Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA
After a brief Disneyland interlude, we kick into our in-depth Midsummer Scream 2018 coverage! Over the next week plus, we’ll be deep diving into the panels, attractions, entertainment, exhibitions, and people that made the third Midsummer Scream the greatest yet! Over 22,000 guests passed through the Long Beach Convention Center over the weekend—Halloween and horror fans proudly showcasing their love for the spooky holiday and eagerly anticipating what Southern Californians could expect from local and distant attractions this season!
We’re covering the Saturday panels today, and by Saturday panels, I mean the ones I was able to catch. As with last year, the content of this Halloween convention was so jam-packed that it was impossible to attend everything. But I tried to stop by as many panels as I could—even if it meant partial visits before dashing off to another attraction. Saturday was highlighted by big reveals from Knott’s Scary Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest, plus a retrospective on the 30th anniversary of the Elvira movie. Winchester Mystery House also unveiled brand new plans for their Halloween overlay this fall. And we didn’t even make it to a panel on new immersive entertainment and experiences, or a Buzzfeed: Unsolved presentation. It just shows how rich the offerings were at this year’s Midsummer Scream!
Although many of the panels would have their own reveals throughout the weekend, the surprises kicked off early when the Midsummer Scream producing and creative team made their opening statements before the Knott’s panel. Besides thanking the audience and promising a wonderful weekend to come, the team thrilled all in attendance with the fantastic news that Boney Island—the magnificent Halloween yard display in Burbank that was effectively shut down last year from a combination of a couple of disgruntled neighbors and the city flexing its political and permit fee increasing might—will return this year as part of the Ghost Train at Griffith Park! This means that guests who visit the Ghost Train—itself returned from a year’s break last year—will get a two-for-one deal of being able to see two family friendly haunted attractions in one location!
This great news put everyone in a joyous mood as the panels kicked off. We can’t wait to see Boney Island and Ghost Train form a wildly popular Halloween one-two combo!
Knott's Scary Farm Presentation
Knott’s Scary Farm was the opening presentation from the Grand Ballroom on Saturday. Jeff Tucker emceed a panel comprising of Knott’s Vice President of Entertainment Ken Parks, producer Eric Nix, scenic designer Gus Krueger, scenic designer Daniel Miller, and costume designer Tim Barham. As with previous years, the Scary Farm presentation featured some discussion on goals and design intent with previous Haunt productions, plus a little bit of what to expect this year.
As the haunted attraction industry continues to push the boundaries and challenge each other, Knott’s has had to up its game to stay competitive. Last year, this included the introduction of non-scare atmospheric characters with their own storylines and guest interactions that were not advertised but were instead left to be discovered. Characters like the Conductor, Undertaker, and Grave Digger in Ghost Town were meant to be creepy more than frightful, and they had more macabre version of Ghost Town Alive-style interactions with guests.
Similarly, over in The Hollow, several unadvertised show moments occurred throughout the night, culminating in the burning of the wicker man—a segment that (in storyline) saw the three witches of the Hollow regain their power after being pursued by the Witch Hunter all night. As the event creative minds learned from what worked in previous years, the panel promised to incorporate more of this in the future.
There were several announcements made with regard to what to expect this fall. By far the biggest news was the unveiling of a new, fifth scare zone called Forsaken Lake, to occupy the former Reflection Lake area now under the Silver Bullet vicinity. Nearly a decade ago, this had been home to the short-lived scare zone, The Swamp. Now, it would once again be crawling with monsters featured under a New Orleans gothic theme. The premise was that the coffins and bodies buried in the swamp would resurface, bringing terrible new creatures and spooky predators. The addition of Forsaken Lake means that Knott’s Scary Farm 2018 will be completely full of scares throughout the park, with no safe zones provided. With new costumes reflecting a bit of a Victorian vibe and an updated theme, this should be an exciting addition to the event.
There were other discussions and announcements for Haunt this year, including:
- The return of a dance party amenity in Fiesta Village. Awaken the Dead will take place at the Fiesta Plaza Stage. This may signal the experiment of a serious, darker Fiesta de los Muertos scare zone might be over after only a year. The Knott’s folks admitted that placing the DJ over by the Calico Stage last year didn’t exactly provide successful results or crowd interaction.
- The clowns over in Carnevil will be receiving redesigned costumes with a slightly different aesthetic and augmented color palette this year. That means the clowns will look a little different, but the departure is expected to be derivative, not radical.
- There will be more entertainment options at this year’s Knott’s Scary Farm. Presumably, this is because with Elvira not returning, the park has a lot more budget to use now. Rumor has it that Ed Alonzo may headline the marquee with this magic show at the Charles Schulz Theater. The Hanging will certainly return, but here’s hoping that other smaller shows—perhaps cult favorite Hacks or a similar improv show—can fill in the line-up to provide guests with even more choices at Scary Farm.
For more information and complete Knott’s Scary Farm reveal, season pass holders can come to the Scary Farm Announcement Event at the end of this month on Thursday, August 30.
Winchester Mystery House Presentation
Knott’s wasn’t actually even the first panel of the day, technically speaking. A half hour before, in the Second Stage, General Manager Walter Magnuson and Creative Director Peter Overstreet with Winchester Mystery House spilled the beans on its Halloween hour tour this fall. The main point: 2018 will feature an all-new tour and different storyline that builds upon the manipulation of Adam Coons in previous years and pays tribute to some house history that is a little lesser known.
Dubbed “The 13th Door” (no one tell The 17th Door—though fortunately, the two do not share any overlapping market), Winchester Mystery House 2018 will wind their way through the labyrinth of a house through 13 doors purchased by Sarah Winchester, which each have special supernatural powers and a connection to the spirited domain. And while the last two years’ Haunted Hallowe’en Tour have featured relative soft scares, the desire with “The 13th Door” is to provide more intense and visceral frights, with more surprises.
With the overwhelming popularity of the past two Halloween events, Winchester Mystery House’s Hallowe’en Candlelight Tour expands to 26 nights this year, running select evenings from September 14 through October 31. It’s pretty fantastic to see how quickly the event has grown from just a handful of evenings a couple of years ago to multiple week runs this year. We covered Winchester’s Halloween event last year, and we absolutely loved it. We can’t wait to see how this year’s iteration stacks up! Tickets are on sale now at http://winchestermysteryhouse.com.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark 30th Anniversary with Cassandra Peterson
Back at the Grand Ballroom, Jeff Tucker pulled double duty and hosted a second panel mid-afternoon, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the film, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. The presentation was a one-on-one with Cassandra Peterson, appearing as herself rather than her notorious alter ego. Cassandra looked absolutely lovely and glowing as she recounted humorous tales about the making of the movie.
Among the interesting factoids revealed:
- Peterson almost cast a young unknown for the teenager roles in the movie but ended up declined because the actor was far too good looking. That actor turned out to be Brad Pitt. Peterson’s note about Pitt’s audition: “Yum yum.”
- Elvira’s body double once dated Jerry Seinfeld, until he became famous and moved on. (This anecdote also prompted an amazing Seinfeld impression from Jeff Tucker.)
- Susan Kellerman, who played “Patty,” had to have her cleavage wrapped to maintain her character’s flat-chested figure. In the scene where Patty’s top was ripped off, a body double agreed to do the scene in return for getting her union card.
- Kurt Fuller, who played Mr. Glotter, sold real estate before really going into acting. His role was only his third gig and became his first big break.
Overall, the panel was a warm-hearted and entertainment reflection on a cult favorite film and a beloved character. With plenty of laughs and nostalgic stories, it provided a fitting tribute to one of the classic dark vamps of the silver screen.
Epic Home Haunts
In the Second Stage, filmmaker Josh Quillin provided an exclusive look at his upcoming documentary, Epic Home Haunts, which details the creative process, construction, and challenges of four well known home haunts around the Southern California area—Boot Hill in Irvine, Beware the Dark Realm in Santa Clarita, Rotten Apple 907 in Burbank, and Restless Souls Manor in Palmdale.
On stage, he was joined by the minds behind those haunts. Shea Foley and Glenn Schmidt with Boot Hill, Scott and Christian Sivley from Beware the Dark Realm, Greg and Donovan Packard from Restless Souls Manor, and Diane and Preston Meyer from Rotten Apple all crowded onto a very full stage to talk about the histories and design processes behind each of their haunts. Halloween season veterans know that there are some pretty high quality and spectacular home haunts out there that blur the line between professional and amateur, and these four haunts are among the best in the area. It was fascinating to see what motivated each haunter to begin their craft and how their approach has evolved with experience and each year’s results.
The panel concluded with a ten minute sneak preview of the documentary, which is expected to be released this October. Quillen also mentioned working with Netflix to potentially secure a streaming mode of delivery hopefully next year. If the extended preview was any indication, this will be a well-made and wonderfully entertaining tribute to the creators featured!
Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest Presentation
Finally, the last panel I attended on Saturday saw Six Flags Magic Mountain showcasing all that visitors can expect this year at their annual Fright Fest event! As usual, they brought a host of friends with them in the form of Fright Fest monsters, who prowled the aisles looking for unsuspecting (or even suspecting) victims to startle and spook. Classic monsters like Innocence Willoughby and Peaches the Clown provided silly and unsettling entertainment as they worked the crowd and the stage for the fearful.
Fright Fest’s 26th year will take place across 19 nights this year, from September 15th through October 28th. That’s down from 21 last year, even though Magic Mountain is open every day this year. However, there will plenty of new offerings for guests, as well as returning favorites.
decide to settle in. fest will feature not one but two new mazes: Sewer of Souls (which prompted moderator Rick West to unleash a collection of toilet humor-based puns) and Condemned.
- Sewer of Souls will take the place of Dead End—Fright Fest’s take on the all-dark flashlight maze that Knott’s also executed much more successfully in its re-imagining of Trick or Treat. Of course, this site was also previously home to the absolute worst maze in Fright Fest, Willoughby’s Garden of Darkness. The theme of Sewer of Souls involves demented creatures coming forth from an old water works plant. We’ll be nice and refrain from the obvious sewer + Magic Mountain jokes. Besides, Dan gave me plenty while we were watching the presentation on Saturday! The Six Flags panel also offered their own promise and pun: “If it isn’t your favorite, it’s definitely your #2.”
- Condemned: Forever Damned will be located at the front of the park, taking the place of Toys in Terror 3D. It seems to be a haunted house populated with soul-snatching fiends who have lived in the house in the past. This seems a little to the concept of the Willoughby’s maze, but the designers have promised new elements never incorporated into Fright Fest mazes before.
The mazes are not the only front receiving multiple newcomers. There will also be three—yes, count ‘em—three new scare zones sprawled throughout the park!
- Witches Lair will be one of the largest scare zones in Magic Mountain history, with its largest cast in event history. Located in the Metropolis area, the scare zone will feature a woodland atmosphere (which seems odd juxtaposed to the Metropolis urban theme). There will be witches, swamp hounds, and other decrepit creatures. It appears to take the place of last year’s one-hit wonder, the Damned N Disguise scare zone.
- The Shadows will occupy the back of the park between Roaring Rapids and Apocalypse, leading to Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising—Fright Fest’s spectacular and mammoth new maze from two years ago. Not a lot of detail was offered, but it looks like The Shadows will bridge a traditionally dead (pun intended) part of the park and inject it with some new energy and frights.
- Finally, City Under Siege, the third and final new scare zone, will be located in the DC Universe area and taking the place of the Suicide Squad scare zone that has occupied this neighborhood the past two years. Responding to popular demand, it will provide a home to the clowns of Fright Fest, as well as any other freaks who would like to settle in.
These additions are part of an initiative to make Fright Fest scarier, more intense, and more immersive. The park recognizes that they are still chasing the SoCal giants of Knott's Scary Farm and Halloween Horror Nights, and even more centrally located Dark Harbor has been providing stiff competition. But the additions and continued investment in the event show a redoubled effort to make a more significant dent in the Southern California Halloween market and rid Fright Fest of its old stigma of being a low quality, value bin-only haunted attraction. I'll admit, I used to buy into that stereotype too, but visits over the past two years have shown that Fright Fest at Magic Mountain is improving, and haunt enthusiasts everywhere win if more and more venues continue to push themselves to improve!
That does it for the Saturday panels. Check back for our recap of the Sunday presentations from Midsummer Scream 2018. They provided plenty of news to kickstart the Halloween season, and we'll get into what announcements places like Dark Harbor, the Warner Bros. Studios, and Halloween Horror Nights made for this upcoming season.
Yes, it still may be toasty summer, but fall will be around before you know it, and we'll be celebrating a plethora of options for haunt enthusiasts. Consider this the kickoff to all of that spoopy!
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