep that from happening. After the con, I reached out to Monster-Mania President Dave Hagan to ask what steps had been taken to ensure the ticket sales would do well without overcrowding. “We revamped the entire system. We switched to RF scannable wristbands to prevent counterfeiting and set hard limits on ticket sales for each day. We also repeatedly kept people informed that tickets would sell out in advance,” Hagan said.

In August, they had already addressed some overcrowding issues by switching from regular wristbands to the ones with scannable codes that link back to the purchaser. The con used social media to explain and enforce new ticket policies, including that any wristbands that were obviously being reused by different attendees would result in the original purchaser getting restrictions on future purchases. They also set a lower ticket count which provided much needed breathing room for attendees, guests, and staff. Because of the lower ticket run, the con runners made a point of using their Facebook page to inform potential attendees of ticket cutoff dates and when tickets were poised to sell out. They were so meticulous that they made announcements every few days and down to the final hours when Saturday passes were selling out.

Another nice change was that Monster-Mania officially named the Crowne Plaza’s lobby as part of the convention. The hotel houses a swanky, spacious lobby with four different points that lead to con activities. In prior years Cherry Hill locals without con tickets could hang out in the lobby or hotel restaurant/bar, likely to catch a glimpse of a celebrity and, sadly, hound them for a free autograph. But now, that space was thinned out a bit so that paying attendees had more space to head for new destinations, get in line, or take a break.

While the con was still very full of attendees, it was not unbearable. Friday night looked like a Saturday, so weekend passholders girded themselves for an insane Saturday, but it was more comfortable than expected. Before the show even opened, volunteers organized attendees into manageable lines rather than a mad dash free for all. The main autograph room was also less crowded than expected, due in part to lines being capped or relocated. While it made for a more comfortable experience, it did mean that at least one autograph line was located outside in the brisk weather. The dealer rooms were also fairly easy to navigate for the shopping experience.

Parking is still a frustration considering the hotel’s parking lot is essentially full hours before the con even opens on Friday and remains so until Sunday. The business lot next door is usually open for attendees at $20 a car, but was unfortunately closed this time. The hotel did provide a helpful solution by offering free shuttle service from an auxiliary parking lot, alleviating the stress of finding a parking space in the busy area.

Several attendees who were there for a single day or staying at other hotels shared that they appreciated the shuttle service. Hagan also received feedback, deferring to the host hotel for conceiving the service. “Honestly much to their credit, the hotel came up with that idea and paid the expense of renting the additional parking lot and the shuttle service cost,” Hagan said.

Whether or not the shuttle service is available in August is currently unknown. “That’s entirely up to the hotel, but I hope so. It worked well for everyone,” Hagan shared.

I asked Hagan for his take on the show’s 42nd installment and he expressed that, “This weekend’s show went extremely well as did last August’s con.”

Hagan gave me his impression of the show after having just returned home from wrapping things up at the host hotel and was wading into other post-con work. Hagan did express that he and the other con runners would soon start more planning of the next show. “The boys and I will get together about two weeks after the show, as we always do, and review everything,” Hagan said. “We’ve constantly done that since the first show in order to provide the best possible con experience for everyone.”

Since Monday, they’ve already made four exciting guests announcements for August, which are Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead), Devon Sawa (Final Destination), and Clive Barker (Hellraiser).

Though there are still some difficulties – parking is a source of frustration and there’s a camp of attendees that would like to see it moved to a convention center – the past two cons in Cherry Hill showed improvement from the dramatic March 2018 show. The stellar guest list coupled with their efforts to improve the con experience made Monster-Mania 42 a really fun weekend.

-Amanda Sheriff