By Joel Dryden
CALGARY — Dan Doherty, Calgary Horror Con founder and CEO, remembers his decision to become acquainted with the horror genre — it started as a test of his own bravery.
“When I was young, I was bullied at school. I was gripped by fear in certain situations,” Doherty recalls. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to push myself to the limit.’”
Doherty sat himself down and watched all the horror films he could. He dealt with his fear, albeit from a safe distance.
“Being able to face fear has helped me,” Doherty says. “It was about being able to face fear and deal with it in a productive manner. Everybody should have that.”
Doherty developed a lifelong passion for the genre and started Calgary Horror Con in 2011.
Alongside his core team and nearly 30 volunteers, Horror Con has drawn in some genre legends, from special effects wizard, Tom Savini, to Kane Hodder, who played Jason Voorhees in four Friday the 13th sequels. Doherty says the Horror Con team tries to book guests you might not see at other conventions.
“Why would I try to duplicate what’s been done well?” Doherty says. “I’m basically building a show I can go to and enjoy. Thank God there are a few other people like me.”
Attendance numbers for Horror Con have steadily risen, and Doherty expects that trend to continue for the fourth annual convention, taking place August 2nd and 3rd at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre.
This year’s guests include C. Thomas Howell, who starred in The Outsiders as Ponyboy Curtis, and director Don Coscarelli, whose films include Phantasm and The Beastmaster.
Aside from providing genre fans a place to come and see their horror heroes in the flesh, Horror Con also functions as an outlet for local film directors to showcase their latest work. Zee G. Hunter will premiere his latest feature, Dark Cherry Twist, at the convention.
“I’ve scared myself with certain scenes and left my lead actress crying hysterically in terror,” Hunter says. “I think people will find themselves horrified, laughing and thoroughly entertained by the end.”
The plot of Dark Cherry Twist surrounds a geneticist surviving the horrors of the apocalypse while trying to protect her family in a world populated by witches, ghosts, drug dealers and killers.
“I don’t shy away from showing the reality of horrific events, but I feel free to laugh at them at the same time,” Hunter says. “Laughing in the face of horror is the best coping mechanism, I find.”
Other local filmmakers, like Roger William Carter of RunRabbit Entertainment, have also premiered their work at Horror Con. Carter echoes the sentiments of Doherty and Hunter regarding the value of the horror experience.
“It allows you to witness the worst things humanity is capable of in a safe environment,” Carter says. “I really like the ability to experience the worst kind of people.”
Carter and his team have shot all of their short films on DSLRs, which has enabled them to remain active as filmmakers despite having limited resources.
“It’s a double-edged sword, because now I can make movies, but so can a million other people, so you’ve got a lot more competition,” Carter says. “You’re competing against the box office and 50,000 other people putting their movies online.”
“I know the temptation is to go extreme — like torture porn — but we don’t want to get exploitive to get clicks.”
Modern torture porn, movies like Saw and Hostel, are often regarded as being a blend of the splatter and slasher sub-genres in horror, the latter of which reached a summit in the 1980s. Doherty rejects the notion that modern torture porn is an evolution of the genre.
“I don’t like to say evolved,” he says. “I think that horror goes through periods. It did the whole slasher series, then that was done and it’s on to the next thing.
“But people are still doing slasher films, still doing gothic horror and still doing monster movies.”
Doherty pointed to the modern volume of zombie films as an example of a trend in horror, specifically mentioning the massive popularity of AMC drama, The Walking Dead.
“I think the whole Walking Dead thing has just ruined it for me,” he says. “Where were all these zombie fans 20 years ago, 30 years ago?
“It’s the fad thing. There are going to be a lot of really bad zombie films probably for a couple years now.”
Despite the proliferation of “crap films,” Doherty says he was optimistic that the next big thing in horror might soon emerge.
“I know a lot of great filmmakers – some that haven’t made it yet,” he says. “I can only see the industry getting better, honestly.”
Many of those filmmakers will be on display at Horror Con, collaborating with others who may one day define the next period in the genre. Hunter says meeting with like-minded people and a growing horror audience made him optimistic for the future.
“I find many people as crazy as I am and we make some beautiful art together,” he says. “Alberta’s horror scene is booming right now. Only getting bigger and better.”
Carter says that Horror Con’s focus on “outsider” content – not mainstream PG-13 Hollywood horror productions – brings together an audience that speaks the same language.
“Especially with the Internet now, we’re able to talk about these obscure movies,” he says. “When Dan puts on a show like this, it gives people a focal point to come together and say, ‘Hey, I’m not weird – we’re all weird.’”
Other guests at this year’s Horror Con include Joe Turkel, the bartender from The Shining, and Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of the Troma Entertainment film studio. To check out the full list of guests at this year’s convention or to find tickets, visit www.horror-con.ca.
Calgary Horror Con runs Aug. 2-3 at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre.AB, Alberta, Calgary Horror Con, Calgary Horror Con 2014, Dan Doherty, horror, Horror Con