Heh heh kiddies! The original Halloween Festival is rolling out the blood red carpet for another weekend of summertime Halloween fun. That’s right, ScareLA is back, but this time they’re not alone; the convention will be adding Elvira as its official host this year. Beyond having Elvira onboard, haunt and horror fans who have been paying attention to the swelling activity in the Halloween convention arena are probably wondering how else ScareLA will stand out and what other exclusive tasty treats it will offer. To get the inside skinny on this year’s ScareLA, in advance of the convention this upcoming weekend at the Pasadena Convention Center, and on the expanding landscape of Halloween-themed entertainment, the Weekly had a chat with ScareLA founder / executive producer Lora Ivanova.
OC WEEKLY (Scott Feinblatt): This is the first year of ScareLA with an official host — you’ve got Elvira. So, as the host, how will Elvira participate in the event?
Lora Ivanova: We feel extremely lucky to have Elvira join us as our official host for our fourth year. It is something that we're trying out this year for the first time. Part of [the reason for having a host] as one of our efforts is to really find a unique hook and look and feel for each year's event. We already had three amazing years, but it's very easy to become too comfortable and repetitive with content...So, Elvira is going to be the official host of ScareLA 2016, and she will be present at the convention for both days of the show. On Saturday, she will be doing an exclusive meet-and-greet and photo op with her fans, as Elvira (starting at 12:30 pm through the remainder of the day). On Sunday, [Elvira actress] Cassandra Peterson will be at the Elvira Experience booth, and she'll be signing autographs and, again, doing a meet-and-greet with fans. What we really pride ourselves on, for ScareLA specifically, is we don't just kind of rally celebrity talent and hang them out at a table to dry and sign signatures. Some [horror conventions] will do that, but we always make sure that if there's an element attached to any interaction they have with our fans, it is personable, and it is unique. So it's not just a transactional meet-and-greet; it's just about our fans really getting a chance to shake the hands of one of the icons of horror and have the opportunity to tell us how much they love their work and what a difference she's made in their lives. This is a trend and goal for ScareLA moving forward, so we're very excited to have her. I'm sure that that booth will be very busy; she's bringing some amazing vendors, as well, that are going to be selling limited edition Elvira merchandise. There will also be entertainment in that area; it's all an Elvira-themed experience area that is taking over 1,000 square feet of the main show floor.
Apart from Elvira's participation, what other surprises are there going to be for people who have been to previous ScareLAs?
In terms of this year's programming, we've really reached out beyond our comfort zone in many different areas. I think certainly for the first few years, and for our foundation as a show, we have had really deep ties with the haunt community and the theme park community, but beyond that, what we've done this year is really branch out from that niche and dipped into all the other aspects of horror and Halloween, and the haunt industry, and specifically, all of the kind of areas that may have gotten neglected or ignored over the years or that are up and coming trends that we haven't gotten a chance to explore. One example is virtual reality. We have an amazing experience coming to us all the way from Australia that [showcases] an extensive documentation of some of the US's and the world's most historic dark rides, 360 virtual reality. So, you will be able to put on the headset and actually experience those rides on the ScareLA showfloor throughout the entire weekend, and it's really an unprecedented access to some of those dark rides, [which, in some cases] are remote, or are closed and not operational, or maybe are on the verge of being shut down. So it's really exciting to kind of have that documentation available but also to make it accessible to fans just as part of the regular admission. We've also expanded our stage programming to include original content and performative content.
One example I'll give is Todd Robbins, who is going to be creating a dark illusion show specifically for ScareLA and ScareLA audiences. He is creating it completely custom, from scratch, just based on our stage and will be unleashing something similar to what I would say Play Dead was, [a show that experienced] an entirely sold-out run a couple of years ago, in Westwood. We have Max Black, a world famous mentalist who's going to be doing readings on the show floor, in a public area, as well as members from NSYNC who will be joining us to talk about their Dead 7 film that they were a part of with a few other boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and O-Town. We have entertainers like Carrot Top and Brian Evans who have comedy and musical backgrounds, who will also be joining ScareLA this year in a unique capacity.
Syfy is going to be there with Face-Off. [Universal’s Halloween] Horror Nights is going to be there, Knott's Scary Farm; these are some of our stellar presentations, but also things like Margee Kerr, who is an anthropologist and has been studying the psychology of fear for many years, and she can talk to ScareLA audiences about what makes something like Halloween and haunts and anything that kind of startles us a positive experience, and what are the consequences. I mean: why is this an important part of our lives? I think there's a level of awareness that that type of programming really brings to audiences that we haven't seen before at ScareLA. Other things that are really exciting to me — and that's one thing that ScareLA has always kind of had as part of its core / mission / vision and kind of my initial concept for the show — is the creation of original content by ScareLA in collaboration with local communities and traders. So one of the things that I highlight is “Blood Offering: Legend of the Iron Witch,” which is ScareLA's first original haunted house. This is a haunted attraction that we are creating from scratch and building with Brooke Walters, one of Knott's best designers over the course of their history; Donald Julson, who has worked on Steven Spielberg's Minority Report is an extremely talented prop creator; and Jon Autopsy, one of the leading names in audio design for haunted houses and horror. It's pretty intense, actually, I myself, knowing about what's going to be in that maze, I'm kind of scared to walk through it. It will give an epic experience for fans. I can't wait to share it! It's over 1,600 square feet; it's over four times bigger than anything we've ever done as an installation of ScareLA to date. We also are creating a very unique experience called the Haunted Campsite. Again, it's an original creation of ScareLA in collaboration with two local groups; one of them is Wicked Lit, they're a well-known horror literature adaptation theater group (an immersive theater group); as well as TAPS [The Atlantic Paranormal Society] West Coast, who are one of the [main] ghost hunter crews over the years. We're collaborating with them to create kind of a haunted campsite environment. So, you will literally be in the middle of the ScareLA show floor, and all of a sudden, you will find yourself in the woods, and you will find yourself standing by a campfire with stories being told and experiences being shown. Some of them are going to be typically fictional and created by the team of Wicked Lit, and some of them are going to be actually real and spine-chilling, and those are going to [include] actual footage from paranormal investigations by TAPS West Coast.
That’s some cool content! Just to back up a little bit: you were talking about some of the responsibilities of scaring people. You've got a lot of extreme haunts represented at ScareLA, and one of the things that I noticed on the site was that there's something called the Tension Experience, and I was wondering if you could say anything about that.
Well, this is probably going to be our most mysterious presentation. The Tension Experience is a nebulous phenomenon that has occurred over the last few months and it creates sort of real-life experiences that blend with reality. So basically, you could be going through your normal day, and you're getting these strange calls, or e-mails or messages would come and you'd find yourself in situations that are completely unpredictable. It really blends and blurs the line between real life and what would be kind of an immersive horror experience, infiltrating your day-to-day, so you don't know what is real and what is part of this experience: are you just experiencing a part of life, or are you actually being taken on another kind of journey? They have agreed to [make an appearance] for the first time ever, and nobody really knows who they are or where they are or how they do what they do, but we were able to get in touch with them in very roundabout ways. And they have agreed to appear at ScareLA and present a unique experience that they have also been very secretive about. That's one of the neat things about them is that they don't talk about Tension Experience; it's kind of like a horror-style fight club, if you will. I'm personally really intrigued about it! We, early on, did a lottery for people to participate in the experience, and out of about 900 entries, they only selected a hundred. And those are the people that will experience Tension Experience at ScareLA.
Wow! Given some of the extreme haunts that are going to have a presence at ScareLA, it makes me wonder if you're going to offer onsite counseling.
[Laughs] You know, we do have some experienced therapists and sociologists onsite, so I think if we need to, we have the expertise to handle anybody that gets traumatized! That's part of it, you know, even though I'm saying this jokingly; the reason why we bring these people to the table, and the reason why we give them stage time and welcome them to educate our audiences is because, ultimately, extreme experiences are really not for everyone and do require some psychological preparation and self-awareness. There are very positive elements of going through them, but there could also be some very damaging elements. So, what we try to really do — and this is part of the reason why we have kind of always given a stage to extreme horror and haunt experiences — [is to not only allow] the audience to hear the story of the creators, but also give them a chance to learn about them in advance, before they possibly subject themselves to something that can traumatize them for life. [Or maybe] it's just their thing, and that's really something that frees them, and [the panel] introduces content that may not be easily accessible otherwise.
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I recall, one of my favorite panels from last year had to do with extreme haunts, and it involved some controversial opinions from some of the panelists, which started up a nice little debate.
Absolutely, it’s an emotional experience. We can call it entertainment or anything else you want, but it ultimately is a very deep emotional and psychological experience. Anything that has to do with fear and when it crosses over with entertainment ultimately goes there, inevitably, and it's not a one-size-fits-all kind of environment. Actually, that topic is also going to be discussed at our Mindgames: The Dark Side of VR panel, where we'll be talking about the horror in that environment because real-life experiences aside, now there's already a trend of a lot of horror experiences in virtual reality whether it's in games or walkthroughs or movies to other television-styled content. There's actually different potential psychological consequences for people that experience horror in VR versus maybe experiencing horror on the screens or in a walkthrough environment. It is an area that is still very new and that is just starting to present some data about the effects, but we are actually going to be having some of the panelists discussing that topic — especially Marientina Gotsis [Director at the USC Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center], who will be talking about her breadth of experience over quite a few years of getting around in the entertainment aspects and the digital aspects and also the psychological aspects of virtual reality entertainment.
Do you have any thoughts you wanted to share about Midsummer Scream, the new Halloween Festival on the block?
I think, for me, when I created ScareLA — at least when I envisioned what ScareLA could be — before it became what it is now, the idea really was to bring a community together to create a safe environment to play, get inspired, and hopefully create something even bigger and better...so, if there's more Halloween content out there, I'm the last person who will be upset about that. Hopefully, as long as anything in this industry adheres to those same values of togetherness and unity, it has a positive message. I think there's plenty of room under the sun. There's what? 20,000,000 people in the area that we live in? The only thing that I'm [interested in] is what kind of innovation is going to come out of a new production. So, that's what I'm looking for, and that's what I'm excited about — that possibility. And, I am hoping that they will come up with something new or different, and, down the line, who knows? Maybe something even bigger and better.