Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA
Yesterday, I posted a look at some of the panels held at Midsummer Scream's first day. Here's a look at some of the presenters on Sunday, including the folks at Delusion, John Murdy and Chris Williams of Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights, Tim O'Day and Walter Magnuson at the Winchester Mystery House, and Ted Dougherty with a rotating set of panels to look at the celebrated history of Knott's Scary Farm!
Sunday was a pretty panel-heavy day in particular for me, with both Halloween Horror Nights and the Scary Farm retrospective generating a ton of content, and two the panels (Delusion and the Scary Farm 45 year look back) running 90 minutes instead of the usual hour! But there was plenty of interesting knowledge to glean, that's for sure!
Trials and Tribulations: The Delusion Retrospective
The first panel of Sunday took place at the Panel Stage, located within the convention center building, just upstairs of the exhibition hall on the main level. John Horn moderated a panel with the Delusion team of Jon Braver, Kevin Williams, Victor Mathieu, Aaron, Lyons, and Rachel Skidmore, looking across the five years (plus hiatus years) that this wildly popular interactive theater has spanned, plus a look at a new, future virtual reality series that the Delusion crew is working on.
The panel was an interesting insight at the evolution of this unique and complex haunt and the logistics required to get everything assembled into a functioning production that rotates four to five shows an hour on each night of operation. Clips were shown from each year, and a different actor was brought up to discuss experiences and thoughts on the production of topic. There were humorous stories of Braver first recruiting actors into something that--at that point in time--had never been attempted before, plus actor tales of uncooperative or disruptive guests versus guests who were fully committed and brought even more meaning and emotion into each production. It made for a pretty fast passing 90 minutes!
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood Presentation
These days, the Halloween Horror Nights presentation has become less about the marque new maze announcement or special guest and more about providing fans with a look at the behind the scenes challenges, detail, and effort that goes into putting Halloween Horror Nights together. Though we the visitors mostly see the front end result of each Horror Nights output, there is an entire year's worth of planning, negotiations, storyboarding, design, construction, fabrication, training, and rehearsals for this marquee Halloween event.
On Sunday--in between answering some Twitter Q&A's on various topics such as what inspired their love of Halloween and how they went into this business, how the two met, and what their favorite creature was--Creative Director John Murdy and Art Director Chris Williams concentrated on two of the mazes that will be featured this year: Ash vs Evil Dead and The Shining. With the prior, Universal has actually had experience implementing this intellectual property before, with an Evil Dead maze four years ago. This year, the source material draws from the hit Starz show and will take guests back to Ash's home town of Elk Grove, Michigan, into the dark Cabin in the Woods, and down to the Fruit Cellar, among other iconic locales. Guests will also come face to face with Henrietta, which should make for a nice, gruesome moment.
The bulk of the presentation, however, was focused on The Shining, one of those IP's that Murdy and Williams have chased for years and--they even admitted--have been wary of taking on, because of the great expectations and challenges that would come with bringing this classic thriller to life as a Halloween maze. Also challenging was translating the mood and pacing of a methodical Stanley Kubrick film into a compressed, five minute maze. To accomplish this, the Horror Nights creative team has focused on maximum authenticity, recreating details all the way down to the carpet pattern at the various rooms of the Overlook Hotel. The most infamous scenes of the film will most assuredly play settings in the maze--the twins, room 237, the old lady in the bath, the hedge maze, and of course, the famous bathroom "Here's Johnny!" scene. The level to which the team is working on this maze seems even more in-depth than most or even all previous mazes, which is fantastic, given that it's probably the most anticipated maze this year.
Murdy also continued (potentially without authorization, he joked) onto the scare zones that this year's Horror Nights will bring. The names are still being finalized, but you can bet that they'll end in -z. Murdy actually tackled that annual trend, clarifying that though it might seem like a tongue-in-cheek recurring joke, in reality, all the scare zones with -z endings have been given that feature to make them eligible for trademark, since most of the time, the names have been rather generic.
This year's upper lot entrance area will feature a Halloween theme--not the movie, but the holiday, with demented versions of classic, Halloween-associated characters out to terrify guests/victims. From pumpkinheads to scarecrows to skeletons and witches, it will kind of be like Universal's take on Knott's Scary Farm's Trick or Treat, but in scare zone form, and of course gorier and more intense.
Guests will once again be walking to the Metro Lot mazes, which means taking the tunnel. Murdy mentioned that every year that Halloween Horror Nights implements a pedestrian mode of access to the backlot mazes, the designers need to come up with some tunnel-based theme for the accompanying scare zone. Acknowledging that there was only so much one could do with a tunnel, Murdy revealed that this year, the theme will hinge around underground utility workers who suffered a horrific accident that left them mutated and demented, with a thirst for murder.
Finally, those who make it to the Metro backlot will encounter a scare zone that plays upon an urban hell on Earth. Murdy noted that the approach will be reconfigured a bit this year and feature more of a gauntlet layout, similar to The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear last year. Demons and minotaurs and satyrs will prey on those forced to funnel through. Hopefully, being in the backlot will allow this gauntlet to have more of a cohesive and permanent looking theme, as opposed to an assortment of past years' theming thrown together as the Gauntlet of Fear felt.
All in all, though the only news announced were the scare zones and the return of the R.I.P. tour package (unlimited front of line access, personal tour guide, dedicated food), it was an excellent and comprehensive panel from Halloween Horror Nights that brought a lot of appreciation to the work they do.
Winchester Mystery House Presentation
Mid-afternoon brought the San Jose-based Winchester Mystery House team of Tim O'Day and Walter Magnuson to the Panel Stage. In an hour-long conversation moderated by The Season Pass podcast host, Doug Barnes, the team discussed the offerings and successes of the new Explore More Tour, the return and expansion of the Halloween Candlelight tours, and the upcoming movie, Winchester, starring Helen Mirren and premiering February of next year.
With the film, Dougbrought in Scott Shooman, Executive Vice President, Acquisitions & Co-Productions at CBS Films, to talk about the studio's interest in and development of the project. Shooman discussed the initial look at the script from the Cannes Film Festival to assembling the cast for the movie to on-site research and filming. That such an acclaimed actress as Helen Mirren signed on to play Sarah Winchester herself says something about the expected quality of this movie, and everyone was certainly excited about it.
Finally, just as they did last year, the Winchester folks provided some neat parting gifts to all attendees--a pair of free tickets per person to the Explore More Tour, plus a 12"x18" print of a beautiful illustration done by Sam Carter. Let this be a potential lesson for next year: go to the Winchester panel, come out with swag!
45 Years of Knott's Scary Farm
Finally, to wrap up the 2017 edition of Midsummer Scream, the Terrace Theater hosted the largest and most complex panel ever put together by the convention team. This year is the 45th anniversary of Knott's Scary Farm. Since its humble beginnings in 1973 as a three-night event built around the appearance of Sinister Seymour (alter ego of Larry Vincent), Knott's Scary Farm has grown to become the biggest and grandest of all haunted attractions. The original Halloween Haunt has innovated countless haunt mainstays that have come to be associated with themed Halloween attractions--from haunted mazes to monsters and sliders to scare zones. So it was only fitting that a panel be assembled to explore the rich history of this event.
Moderated by UltimateHaunt.com creator, Ted Dougherty, this rotating panell covered The Beginnings, The Early Years, Innovations in Design, and Showtime at Knott's Scary Farm. Each chapter brought three guests connected to that era of Haunt, from the beginning years in the mid 1970s to slow development in the 1980s to Knott's hitting its stride in the 90's and 2000's and into today. It was a history lesson invaluable for anyone interested in the legend of the first haunted attraction in the world.
The Beginnings brought John Waite, Diana Kirchen Kelly, and Julie Owens to the stage. Waite was one of the original Halloween decorators of the Mine Ride and Log Ride. In the infant stages of the Halloween Haunt, there was no overarching park decorations department. Instead, each ride team was responsible for decorating their own ride, and back then, the only Halloween attractions were the Log Ride and the Mine Ride--each with spooky overlays. Even the haunted maze as we know it today did not exist. John recounted stories of the team spending their own unpaid time outside of working hours expending a labor of love within a limited budget to dress up the rides.
Diana Kirchen Kelly was the original Green Witch, a character whose lineage continues today in the form of the Scary Farm icon. In a particularly exciting moment that elicited goosebumps from the crowd, Kelly relayed the witch hunt show in which she was involved back in the day, culminating in a standoff between the posse hunting her down, whose bullets could not harm her supernatural self, and bursting into character, she recreated the chilling cry of the Green Witch, cursing all of Calico.
Julie Owens recounted her time as "Spidora," the incredible spider lady who simply wanted to be fed--presumably with human flesh. What was noteworth with Owens' story is that she worked her way from a Haunt actress and Calico Saloon girl all the way up eventually to Director of Live Entertainment at the park. Her story of internal upward mobility would not be unique among the panelists.
The Early Years took guests to 1980s, as the park started developing actual mazes and evolving its scare zones. Brian McGee, an original member of the "Haunt Crew," and Del Langdale, former head of Knott's Berry Farm Park Decor, spoke about expanding Halloween decorations across the park and the challenges of growing the extents of Halloween at Knott's back then. Meanwhile, Todd Staubbler, aka "Slider 1," related his experiences honing sliding into a form more recognizable today, improving upon old methods by utilizing metal tipped gloves and shoes and adopting skateboarding kneepads into one's equipment.
Innovations in Design looked at the evolution of the many Halloween mazes that have graced Knott's Scary Farm across the decades. Larry McCauley, popularly credited as the first Scary Farm maze designer--in that his position was to specifically design a haunted maze as a standalone attraction, rather than outfit an existing path with spooky ornaments--told the story of how he fell into that position almost by accident. Todd Faux talked about some of the cross promotions that Knott's mazes such as The Grudge and Quarantine have had. Jon Cooke, representing the new blood, discussed how his Scary Farm fandom as a youth took him along a path from guest to haunt monster to build crew to, now, probably the most popular maze designer in Knott's current arsenal, and how new technologies are being applied to grow the next evolution of Halloween mazes.
Finally, Showtime focused on the shows that Knott's Scary Farm has featured over the years. Ed Alonzo entertained a thoroughly humored audience about bouncing around from park theater venue to venue with ever-worsening results until he found a niche and home in the Birdcage Theater. Vickie Yahn brought guests back in time to the scene of the first Hanging shows, where she, as the witch and antagonist, was brought to trial, initially crying and pleading innocence until continued cajoling eventually spurned her to reveal her true character. Ken Parks, former Hanging Writer, Dr. Cleaver, and current park Vice President of Entertainment, continued with a summary of how The Hanging moved from a serious witch lynching drama to something more sarcastic and pop culture centered with the adoption of Freddy Krueger into the show onto the satire it is today.
If all of that sounds like an intense amount of information, it was. But for a history buff (in general) and dedicated Haunt fan like me, this was absolutely wonderful information, especially since I didn't have my first experience of Haunt until I was in college, missing out on those "golden" late 90s/early 2000s years that seasoned veterans seem to reminisce about so much these days. Dougherty expertedly guided each chapter on target and speedily through without imparting a feeling of being rushed. And a reception and meet-and-greet with the panelists afterward capped off my favorite panel of the day and weekend and another fantastic Midsummer Scream!
That does it for the panels of Midsummer Scream. Though these two updates have brought a lot of content, they only represent half of what was offered and only a third of the stage presentations overall (the Performance Stage featured live readings and adaptations of horror themed or inspired productions). It cannot be reiterated just how much there was to do at this sprawling Halloween festival, and tomorrow, we'll look at the Hall of Shadows to check out even more attractions from the premiere haunted convention!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.