Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA
Welcome back as we resume our Midsummer Scream 2018 coverage! Today, we venture into the dark, spooky sanctum of the Hall of Shadows--Midsummer Scream's domain of mini-haunts and haunted displays that provide guests with a cornucopia of haunted attraction choices!
This year, the Hall of Shadows was bigger than ever, encompassing a new section of the expanded convention center floor and featuring 19 different attractions (including the Decayed Brigade sliding floor, which we'll get into a couple updates from now). For the first time, a professional haunt terrorized people entering the mini-haunt area as monsters from Six Flags Magic Mountain's Fright Fest lurked in their own mini scare zone within the Hall. In addition, a variety of haunts, from long-running familiar faces like Spooky Hollows, The Hyde Street Massacre, and Opechee Haunt to new stand-outs like Murder House Productions and the Dreich Society, provided the strongest line-up yet in Midsummer Scream history (including its previous incarnation as the original Scare L.A. convention). Sinister Pointe even chipped in with a themed bar doubling as an advertisement for their 2018 mega haunt, The Scary Place.
The mini-haunts themselves were bigger too. In past years, each haunt was limited to a 20ft x 20ft area on which they could lay out their haunt. This year, there was no hard limit, although the recommended size was increased to 30ft x 30ft. This also helped with increasing the capacity of the mazes, and while lines were still long (VIP Gold Bat passes were invaluable in allowing an hour early entry into the Hall and front of line privileges the rest of the time), they didn't seem to be quite as gnarly as last year.
All the while, the Hall of Shadows floor provided a twisted environment where monsters could prowl. Some where free roaming talent working with the mini-haunts. Others were guests who came as their haunt monster alter egos. Once again, this was a huge highlight of Midsummer Scream--a veritable scream park to bring the Halloween season to fans early!
Castle Frankenstein Entryway by CalHaunts
For another year, CalHaunts volunteers provided another entryway to greet guests coming into the Hall of Shadows. This year, the folks constructed a set themed to Dr. Frankenstein's castle, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the iconic book. This was fitting, since a celebration Frankenstein formed the underlying theme of this year's convention.
In addition to a detailed facade, guests could wander by a cemetery display and stroll through the twisted doctor's lab as well, where Igor and the monster could also be found. Those who were distracted by Frankenstein's bride might also fall prey to a drop portrait, which added some nice startle scares.
Entry Scare Zone by Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest
The Magic Mountain Fright Fest folks brought their monsters to terrorize the Hall of the Shadows this year. After walking through the Castle Frankenstein entry, guests actually found another series of exhibition booths within the Hall before entering the haunted attractions portion in proper. This area was flanked by a miniature scare zone flanking the path into the mini-haunts area, and within the scare zone, guests could find iconic Fright Fest creatures, like Innocence and Peaches and other devilish spooks.
The scare zone itself seemed to carry the aesthetic of Fright Fest's Nightmares: A Twisted Fantasy scare zone from the actual event. Black light bathed a multi-colored kaleidoscope of props and growths and tye dye cheese cloth. Guests were forced to enter this way to get to the haunts, so this area provided a great warm up for the scares to come!
Van Nuys home haunt Spooky Hollows was one of the first attractions guests would encounter walking into the main Hall of Shadows floor. Located to the left, Spooky Hollows once again brought forth a highly thematic, immersive realm of swampy sewers and botanical beasts, compiling a truncated version of their haunt from last year.
The haunt was nicely atmospheric and featured a great mix of multimedia theming elements and practical sets. The veteran talent provided entertaining characters who kept to the storyline more than provided scares, but the whole experience was a lot of fun--something demonstrated by the consistently long lines both days of the convention. Even the Gold Bat VIP line was often backed up--a testament to the quality Spooky Hollows brought!
Trick 'R Treat, presented by Murder House Productions
Last year's secret breakout, Trick 'R Treat by Murder House Productions, came to the Hall of Shadows in mini-haunt form! Truthfully, this iteration was almost the same as the full maze, given the full-fledged maze's shorter length. But the quality remained the top notch, "I can't believe this is a home haunt and not Halloween Horror Nights" quality that highlighted last year's production.
Following the Halloween cult hit film of the same name, Trick 'R Treat brought guests face to face with a variety of jump scares and insidious creatures, including Sam. Although I normally criticize actual Halloween Horror Nights for relying on the same exact scare sequence in every scare of their mazes, in a mini-haunt, this was perfectly acceptable, due to the much shorter layout. And once again, seeing the level of theming from two young haunters was thoroughly impressive. Creators Aurora Persichetti and Kyle Warner showed Midsummer Scream just why their haunt was the talk of the community last Halloween!
Dead Zone 805
Just like they did last year, Dead Zone 805 brought a glimpse of their mobile escape room experience to Midsummer Scream. This was one of the lowest capacity attractions in the Hall of Shadows, and the experience consisted of a theatrical moment inside the trailer (in the vein of what a guest might experience in the actual mobile escape room) followed by a startle scare. For the quick taste, it was a fun and sufficient experience. Certainly, the wait for the climax of the experience built tension and drama. But veteran haunt enthusiasts who aren't phase by jump scares may not have found much gratification at this one.
This isn't to say that the Dead Zone 805 mini-haunt was sub-par. In fact, none of the mini-haunts were weak. But this was more of a comparatively middle of the pack attraction in our opinion.
Wicked Pumpkin Hollow
Effectively a yard display rather than an actual walk-through haunt, Wicked Pumpkin Hollow gave Midsummer Scream guests a taste of what this Sherman Oaks home puts on in the front yard every year. What a beautiful set-up this was! Dozens of glowing, orange jack-o-lanterns, a friendly skeleton, menacing scarecrow, suspect trick-or-treater, and even a seven foot tall more sinister skeletal scarecrow provided quite the Halloween eye candy. Wicked Pumpkin Hollow will be open this year on the last weekend of October for people who want to pass by and see this yard display. At Midsummer Scream, it was certainly a ghoulishly lovely sight!
Donnie Darko Experience, presented by Opechee Haunt
Despite his young age, Sam Kellman is actually a Midsummer Scream veteran, having brought a mini-haunt last year and provided full-scale home haunts the past half dozen years (including 2017's family-friendly show, Jack's Halloween JamBOOree). This year, his Opechee Haunt is doing a Donnie Darko-themed haunted maze, and Midsummer Scream was just a preview of the ultimate product.
The mini-haunt represents just a third of what the October offering will present, but it still provided a fitting tribute to the cult classic movie. With a plethora of movie easter eggs in the queue and within the maze, there was plenty for Darko fans to enjoy. Even the safety spiel was masterfully done in the style of the Jim Cunningham "Controlling Fear" videos, interspersing segments with actors played by Kellman's magnet school classmates with actual movie footage to provide a very convincing production. Inside the maze, guests venture through the school and came face to face with Frank. The atmosphere was very well done, with a very cinematographic feel.
Guests had to enter the maze one at a time, which did extend the wait a little bit. Fortunately, a sensor system within the maze provided pacing, yielding yet another example of Kellman's embrace of and skill with technology in his haunted attractions. The wait was worth it, though, as Opechee's Donnie Darko Experience provided one of the Hall of Shadow highlights.
The Hyde Street Massacre
Temecula area haunt Hyde Street Massacre was another returning Midsummer Scream veteran. Once again, the haunt brought guests inside the world of fictitious serial killer Otis Thatcher, a soul who became so obsessed with the dark side of Halloween that he turned his house into a manor of bloodshed.
The haunt provided its fair share if interactive and engaging talent, well stocked through each of its rooms. This has always been a very strong haunted attraction, with rich theming and an active cast of characters. 2018 Midsummer Scream was no different.
Camp Calavera, presented by Scareventures
Scareventures was another recurring Midsummer Scream host. This haunted attraction design services group crafted a summer camp gone wrong, where the ghost of a young girl terrorizes the grounds, and demons and creatures seek out new victims.
This mini-haunt very much had an old school Knott's Scary Farm feel--in a good way. With plenty of theming and plenty of talent, there was action and interaction every step along the way. The actors had great timing throughout the maze with their startle scares, and a couple even came up with creative styles to scare, including one fiend who pounded a metal trash can lid with his feet to setup the initial startle before coming out from his hiding place. The attraction ended up being a sentimental favorite, because of its old school, solid haunt style.
#Viral, presented by Phobia Productions
Phobia Productions provided an infection-themed experience that featured a couple of predictable jump scares but was interesting nonetheless. Guests entering were screened to determine their level of illness from a virus that was turning victims into the walking dead (or something thereabouts). Regardless of the answer, guests were shuttled forth to further testing and screening... and close encounters with more advanced victims of the HP18 virus (which we humorously initially misheard as the HVAC virus--which would probably also be cool).
We appreciated the story that was being told, but we felt like there was never really a resolution, and the maze was mostly full of bio-health inquiry. But even this small maze was a nice experience, with the bonus of frequently having shorter lines thanks to its more central backside location.
Shattered Realm, presented by Inland Empire Asylum
You can't have a series of haunts or mini-haunts without something themed to a haunted sanitarium, and Inland Empire Asylum's Shattered Realm provided exactly that. This "mom and pop" haunt featured a host of demented beings whose missioned seemed to be nothing more than inflicting pain. Be that ravaging already dead bodies or dismembering them, the denizens of this twisted abode seemed to revel in inflicting more pain or damage.
Annelise: The Experience, presented by Twisted Minds Productions
Based upon the story of real life Anneliese Michel (basis for the film The Haunting of Emily Rose), this fast-moving haunt featured some good old-fashioned demonic possession and the horror associated with such vile spiritual infestation. The maze from Twisted Minds Productions felt a little shorter compared to most of the others, but its climactic moment midway through the walk-through encountering the demon possessing Annelise was quite an effective one. Lured by a struggling Annelise, guests were distracted to the sudden and jarring jump scare emergence of the demon herself, who would emerge from different positions and angles to keep return visitors on their toes.
Thematically, the mini-haunt was not quite as detailed as others, but the great work by the talent made this maze one of the more memorable ones of the weekend nonetheless. Great job to all involved with Twisted Minds Productions!
Black Bayou Terror Truck
This was one of two terror trucks present at Midsummer Scream. These mobile haunted attractions can be rented for any party or special event, and while the interior did not feature any live talent, they were claustrophobic and providing of startles in their own way. Black Bayou provided a swamp theme, and some colorful lighting. We found this a bit lacking compared to its counterpart, Cold Storage (keep reading for that one), but the idea was certainly novel.
Dark Hollow Cemetery Scair Structure, presented by Halloweve Designs, Inc.
The company behind the Terror Trucks also showcased its portable, air-filled "Scair Structure" marketed as a great, quick, low-hassle alternative for a home-made haunt or scary event attraction. The entire attraction was compressible into a small package but could be literally blown up and set up in less than an hour. Though there was no talent within, the theming elements could be accented by live actors if desired. Our wait was basically a big sales pitch for the product, but we did find the whole concept to be intriguing and convenient! For the person looking for a quick and easy haunt that still layered in some amount of detail, this was a great option to procure!
Cold Storage Terror Truck
The other Terror Truck on site, this has been an on-again off-again staple of the Midsummer Scream and Scare L.A. before it line-up. Also a portable haunted house without any live talent, this very claustrophobic walk-through featured a lot of sensor-triggered effects and tension generated by the tight quarters. The finale squeeze through a giant and very tight air bag provided quite a bit of psychological warfare--if not from impending claustrophobia then from germaphobia from all the previous guests who had struggled through. Humorously, the start of this segment had to have a label for which side to squeeze through, since the other gap led to a tight, unoccupiable, mechanical space.
Seance: The Nightmare Begins, presented by The Dreich Society
The last mini-haunt of the Hall of Shadows featured a seance to summon an evil spirit. We were happy to participate, and our summoning seemed to be especially effective, as the demon manifested almost before we had finished chanting the mystical phrase. The rest of the mini-haunt featured a hellish, Satanic theme. The talent was pretty solid, especially the spirit hunters in the first room, and overall, the Dreich Society provided yet another good attraction for the Hall of Shadows.
Boogeyman Express Bar, presented by Sinister Pointe
Guests looking to get their booze on could drink up at the Boogeyman Express Bar. This bar basically served as a big promo for Sinister Pointe, which is returning to haunted attractions this year after putting on a Halloween soiree the previous year. We're glad to see them back in the active scare business, because traditionally, Sinister Pointe has put on some of the most unique and innovative haunts in the business--independent, amateur, or big name.
Ultimately, though, this was really just a watering hole with a photo booth in the corner. No actual scares here, at least nothing like the actual mini-haunts. Fortunately, Sinister Pointe is a well recognized enough name that it doesn't need to provide a taste of any haunted attractions it makes. Its track record speaks for itself, and we can't wait to see what The Scary Place is like this fall!
Overall, there was not a single weak link in this year's Hall of Shadows. This marked an unprecedented showing for Midsummer Scream, since in previous years, there seemed to always be at least one or two mini-haunts who could not provide their full haunting experience due to technical difficulties or last-minute staffing complications. This year, every attraction seemed to operate at full strength.
The Hall of Shadows was also inspiring, for guests who went through could see that putting together a high quality haunted attraction was not something limited to professionals. Amateur home haunters could participate as well, and even if they weren't among the traditional big names, they could still produce some fun work. Going through the mini-haunts must have been so affirming for anyone who ever dreamed of also possibly creating a haunted attraction, and the energy throughout the hall was quite uplifting to behold!
That does it for our Hall of Shadows update from the 2018 Midsummer Scream. We've still go the convention entertainment and the show floor and people to feature in two more updates from Southern California's premiere Halloween and horror convention, so stay tuned. In the meantime, you might want to start planning your fall haunting spree already. Because the haunts from the Hall of Shadows do plan on operating this fall, and as you can see, they produce fine work--especially under the high pressure time constraints of setting up and tearing down their sets for a two-day convention!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.