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Finding light in the darkness at Days of the Dead

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Artist Justin Haines set the tone for Days of the Dead when I went to the convention's opening night on Friday. 

His Disney-esque drawings of horror icons jumped out at me, especially the portrait of Hellraiser's Pinhead with perky Mickey Mouse eyes.
 
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When I told him that Pinhead is my favorite horror character, he jumped for his phone, sharing other drawings as giddily as a little boy shows his parents pictures he made in school. 

His work is simple yet stunning, much like the horror films that the convention celebrates. When I asked Haines how long he's been doing these drawings, he chuckled bashfully and said, "A few weeks. I'm just going through a horror phase." 

Haines' playful, sheepish demeanor mirrors the convention's overall air of innocence. The attendees and celebrity guests share a childlike twinkle in their eyes — and a playful kind of dark curiosity. 

The host of one of the panel discussions perfectly explained what creates the convention's innocently exuberant atmosphere. 

"Horror is often ostracized, and fans are considered weird, so it's exciting to be able to come out of the corner and celebrate with other people who just like sick shit," he said to an eruption of laughter. 

"Sick shit" is not a reductive description of these horror films. In fact, actress P.J. Soles said the appeal of Halloween lies in its "beautiful simplicity." The simple story of babysitters stalked on Halloween night grabs most viewers immediately. The juxtaposition of monstrous violence with the innocence of children trick-or-treating created "the perfect storm for a perfect film," Soles' co-star Tony Moran said. 

Moran, the man behind Michael Myers' ghostly white mask, had reservations about the film before he was cast. During the panel discussion, he confessed that he thought Halloween was "the dumbest title ever" and that filmmaker John Carpenter seemed like a porn director with his long hippie hair and bushy mustache.

Of course, the film ended up being far more tasteful and subtle than Moran expected. He and Soles agreed that the film's power lies in what it doesn't show, the questions it leaves unanswered. Moran bemoaned Rob Zombie's remake for sucking the mystery out of Halloween by giving its villain Michael Myers more of a backstory. He uttered the old adage, "less is more." 

I caught a moment of Soles and Moran resembling their characters — Moran with the thousand-mile stare of a monster and Soles with the deer-in-the-headlights look of a ditzy slasher victim. (Carpenter cast Soles based on her perfect "valley girl" delivery of the line, "Totally!") 

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The next panel's featured even more charming speakers — Lisa and Louise Burns, the creepy twin girls who haunt the hallways of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Full disclosure: I fell in love with them. How could anyone resist their bouncy British accents — or the way Lisa blushes while Louise follows every statement with a squeaky giggle?

They were only 12 years old when they filmed The Shining, and they still act like giddy little girls when discussing the film 35 years later. They laughed about having trouble saying their eerie, iconic line together at the same time — "Come play with us, Danny!" And when asked about their favorite Stanley Kubrick film outside of The Shining, Louise argued with Lisa about her choice, 2001: A Space Odyssey, pretending to smack her on the head with the microphone. Who would have thought that a discussion of such dark films would be enveloped in such a lighthearted atmosphere? 

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The horror genre is usually suspected to corrupt children, but it brought out nothing but pure childlike wonder in all of the grown guests at Days of the Dead. You have just one more day to join the fun there this weekend at the Wyndham Indianapolis West. Tomorrow the convention is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

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