by Bethany Rose
Days of the Dead has had 20 conventions since they started in Indianapolis in 2011—at least that’s what I learned during a bit of trivia at a makeup effects contest at the most recent Days convention. The con now hosts events in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Chicago, with Louisville added this year. I attended both the Indy and Louisville 2016 show, and as usual, the con showed me many sights and offered me some unforgettable convention moments.
The Indianapolis convention was held this June, and I made it out for the Saturday of the con (Days hours are typically Friday evening, Saturday all day, and Sunday until the early evening). One of my favorite things about this convention is that the celeb guests are usually staying at the same hotel as the con is held, so I always head to the hotel lobby or concession area before the show, grab a treat, and then sit back and watch the “pre show.” I’ve been in line for coffee in front of P.J. Soles, worked out at the same time as Tom Savini, and dined next to Doug Bradley. This year I saw many of the celebs as they walked through the lobby and to the convention, and even though I never bother them, I still enjoy sitting around, drinking some coffee, looking up, and telling my fiancé something like, “Oh hey, there’s Shawnee Smith.”
If you’ve read any of my articles here before, you probably know my story. I grew up on horror films. My sister is 15 years older than I am, so she introduced me to Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, Chucky, and the rest of the crew when most kids my age were picking their favorite Care Bears (and noses). The horror genre is such an important part of my life that I wrote my thesis on slasher films. I cannot remember a time of my life when I didn’t watch horror movies or read scary stories. Days of the Dead has brought so many of my childhood dreams come true, and this year was no different.
In Indianapolis, I got to do a professional photo op with Bill Moseley. Days usually offers a few different pro ops, but this one was extra special because Bill was dressed in the full makeup and costume of Otis Driftwood from House of 1,000 Corpses. To not only meet Bill, but meet him dressed as Otis was a true horror fan’s dream come true. The whole photo op process is easy, too. You pay online, print off a ticket, wait in line, and get the picture. The staff is professional and helpful. You don’t wait too long in line, but you feel like you get to enjoy the moment of the picture. That’s one of the many things I love about Days of the Dead. It is a convention backed by true fans who care about other fans. The staff is always knowledgeable and helpful, and you can tell that it was created out of a love of the genre.
Usually, my fiancé attends the conventions with me, and he stands in line at celeb booths with me, but when it comes time to get autographs and pics, I am the one who gets it all. But this year he was able to join in because of some great offers. First, the photo op purchase was only one ticket, but it covered two adults, so I paid one price and he got to join me. He also really wanted to meet Sid Haig, and we could not believe at how awesome his booth was. I don’t want to posts prices here, because I understand that they can change, and don’t want to give anybody the wrong ideas, but I will say that Sid’s price shows just how much he cares about his fans. Not that celebs with slightly higher prices don’t, but everyone raves about what Sid charges. And my fiancé got to sit next to Sid while he autographed a photo. He let my fiancé tell him exactly what to put. He answered a couple of my fiancé’s questions, and he posed for a couple photos. It was a great time!
I was also thrilled to meet Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy. At most celebrity tables, there are a variety of pics you can grab for the celeb to sign, and Kristy was no different, except that she didn’t only have pictures. There, right in the middle of the table, was a row of wooden stakes! I of course picked one of those (actually, she picked the one she thought the autograph would turn out best on—how sweet), and now I have my very own vampire slaying stake with Buffy’s signature.
Days of the Dead understands horror fans so well, that they realize most of us also spent some portion of our lives watching wrestling, and they know that many of us our pop culture nerds in general. So the same room that had horror icon Kristy Swanson also had Mean Gene Okerlund, William Zabka, and Jon Heder, among other celebs. Seriously, walking into an autograph room at a Days of the Dead is like opening a door to my youth.
The convention also showcases a variety of vendors, and it is rare for me to pass a table and not look, even rarer for me to pass a table and not find something I want. Horror movies, posters, comics, books, memorabilia, toys, clothing, and specialty items like contacts and fangs are often featured in vendor areas. Look in any corner of my bedroom, and you will spot an item I purchased at a Days of the Dead.
Though I only got to spend a few hours at Indy’s show this year, I wasn’t too sad when I had to leave. Not only did I have a great time, but I also knew that I would be attending a second Days of the Dead show: Louisville.
I’ve been going to Days of the Dead in Indy for a few years now, and it is always exciting, but I had a new level of excitement for Louisville. The very first year I went to the Indy convention, I didn’t really know what to expect, so I kept my excitement in check so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. With Louisville, I already knew how awesome the show would be, so the excitement level was upped because I not only knew it would be a great time, but I was going to a new Days of the Dead. I was not disappointed!
I once again got to see a host of celebs, some only minutes after I arrived (you will always know when Felissa Rose is in the house—she is so fun). And I once again had tickets for a photo op of a celeb in a very famous costume: Elvira. Yes. I got to see the Mistress of the Dark in full Elvira garb. She was as lovely as ever, and I am so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to do this.
Once again, the staff was amazing, the vendor booths had me drooling, and the celeb encounters were worth waiting in line for. I also got a chance to attend two events: the makeup contest and the costume contest.
Both contests were on Saturday, with the costume contest happening first. There were three separate categories: Best Adult Costume, Best Child’s Costume, and People’s Choice. There was an array of great costumes to choose from, including Twisty the Clown, Leatherface, Freddy Fazbear (from Five Night’s at Freddy’s), a post-bird attack Melanie Daniels (from The Birds), Ghost Diver, and Freddy Krueger. Audience members at the contest also got a chance to win prizes. It was definitely Halloween in September in that room, and I don’t envy the judges for having to pick from such an awesome group of costumes.
The makeup contest also included prizes for the audience as well as the contestants, and while contestants were creating their monsters there was trivia and other entertainment. Ben Peter, a former contestant from SyFy’s Face Off, and Imogen Boorman, an actress most convention attendees know from Hellraiser 2, were two of the judges. At the Indy show, the host mentioned that contestants were able to create what they wanted. At this show, there was a new twist: contestants were given a theme. The them was to create an original cenobite that would fit in the Hellraiser series (great theme!). Contestants were allowed to bring anything they wanted from home, and many brought their own brushes and paints, but they also all had a box of items prepared for them by the host. They could use whatever they wanted from the box. Boxes included everything from “cheap” paint, to water bottles, to trash bags, and even some Jell-O. Watching a contest like this in person, rather than on television, really shows you the amount of time put into a makeup and all the details that create what seems like only one effect.
Unlike Indy, Louisville also hosted a tattoo contest and room. The contest was split up into different nights, with different categories each night. The tattoo room featured a variety of epic tattoo artists actually doing tattooing all weekend. It was fun to walk around and see the great tattoo designs on display and being done, and many of the tattoo artists also sold artwork. It was a great addition to the show, and I believe some of the other Days of the Dead locations also feature tattoo work.
While Louisville had some awesome entertainment, guests, and vendors, my most memorable moment came from the most unexpected occurrence. Here is the story of my meeting with actress Heather Langenkamp.
I cannot remember a time in my life without A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I always loved the character of Nancy (and her meta turn as Heather in New Nightmare). Of all the people I'd ever want to meet, Heather was high on the list. So I was beyond excited to make that dream come true. The line was not too long, but Heather takes the time to really talk to everyone who wants to meet her, so I waited about 30 minutes, but enjoyed the wait. I got to watch her interact with fans and say some lines from the first film. Then there I was, just one group of people ahead of me (a fun group of women who had made a Nightmare fan film). I perused the table and found the photo I wanted Heather to sign. And then it happened. A rush of heat flooded me. I looked at my fiancé and said, "I think I'm sick." I had to kneel on the ground and wait for my turn.
A majority of my intro section of my thesis focused around the character of Nancy, so I was all prepared to discuss this with Heather. By the time the group left and it was my turn, I could barely tell her my name and ask for a pic. As soon as this picture was taken, I ran to the nearest trash can (unfortunately, right behind the table Sid Haig was at, but fortunately he wasn't there yet), and, well, you can figure out the rest. I was beyond upset, but was happy to see the results of our pic. She looked so happy. And then I found out that she got to the convention late and had to leave early because of a family emergency, but she was still so awesome with her fans while she was there. So it wasn't the story I had hoped for, but I would say it was definitely a memorable experience after all, and even though I was a mess, Heather was truly a class act. (Also, my apologies to Sid Haig and fans. I tried to make it farther away, really.)
Days of the Dead is a must-attend experience for horror fans. The event also includes celeb panels, but I haven’t made it to one yet (gotta have a Days goal for next time, right?). I have seen so many of the same faces, attendees, staff, and volunteers at the conventions, that I know feel like part of a family. A creepy, kooky, and happily spooky family.
Images © 2016 Bethany Rose/INFLUX Magazine