Sfanthor Lowers the Drawbridge
A newly built castle on SoCo houses a horror / sci-fi emporium and wax museum
There's something weird going on at 1101 S. Congress. For one thing, someone, or, possibly, something has erected a downright Frankensteinian castle. With a drawbridge, no less. Has Austin's astounding growth shifted the cosmic paradigm from McMansions to McCastles? Perish the thought. Emphasis on "perish."
In (un)reality, the medieval-looking building is Sfanthor, the newest outpost where the mad-genius Museum of the Weird owners, Steve and Veronica Busti, plan to keep the city's unofficial motto accurate. Part horror and sci-fi-oriented geek shop, part old-school wax museum and spook show, and all kinds of ultra-cool, the Bustis' latest labor of love (and death) opens just as their infamous Sixth Street museum celebrates its 10th anniversary.
"I've always had this dream to build a castle," says Steve Busti. Even as a kid living in the woods of Transylvania, Pa., Busti was piling up stones trying to build his dream home.
"Back in 2013, I finally found and purchased one of my lifelong obsessions, the Minnesota Iceman" – currently on display at the Museum of the Weird – "and I had this epiphany: If I can track down the Iceman, then anything is possible if you stick to it, set goals, and work hard. So I thought, 'Well, I always wanted to build a wax museum; why am I waiting?'"
Busti had been looking for a location on SoCo "for years," but it was the property at 1101 S. Congress – a nondescript former insurance agency – that finally came up for lease in 2013. It was, as Busti puts it, "a blank slate. It needed a complete redo, and so we gutted the whole thing. We could do anything we wanted."
The end result of the Bustis' efforts is more a shrine to the history of horror and fantastic filmmaking than it is a typically modern-day Hollywood wax museum. The front part of Sfanthor is crammed to bursting with the Bustis' voluminous collection of silver-age Marvel comics, a complete run of Forrest J. Ackerman's seminal monster magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, vintage Aurora plastic monster model kits, and rack upon rack of genre- and Austin-themed T-shirts (items from local Pallbearer Press are on prominent display). But that's just the tease, and maybe a clever way to cover overhead.
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and you'll enter an eerily lit labyrinth featuring a series of unnervingly lifelike (or deathlike, in the case of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein's monster) and life-sized waxworks set into recessed tableaux in the walls. Designed not only to shock but also to offer a chronological lesson in the history of fantastic cinema, the exhibit greets visitors with the iconic, rocket-perturbed man in the moon from George Méliès' 1902 "A Trip to the Moon." The toothsome, bald-pated star of German Expressionist F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu glares, Lon Chaney's hunchbacked Quasimodo writhes, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon's Gill Man gapes through his lipless maw. There's even Vincent Price, fire-fried face and all, from House of Wax.
"Once we're open and running," the rabidly enthusiastic Busti adds, "I want to start showing movies on the weekends. I specifically designed one of the castle turrets on the corner to be hollow with a window to project classic Universal monster movies, or whatever, out into the parking lot. People will be able to bring a lawn chair, hang out, and watch the movies that inspired the wax figures inside."
Which seems to bring the whole, gloriously weird concept full circle.
"I've always felt like South Congress needed something like this," Busti explains. "I'm trying to, you know, keep Austin weird. As the years go on and Austin gets bigger, I don't know how relevant that slogan is. But I'm doing my best to keep that state of old-school Austin weirdness alive."
Sfanthor! Quoth Colin Clive's Frankenstein, "It's alive ... it's alive!"
Sfanthor's grand opening is Saturday, March 7, 11am-8pm, 1101 S. Congress; www.sfanthor.com.