Last weekend, August 9th and 10th, a frightfully fun convention was held in Los Angeles. Scare LA is a large-scale convention held each August for Halloween fans, professional haunters, and anyone in between that loves everything associated with the spooky holiday! This event celebrates Halloween and the fun that is coming to the Southern California area each fall. Think of it as the preview for Halloween.
In its second year, Scare LA is held mostly indoors at LA Mart, a multi-story building in downtown L.A. LA Mart offered 4 floors to the Halloween fest. The main convention area was on the 2nd floor, where vendors, artists, haunters and make up artists converged in booths and demo areas. Along the back wall of the second floor, independent haunt companies set up mini versions of the terrifying creations that they would be offering in the fall. This floor also contained the Main Stage where various panels and presentations were held.
Floor 7 was reserved for presentations and workshops on anything haunted or Halloween. It was also the area where special performances were offered like Chilling Tales of the Haunted Mansion: LIVE! or the experimental theatre group Urban Death. There was even a screening room that offered up and coming horror filmmakers a chance to debut their works.
This was a big show that required a lot of work to put together. Producers, Lora Ivanova, David Markland, Johana Atilano, and Rick West put in countless hours getting the event off the ground. A team of volunteers and artist worked tirelessly the week before to prep the convention floor on the second level.
Make up master for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, Larry Bones, is here setting up his booth and demo area. Such a great guy.
In the main thoroughfare of floor 2, a special area was set up for what are known as Sliders. Sliders are those startling guys that run and slide up in front of you as you are making your way through the dark and fog at places like Knott’s Berry Farm and Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor.
Along the back wall of the independent haunts were setting up their mini haunted houses.
On the seventh floor touches were being made to offer a more reserved, yet spooky feel.
Up on the 11th floor, Jeff Scheifelbein was working hard with his production team from Sinister Pointe Productions, getting the Gala event space for Saturday night ready to go. Jeff has an impeccable eye for detail and mood which was a perfect fit for a Halloween Gala.
Down in the basement, that’s right, basement, Devin and Lawrence from Pasadena’s ALONE Experience were getting their deliciously evil designs in place. More on this in a bit.
Everything was set. Saturday morning at 10am the doors opened and fans of Halloween flooded in. My mouth was agape at the amount of craftsmanship and wizardry behind the displays and effects that I saw. Every turn led to a new macabre discovery, another deliciously horrifying find. We set our schedule and, unfortunately there was simply too much to cover it all. But we have what we believed to be the major highlights of the panel discussions and the things to be seen.
When Hinges Creek: Celebrating 45 Years of the Haunted Mansion
At 11 am the first panel of the event was in celebration of the 45th anniversary of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Alice Davis were led by Doombuggies.com creator and MiceChat MicePod contributor, Jeff Baham, in a discussion of the history and creation of the attraction.
Jeff Baham took the stage and led the crowd in a recitation of the opening spiel of the Haunted Mansion. So geeky, so wonderful.
Seated, Bob Gurr and Alice Davis brought history to life in their recollections.
Alice Davis recalled her husband’s, Marc Davis, style of humor and how he infused it into his ideas for the Mansion. ”It was a type of humor that everyone could get a laugh out of” she said.
Queen Mary Dark Harbor Presentation
The Haunted Mansion panel closed and within an hour we were back into the Main Stage hall to hear about what Queen Mary Dark Harbor has planned for us this fall.
The entire creative team took the stage to explain the amazing preparation and work that are going into this years Haunt at the Queen Mary.
But that wasn’t all that they had for us. No, not at all. The insanely funny, terribly gruesome icon of Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor was welcomed to the stage as well.
The team then made the announcements about what was coming to Dark Harbor. 3 mazes were returning, but there would be three new mazes as well, a total of six.
The new mazes would be Voodoo Village (in the Village of the Damned location) Soulmate, (in the old Quarantine space on the ship) and B340 (taking up the Hellfire space.)
There will also be a brand new up-charge maze called Encounters.
After the panel discussion folks were welcomed to come up and take pics. I, of course, went straight to the Ringmaster for a duck face selfie.
Knott’s Halloween Haunt Presentation
Knott’s Scary Farm brought it just a few hours later at 4pm. This being their second appearance at Scare LA, they certainly knocked it out of the park. The room was awash with green when the team arrived.
With the big Haunt reveal having happened just a week before, what could Knott’s possibly offer convention goers? Plenty.
They explained that among the surprises, all of the skeleton key rooms would be new. They would be featured in Black Magic, Gunslinger’s Grave, Pinocchio Unstrung, Dominion of the Damned, and Voodoo
They also went into detail on the new Special OPs: Infected experience.
Finally they announced the return of a Haunt icon, the Headless Horseman.
Halloween Horror Nights Presentation
On Sunday, August 10th, at 1pm Universal Studios Hollywood took the Main Stage with another sold out panel discussion. They had a big reveal to deliver and a very special celebrity was on hand to help. Within seconds of Creative Director, John Murdy, and Artistic Director, Chris Williams taking the stage, they brought out none other than the legendary John Landis!
An American Werewolf in London is the final maze announced for Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. When the event begins in mid-September guests will be able to relive the horrifying journey of David, an american attacked by a werwolf while visiting England. The maze will include the famous transformation scene, a trip through the London subway system, and a visit to the Slaughtered Lamb.
The expo hall offered a tremendous amount of things to see and learn. Halloween fans could look for souvenirs. Professional haunters could shop for supplies. The rest of us simply wandered and enjoyed everything there was to be seen.
Part of the Scare floor was devoted to the Decayed Brigade sliding troupe. Sliding developed as another way to scare. Running and sliding in front of guests, startling them with a scream and the loud noise. It has since become an interesting little sport that Haunt fans love.
Another unique feature of Scare LA was the ability to sample some of the upcoming Haunted attractions, shows and houses. The levels ranged from professional to homegrown haunts. All of them fascinating in execution and imagination.
The Curse of the Devil Swamp
Among our favorites was The Curse of the Devil Swamp. The brainchild of Lucas Acosta, the mini maze even featured a pre-show. Pretty damned ambitious. The scares were inventive and a lot of fun.
Field of Screams
Field of Screams Haunted attraction in Lake Elsinore offered a rather interesting experience called the Hellavator. Think of what it was like to be in an enclosed elevator, in the dark, with this.
Reign of Terror
The wonderful Reign of Terror in Thousand Oaks offered a photo op in a ghastly setup. Jeff Heimbuch, Alan Simpson (Haunt Monster) and myself chose the traditional Rockwell poses.
Probably the very best thing to experience was the haunted attraction, ALONE. If you wanted to experience the maze, you were required to sign a waver of liability, proof of age, and give them your phone number.
At 4:00pm, when the time for my ALONE experience arrived, I was standing in the parking lot, waiting to get into the Terror Trucks mazes in the parking lot. A man asked me to confirm my identity. Then told me, “The time for your Alone experience has come. Stop whatever you are doing. If you are standing in a group, do not say a word. Turn and walk away. If you have any personal belongings leave them behind. Meet us on the second floor at the elevators.”
I left the line I had been standing in for a good 15 minutes and headed back into the building. ”Stay on the phone with me and do exactly as I say.” The man on the phone said. Addled with a large digital camera and camera bag my eyes darted around the crowd, hoping to find a familiar face to leave my stuff with for the next half hour.
I entered the first floor of LAMart and rounded the corner to the first floor elevators are. I literally ran into Doug Barnes from the Season Pass Podcast.
“Doug! Doug, can you watch my camera for a minute?”
Startled and confused Doug asked, “What? Is everything okay? For how long?”
“I don’t know! Um, 10-15 minutes, I don’t know.” I spoke in a hushed tone as I didn’t want the creepy guy on the phone wouldn’t hear me breaking his ‘don’t talk to anyone’ rule.
“But I was headed out to grab a bite to eat.” Doug explained.
Panicked I grabbed my camera and camera bag back from him. He pulled them off of my shoulder again, “No I got this I got this, meet me in the lobby. This is probably gonna be good.” Doug said.
My heart thumping I piled into a crowded elevator going up, the man still on the other end of the line. ”Surprisingly good reception for an elevator.” I thought. Sweat collected between my ear and the phone as I nervously waited for the doors to open.
The doors of the elevator opened and I was on the floor where Delusion had set up their masterpiece of a display. I stepped to the center of the area and soon enough a creepy, hippie-like girl approached me.
“Yeah.” I stammered.
“Oh, it is so good to see you again! Remember the great times we had at the meditation tent!”
Playing along I answered, “Yes I do.”
“Oh you just wouldn’t believe it. I ran into these people. They really know the truth about things. They are called the Enola society.” She whips a black and white brochure out of her woven shoulder purse and stabs it into my palm. “You really need to go check them out.”
The girl then guides me back to the elevator.
“Go to the basement. They have set up a wonderful meditation center down there. Go down and do not talk to ANYONE.”
I stood alone in an elevator. Having pressed the LL button the girl stepped back out into the second floor lobby and stood watching as the doors closed in front of me.
The moments of quiet before the doors opened again seemed to last forever. What would happen next? What had I gotten myself into?
I reached the basement level where a man then walked me by the arm, talking about dimensions and alternate realities. Suddenly another man walked past us, grabbed my arm and pulled me in the opposite direction. He then shoved me into pitch dark and unseen hands guided me though a series of visual and psychological oddities and physical tasks.
I will not go into detail here as the mystery is far more terrifying than anything I could explain. Suffice it to say that It was a mental roller coaster ride that I thoroughly enjoyed. Lawrence and Devin, whom I had met earlier on Friday as they were setting up the experience, should be proud at the odd, disturbing experience that they created in a found space. Kudos too, for the inventive way they called people from the floor when their time was up. A special shout out goes to the creepy cult girl who sent me down to the basement. She was absolutely perfect.
By the next morning, word had gotten out on how awesome the ALONE experience was. Before the show floor had opened up to regular guests, the line was already filled with press and those who payed extra for early entry.
You can be certain that I will be going to experience ALONE when it returns this fall in Pasadena.
Garner Holt: I was a Teenage Haunter
What does Garner Holt have to do with Halloween? Plenty. He may run the leading animatronics design company in the business, but he really cut his teeth in horror! Garner had the honor of closing out the Scare LA convention this past weekend in a panel discussion with MiceChat MicePod’s Doug Barnes (Co-Host of the Season Pass Podcast).
Garner Holt: I Was a Teenage Haunter covered where it all began and where it led. Building little haunted houses in his back yard, Garner was able to create immersive walkthroughs that featured talking skulls, animated props, and other inventive effects. It wasn’t very long until hundreds of people lined up to see his wild creations and he moved forward on his career path that led to working with the top theme parks in the world.
We have video of the presentation for you below:
The time finally came to tear down the show and it was with bittersweet emotion that I helped the crew pack things up. I frankly didn’t want the weekend to come to a close, as it was something that was engrossingly fun and entertaining. Every panel, each little haunt, all of the booths, held such unique and interesting surprises.
This year’s Scare LA was a memorable weekend that will be hard to forget. I seriously cannot remember the last time that I have been to a convention where I wanted to see everything and I had too little time. The organization of the event was excellent as well, with only minor snafus here and there (which are always to be expected in large events such as this). This being only their second year, Scare LA has already put a firm imprint on the Halloween market. Not just here in Los Angeles, but setting a standard that will, without question, be imitated in other cities across the country. What these other places don’t have is the same heavy concentration of Halloween crazed fans. Los Angeles is a Halloween town.
I am not only looking forward to Halloween 2014, but to ScareLA next year.