If you’re a horror freak (hint: if you’re reading this, you are), there’s no doubt that you’re not only aware of Fright-Rags, but own at least one of their shirts. Our guess is that you’re just like us and have several. Probably some socks, too.
All thanks to a dream that founder Ben Scrivens made a reality a decade-and-a-half ago. Unable to find unique horror tees, Scrivens set out to design and print shirts that he would want to wear. And as it turned out, everyone else wanted to wear them, too.
Fright-Rags recently enjoyed its 15th anniversary, and Nightmare Nostalgia was lucky enough to catch Scrivens on the phone during some rare down time to talk about his excitement for the new Halloween film, upcoming design releases, and the memories he’s made with genre giants Joe Bob Briggs, P.J. Soles and Tom Atkins as a result of following his dream.
NIGHTMARE NOSTALGIA: Fright-Rags recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. How does it feel to have been living the dream for a decade and a half?
BEN SCRIVENS: (Laughs) I’ll start off by saying that it’s amazing and I wake up feeling incredibly blessed and lucky every single day, that’s for sure. We never take it for granted here at the office that we’re able to do what we do, and we’re just thankful for it. I mean, things get stressful, things get really crazy and busy, and sometimes to the point that you’re at your wits end, but we also know that the worst of days are better than being at some crappy job.
It’s so funny to think about it because when I first started out, my friend Tim, who eventually became my first employee, we were working at a job together and we’d go out to lunch and we would talk about the business—I was doing it on my own—but I was sharing with him some of the stuff that I was doing. I remember going to Subway and just dreaming about what it would be like to do this full-time. Imagine doing this full-time and sitting around and watching horror movies all day like the work was going to get done itself and we could just literally sit down and watch horror movie all day (laughs).
It’s so funny to think about that and then think about what the reality is to make this a full-time job or career, and it’s so different than that. There’s less time now to sit around and watch movies and do those things, but it’s incredibly rewarding and even though it’s so different than I could have ever imagined, it’s still pretty amazing.
NN: Tell us about your involvement with the IT fan film, Georgie.
BS: John [Campopiano] and Ryan [Grulich], who did the film, came to me and discussed wanting to do something for their Indiegogo campaign. I had recently watched Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, and I really dug it and I know they’re going to be doing one for IT as well, and the idea of the short film Georgie and featuring the same actor who played Georgie in the original IT (Tony Dakota), I thought it was just really clever.
There really wasn’t any involvement, they did the work, they did the art, they did everything, they just wanted to know if we would kind of partner up with them to print the shirt for their campaign and help them get the word out. A lot of people ask us to print stuff for them or if we do partnerships or sponsorships, and we turn down a lot of them because I don’t have any personal feeling toward them. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just if I connect with something then I feel a lot better kind of pushing out to our audience because it feels a little bit more personal.
I love IT and I liked this idea and just thought it was an interesting thing that they were trying to do, and I thought it would be fun to help them out. So really, as far as our involvement, all the credit and work goes to them, we’re just printing some shirts for them and, of course, we’re helping blast it out to our audience.
NN: It’s obvious that Halloween has a special place in your heart, being your first exposure to the genre at just four years old. Now there’s such an energy and anticipation for the new film, so what was you’re your initial reaction when HorrorHound and Tranacas International Films reached out and asked Fright-Rags to design the logo for H40: 40 Years of Terror?
BS: That was incredible. We work directly with Trancas for all of our Halloween stuff—I, 4, and 5—so we’ve had a great relationship with them over the past several years, and they also use an independent agency that licenses to a bunch of other companies, so a lot of other companies that license Halloween have to go through them which goes then to Trancas. I have a good relationship with that company as well, and that’s when they approached us about possibly doing something for Halloween’s 40th. I thought they were reaching out to everybody, and maybe they did, they made it sound almost like a contest type of thing, I don’t know, it was kind of odd the way that they positioned it.
So I got with my designer and I was like “Maybe we can put something together,” and at the time I really wanted to put something together myself, or at least try because I’m a designer myself and it would have been fun to try to poke around and do something, but I offered it to my designer because I just didn’t really have a chance to do anything. Our designer’s so great, and I’m like “Why don’t you come up with something? Maybe you can come up with some ideas.” It was a couple of days later and he turned out three or four ideas, and I saw that one, and personally, me and everybody at the office was like “Oh my God, that’s it. That’s perfect.” The four and the zero and the Ls, and I’m like “Oh my God!” I probably could have done a thousand sketches and maybe never have come up with that, and I just thought it was perfect. I think we submitted three of the four, maybe we submitted all four or maybe just that one, but I was like “Hey, check this out!”
Again, I don’t know if anybody else submitted or if we were the only ones asked, I don’t really know any other details other than when they saw it they were like “We want to use this.” That was a really cool moment and all credit goes to Joe [Guy Allard] our designer because he came up with it, but it really feels great to be a part of something like this. It’s forty years after the film, and as you said, that was the movie that got me into horror, and here we are, not only creating official merchandise for the film, but sort of putting a stamp on its anniversary. It’s pretty incredible.
NN: Blumhouse’s Halloween (2018) just enjoyed its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and by all indications from those lucky enough to be there, they nailed it. Can you put into words your excitement and anticipation for that film?
BS: Oh, man. It’s funny, we were just talking about that in our weekly meeting today. We all gathered in my office, not only to watch the teaser trailer a few months ago, but the other trailer that came out [September 5] and we were talking about it again today, how we all just have chills. It’s funny, we have a little bit of a behind the scenes look into the film, we have some access to certain things like the script and images that we’ve had for a few months now that have helped shape what we were going to do (with merchandise), but even with that stuff, honestly, I get chills.
It sounds crazy to me, but we were tearing up watching the trailer last week, and it is hard to put into words, because this one feels different, and I think everybody else can agree, and not just because Jamie Lee [Curtis] is back. Even when she came back for H20, which I think was a solid film, the fervor, maybe it’s because the internet is more prominent, so you can have that connection a little more easily and freely now, but it just feels like this one, there’s an energy that I think we’re all feeling about it. And I love the fact the reviews are so positive because I think it’s just going to help this film and I think fans are just going to love it.
NN: Let’s talk about scoring a line for Ash vs Evil Dead, or the new Halloween. Do you seek that out, do they contact you, a bit of both? Walk us through that process.
BS: In general we seek it out, but there have been cases where we definitely get people that contact us. A good example is about maybe four months ago, we got a call from Paramount—we’ve been working with Paramount a little bit, we had signed licenses with them last year for The Warriors and Pet Sematary. We already started with Warriors, Pet Sematary will be out in a couple of months, and we’ve got much more for both of those coming next year because of their respective anniversaries—so we’d already been talking to them, but they called us and they said “Hey, would you like to do shirts for A Quiet Place?”
And it’s funny because I hadn’t seen the movie yet, it was still in theatres at the time, it had been out for maybe a few weeks or a month and it had gotten some good buzz at that point. When I first heard about the movie it sounded interesting, but a lot of movies are like that and when they come out they kind of fizzle and maybe I’ll catch it on home video or something, but I had just started hearing some really good things about it and I said “Ooh, maybe I should check this out.” Everybody at the office except me and two other people had seen it and they really loved it, so I said “Maybe I need to see this.”
Anyway, they called and wanted to know if we’d like to do shirts for it, and I said “I need to see the movie first (laughs).” So the next day, me and two other people from the office went out during the day to go see it and when I got back I said “Yeah, this is a great film. I think we could do something with it, we just have to be really creative because, obviously, you don’t really see the monsters too much in it.”
That’s definitely a case of that happening, and there’s definitely been cases where people approach us, studios or people who have smaller properties that see if we’re interested. It really is a case-by-case basis. Again, something like A Quiet Place kind of fell into our lap, where other things we’ll see maybe just isn’t the right fit for us, but in many other cases it’s us having a relationship with a studio and asking them for rights, or sometimes the studios don’t even know they have rights for things, and we’re the ones saying we think you have the rights for this and they say “Let us check,” and then they come back and they say “Yes we do,” and I’m like “Okay, we want it.” That happens a lot, too.
NN: Fright-Rags is always great with sneak peeks at new collections, and offer coming attractions emails for customers, but do you have a teaser or two for things you might have on the horizon that’ll get peoples’ wheels spinnin’?
BS: We spend so much time going back and forth between what’s happening right now and then what’s happening down the road. We’ve already started planning 2019, almost the entire year, and it’s pretty crazy. I’m already living in October, basically (laughs). Something that’s a little bit closer on the horizon that I don’t think we’ve really done much announcing for—I think we may have teased something almost a year ago that we might be doing it—but we do have a Die Hard collection coming out in November.
Branching out into non-horror type movies, we got some licenses that will be rolling out over the next year or so that are not outright horror, but are also very popular with fans. I grew up with horror, but I also grew up with Die Hard and I grew up with other things, I don’t think it’s so far out of wheelhouse of fans’ love for certain popular movies. So Die Hard is one of them, and I can even say—granted, this isn’t going to be out for a while, but in keeping with that—we’ve also got properties like Edward Scissorhands and Home Alone, as well, that’s going way further out, because that’s not even action (laughs).
Edward Scissorhands you can make a case, where Home Alone is decidedly not horror. It’s horrific for the kid maybe, but we’ve done things like that in the past, we’ve done Garfield, but we did Garfield Halloween, and we’ve done E.T., but we’re trying to do properties here and there that I think can fit outside the horror genre, but fit within our site.
NN: What’s one film or franchise that you’ve been dyin’ to add to the roster that you just haven’t been able to seal the deal on as yet?
BS: I used to skirt this question a little bit because we’ve done shirts for it before but they were all unlicensed, and in recent years we’ve changed a lot in our company. When we first started out nothing was licensed and you have to get licenses for stuff, but we did a lot of unlicensed things for years and then we started finally being able to get licenses, and then we would still do things on a very limited basis here and there, but we’re not going to do unlicensed stuff anymore, period. Unless it’s something that’s so darn obscure or something where we can’t find the rights-holder where we might put something out there just to see if somebody turns up, which doesn’t happen very often but sometimes these movies, no one knows who owns them, so you try to put something out just to see.
Someone says “Oh, I own that,” like “Okay, we’ll pay you,” but my point is the ones I want the most, I’m going to have to say two because they’re kind of on the same level, but it’s Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. We’ve done plenty of Jason shirts on Friday the 13th before, we’ve done parodies, and I don’t mind parodies so much—G.I. Jason’s a parody—we consult a lawyer for those things to make sure we’re not stepping over too many toes with those types of things, but we’ve done plenty of out-and-out Jason and Freddy shirts over the years, a lot of them, and they’ve sold really, really well.
Those are all done limited, and it just got to a point where I’m like, “Just because it’s Friday the 13th, I’m not gonna put out a Jason shirt like most people do,” nothing against anybody else, I’m just making a decision on my own on behalf of the company to not do that anymore unless it’s something like a parody. But I really, truly want to be able to come out and say, “Listen, we have the official rights for Friday the 13th, we have the official rights for Nightmare on Elm Street and we’re gonna do some really kick-ass shirts and not try to hide it, not try to pass it off as something that’s licensed.” I want to do it the right way. It’s weird because we’ve done so many great designs for them, but really it’s not going to feel true and right until we’ve signed that deal.
NN: As lifelong fan myself, does it feel real, even now, that you had Joe Bob Briggs present a film with you for Saturday Night Rewind at the Little Theatre in Rochester, New York a couple of years back?
BS: It was surreal. It was two years ago in October, and it’s funny because I had talked a lot to his manager, and just prior to that we had done our MonsterVision shirts with them, so I had dealt with his manager Tracy, who’s sweet and she’s great. I dealt a little bit with him, but just a tiny bit before he got here. I didn’t know what to expect, and you just never know with somebody, and he took a train here from New York [City], which is about a six or seven-hour train ride, and I am going to pick him up from the train station and I don’t know if he’s going to be too tired, I’m kind of rolling with it.
When he got off the train and got in the van and I took him to his hotel he’s like, “You want to go out to eat?” and I’m like, “Yep! Let’s go eat.” I mentioned there was a cigar bar across the street, we were talking about something like whisky or cigars—and I like cigars, and I think he likes smoking cigars—and I said there’s one across the street and he said “Let’s go.” We hung out till two in the morning that night just talking.
And the next day he had signed our posters at our office, and then we went to dinner and hung out, we had beers above the theatre and then he did this intro. I came out to the lobby when he was done with his intro, we were going to start the movie, and he said “Hey, let’s go back to that cigar bar.” It’s right down the street so I’m like “Alright,” so we went there during the movie—we were showing The Warriors—during the whole movie, he and I were drinking whisky and having cigars (laughs). And then after the movie was done, it was almost midnight and he’s like “Let’s go back there,” and we hung out until three in the morning.
Then the next day we had lunch and I took him back to the train station, but I’m telling you, he’s got stories for days, I didn’t even have to say a word, he’s just so engaging and nice. And I am so happy, I know it sounds weird to say this, but I’m incredibly proud to see this resurgence of love for him. I know it’s always been there, but I feel like with the Shudder (marathon), that’s what we wanted it to be when we bought the MonsterVision shirt a couple of years ago, and even though that sold well and we did really good with it, I really wanted people to be like “No, celebrate this guy,” and I feel like now with the Shudder thing, it’s just this renaissance. I’m just so happy for him, not to say that he was begging for it or looking for it or in some weird spot in his life and he needed it, I think he was doing just fine, but I just feel like in general it’s nice to see it. That was an incredible weekend and he’s an incredible person.
NN: Obviously, you have a professional relationship, but it’s impossible to completely do away with fandom, so be it The Last Drive-In or Halloween 2018, give us those impressions when you step back for a moment and realize you’re working directly with these entities in preparation for events that the horror community is out of its collective mind for.
BS: That’s hard to put into words. A year ago for Saturday Rewind we had P.J. Soles come out here, which was another incredible, incredible weekend experience where I got to hang out with her and just talk, and really connect with her.
It’s funny, because she even told me “This is like being with my son.” She really felt like family, it was this crazy connection, it wasn’t just with me, it was with everybody at the office, but we filmed a short movie (November 1st) that we wanted her to cameo in and she agreed to be in it. I was playing Michael Myers and she was going to have this really quick cameo and we were debuting it that night, and I’m standing there in my Michael Myer mask—and listen, I know this is just a little fan film, just something silly that we were doing as a fun thing—but I’m playing Michael Myers across from P.J. Soles and my inner freakin’ four-year old is just fucking going crazy.
I can’t put into words, but the cool thing about someone like her, and most people that we’ve worked with, they get it — they get the fandom part. They’re not weirded out when you want them to sign something or when you talk about the fandom part, so it’s very disarming in that sense because you feel more comfortable. But it’s weird because someone like her, and again I extend this not just to her but almost everybody we’ve ever worked with in this capacity, you get so friendly with them. There was a small balcony in the theatre that we showed at, and it was my wife and I and P.J. and her boyfriend, it was just us four up there watching Halloween. It was weird because we were watching this movie that I love, with her, it’s an original 35 mm print that I own, so it’s my print of the movie and all these layers of personal connection. She’s laughing at her lines, and I’m watching her watching the movie and there is that half of me that says “Holy shit, this is P.J. Soles!” but the other half of me is just like “This is just a wonderful person and we’re having a wonderful time,” and it was comforting. The nerves weren’t there anymore, it was just “This is cool, this is right, this is okay.”
But again it’s because of those people that make it that comfortable, or allowed me to be that comfortable, so it’s hard to put into words when you’re hanging out with P.J. Soles or when Tom Atkins and Fred Dekker were here and we were hangin’ out until two or three in the morning drinking at the hotel bar hearing stories that I would have never heard before. Yeah, there’s definitely a part of you that’s shaking your inner-self going “Holy shit! Do you see what’s happening right now?!” (Laughs) But it really doesn’t hit you until after, like literally after everything happens and you’re like “Oh, my God! Oh, my GOD! What just happened?!” (Laughs) It’s pretty wild.
NN: You’ve been drinking with Dr. Challis? Now we have to hear your best Tom Atkins story!
BS: Oh, my God. I don’t even know if I can say it (laughs).
NN: Now you have to!
BS: I’ll tell you the one thing I remember about him, the thing that stood out to me the most. We live by Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes, and we have a beach and it’s beautiful in the summer, it’s just great, and this was during the summer. I’d had some work to do during the day, so I took Tom out and we had lunch. We were sitting outside on the upper deck of an area overlooking the lake and it was a beautiful July day, and we were just talking about his childhood and how he grew up. We weren’t talking about movies, we weren’t talking about anything else, we were just talking about our upbringing and I just got to learn a lot more about him. It was just serene, this beautiful, perfect day and we spent a couple of hours just talking and getting to know each other. Again, it’s moments like that—the fandom brings you together—but after that connection happens, it deepens. It’s pretty awesome. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.
NN: So what’s on-deck for Fright-Rags releases?
BS: We’re looking ahead to October right now because every single week we’re doing a Halloween release, and we’re kicking it off the first week with the new movie. We just did our preorder, but that was really for people to kind of get ahead of the game primarily because when the movie comes out the 19th, we’re going to be shutting down between the 11th and the 16th because we’re going to be in L.A. at the Halloween 40th convention.
We really wanted people to get a chance to get at least one of the shirts if they wanted to wear one to the new film within time, so we held the preorders, but we’ve got more for that movie coming out on the 3rd as well as the ones that we released already.
Then the following week will be the original Halloween and we’ve got a ton of stuff for that, and then the week after is Halloween II and III, and the week after that is 4, 5 and 6. We’ve really packed the entire month full of just Halloween, Halloween, Halloween (chuckles).
We’re really moving full steam ahead, and there’s actually a few things that we’re putting out that we’ve never put out before, a really wicked Varsity-style hoodie that we’re doing that’s really cool, a couple new hats that we’ve never done—we’ve done hats before, but these are new ones—and a few other things that we’re really excited about.