CONVENTION REPORT: Days of the Dead, Burbank, CA (2016)

Horror fans love their conventions, don’t they? The chance to meet an adored horror star, to buy movies and books and t-shirts from vendors, to watch panels dedicated to horror stars or horror topics, to meet others with similar interests and tastes, and plenty of other things. All of these make horror conventions an eagerly awaited event in the horror community. Days of the Dead is one such convention, occurring in various cities throughout the United States.

I’ve attended several conventions in the past, but this was the first one I went all out on, attending the event all three days and dropping cash 20160401_152918like it meant nothing to me (my poor wallet is probably gonna be recouping for a few weeks). Not only did I attend all three days, but my friend and I decided to do so V.I.P. style. The V.I.P. tickets cost about $200 and nets you all sorts of little goodies such as a tote bag, a t-shirt, a pint glass, a poster, access to the V.I.P. suite, access to the convention 30 minutes before the general public,  and – most importantly – access to the exclusive VIP party held on Saturday around 7 p.m. complete with bar. There were some other perks we probably missed out on – such as the FREE FUCKING PIZZA they were giving out on Saturday (we didn’t find this out until after searching for a Domino’s nearby, finding none, and having to settle for McDonald’s instead).

Oh, did I mention you get a nice VIP lanyard?

So, armed with our VIP passes, money to spend, and favored horror stars to meet (I had my sights set on Camille Keaton of I Spit on Your Grave and Srdjan Spasojevic, director of A Serbian Film, making a rare convention appearance on Sunday), we grabbed our bags and set out for the convention.

This was my second Days of the Dead event I’ve attended. It was held at the Marriott Convention Center. My previous Days of the Dead event, in 2014, took place in Burbank as well, though I can’t remember the venue. What I do remember was that the main room wasn’t as impressive as this one. The main room was jam-packed with vendors (a few of whom were made much richer by me,20160403_105133 and I’ll be mentioning them later) as well as everyone’s favorite horror stars waiting to meet their fans. The halls outside the main room were also filled with vendors hawking their wares. There was an auditorium next to the main room where all the panels and other events were held. On the other side of the main room were two smaller rooms: one for screenings, the other for photo ops. For those who don’t like big crowds – believe me, this place is packed on Saturday – Friday’s and Sunday’s are the way to go. This being Friday, it was pretty dead inside, especially given that my friend and I were given access 30 minutes early. Some of the stars hadn’t quite arrived yet; some of the vendors were still setting up. One vendor, whom I began referring to as the Overpriced Soundtrack Guy – soundtracks priced at far above what they can be had for at a regular music store or online, out of print or not – got snooty and barked at my friend when all my friend did was lift up what appeared to be a crumpled jacket to take a glance at some LPs 20160402_115134underneath. Hey now, I get that you’re setting up and stuff and don’t want people mucking up the works, but there is a beautiful concept called “being polite.” Apparently this man had never heard of such a thing. No matter: after his rude barking my friend simply blew him off and walked away. Justice was served though: so far as I can tell, not one person bought anything from him as the quantity of his stock never changed.

Located in the hotel right behind reception was a large tattoo parlor where tattoo artists offered up their services for anyone looking to get their favorite horror icons, images, etc. tattooed on their body. I didn’t set foot in this room because I have no intentions of getting any tattoos.

Okay, now that I’ve established the atmosphere and conditions – as well as the one negative experience we had with a vendor – let’s get down to the guts, grue, and gore.

Guests

As mentioned above, my two main targets for that weekend were Camille Keaton and Srdjan Spasojevic. But there were plenty of other genre favorites there was well. Just to name a few: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Tony Moran, Jennifer Banko, Felissa Rose, Brinki Stevens, Tony Todd, John Russo, Lisa and Louise Burns, Tobin Bell, Fairuza Balk, Reggie Bannister, and P.J. Soles. Two others were the guests my friend had his sights on: Ted Nicolau and Eileen Deitz.

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One guest was hiding behind The Black Curtain. Care to guess who?
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Fairuza Balk taking a break from the convention. Obviously my Guerilla-style photography needs work.

Now, for those of you who’ve never been to a horror convention I’m gonna drop you a little tip right now: bring lots of money. Not just for the tickets and refreshments and merchandise, but for the guests as well – because they charge for autographs, pictures, etc. I didn’t know this when I went to my first one and barely had enough money to get a few autographs and feed myself. How much should you bring? Well, that depends on who you wanna meet. Average asking price now is $20-$30, though certain ones, the primadonnas, will charge much more than that. There was one guest there, who will remain unnamed, who was charging $100 for a signed poster of themselves! Are you kidding me!? Now, if this guest was on par with, say, John Carpenter or George A. Romero, I could at least understand (I still wouldn’t drop the dough though). But this person was in one horror movie that commands any sort of admiration – and it isn’t even that good. Will this poster do my laundry, clean my house, and go to work in my place? No? Then, signature or no signature, it ain’t worth squat.

Another guest was charging either $60 or $80, it was hard to make out, for an autograph. Oh, you wanted a photo too? Well, that will be extra (I believe $40 or so). Um, no thank you. I’m going back to the vendor tables.

Now, mind you, most of the guests have stuff to sell at their tables such as DVDs/Blu-rays, posters, figures, photographs, etc. which is where the $20-$30 price tag comes into play. (Even if you bring your own stuff, however, you still have to pay the asking price.) Usually, if you buy these items they will go ahead and sign them. Some, however, will sign them for an additional fee. Also, some of the items are sold at far above average price. Case in point: one guest was selling a standard Blu-ray edition of a movie they were in for $40 – the exact same version that could be had at Wal-Mart for $10 or less. So yes, buyer beware.

20160401_175532One guest, filmmaker James Balsamo, was offering an excellent deal: $20 for a DVD copy of his latest film, Bite School; a t-shirt, an autographed poster, and a picture with him. Also included was entry into a raffle for a chance to be killed in his next film. I’ll admit I’d never heard of Balsamo before this event but 1) he was a really cool dude, and 2) I’m not about to pass up a movie and t-shirt for $20. So keep an eye out: maybe you’ll get to see me killed in Balsamo’s next film – something many people would probably like to do in real life!

There was only one guest I saw there who charged less ($10) if you brought your own thing, and that guest was Sid Haig. He even released a statement on his website a few years back stating that he will never raise the price above $20. Good man. Also, unlike some, he does not charge to take a picture with him.

Understand though, it isn’t always the stars who charge this much just because: oftentimes, it’s their managers who make them charge this much. Fan love is a great love; also a love willing to part with the green stuff. So they may as well take advantage of it. The 42nd Street grindhouses may be dead and gone, but exploitation is alive and well in the horror community.

Okay, with that outta the way, on to the guests that I met.

Camille Keaton was the first guest I had the honor of meeting. After perusing the floor I caught Ms. Keaton seated atkeaton her table, DVDs and photographs spread out before her. Being a fan of I Spit on Your Grave, meeting her was definitely a moment of fangirling. I walked up and was all cheerful and friendly while my friend stayed off to the side wondering about my sanity. Also, something happened during our exchange (which I’m not going to disclose – no, it was nothing sexual you perverts) that a) made me respect Ms. Keaton a lot more, and b) showed me that Ms. Keaton truly respects her fans. She’s also a very nice and very sweet lady. I definitely recommend swinging by her table if she’s at a convention near you.

Now, let’s jump to Sunday, the day I met Srdjan Spasojevic. When I found out he was going to be there, I about went through the roof, flipped my lid in excitement, and exploded with an overload of joy. All at once. So yes, he was Numero Uno that weekend.

20160403_105959Sunday, April 3rd, 2016. Approx. 10:45: The convention floor was practically empty save for some of the vendors and a handful of attendees. Most of the guests hadn’t even arrived yet. I searched the place for Spasojevic’s spot. Once I found it, his assistant, who was also one of the vendors,  gave me a rundown of the prices. Arm? Leg? First born – when I have one that is? All were perfectly acceptable! But no, standard asking prices. Brilliant! Anyways, my friend and I were standing off to the side, perusing a vendor’s table, when I saw him approaching. I about dropped dead as the fangirl in me went off her rocker. I stood off to the side, unsure how to approach him. I mean, this is the man who made A Serbian Film, my favorite horror movie. He is royalty in my eyes. And I’m the first person to meet him at the convention! His assistant then pointed me out to him and said, “You’ve already got a fan.” As I approached, Spasojevic pointed to my shirt – my A Serbian Film shirt – and smiled. He then held his hand out and introduced himself. I shook his hand and introduced myself, saying that it was an honor to meet him. I’d brought my DVD copy of A Serbian Film. He asked me which version it was. I own the unrated and uncut versions. He mentioned that the uncut version isn’t available on Blu-ray…yet. FINGERS CROSSED! Anyways, I got a picture with him, thanked him for his time, and away I went, the fangirl in me orgasmed out to the point of comatose.

I met a few other guests, but I will talk about them in the vendors section.

(Continued on next page)

About Evan Romero

Evan Romero has been a horror fan since watching “Leprechaun” at the age of five. Aside from watching and writing about horror flicks, he delights in torturing friends with Z-grade movies. He’s also an unabashed Andy Milligan fan, God help him.

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