Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA
After our look at some of Saturday's and Sunday's panels, the Midsummer Scream train continues this week with our first experiential taste of fall in the form of the Hall of Shadows--Midsummer Scream's collection of mini haunts assembled from a committed group of independent and home haunts dedicated to their craft. This year saw the Hall of Shadows grow from 2016's total count of eight mini-mazes to twelve condensed haunted attractions, plus an impressive themed entrance area constructed by CalHaunts, the local amateur haunt community.
From familiar names like Dead Zone 805, Gorlesque, Higgins Manor, and The Fleshyard to new entrants this year like Haunted Rose, Phobia Productions, Opechee Haunt, and more, there were plenty of choices for guests looking to get a scare. In addition, monsters lurked in the shadows, lurching out toward unsuspecting or inattentive guests passing by.
One unfortunate byproduct of Midsummer Scream's success meant that the increase of mini-haunts in the Hall of Shadows was not sufficient enough to offset the increase in crowds. As a result, most haunts had long lines throughout the entire weekend, due to the haunts' popularity and inherent low capacity. Further exacerbating the issue were regular stoppages due to the Decayed Brigade Slider shows, which brought interruptions to most of the haunts three times a day. Though some elected to simply continue cycling guests through in order to keep lines moving, many took the break time, which could be frustrating for guests in line. As we stated last year, it would be preferable to figure out a different location for the Decayed Brigade away from the Hall of Shadows to let the mini-haunts operate regularly. Alternatively, breaks and lunches should at least coincide with the Decayed Brigade performances, to remove an additional downtime outside of the shows.
That said, the lengthy queues did not seem to deter most guests, who waited patiently to experience some truly impressive labors of love. And it's important to understand the time crunch these haunters were under. With only two days to construct a 20'x20' attraction and the Sunday evening after the end of the festival to break everything down, each haunt required seamless coordination and organization. That the Hall of Shadows came together was an impressive logistics miracle indeed! Lets take at the fruits of these scream creators' works!
(As a warning, this update may be considered NSFW due to simulated gore and adult content of a sexual nature--the second part referring mainly to Gorlesque.)
A familiar sight greeted guest who made their way to the back corner of the Hall of Shadows. Terror Trucks, a mobile haunted attraction purveyor last seen several years ago at Scare L.A., made its Halloween convention return this year with Cold Storage, a foray into a frigid, undead landscape crawling with zombies. Although the haunt itself was devoid of live talent, its ambiance was claustrophobic and quite unnerving. Some video effects and motion-triggered pop-out scares made for a very atmospheric jaunt.
Dead Zone 805
In previous years, Dead Zone 805 has been a traditional independent haunt--albeit one that relies more on triggered effects than talent. This year, however, Dead Zone 805 has transformed itself into a mobile escape room with a similar zombie theme as before, just with a puzzle component rather than a walk-through. At Midsummer Scream, the creators were showcasing a sneak peek at the escape room. Guests were invited to come in and take a look, though a brief theatrical sequence did lead to a cute little startle scare. The theming here was among the strongest in the entire Hall, and the concept of a horror-themed mobile escape room (that you can book to come to you) is pretty neat. Though Dead Zone 805 is based out of the Ventura area, it appears that they will travel. So check them out!
Gorlesque Presents: Peep Show
One of the most unique and sinfully alluring haunts last year was Gorlesque, "the haunted burlesque," which promoted itself as the union between scary and sexy. This proved to be quite the case in our visit to their full fledged haunt last October, and I was both glad and intrigued to see them back for another year at Midsummer Scream.
The intrigue came from both the name and the promise of multiple unique experiences. And unique this was. Peep Show was not really a haunt as much as it was a theatrical experience. Guests could see a PG-13 version, which told a relatively straightforward version of the Weltschmerz Society and its promises to bring its members to Paradise--assuming they were perfect. However, there was also an adults-only "red light" version that was heavier on the sex appeal. Alright, it was pretty much entirely sex appeal, as an abstract video of adjectives describing people before and after they entered the Weltschmerz Society played behind a seductive "Weltzie" engaging in a striptease. Just as they did last year, the aim was to shock and lure, and to that effect, though the product may not have been what people were expecting in entering a mini-haunt, the resulting topless performer (with only strips of electrical tape to obscure actual nudity) certainly left an indelible mark on most guests. At any rate, it should be very interesting to see what Gorlesque's 2017 full offering brings!
(As a repeat warning, the photos below are NSFW due to adult content of a sexual nature. If you want to skip past, then scroll until the red photos turn to photos with a green tinge.)
Haunted Rose Presents: The Maritime Horror
The Haunted Rose was a new home haunt last year located in Whittier and boasting professional level scenes and effects and production value. Although we didn't get a chance to visit due to scheduling conflicts, word around town was that this haunt certainly met expectations. And if there was any doubt of that, their Midsummer Scream showing seemed to confirm the level of quality.
This aquatic themed mini-haunt wasn't exactly the most traditional recreation of horror, but it was very well executed, with a gauntlet of fantastically hideous looking talent and a pretty photogenic set. The scares weren't anything special--just typical startles, but the talent seemed to be pretty engaged and committed to character. It was a great testament to the quality of the folks from the Haunted Rose and definitely had me circling this haunt as a stop this October!
Popular cult favorites, Higgins Manor, was back for another year. After a much buzzed about appearance last summer and a prime spot right after the entrance to the Hall of Shadows, this local Haunt out of Mission Viejo definitely had people eager to experience this year's offering. The result, interestingly, was something significantly different-looking from last year's wild west theme.
This year, the storyline saw Master Higgins missing, and his henchmen hiding out in a mysterious new property after being forced out of Higgins Manor by James Irvine (per the storyline of last year's October haunt). Guests passing through the four rooms instead encountered Master Higgin's daughter, distraught over her father's disappearance, and the henchmen themselves fighting for leadership in the power vacuum. Truthfully, this year's Higgins Manor seemed to lack the silly spooky levity of last year's version, which helped differentiate Higgins Manor from the other, often-very-serious haunts. The acting felt a little disjointed in support of the story. But in contrast to most of the other haunts, the environment inside the mini-haunt was also darker and sullen, creating tension and unease, and though the exterior might have seemed plain in its stark white paint scheme, the interior was surprisingly nicely furnished. It's more of a testament to the extremely high caliber of recent years that I say Higgins Manor was a bit disappointing--not because it was bad, but because it didn't quite feel like it's normal, smash hit self.
Hyde Street Massacre
One of the more entertaining haunts was the Hyde Street Massacre, which featured a great blend of sassy humor (mostly from the entrance line manager and part-time barker) and bloody horror. With a fast-talking cross dresser outside and an animalist serial killer inside, there wasn't much to dislike here. This haunt had a little bit of everything--pretty scenery, funny one-liners, a solid stock of actors, a battered and screaming victim, and a chilling murderer. It was a great advertisement for the full independent haunted attraction, located out in Temecula!
Immersive Parties' MAC: Mutant Analysis Center
Another great looking haunt was found in the Mutant Analysis Center, a laboratory gone wrong where the remnants of the zombie apocalypse still lurk within the sludge of a run-down facility. With a mix of live actors and animatronic scares, the MAC provided a pretty entertaining and very fun experience. There was nothing spectacular, just a fun, nicely done compressed Halloween maze.
Mable's 6 Feet Under
Mable's 6 Feet Under was at Midsummer Scream to promote its rebranded identity. Formerly Motel 6 Feet Under, this charming and "family friendly" haunt separates itself from most of its competition by being gore free. Instead, the creative team relies more on trickery and carnival-style scares--the type that might leave one chuckling after the initial startle. Westcoaster's visits the past two years have each been entertaining surprises. We love the heart, charity, and family support that goes into this haunt!
Their Midsummer Scream mini-haunt was a distillation of their regular full sized version. Under the pretense of a "scream tests," guests were filmed eliciting their loudest shrieks before being sent into a maze that literally turned them around into a dead end. It's misdirection, of course, as those who've experienced Motel 6 Feet Under know, and Mable was all to happen to sneak in and surprise unsuspecting backtrackers from behind. Aside from the tricks, it was also great to see the little shoutouts to the other mini-haunts in the Hall of Shadows. The folks at Mable's 6 Feet Under have always believed in the community aspect of haunting, so their tributes to their fellow haunts was very considerate.
Opechee Haunt's Apparition Adventure: Terror Twins
As one of the Opechee Haunt operators noted, this was "the kid haunt." In that this impressive home haunt was started by a kid when he was only twelve years old (he's still just in high school now). But don't let that fool you. Apparition Adventure contained more sophistication than even many adult haunters can muster. A majority of the haunt was taken up by a preshow used to narrate the backstory and also pace guests through. Although I thought it ran a little long (it probably could have been a little more than half the length), it was definitely a great production, one that resulted in a nifty little firecracker scare before dumping guest into an ominous cemetery with unwelcome spirits prowling the grounds.
Opechee Haunt will be in operation this year, but one of the operators also noted that this would be their last year before going on what I assume will ultimately be more of a hiatus for school purposes than a true retirement. Put this on the list of haunts to check out too!
Phobia Productions Presents: Grimm's Hallow
There are many home haunts and independent haunts that operate for charity, donating their earnings to great causes. Phobia Productions is one such outfit, and they presented a forested fairy tale inspired mini-haunt at Midsummer Scream. This was one of the few haunts I managed to explore twice, and the timing and scares of the actors were certainly improved the second time through. The theming itself was relatively scant, which is understandable for a mini-haunt, with a lot of shrubbery present. But this maze had probably the most number of actors of all the Hall of Shadows attractions, and they definitely seemed committed to character. Plus, where else could you find Haunted Groot? Or at least a character that reminded me of such an identity, one wearing a mask from Deadlands Fear Factory--otherwise known as former Westcoaster admin Andrew Traweek's impressive Halloween prop and mask business.
The Fleshyard Presents: Abyssma
In what I assume had to be last minute circumstances, Abyssma turned out to be the most disappointing mini-maze, specifically because it was completely devoid of talent and any attempt at scares. The theme of an interstellar research station with an ominous and dark mystery was enticing enough. It reminded me of Perdition Home Haunt's Midsummer Scream mini-haunt last year. This makes sense, given that the owners of both haunts are great friends and former haunt partners. Unfortunately, there was nothing besides empty rooms to walk through--at least on Saturday--both for myself and every friend I inquired who went through. This was a bummer, since The Fleshyard is a pretty great independent haunt in its own right.
Unhallowed Presents: The Last of Man
Perhaps the most visually impressive mini-haunt--or at least the one with the best facade--was Unhallowed's The Last of Man. Another "research lab gone wrong theme," this maze's biggest calling card was its very professional looking set. As it turns out, everyone with Unhallowed is in the construction business in some manner--they have a couple of builders, a lighting guy, and a partner good with mechanical assemblies. And this October, they'll be constructing the backdrop behind Long Beach's Zombie Fest, a day invasion of blood, guts, and the undead. As far as The Last of Man went, this was right there by the top of my favorites, thanks to its great theming and active and completely committed talent!
The Hall of Shadows is a great way for haunts to promote themselves for the upcoming Halloween season and/or just provide an avenue for haunters to share more of their love for Halloween. It's a marquee attraction for Midsummer Scream, and it is an incredible collective achievement of passionate haunt fans. A huge word of thanks goes out to everyone involved in making the Hall of Shadows wildly popular and successful this past weekend--especially the haunters themselves!
Tomorrow, we'll check out the sights of the convention center halls, and the fantastic guests seen turning heads with their great outfits.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.