Like the best horror movies, Calgary’s own Horror-Con is small and intense, with a loyal following. The upstart convention, started by Dan Doherty, isn’t aiming to be on everyone’s radar. For Dan and James Saito, who handles marketing and booking guests, the goal of Horror-Con is to provide a focused and intimate experience for fans of the bloody genre. In just it’s third year, the con is already making waves in the North American circuit. They’re billed as Canada’s only 100% horror show. This year they’ve managed to bring together the cast of the 1990 remake of ‘Night of the Living Dead’, including director Tom Savini and an absolute horror icon in Tony Todd. I sat down with Dan and James to find out what to expect from this year’s convention.

Tell me a bit about Horror-Con.

James: We’re the only dedicated horror convention in Canada. Horror is represented at other conventions, but you see them next to ex-wrestlers. It’s always a mix of genres. There is Shock Stock in Ontario, but they highlight more of the sub-culture.

Dan: We’re purely dedicated to horror. It always has and always will be.

Will the specific emphasis of the Horror-Con always be on film?

James: No, it’s all things horror. This year our celebrity guests range from make-up artists, actors to comic book artists. In the future we’d like to bring in some genre writers. The film festival that we’re doing this year is a first for us. We’ve set up separate screening rooms and bringing in a lot of films that will be Canadian firsts.

Other more mainstream conventions have really taken off here in Calgary. What sets the Horror-Con apart?

James: Because we’re not a high volume show, we offer fans a more intimate venue to meet celebrities, get photos taken with them, autographs and workshops.
We want to offer horror fans a big bang for their buck.

How will you balance the growth of the convention while maintaining the “small” feeling?

Dan: It all depends on our following. It’s always been my vision to keep it small and stick with horror. I would sooner do multiple smaller shows across Western Canada than do one big one.
James: We never want to find ourselves where you have huge line-ups. We want to keep it intimate.

Talk about the line up this year. You’ve assembled the cast of the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead.

Dan: James has been friends with Patricia Tallman (Night of the Living Dead, Army of Darkness) on Facebook for a while and we wanted her anyway. Once you get one then you can start adding the others.
James: By the time we got Tom Savini, who directed the movie, we figured we might as well make it a thing, so we approached Tony Todd and now here we are.

Small is underrated. For Dan and James, they want to give fans as many ‘special’ moments as possible. Attendees will be able to take pictures of the guests any time they want. Everyone will be able to approach the celeb guests any time they’re at their tables. Dan tells me about the fun he had last year as a fan. “Last year I spent my weekend with Richard Brooker, he was the first guy to wear the Jason (Friday the 13th) mask. It was the story behind that, it gave real meaning to the weekend. I have a story to tell and that’s what I want for the fans.” James adds, “I don’t think we need to worry, that much. Because we’re strictly focused on one aspect of entertainment, it cuts down the numbers. If you want to spend some time talking to a guest while you’re getting something signed, you can.” In three short years they find themselves in the fortunate position of not only having potential guests approach them, but also having to turn some away.

Dan: The first year no one was coming. It’s tough as a fan, because the show is slanted towards our heroes, the people we want to see. It gets tough when you start turning people away. This year we said “There’s no way we’re taking any more guests.”, then Hershel Gordon Lewis (the father of the ‘splatter’ genre) asks and you’re like “Yeah, there’s room for him.”. It’s a dangerous game. You feel bad turning some of them away.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

James: We’re looking at not-for-profit status down the road. We’re unsure if we even want to. The Calgary Horror-Con is funded by team members. We rely on partnerships, ticket sales and sponsorships. We take help wherever we can take it. It’s a lot of money to bring even one celebrity into town.

Dan: Finding the balance between making money and being a fan. Every time I think we’ll make a little money, Hershel Gordon Lewis calls you.

Clearly things are growing the way the guys have hoped. This year the team was approached by the Calgary Tower to host a gala event to kick off the convention. “It’s a paid event, but for Calgary’s biggest horror fans. Have a bite to eat, meet and greet some of the celebrity guests. We want them to have a unique experience.”, James tells me.

The 2013 Calgary Horror-Con happens August 3rd and 4th at the Hotel Blackfoot. Tickets are on sale now. Check out Horror-Con.ca for the full line up of guests and events.