Tony Earnshaw: The Yorkshire-based horror convention with global appeal

Kane Hodder gives a talk at HorrorCon UK at Magna in 2016. (Picture: Andrew Roe).
Kane Hodder gives a talk at HorrorCon UK at Magna in 2016. (Picture: Andrew Roe).
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Now in its fourth edition, the defiantly Yorkshire-based HorrorCon has an international reach.

And an eclectic appeal. For amongst the tattooed and leather-jacketed clientele last year was none other than Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, academic, documentary maker and former rector of the Royal College of Art.

Scanning the crowds and gearing up to present an illustrated lecture on 200 years of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, he confided in me that he was nervous and quipped, “Maybe I should lose the tie.” He needn’t have worried; they lapped him up. And they would have queued in their scores to buy copies of his new book if only the courier driver hadn’t got lost en-route to Magna, the science centre created from an old steel mill on the outskirts of Sheffield. Frayling is well known as an authority on cinema, equally at home on the plains of Spain discussing Clint Eastwood’s early Westerns or delving into the darkness of the 19th century gothic. Moreover, he’s a fanboy with a wealth of stories that include meeting Alfred Hitchcock and labouring as an extra on a Marlon Brando movie directed by Michael Winner. Alas, Frayling isn’t at HorrorCon this year, meaning the army of new admirers he made in 2017 will miss him. Instead the ensemble includes veteran character actor David Warner, the villain of choice in everything from Time After Time (as Jack the Ripper) to The Man with Two Brains (as Dr Necessiter) to Star Trek, The League of Gentlemen and everything in between. In fact Warner can revel in being the focus of arguably horror cinema’s greatest-ever on-screen departure courtesy of a runaway truck and a sheet of plate glass in The Omen. No one who’s seen it will ever forget it.

HorrorCon is a convention rather than a film festival. The phenomenon is a US import in which stars turn up, sit and sign autographs for fans who pay money for the pleasure. And they draw in a lot of people. The stars are people from new TV shows, old TV shows, Hammer horror, and classic and cult movies. Alongside David Warner will be Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, villain and scream queen from 80s classic Re-Animator. Dee Wallace, surrogate mum to ET the Extra Terrestrial will be present. She was also the doomed heroine of The Howling. Then there’s Billy Wirth, one of the vampire quartet of The Lost Boys.

To borrow some 60s parlance, it may not be your bag, man, but it brings something new, different and rather special to a corner of Yorkshire for a weekend every year. And for the aficionados, enthusiasts, buffs and horror junkies that throng Magna’s halls it’s a chance to meet their heroes and heroines be they mad scientists, black-gloved killers, damsels in distress or punky bloodsuckers.

Or terribly polite chaps like Christopher Frayling.