Interview Exclusive: Monster Mania’s Dave Hagan, Heart Behind the Horror.

1
50
Image: Monster-Mania Convention

With 17 years under its belt and more than 45 ever-expanding shows to its name, Monster-Mania (MM) has established itself as the go-to place for gruesome and twice a year, some of the hottest names in horror converge at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, NJ. Yet, in an industry seemingly saturated with events, what sets MM apart? Fortunately, Fan Fest News was able to catch up with owner Dave Hagan to get some answers.

Linda: I’ve been to numerous events over the past few years and am really impressed with Monster Mania. Could you tell me how it all started?

Dave: Well, let’s see. I was always a horror fan. The shows are really dedicated to my father’s memory. I came from the time when there were double feature horror movies in one screen theaters, with the big 40 foot screens, and the chandelier’s hanging from the ceiling, and the big velvet curtains, and the red velvet theater seats. So it’s a time that I really miss. But every, either Saturday or Sunday, my dad would take me to the movies, and we would go see usually like Hammer Horror, double features like Christopher Lee movies, Peter Cushing movies or double features, like Vincent Price movies. He was making a lot of great horror films at that time.

Vincent Price in The House on Haunted Hill. Image: Allied Artists

Linda: Love Vincent Price.

Dave: Oh yeah, me too. We had his daughter in a show a couple of years ago. She was awesome. So I was always interested in horror as a kid, I grew up in the 60s, as what they call, one of the monster kids, when the Aurora monster models were coming out, and Creepy magazine, and Famous Monsters and all that was really at the height of their popularity. So I went to a couple of conventions that were in … one was in North Jersey, just outside New York, and another one was in Pittsburgh. I became friends with both of the promoters of those shows. I started out selling horror merchandise online, with Monster-Mania being a horror merchandise online store. Computers were really starting to make their way to households and stuff, like back in the beginning, really, before the internet. So I sold horror merchandise online, and then I used to go to conventions as a vendor. We did that for about two years, three years maybe.

My oldest son David and I were driving back from Pittsburgh, and it was a six-hour trip to where we lived in South Jersey. Just to pass the time more than anything, we were kicking around ideas, Philadelphia didn’t have any kind of conventions like that at all. I said, “Hey, if you were going to bring a convention to Philly, what would you do different than what these other shows do you? What kind of guests would you have?” That type of thing.

By the end of the six-hour trip, we basically had the starting idea of how we wanted to do Monster-Mania. My son thought it was a hypothetical question to pass the time, but we had kicked around some ideas that really seemed like they would work, and it really got me excited. So I designed a web page for the show on my computer. I didn’t put it up live, but I called him into the room and I said, “Look at this.” I said, “What do you think?”

So he said, “Are we going to try this?” I said, “Well, you know, let’s see what we can do.” So I talked to Ben Chapman. He was one of the people that played the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and he was always supportive of me from meeting me at the conventions and stuff like that. So he said he was all in.

Then we tried to find a hotel to host us, I wanted to do the Cherry Hill area because I thought that was the perfect middle location for people to come from Philadelphia and from North Jersey, and Central Jersey and South Jersey [and] Delaware. I thought it would be a great spot. So we landed the Clarion Hotel at the time, and when they offered me dates, possible dates that I could do the show. One of the days they offered me was my father’s birthday.

Linda: Wow.

Dave: September 26th, that would’ve been the opening day. That was just to me-

Linda:  A sign?

Dave:  … that was the sign that this is something we should do.

Linda: Awesome.

Dave: My father had passed when I was 19 years old, so this was done mainly in memory of him. So we gave it a shot, and we got a lot of support from the local press. The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, both put us on the cover of the weekend sections for those papers. The South Jersey papers covered us really well, the Courier-Post, the Gloucester County Times. We basically were on four different covers of weekend sections.

It was a perfect blending of everything, and the show was really well attended. Most first shows, apparently don’t do so well. Our show was really well attended, and it got to the point that we realized that the Clarion, if we were going continue to do shows, the Clarion was going to be too small. So we put it into other hotels, and at the time the hotel we’re at now was a Hilton. They gave us an offer and we went to check out the hotel, and to us, the jump from the Clarion Hotel to the Hilton Hotel at the time just seemed like an enormous jump. The hotel seemed so large. The last thing you want to do is have a convention in a large space with not enough people to fill the space. You know what I mean?

Linda: Yes.

Dave: I mean, you could have a good turnout, but still the venue could be larger than your turnout could fill, and it would make it look like your show was poorly attended.

Linda: Exactly.

Dave: I mean, now we’re at the other end of that spectrum where we’re selling out of tickets that we can sell on Saturdays just because of the capacity of the venue. We’re trying to keep it at a manageable level, so that although it’s well attended, that it’s not too crowded to be discouraging to people that are coming to the show. So all in all, it’s worked out really well. That was 2003 and this is what, 2019? It’s been a long time.

Linda: As I’m listening to you, there are so many more questions I want to ask. The fans seem to have a nostalgic connection to Monster Mania being right there at the Crowne Plaza, but even I’m getting asked, “It’s gotten so big, why wouldn’t they move it?” Do you have plans to move it?

Dave: We honestly don’t have plans to move it. You know, I go to conventions as a fan. I’ve been to a lot of convention center type shows. To me, they just seem like they lack the personality of a hotel show.

“There’s something about getting in the elevator and going up to the room, going into the hotel bar and seeing Robert Englund having drinks at the bar.”

Linda: Right.

Dave: You know, like there’s a whole camaraderie type feeling at a hotel show. A convention center is a bit colder. To me, I go to convention center shows, that I walk through, and I was done in 90 minutes and it’s time to go home. Wherewith us, we have the films and events going on. We do movies. Our last movie runs each day at midnight. So there’s essentially something for you to do at the hotel till 2:00 a.m. or whatever time the midnight movie ends. On Saturdays, we do The Rocky Horror shadow cast, with the Transylvanian Nipple Production Company. They’ve been with us since the first show.

Linda: That’s awesome.

Dave: Yeah. I mean, they’ve grown with us, like they’re part of the family, you know? That’s the thing-

Linda: Family.

Dave: … it’s a family. It’s run by myself and my two sons, David, and Douglas. I hope that the whole family vibe shows through the whole convention-

Linda: It does.

Hagan family having some photo-op fun! Image: Courtesy of Doug Hagan

Dave: I don’t think convention center shows and casino venue shows have that same vibe.

Linda: That family feeling definitely shines through at your event, and you guys just seem to be having a great time. You also mention all the things offered during your event, I still haven’t even been able to see everything. (laughs)

Dave: That’s how we want it. We want you to feel like there was so much to do that you didn’t get a chance to do everything you wanted to do. When I go to the convention center shows, I mean, basically there’s a Q&A area where you sit and listen to a Q&A, and the vendors and the stars sign autographs, and in two hours I’m done. I will have gotten whatever autographs I wanted to get, or a photo op with whoever I wanted to get, and I’m done.

At our show, especially if you’re staying at the hotel when you get tired, you can go up to your room and chill out for 90 minutes, and get something to eat, and then come back down and do something else. Go do the movies or go do the Q&As, or hit the vendor rooms or go get the autograph that you didn’t get earlier in the day. The intention is to make it so that the whole weekend is the event, rather than just meeting a star and getting an autograph, and going home.

Linda:  You guys pay a lot of attention to detail.

Dave: Yeah.

Linda:  The industry is saturated with conventions. Tough to stand out.

Dave: Definitely. When we started doing this, we were the only horror convention around. At least in the Philadelphia area. Chiller was up in North Jersey. Now there’s just a plethora of conventions out there. But most of them are at convention centers. I think the thing that we offer that’s different is …  like, I look at our show as an event in total, you know what I mean?

Linda: Yes. It seems like you guys have found the right formula. To that end, you talk about staying at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, which I think is great, by the way, but do you have any plans to expand to another city?

Dave: Well, next year we’re actually adding … we’re doing four. We’re adding a June show and it’s going to be called Monster-Mania Con Presents Pop-Mania.

Linda: Pop-Mania? Nice.

Dave: Yeah. So what happens is, I get a lot of offers from agents and stars, people, to attend our show, and I try to keep the headliners at Monster-Mania, horror related.

Linda: That makes sense.

Dave: But I get a lot of offers for people that would be headliners for a show that wouldn’t be horror related. So it just got to the point where I’m turning down people I would love to have and meet myself, quite honestly. So we decided we’re going to try doing something called Pop-Mania. It’s going to be the same layout as Monster-Mania. The stars’ rooms are going to be the same. The vendors’ rooms are going to be in the same areas, the same hotel. It’s June 5th to the 7th. We teased it at the Monster-Mania convention. We’ll have the website officially up for it after our Hunt Valley October 4th to the 6th show.

It’s going to be the same vibe as Monster-Mania and it will have some horror guests, but it’s also going to open us up to stars that wouldn’t necessarily either fit into a Monster-Mania or a headliner’s, that if I put them in Monster-Mania, they would take the place of a horror headliner, which I don’t really want to do. So it just gives us the avenue to bring in guests that will appeal to the same crowd that attends Monster-Mania. It’s just more on pop culture. That’ll open us up to everything. I mean, that could be 80s comedy, films, and a lot of television shows that kids that grew up in the ’80s remember?

Linda: Yeah.

Dave: More Sons of Anarchy people, things like that. We keep turning down people for Monster-Mania, that I don’t want to turn down anymore. So now I’ve got a place to put them. So next year is going to be March 13th to the 15th, we’re doing Monster-Mania 45. Then June 5th to the 7th will be the Pop-Mania. Then I think it’s August 14th to the 16th will be Monster-Mania 46. Then I’m not sure of the dates yet for October. We haven’t finalized the contract yet, but we’ll have an October show again in Hunt Valley, Maryland at the end of next year.

Linda: A smart move putting these new guests into a new show.

Dave: Yeah. It’s going to be the sister show to Monster-Mania.

Linda: Just to get to know you a little bit better, you talked about always being a fan of horror. Do you have a favorite horror movie? A favorite horror actor?

Dave: Favorite horror movie goes all the way back to the 1931 Bela Lugosi, Dracula. You know, if you asked me, “What if you were stranded on an island, what movie would you take with you?” You know, horror wise it would be that one.

Linda: You’ve had some pretty big names at Monster Mania. Is there someone you’ve been trying to get that you’ve not been able to bring into the show yet?

Dave: Well one of the people I really wanted to get was Christopher Lee, and we came close, twice, but it never worked out. Sadly he’s passed on. I really wished that would have happened. Christopher Lee was the guy that in my childhood, teenage years, going to the movies with my dad, like the two people that really stood out on the screen to me were Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. To have Christopher Lee at the show would have been awesome, just as a remembrance of going to the movies with my dad. But what’s happened in turn with my kids is, I used to take the kids to the movies, and I took them to see, the Friday the 13th films and the Nightmare on Elm Streets. What having Christopher Lee would have been for me, having Robert Englund is for my kids.

Christopher Lee as Dracula. Image: Hammer Films

My kids remember probably when they were younger than I should admit, I took them to see Nightmare on Elm Street. They remember seeing Nightmare on Elm Street part 4 in a movie theater, part 3 in a movie theater, you know?  Now, at our convention is the guy that really made the impression on them when they were kids. Although I didn’t get to have Christopher Lee for myself, I have gotten to have Robert England for my kids. They have the same feeling towards Robert Englund that I would’ve had with Christopher Lee. So it’s cool to be able to do that for my kids, including myself. You know what I mean? Just to know that I took my kids to see Nightmare on Elm Street 4 in the theater, and the guy that was Freddy Krueger on the screen back then… who knew when we were going to movies back then that, fast forward into the future, we’d be having shows with him? You know, we still pinch ourselves? We’ve been doing it since … well, 17 years now.

Linda: That’s mind-blowing.

Dave: Yeah. I’ll tell you, it still has the wow factor to us that it always did.

Linda: Robert Englund keeps returning to your shows. They (the guests) clearly love it themselves.

Dave: Yeah. He really helped put us on the map and we’ve maintained a friendship with him. The Q&A that I did with Robert basically made the rounds this past show, was covered by … geez, I can’t even think of all the places, like it’s just been everywhere, like Newsweek Magazine.

Linda: That’s awesome!

Dave: I mean, it blew up all over the place. You can see the relationship we have with Robert if you watch the Q&A. I mean, it’s like you’re sitting there with one of your best friends and having a conversation, and he’s taking questions from the audience, but you can see that he’s so comfortable in our environment.

Linda: One thing I have to bring up as well, how smoothly your event seems to runs. Everybody’s fun, yet professional. You guys are well organized. 

Dave: Well, the person that runs our staff, her name is Jen Hummel. She does an amazing job.

Linda: Kudos to her.

Dave: Yeah. She’s been on staff with us for a long time. We gave her the head of staff position two or three years ago, I guess. She’s just really done an exceptional job with it. The thing is, as well-planned as things can be, there’s always something you can’t predict. We try to anticipate all those things and have backup plans, If this happens, we’ll do that. But inevitably, something somewhere down the line is going to happen that just wasn’t scheduled or you didn’t plan for, and you have to react to it. My two sons and I, after every show, we have a meeting. We just had it this past Monday, no, Saturday. We have a meeting that usually goes around five hours and we rehash everything from the prior show. What pluses and minuses there might have been. What unexpected thing came up that we need to be prepared for, should they occur again or how to prevent them from happening again, if it was something that we decided would have been preventable. We just try to constantly improve upon whatever we think needs improving.

If you’re in it strictly to make money, there are certainly ways to do that, but to me, that shows through. I mean, nobody’s putting on a show to lose money. At the same time, there’s a lot of ways that we could make more profit off of the show, like a lot of other shows do but it’s not in keeping with the intention and the heart of what the show is supposed to be. If people don’t sit down after shows and try to improve what they’re offering the fans, just don’t care. As I said, we’ve had 44 shows now, and every show, we have a long meeting afterward, and we don’t pat ourselves on the back for what went wrong. More importantly, we try to come up with ways to improve things.

Linda: You care. 

Dave: Yeah, we do. I mean, you’re not at a corner store selling products, you know?

Linda: Right.

Dave:

“You’re hosting an event and you want to have the people that attend your event, walk away with the best experience that they can have.”

I’ve been a vendor for conventions for years. I used to be one of the assistants of a movie star named, Caroline Munro. I used to help her with shows. So I’ve seen what it’s like to be behind the star’s table, you know? I’ve seen what it’s like to be the vendor that’s got a load in and set up. I’ve been on every side of the fence. I’ve been ticket hawker, I’ve gone to shows in a van. So I’ve tried to incorporate all that into when we’re planning things, you know, as a vendor, what would make things better for us? As a fan, what would make things better for us? As a person that’s signing autographs, what can I do to make it easiest for them, or their handler, or whoever it might be that’s with them? I’ve been in all those roles. So I have a little bit of insight into what the hurdles are to be one of those people.

Linda: You guys are doing it right! I love it.

Dave: Well, thank you.

Big thanks to Mr. Hagan for taking the time to speak with me. If you have cravings for the creepy, be sure to sink your teeth into Monster-Mania. 😉

1 COMMENT

  1. Great interview! I miss our Walking Dead discussions at Home Goods! I think it’s awesome how much this has all grown. I hope to get to attend one of the conventions soon.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here