Canada’s largest annual terror expo expects to draw 2,400 fans of ghouls and gore

It’s the horrific little convention that could.

Three years after launching the Calgary Horror Con, founder and CEO Dan Doherty cannot believe his luck.

“We’ve doubled the number of vendors and are looking to triple the numbers of attendees from last year,” Doherty told the Calgary Journal in an interview before the Aug. 3-4 convention of terror.

“We’ve got a jam-packed lineup of films, and a jam-packed lineup of stars,” Doherty says, noting that several of the films featured in this year’s lineups are Canadian and world premieres.

“I’ve always believed that if you show people a good return on investment that they’ll pay you back with loyalty.”

– Dan Doherty, Horror Con CEO“We’ve got a bit of everything this year, from the slasher to the splatter to the psychological to the classic zombie apocalypse,” adds Doherty.

While horror-themed conventions are popular throughout the United States, the Calgary Horror Convention is one of the first in Canada and has quickly become the country’s largest.

While Horror Con attracted 400 attendees when it started in 2011, and 800 in 2012, this year Doherty is anticipating around 2,400.

The convention’s even outgrown its previous stomping grounds at Mount Royal University’s Wyckham House. This year, the Calgary Horror Con is moving to Hotel Blackfoot, while its nightly film screenings are being held at the Plaza Theatre.

“There was always a need for [the Horror Con],” Doherty says, “We just didn’t know it was there.”

FEMME FATAL

One aspect of running the Horror Con that surprised Doherty was the number of women who got behind the convention.

“I think among our fans on Facebook, we’ve got 51 per cent female, 49 per cent male, which is a great place to be.”

Doherty believes the next big thing in horror is women, which is why he’s made a special effort to reach out to events such as California’s Viscera Film Festival, which features female producers and directors in horror films.

“You look at people like Karen Lam out of Vancouver and her film The Meaning. She’s doing some really exciting stuff, which is why we’re thrilled to be screening her film.”

While Doherty notes most of his fans are between 18 and 25 years old, attendees in previous years have ranged from infants to seniors.

“I’ve always believed that if you show people a good return on investment that they’ll pay you back with loyalty,” Doherty says.

A HORRIFIC PASSION

Doherty admits that it might be easier on him and his Horror Con team to expand beyond the convention’s horror focus to genres such as superhero comics, fantasy and science fiction. However, Doherty says he doesn’t want to “dilute” the convention.

“It was founded out of a passion for the genre,” argues Doherty. “No other show has been able to build a stronger horror lineup than us because we don’t have divided loyalties.”

The Horror Con team has been able to pull together a number of major horror stars, such as Night of the Living Dead star Patricia Tallman, Bill Moseley of House of 1000 Corpses, and Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame. However, Doherty notes that interacting with the stars at Horror Con will be informal and “intimate.”

“Customers have asked us to implement photo ops, so we’re doing that for the first time,” he says. “But other than that, we want you to have time to talk to your celebrities and not get shoved through a line.”

Doherty says he wants there to be a story behind every signature and photo. “I want people to enjoy the [Horror] Con just like I do.”

EERIE ALBERTA

While bringing big name stars to Alberta is one thing, Doherty says the convention has also made an effort to “raise the profile of Alberta.” Local artists, authors, makeup artists, vendors and filmmakers will all be featured prominently at the convention alongside established stars in the horror genre.

Among the Albertans being featured at the event are prop artist and Edmontonian Travis Shewchuk, Claresholm journalist and author J.W. Schnarr, illustrator Nat Jones and makeup artist Ashley Marie Godick.

“We’re attracting film and projects to Alberta now,” Doherty says. “We’re putting this province on the horror map.”

Doherty says one of the keys to his event’s popularity has been networking, both with other horror-themed events such as Apocalypse Wars, the Airdrie Zombie Cup and the Zombie Survivor run, as well as other conventions such as the Red and White Comic and Toy Expo and Otafest.

“It’s all about building a community,” Doherty says. “There are businesses now that have stared up because of Horror Con. I know of new vendors popping up all the time, and that’s how a lot of small businesses get their start, before they open retail shops.”

FANDOM APPEAL

Attendees of last year’s Horror Con noted that sense of community as they wandered between booths populated by costumes and art and horror paraphernalia.

“It’s actually pretty cool seeing what people here have made,” said Peter White, who came out to the event dressed as the villainous Illusive Man from the Mass Effect video game series. “There’s a bit of stuff here for everyone – if you like horror, it’s a no-brainer.”

Jess Willard of local collectibles store ZoltanGal noted that the exposure from conventions such as Horror Con and Red and White Expo helped to drive his business. “It’s just amazing how much you can see and do at events like this. It’s definitely worth your time to see what the community comes up with, and just to have fun.”

While the third annual Calgary Horror Con is only days away, Doherty is already thinking about future years.

“As years go on, we’re going to be able to attract more star power. Just like what we did last year cemented this year, what we do this year is going to cement years to come.”

For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to http://www.horror-con.ca/.

bvisser@cjournal.ca