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Horror Realm

on Mon, 03/02/2015 - 00:00

Horror Realm Logo
Zombies. Alien vegetation. Killer cars.

Like any city, Pittsburgh has had its fair share of the supernatural through the years. Although George Romero can be cited as the main culprit behind such occurrences, author Stephen King based his 1983 novel Christine in the Steel City, and “Chilly Billy” Cardille likewise played as large of a role as anyone in transforming the horror genre into a Saturday night tradition with his Chiller Theater television series. Pittsburgh is also fortunate to have not one but two annual gatherings of horror fans in the region—Monster Bash, which caters to the classic monster films of the 1940s and 1950s, and Horror Realm, which focusses on the more nightmarish productions that evolved in the ’70s and ’80s.

“We were involved early on with organizing zombie walks in the city and produced two conventions in conjunction with them in 2007 and 2008,” Horror Realm promotor Sandy Stuhlfire explains of the convention’s roots. “We decided to move forward in 2009 with the convention arm to expand and encompass more of the horror genre while the other part of the group continued with the walks. We’ve heard from horror fans for years that they would like to have our own convention instead of having to travel to another city. Being fans ourselves who do travel, we saw the value of a hometown horror show and started our own. We feel we are a modern complement to the classic horror focus of the long running Monster Bash show in the area.”

Although Horror Realm initially launched in September 2009 with a one-day celebration, it rapidly expanded in the years that followed. A second one-day event was added in March 2011, for instance, and both the fall and winter installments were later extended into a full three-day weekend gala. As Horror Realm itself grew, meanwhile, so did its mission.

“We are a show put on by fans for fans,” Stuhlfire continues. “We may be smaller than some other shows, but that lends itself to a more laid back and intimate show. Fans get to spend more time with the celebrity guests and aren’t herded in and out quickly like some of the larger ‘autograph’ shows. We also offer some unique games and events to keep people engaged, such as the popular Horror Match Game. We have a food drive at each show and support different charities. We’re also very supportive of independent filmmakers by giving them opportunities to show their work to an audience.”

In addition to the Horror Realm convention itself, the organization likewise sponsors smaller proceedings through the year. “We have done a number of fundraising events and events just for fun,” Sandy Stuhlfire adds. “There’s an annual Horror Fan Flea Market that has become very popular. We’ve had a Zombie Luau, a Horror Scavenger Hunt, numerous film nights with cast appearances—including Martin, Creepshow, Day of the Dead—author events and art shows. We work with other small businesses in the area to co-promote events at their locations, such as Rickert & Beagle Books, Geekadrome, the Night Gallery and the Hollywood Theater.”

Horror Realm has a special affinity for the Hollywood Theater as members of the covention management team were also on the board of directors when the Dormont theater reopened in 2011 as a non-profit. One of the events held at the Hollywood Theater is the Horror Realm Film Festival, a three-day gala that features a steady stream of independent short and full length productions screened from mid-morning into the evening hours on a Friday and Saturday, with an abbreviated schedule on Sunday that is then followed by an awards ceremony.

“That is an event that evolved out of our film festival at the convention,” Stuhlfire explains. “We decided to extend our support of independent filmmakers outside of the show where they can see their work on the big screen and reach a larger audience. Our first festival was in 2014 and got great response from filmmakers and fans.”

Considering how Horror Realm has expanded from its initial one-day gathering in September 2009 to multiple events throughout the year, one has to wonder what exactly it is about the horror genre that makes it so popular. “It’s an escape, something to help you get away from your own problems and the problems of the real world,” Sandy Stuhlfire offers. “And it’s also for thrills, getting the adrenaline flowing and the heart pumping like riding a roller coaster.”

Stuhlfire also points out that Pittsburgh itself is the birthplace of the modern zombie, having been introduced and unleashed into the world via George Romero’s landmark 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. In addition to Romero, horror special effects artists Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero also hail from the Steel City, with Nicotero keeping the zombie legacy alive through his work on the AMC drama The Walking Dead.

Although Pittsburghers may have a special place in their hearts for zombies, however, it was the horror genre in general that inspired Sandy Stuhlfire and her colleagues to launch Horror Realm in 2009.

“We all grew up on Chiller Theater here in Pittsburgh and are lifelong horror fans,” she explains. “We all have different tastes in the type of horror we like, but are basically horror fans who try to share our love of the genre with other fans by bringing them fun, interesting and affordable events.”

Considering the full array of activities that Horror Realm sponsors throughout any given year, it is safe to say that the organization has succeeded in its mission—and then some.

Anthony Letizia

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