Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA
Another last weekend of July has come and gone, and with it this time was the third annual Midsummer Scream Halloween convention, a massive tribute to all things haunted and spooky and scary. This year marked the largest and most successful Midsummer Scream, as over 22,000 fans of the macabre descended upon Downtown Long Beach across both weekend days to find vendors and exhibitors of the dark arts, panels and presentations on new haunted attractions and behind-the-scenes design methodology, miniature haunted house experiences, twisted entertainment of ghoulish flavor, and plenty of hardcore, like-minded, devoted Halloween enthusiasts.
The third year of Midsummer Scream saw notable expansion, as the exhibition floor and Hall of Shadows grew by 50%, occupying more square footage than ever. And even then, the large crowds made the convention space feel even more crowded than 2017--a huge sign of just how successful Southern California's premiere Halloween convention has grown in such a short amount of time. A multitude of fans came dressed in tribute to their favorite horror characters, or in creative cosplay designs, or even mash-up costumes showcasing their own design flair. The turnout was incredible--a bold statement of love from a community where haunted attractions are arguably the most diverse, prolific, and innovative.
Midsummer Scream was full of panels featuring big name and independent haunted attraction purveyors from both Southern California and across the country, from Knott's Scary Farm, Dark Harbor, Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest, and Halloween Horror Nights, to Winchester Mystery House and Horror Nights Orlando. In addition, up and coming and cutting-edge haunters such as the folks from Opechee Haunt, Murder House Productions, Just Fix It Productions, and even the Warner Bros. Studios team brought news on what they were offering for 2018 and also discussed their own challenges and successes in tackling their individual paths toward becoming successful in the haunt scene. Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights closed with an epic, 2-hour long panel that brought both coasts' Horror Nights creative minds together on stage for the first time ever to discuss their inspirations, work flow, and previews of a couple of new mazes for 2018.
There was plenty of major news throughout the weekend. It started on Saturday, when it was announced that beloved, local Van Nuys classic, Boney Island--a family friendly and incredible yard display on steroids that was effectively shut down last year due to selective neighborhood and city pressure--would return this year as part of the Ghost Train in Griffith Park. The Ghost Train itself returned last year after a year's absence, and this family-friendly twofer will be a hugely popular hit this autumn!
Knott's Scary Farm also shared news of a new scare zone coming to the park this fall--Forsaken Lake, to be located around the Silver Bullet area. Winchester Mystery House announced a completely revamped Halloween walk-through tour featuring edgier hard scares this year. Warner Bros. outlined their Horror Made Here Halloween studio tour, which is making the leap to a full premiere scale attraction. Magic Mountain announced not one but two new mazes and three new scare zones this year for their Fright Fest overlay--Sewer of Souls and Condemned on the maze side; Witches Lair, The Shadows, and City Under Seige on the scare zone side. Meanwhile, Dark Harbor may have pulled off the most shocking reveal of the weekend when they announced the acquisition of new production designer and former Knott's Scary Farm superstar creative, Jon Cooke, to reimagine ALL of their mazes.
Midsummer Scream also had panels focused on tribute. Retrospectives on the career of Elvira and the cult Halloween classic, Hocus Pocus, drew in throngs of guests over the weekend. An expose on the Trapped mazes at Knott's Scary Farm also provided some great insight (and hilarious Daniel Miller impressions by Knott's Jeff Tucker). In addition, panels on young designers, representation in the LGBT+ community, and new trends in immersive attractions provided some great inspiration for up and coming haunters who might be in audience.
Guests who were more interested in dynamic attractions could find plenty over at the Hall of Shadows, which effectively occupied its own hall after sharing part of the exhibition floor space in previous years. The Hall provided a thrilling, mysterious atmosphere that offered 13 different miniature haunted house attractions, a bar, a scare zone put on by Six Flags Fright Fest, and a pair of incredible Halloween displays--one celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and the other celebrating the whimsical and charming spirit of Halloween.
The mini-haunts were larger than ever this year--over double in square footage over past years. This helped with capacity, but eager fans still packed the lines and yielded long waits. The front-of-line-yielding Gold Bat VIP passes were invaluable for those on a time crunch. But the most popular mazes still had substantial waits even for the short lines--showing just how strong the haunt line-up was.
The presence of so many independent haunters was also exceptionally empowering. They were proof that anyone with sufficient creativity, drive, and resourcefulness could create a wonderful haunted attraction of their own, and they were likely inspirational for guests who might be thinking of pursuing this dream on their own but apprehensive about how daunting the task might be.
Of course, being a convention, a primary amenity was the presence of hundreds of vendors and exhibitors selling various Halloween-related wares. From costumes to masks to special effects to props to art to tutorial classes and more, the exhibition floor sprawled over thousands of square feet--even spilling onto the Hall of Shadows side!
This area was packed throughout the weekend, with the only respite coming during the Gold Bat-only first hour of the convention (10am - 11am) and the closing end of day moments. Otherwise, the aisles were crowded with heavy pedestrian traffic--even though they had been widened over the previous year. If that doesn't show the continued potential for growth, I'm not sure what does. The convention producers expanded the the floor significantly, and it still felt more jammed than last year. That's how many more people showed up!
Midsummer Scream offered chances for fans to meet celebrities in the realm of spooky. Autograph sessions were available with people like actress and model, Leeanna Vamp, actress Linda Blair, actor Phillip Friedman, and more. Meanwhile, notable names like Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) and Thora Birch (Hocus Pocus and a host of other movies) were present for panels and/or meet-and-greets.
Of course, it's not a con without the incredibly talented and committed fans who attend. Midsummer Scream was created for haunt fans by haunt fans, and the fans certainly showed up. One of the best parts of the event was people watching and taking note of the creative costumes, cosplays, and characters guests showed up as. Whether they be original horror creations or tributes to famous characters, the costuming and make-up talent was clearly on display.
Don't care about mazes, panels, or people? Well, Midsummer Scream was still brimming with plenty of shows for haunt fans of all inclinations. The Decayed Brigade slider troupe provided another thrilling set of shows that pushed the envelope of sliding even further, literally adding new dimensions to their routine.
The Peepshow Menagerie astonished and perplexed with twisted, perverse entertainment. Entertainers like Mudd the Magnificent and Twisty the Clown lightened the mood. And we haven't even gotten to performances by Zombie Joe's Underground Theater and Force of Nature Productions, or Horror Buzz's "Screaming" Room, or the Theater Macabre. The offerings were practically overwhelming--far greater than any person could completely tackle across the weekend!
Midsummer Scream wasn't without its hitches. Parking and local traffic continues to be an issue--endemic to the Long Beach Convention Center and Downtown infrastructure itself. Guests who didn't arrive early reported spent up to and sometimes over an hour snarled in gridlock just trying to get to parking. Even on Saturday, traffic was starting to back up before the 10am start time. This is beyond the Midsummer Scream producers' control--unless they move to a different venue. There was ample communication to arrive early, use ridesharing, or plan out parking in advance (researching nearby lots and then walking over was helpful). But for those who had to spend a significant amount of time waiting behind the wheel, the experience was surely frustrating.
The throngs of guests could also make things uncomfortable inside as well, as swells of fans exiting the Main Stage likely made the fire marshal pretty nervous when they crossed against long lines of people waiting for the next panel. This is more a case of something falling victim to its own success, though. As the event continues to expand, the numbers game will be more and more of a challenge.
The food selection might have used improvement also. Though there were some food trucks parked outside the venue, they required the inconvenience of exiting the secured zone to visit, requiring a security stop when re-entering. Dining establishments inside were restricted to the Convention Center concessions, which had very slow and unreliable service. Although again, this was not the direct fault of the organizers, it was an area that might be improved upon in the future, perhaps by adding an area on the exhibition level where food trucks might be allowed to enter and park and provide additional nutrition capacity.
Overall, however, those few critiques hardly blemished what was a fantastic event for the Halloween and horror community. Just as we did last year, we'll dive deeper into each of the features at Midsummer Scream over the next week and change, from the each day's panels to the Hall of Shadows to the exhibition floor and guests to the entertainment line-up. Midsummer Scream officially kicks off the Halloween season in Southern California, and though we're still a couple of months away from the actual haunts starting operation themselves, we hope the coverage this week will get you in the mood and whet your appetite for spooky things to come!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.