To someone who’s never been to a horror convention the thought could be as frightening as the blood-soaked splatter fests that appear on screen. One could imagine pale, pierced social misfits and psychopaths standing in line to meet their favorite serial killer. Many may feel if they aren’t into the gory or the grotesque then a horror convention is not for them.
That impression is totally false as shown last weekend at the Days of the Dead horror convention in Indianapolis. Of course it was a blast for those into fright films, but it also had entertainment to offer any movie lover!
One of the big draws of the convention were the large number of celebrity guests in attendance. The stereotype of a celebrity on the autograph circuit is an actor with his career on the decline, clinging to former fame. Days of the Dead proved that image wrong by bringing in several A-list celebrities promoting current films. Some of the headlining guests have big movies out soon included Danny Trejo (Machete Kills in October), Keith David (recently in Cloud Atlas and a dozen more films in production), and Academy Award Nominee Gary Busey (Behaving Badly due out this year). This is an amazing roster for a con only in its third year, besting some of the other national companies who host conventions in the Midwest.
Access to the celebrities was incredibly easy. At many conventions fans have to wait in line for four hours or more to meet their idols. At Days of the Dead my wait time to see Trejo was 10 minutes, and only 15 minutes for Busey.
More, the prices were very reasonable. At conventions such as Dragon*Con or San Diego Comic-Con I’ve paid over $100 for signatures from actors who have not worked in several decades. At Days of the Dead the majority of autographs were $20 and headliners Busey and Trejo were just $40. Trejo would take a picture free with an autograph, while Busey charged only $10 additional for a photo; at some conventions photo opportunities start at $20 and can be as high as $150.
While all of the celebrities have horror films on their resumes, Trejo would sign a copy of the comedy Bubble Boy as rapidly as the vampire film From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, and Busey had available photographs of his roles in Lethal Weapon and Point Break. I did not see anyone asking Keith David to sign their copy of Requiem for a Dream but I doubt he’d have declined.
All the guests were not just polite but completely engaged with the fans, having short conversations and truly making the con attendee feel appreciated. This is far better than the assembly-line like atmosphere found by some guests at Wizard World or New York Comic Con. In fact, the longest line to see a celebrity seemed to be A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 star Lisa Wilcox who would spend up to 5 minutes talking with her fans while signing their items. (Unfortunately for Wilcox one of those fans I observed was a socially awkward male in his twenties regaling her with a story about a specially lit photo he had of Wilcox in his bedroom…so while some of the stereotypes were present at the con most of the attendees were overwhelmingly normal).
Even the guests whose primary work was in horror had non-horror items available. For example, Wilcox is best known for starring in A Nightmare on Elm Street but the actress also had available a wide selection of photos from her single-episode guest-starring role in Star Trek: The Next Generation. As she rarely appears in the Midwest, Wilcox was a draw for Trekkers and horror fans alike. Original Nightmare on Elm Street star Heather Langenkamp also had a minor role in this summer’s Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Of course, the horror fan had much to celebrate. Icons of the genre including Tony Todd (Final Destination, Candyman, Wishmaster), Derek Mears (the Friday the 13th reboot, 2007’s The Hills Have Eyes II), Tyler Mane (Michael Myers in both Rob Zombie’s Halloween films), Leslie Easterbrook (Zombie’s Halloween and The Devil’s Rejects), several stars of Cabin Fever, and over a dozen more horror film character actors were also there.
The vendor areas of the convention were a shopper’s delight. While the non-horror fan would find less that appeals to them in the vendor booths, there were plenty of superhero toys and Star Wars collectibles to choose from. I bought an original painting based on the Howard the Duck movie!
Many booths catered to all children of the 80’s, including Don’t Eat the Gum – a company that sells trading cards from the 1980s and 1990s (and my wife should have listened to the company name as she almost broke her tooth on a stick of gum from Howard the Duck trading cards…the gum was made in 1986). Also there was Adjust Your Tracking selling movies on VHS that were never officially available on DVD.
Of course, being a horror convention, slasher-film fans could buy items not found anywhere else. Many booths offered DVDs of horror movies, including bootlegs of some incredibly rare films like Fright Night 2 and Silent Night, Deadly Night: Initiation.
There were also custom T-Shirts, paintings, and other original expressions of creative horror. At one booth Curious Goods offered custom action figures, including Rob Zombie, and Deathtroopers–Star Wars Stormtroopers turned zombies.
The exhibit floor was split into two small ballrooms, a sign that Days of the Dead is quickly outgrowing the space offered by the Wyndham Indianapolis West hotel. Having Days of the Dead split among several walled-off areas did make the convention feel smaller than it was. While it were ever too crowded, as is often found at larger conventions, the lines often crossed and merged, making celebrity areas hard to navigate. This is likely the product of becoming incredibly popular in only three years, and something I’m sure will be corrected at future conventions.
Overall Days of the Dead Indianapolis was an incredible experience, and I will certainly be attending their Chicago convention this November. While the only guests announced thus far are stars of the Return of the Living Dead and The Blair Witch Project it’s sure to be fun!
When not attending conventions across the globe Arnie can be found hosting the movie review podcast Now Playing, which has reviewed hundreds of movies of all genres, as well as the toy collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys. He also reviews books on the Books & Nachos podcast.