Midsummer Scream Stirs the Cauldron in Long Beach

For plenty of horror lovers and Halloween enthusiasts, October 31 is just too long to wait for the opportunity to scare or be scared. Perhaps the escapist appeal of the ghoulish imagery and lighthearted hijinks is making the holiday increasingly popular, as the demand for all things macabre and hair-raising has been on a dramatic upswing over the past several years. This weekend at the Long Beach Convention Center, the Midsummer Scream Halloween Festival celebrated the second year of its two-day event, and the spectacle was staggering.

The festival’s Executive Director, David Markland, observed that this year’s weekend attendance was at about 15,000 people — almost double last year’s attendance. Those who heeded the call had come for many things, things which the festival provided both in its programming and in its mere essence; for, what the festival didn’t provide in its diverse attractions was brought by the sheer spirit of its attendees.

Highlights of the festival’s programming included: showcases by perennial horror-themed performance groups and businesses; a film screening room featuring a host of short films (presented by Horror Buzz.com); an exhibition area with hundreds of vendors; a children’s arts and crafts area (hosted by Buster Balloon); demonstrations and classrooms for learning DIY haunt and general Halloween tips and holiday history; special guest appearances; and, of course, panels and previews of a variety of haunted attractions, which will return in full force come October.

The convention center was packed with Halloween fans, ranging from casual to extreme. Many of those who wanted to continue the party into the evening (and who didn’t need to conserve energy to survive the festival’s second day) attended the Saturday night after party, aboard Queen Mary. The Sinister Circus party was thrown in conjunction with Dark Harbor, the official haunt of the iconic Long Beach cruise ship. The party, held on the upper deck of the permanently moored ship, featured a costume contest, a dance floor, wandering ghouls and mascots, a couple of haunt rooms, and aerial acrobats. The event was a swinging good time for those who’d arrived early. Unfortunately, the later arrivals wound up having to wait in line, as the admittance rate neared a trickle when the party seemingly reached its capacity early on.

A few other minor hitches speckled the festival. Evidently, when the word got out that the attendance number was so high, a security screening station was imposed upon both the festival’s programmers and its guests. Additionally, some of the local performance groups, which had been given their own panels / performance rooms, weren’t prepared or possessed with the greatest showmanship acumen to hold the rapt attention of their audiences. Some of the showcases experienced dramatic exoduses of disillusioned guests. Oh, and then there was the mini-haunt, in the Hall of Shadows, whose performers evidently never showed up. Again, these were all minor issues, as the attractions that did work demonstrated excellent programming.

The Hall of Shadows was routinely packed. Attendees who had shelled out the extra dollars for front-of-the-line passes obviously had a much quicker turn-around at any of the dozen or so mini-haunted houses that comprised this darkened area of the exhibition floor. Some of the haunts included in these showcases included: Maritime Horror, presented by Haunted Rose, a renowned home-haunt put on by PROliFX FX Studio (in collaboration with The Haunt Store and Fog it Up), which featured scenes inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Dagon”; Peep Show, presented by Gorlesque, is a hybrid of horror imagery, strip tease, and haunted attraction gimmicks; Phobia Productions’ Grimm’s Hallow was an enchanting little haunt with startling fairy story monsters; and Opechee Haunt’s Apparition Adventure: Terror Twins, which presented a very nice balance of pre-recorded intro / story material with interactive video effects and live performers. The Hall of Shadows also served as the demo zone for Knott’s Scary Farm’s “slider” shows.

Beyond the Hall of Shadows and the myriad sights of the exhibition floor, there was plenty to satiate ghoulish fans. Meet-and-greets and panels featuring celebrity figures of the haunted universe appealed to the many fans who lined up to see Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, John Murdy (Creative Director at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights), Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects), and others. Artist / designer / effects technician Bill Rude gave an overview presentation on the horror imagery associated with tiki culture (another escapist subculture that’s been seeing a revitalization in recent years) — highlights of this included identifications of horror tropes like carnivorous plants, quicksand pits, threatening gorillas, and gigantic monsters as they appeared in stories set in the Pacific Islands.

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre presented a peek of its Urban Death show [one of our all-time favorite SoCal horror shows]; Captured Aural Phantasy Theater presented their radio-show styled presentations of historically significant horror comics [another of our favorites]; Cabaret le Fey presented their erotically charged Vampire Cabaret show; Slashed: The Musical presented a peek at its successful ‘80s slasher film-inspired show; Force of Nature Productions presented a peek at their colorful morality play Fallen Saints; and Knott’s Scary Farm presented a retrospective of the 45 years in which it’s been providing haunted entertainment to Orange County.

As readers may have guessed, there was much too much to experience. Even the most strategically designed plan of attack would not permit attendees to take in everything that Midsummer Scream had to offer — for example, I didn’t even mention the escape rooms or the puppets! One thing that is certainly evident, though, is that for as much horror-themed entertainment as people seem to be craving nowadays, there is no shortage of artists and businesses willing to meet that need, and Midsummer Scream has secured its position as one of the top facilitators of SoCal’s haunted supply and demand economy.

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