Spirits Haunt the Pasadena Convention Center during ScareLA

Attendees of this year's ScareLA will now have to wait another two months until they can once again immerse themselves in the trappings of Halloween. This past weekend, the third annual ScareLA Halloween convention showed that there are no signs that interest in the spookiest of American holidays is dwindling. The decision of the convention's creators and programmers to move ScareLA from the LA Mart to the more sizeable and accessible Pasadena Conference Center, so they could add more events and activities to the cauldron, has paid off as Halloween aficionados responded by showing up in even greater numbers.

Naturally, as ScareLA expands and becomes more colorful, a few hitches are to be expected, but the eerie atmosphere that filled the convention center was generally one of joyful eeriness. As the doors opened at 11, on Saturday, some of the motley dressed folks in the slow-moving line of ticket holders, which stretched around the block, grumbled as they could not get in fast enough. Meanwhile, some of the performers and classroom presenters in the convention center's second building shuffled their feet wondering why their 11:30 programs had few to no attendees.


Later on, one of the classes that this reviewer sat in on proved a little frustrating. With a huge room full of vendors, two presentation stages, a half dozen mini haunted mazes, a film festival, and various workshops and other entertainment to check out, there was certainly no shortage of activities to select from while planning an optimal festival strategy. Thus, it was a bit vexing that the first half of the one hour class on Creating Terror with Soundscapes was taken up by the presenter getting organized while stressing the importance of proper planning, explaining that speakers utilized polarized speaker wire, and beaming about the good deal he got on his poor quality presentation mics. Finally, he began with his slides, which revealed that the presentation would focus on the psychology and logistics of sound placement and timing rather than on designing and recording unnerving soundtracks.

On the other end of the spectrum, Halloween superstar John Murdy (creative director of Universal's Halloween Horror Nights) revealed to a packed house of crazed fans, at the main stage, that Universal's newest maze will be themed after John Carpenter's Halloween. Shortly after this presentation and a small press conference, the main stage area was filled with over 1,000 sweet-toothed attendees who participated in shattering the former world record of 817 Halloween candies opened at one time; the complimentary bags of tasty handmade treats were supplied by Sticky.[

In addition to the sweet and the sour, there was the substantive panel: Extreme Haunt Survivors. Over the past few years, there has been an increased interest in haunted attractions with a bit more edge. This panel featured creators and survivors of extreme haunts — that is, those haunts that push emotional boundaries through singling out participants, synthesizing traumatic scenarios, and actually manhandling the guests. The crux of this panel was to provide an overview of an extreme sport (or alternative lifestyle), the circumstances that surround its existence, and the rationale behind those who seek the experiences. While all of the creators basically claimed that they were good people who created such events for artistic, entertaining, and experimental purposes — and that an underlying concern was to provide a safe environment in which their simulated, horrific experiences could occur — they all regularly received death threats, property damage, and harassment from conservative and religious people and organisations. As for the survivors, they are typically intelligent, artistic-minded folks who actually find the experiences as life affirming as one might find climbing a mountain or skydiving. The extreme haunts represented were: Blackout, McKamey Manor, and The Victim Experience.

Some of the other panels and activities focused on “genuine” paranormal investigations, creating props for haunts, designing lighting for haunts, a make-up competition, a re-creation of Michael Jackson's “Thriller” dance, an interactive zombie infection role playing game (featuring state of the art electronic gadgets which revealed if the player was a zombie, a human, or an infected human), professional make-up demonstrations, a mini performance of Urban Death, radio theater-styled horror comic readings by Captured Aural Phantasy Theater, the haunts (including The Vault of Darkness, which featured interactive flashlights that would dim or change colors in response to their proximity to various props and maze areas), an after hours party, and the film festival. The film festival included contributions from other horror film fests as well as independent submissions — amounting to a collection of films that varied in length, skill, and tone (there were funny ones, such as a fake commercial called The Walking Dead Fragrance Collection).

As in the convention's film festival, the experiences available at ScareLA varied in degree from amateurish to mesmerizing. The thing that they all had in common was that they all came from the heart. Not too many people in this industry, with the likely exceptions of the major theme park representatives, can say that they really cash in on being part of a Halloween market. That being said, it is fascinating to watch the Halloween convention of ScareLA grow, assimilating new types of exhibitors and guest speakers along the way. Who knows, perhaps it won't be too long until demonic and challenging imagery and experiences are understood by civilians to be innocuous at worst and life-affirming at best; until then, the freaks are fortunate that they can continue celebrating their colorful and morbid fascinations at charming cult-like gatherings such as ScareLA.

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