Since I was just a budding horror geek, a geeklet if you will, I had heard of a magical place where the monster kids run free. A place where the stars we’ve only seen on the bloody screen become real people that exist on the same plane as you. A place where everything macabre you could ever want to buy is available. A place where impassioned debates about the most obscure b movies are the norm. There existed a natural habitat for me and the rest of the gorehounds; horror conventions. I had seen advertisements and gotten glimpses via the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors videos, but I longed to experience it myself. In Atlanta we had Dragoncon, a fantasy/scifi mega-con, but I was tired of wading through a sea of hobbits, ewoks, and pokemon to find the slim horror pickings. Then, in 2012, my life changed. We got our first actual horror convention. Days of the Dead came to town.
Days of the Dead began in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2011. Adolfo Dorta, one of the masterminds behind DOTD, recalls “(Rick Lara and I) had a website that covered the horror scene like so many others and were happy with that as a hobby. When Bill Philputt (who has been in the business for 20+ years) approached us about being involved in putting on a show, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. We had no idea what we were getting into, and absolutely no clue what it would entail, but we figured that kind of thing doesn’t happen often and we’d be stupid not to take a crack at it.” The convention caught on immediately and soon expanded into other cities. Atlanta and Chicago followed in 2012, Louisville got in on the act in 2016, and Charlotte will be joining the party in 2018. A DOTD Los Angeles show also ran from 2012-2016.
So many other conventions are what I call “sign and shop” shows. You go in, you stand in line, get your celebrity autograph, buy your movies and memorabilia, and leave. But Days of the Dead is so much more. Yes, the stars are the major draw. Over the years DOTD has played host to George Romero, Clive Barker, Alice Cooper, Elvira, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Linda Blair, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder (all the Jasons, actually), Doug Bradley (all the Cenobites too), cast reunions of The Thing, Nightbreed, Return of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and multiple Nightmare on Elm Street films as well as countless others from all corners of the horror landscape. DOTD’s vendors rooms offer anything your black heart could desire. But what keeps people coming back are the events. DOTD offers two tracks of programming. The Black Track is where the celebrity Q&As, as well as the costume and makeup contests, band performances, and the after-hours “Scare-oke” party take place. Newly added this year is the Blue Track, which focuses on independent horror, workshops on everything from makeup effects to copyright law for artists, panels on topics ranging from horror comics to sideshows to heavy metal, a horror movie swap meet, and the local talent each DOTD city has to offer. Some shows even feature a tattoo expo. As if that wasn’t enough, the con sports its own 48 Hour Film Fest, keeping indie flicks and beloved classics running 24-7 throughout the weekend.
It’s the atmosphere, however, that truly sets Days of the Dead apart from the others. DOTD has a well-earned reputation on the convention circuit as the “party con.” The place is definitely full of party animals ready to howl at the moon, but it’s the laid back excitement and camaraderie that really fuels the good time vibe. “Everyone from the patrons to the celebrities just seems a whole lot looser at our shows” says Dorta. “It seems like everyone is a whole lot less uptight and just there to have fun among fellow freaks.” Walking into a room full of strangers becomes very comfortable when you know you have common ground and a shared obsession with each and every one of them. The shows have a “family reunion” feel, as there is a real sense of community among the attendees. You see the same people pop up in every city and form lasting friendships. Dorta describes Days of the Dead as more of a culture than an event. “I don’t know of any other show where fans travel across the country following them throughout the year from city to city. It’s like the Grateful Dead, only not awful.”
In the sense of full disclosure, as of February of this year, I work with Days of the Dead. The Blue Track I talked about? I run that. But my endorsement of the con and my glowing review are not the product of any “company line.” Days of the Dead felt like home years before I hosted my first panel. Some of the best times of my life (some of which I recall very blurrily) have taken place at these cons, and some of my favorite people on the planet came into my life as a result of these shows. After attending every year in Atlanta, I decided to trek to Indianapolis. I’ve been to every one since. Now that I’m involved in the programming side, I’m in all of the cities. Each event feels a little different, a product of the local horror scenes wherever we go. All are phenomenal, and all have their distinct flavor. From meeting your screen idols to catching the newest indie horror flicks to raging until dawn with like-minded weirdos, Days of the Dead is a horror fan’s paradise. Come, join us.
‘Days of the Dead Chicago’ is happening November 17-19. Go to daysofthedead.com for all the details.