Upon entering The Center for Rural Development’s parking lot Saturday, one instantly noticed unusual vehicles in the spots. Trucks emblazoned with the words “Paranormal Investigation.” A tricked-out hearse.
It’s clear that something truly otherwordly must be going on inside The Center’s walls.
That’s where the Dead Winter Horror Convention took place this weekend, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In its second year, the festival of all things frightening moved from London, Ky., to neighboring Somerset this year to help accommodate a bigger crowd. It was a good decision on the organizers’ part.
“We’ve surpassed our numbers this morning,” said Brian Sizemore “Anything after that time frame up through tomorrow is just extra. We’re definitely well into the thousands.”
The first year in London, the convention dedicated to horror movies and memorabilia (as well as other fan-centric areas of pop culture) drew about 7,000 people. So to top that this year is the blood-red cherry on top of an already positive experience.
“Somerset has been better to us than we could have asked for,” said Sizemore. “The Center has been fantastic. Everyone has just opened arms to us and we’ve had an excellent time so far.”
The weekend would get better: Sizemore and co-organizer Samantha Smith planned on getting married Sunday as part of the final day of the convention.
With approximately 60 celebrities and 60 vendors on hand, fans could pick up signed photos, DVDs, comic books, action figures, and all number of other items. They could also chat with real-life ghost hunters and mediums, horror movie stars — from such classics as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the hit TV show “The Walking Dead” — and even take a turn getting “sliced” by an impersonator of the television antihero from “Dexter.” (The latter’s money raised even went to a good cause, to help pay for treatment for an ill relative.)
Many fans came just to browse or talk to stars, or even dressed up. Dustin Burkhart and Sasha Mullins of Clarksville, Ind., drew raves for their Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein make-up as they strolled through the convention’s aisles.
Perhaps the biggest name to show up was Tony Todd, a veteran Hollywood character actor best-known for his starring role in the 1992 horror film “Candyman.” Todd greeted many admirers, taking time to talk with them and snap photos, and made it clear just how much these events really are about the fans.
“What’s really great about Dead Winter is that it’s a very personable experience,” said Todd. “Brian and Samantha, with the assistance of volunteers and professionals, are extraordinary and make the actors’ time precious. I literally worked yesterday and got on the ‘red-eye,’ I’ve only had two hours’ sleep, and I’m not grumpy. It’s a people con.
“All power to it,” he added of Dead Winter. “May it grow each and every year.”
Sizemore said that Todd was a “huge hit,” and that the line to see him was “wrapped around the building” at one point.
Other stars felt right at home due to their places of origin. Kayla Perkins, a Kentucky native with numerous movie credits to her name — including many in the horror genre — held down her booth to greet fans on Saturday.
“I do a lot of conventions in Lexington and (elsewhere),” she said. “This is my second year here, and it’s been a lot of fun. You get to meet different people. ... A lot of people are very nice here and talk to me a lot.”
For Sizemore, it was hard to say what was most popular with fans — the stars, the “costume killers” like Skeletor and the Wolfman strolling around the aisles, looking for photo-ops, or the vendors serving up rare and exciting fan merchandise.
“It’s been great with all the parts mixed together,” said Sizemore. “(We’re hoping) keep helping make it grow. We’re doing a second convention in August (9-11), Geektopia. We’re very encouraged (for it).”
What’s the appeal of the horror genre for so many people? Sizemore says the classic “Halloween” — created by Kentuckian John Carpenter and Somerset’s own Tommy Lee Wallace — holds the ideal quote: “Everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”
Added Sizemore, “We just want the fans of southeastern Kentucky to be able to go to something they’ll look forward to for months in advance,.”