A Season for Scaring at Phantom Fest

As the big night approaches, Adam Sweeney wants Austin to become Halloween Town

Adam Sweeney embodying Halloween as the Shape at Phantom Fest's 2021 Costume & Drive-In Party with Blumhouse (Photo by David Brendan Hall / Courtesy of Phantom Fest)

Ever feel that the only bad part of Halloween is that it just doesn't last long enough? And we don't just mean how stores are ready to pull all the best pumpkins off the shelves in September to make way for Christmas tinsel. It should be longer than just one night, and this year, Phantom Fest presents nine events over 11 days and nights of spooky delights, highlighting every aspect of Halloween from the ghoulish to the delightful. "It's a time of imagination and wonder," said founder and event programmer Adam Sweeney, who described the event as a way to celebrate the whole dark Halloween rainbow, "whether that's the visual or theatrical spectacle."

In conjuring up Phantom Fest, Sweeney and the team at production company Torpedo ATX are scheming to give Austin the kind of scary season common in towns like Salem, Mass.: And if that makes Austin a new Halloween Town, then Sweeney might become its new mayor. He said, "It's the one night where you don't have to fit into cultural norms, and you're encouraged to be strange. … It's the only holiday that you can view through your own lens and it's accepted." However, he added, "It isn't a celebration you can do by yourself." That's why he regards Halloween as so perfect for Austin and thinks that it's so strange that no one has done something like Phantom Fest before. "Whenever you give Austin a chance to put a costume on – not just for Halloween, but for Pride or any event – the ability to transform is something Austinites enjoy."

The seeds of Phantom Fest were planted in 2020 as Shock the Vote, an election year initiative to use horror films and Halloween events to encourage voting in the November election. Last year, without a ballot to scare up interest, the team at Torpedo ATX turned their bloody gaze upon simply doing good in the community, and the events became a fundraiser for Austin Pets Alive! "This year, we're really locking in on celebrating Austin businesses and creators," Sweeney said, and that's reflected in their choice of nonprofit partner this year: Good Work Austin, dedicated to improving working conditions in the hospitality industry and encouraging restaurants to provide free meals to those in need. And if there's one holiday that's about giving away food, it's the candy bounty of Halloween.

The fact that Halloween can be gory or silly, scary or spoopy, means that Phantom Fest has been able to spread its wings over every kind of Halloween celebration imaginable. This being Austin, Sweeney said, "Live performance is everything. It's not just a live music town, it's a live performance town." That's why their tribute to "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" ("Our most family-friendly event," Sweeney commented) isn't just a screening but a full tribute to Charles M. Schulz, with costumed characters and a reading.

Sweeney said he wanted Phantom Fest to become an Austin tradition: Part of that is working out what Austin's Halloween traditions are. "And that's going to be just as much a part of the community deciding that as the festival organizers." Moreover, he hopes Phantom Fest will encourage Austinites to keep Halloween in their hearts, put some bones in their yard, check out a scary movie, or visit a haunted house. For Sweeney, it all comes back to a line from 1996's witchy fave, The Craft: "'We are the freaks.' That speaks to what people love about Halloween."

Festive Frights at Phantom Fest 2022

All events at Central Machine Works, 4824 E. Cesar Chavez, unless otherwise indicated. Tickets and info at phantomatx.com.

Fri., Oct. 21, The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live. Head to the Frankenstein place with O'Brien's Orchestra, Austin's longest-running Rocky Horror shadow cast, for an evening of antici … pation. 8pm

Sat., Oct. 22, Feels So Good x Phantom Fest Shock Party. Head south of the river for a Halloween festival, complete with live music from Buffalo Hunt, Lord Friday the 13th, and Party Van, plus comedy, tattoos, free drinks, and more. Feels So Good, 211 Alpine, 6pm

Sun., Oct. 23, The Great Pumpkin Bash. Join BookPeople, gluten-free bakery Zucchini Kills, and a pop-up Witchy Market to celebrate the centennial of Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, with a day dedicated to "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." 1pm

Wed., Oct. 26, Zombie Run. Fast zombie, slow zombie, everyone's invited to this undead stagger, complete with a makeup tutorial. And whenever you cross the finish line, you'll still be in time for a special screening of Zombieland. Tutorial: 5pm; zombie run: 6:30-7:30pm; screening: 8pm

Thu., Oct. 27, Scary-oke With Karaoke Underground. Indie, punk, and metal? Plus karaoke? What could be better for the season of screams? Just remember, you can't all do "I Was a Teenage Werewolf." 9pm

Fri., Oct. 28, Vampire vs. Slayer Ball. Relive your teen angst and Bronze dreams with a special 30th anniversary tribute to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, complete with a performance by Austin's own queens of the night, the Jigglewatts. 7pm

Sat., Oct. 29, Stranger Things & Halloween Costume Party. Head to the Upside Down in your best Hellfire Club attire with not one but two costume contests, crowning the Queen and King of the Upside Down and the Queen and King of Halloween. Make sure to stuff yourself with Surfer Boy Pizza – maybe even with some pineapple. Try before you deny, bro. 7pm

Sun., Oct. 30, Dog Costume Contest. Just because they're your four-legged friend, that doesn't mean they're kept out of the fun. Canines in costumes are the perfect topper before you prepare your own Halloween celebrations. 1pm

Mon., Oct. 31, Halloween. No, not the best day of the year, but John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic. Violet Crown Cinema, 434 W. Second, 7pm

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Halloween
Five Ingredients for a Perfect Halloween
Five Ingredients for a Perfect Halloween
Like the best bags of trick-or-treat candy, it’s all in the selection

Richard Whittaker, Oct. 20, 2023

'Tis the Season
'Tis the Season
Something wicked this way screens

Josh Kupecki, Oct. 13, 2017

More by Richard Whittaker
Graham Reynolds Bugs Out With <i>Insectum</i>
Graham Reynolds Bugs Out With Insectum
New Golden Hornet collab project mines the sonic world of insects

Feb. 16, 2024

Molli and Max in the Future
When Harry Met Sally meets the far future in this talky sci-fi rom-com

Feb. 16, 2024


Phantom Fest, Adam Sweeney, Halloween, Halloween 2022

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle