Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA
Whether you know it or not, the 2019 Halloween season officially kicked off this past weekend as the Midsummer Scream convention brought its horror-centric menagerie of panels, workshops, vendors, haunted attractions, theater shows, and bountifully passionate fans to the Long Beach Convention Center. In its fourth year, this festival of the macabre has really rounded into shape, firmly entrenching itself as the premiere haunt convention in California (and arguably the country).
There were many firsts for Midsummer Scream 2019, which was once again bigger and grander than ever. For the first time, the convention was held in early August as opposed to late July (more due to the calendar rotation than any specific scheduling intention). In addition, this year, Midsummer Scream had the entire convention center floor all to itself. The vast expansion was evident on the cavernous exhibition floor, where over 350 vendors and crafters and showcases spread their horror-centric wares, and where the Hall of Shadows provided a veritable amusement park of haunted attractions to the ever-eager guests. The supply befitted the demand, as over 30,000 guests streamed through the Convention Center doors over the course of both days. Fortunately, thanks to the greatly expanded space, and more spread out exhibitor booths and mini-haunts, the overcrowding issues of previous years felt much more mitigated.
There were plenty of exciting panels and announcements over the weekend, with mainstays like Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, Knott’s Scary Farm, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, and Winchester Mystery House shedding light on new features for the upcoming season, behind the scenes on beloved returning attractions, and insight into the creative and production processes.
There was unique content on the panel circuit as well. A retrospective on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion entertained and enlighten audiences with hilarious anecdotes and rich recollections from Disney legends like Bob Gurr, Tony Baxter, and Tania Morris. Buzzfeed Unsolved packed the house with raucous stories of supernatural investigations from Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej, while Charles Phoenix left audience members in stitches with his relentless and absurd grand tour of kitschy and ridiculous holiday-themed Americana cuisine. Sunday saw a look back at Tales from the Crypt on its 30 year anniversary, not to mention a witching behind the scenes look at The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell show from Netflix. There were discussions on immersive theater and alternate reality attractions building, and on the relationship between mental illness and horror, among many other talks. So for those looking to gain more insight from the haunted and immersive attraction world, Midsummer Scream had a plethora of knowledge to impart.
That doesn’t even get into the numerous workshops on how to build Halloween props, do spooky make-up, conjure projection mapping and other technological-based theming on a budget, haunt story workshopping, safety practices in the industry, and more. Midsummer Scream offered so much for both fans and makers alike.
Those with padded pockets had literally hundreds of vendors from which to find a huge collection of artwork, costumes, masks, prosthetics, props, horror furnishings, technology, souvenirs, media, and more. It seemed like every merchant in the haunt industry realm was on hand to showcase their wares at Midsummer Scream, as the festival’s popularity has absolutely established it as the place to gain maximum exposure in this bizarre and co-supportive medium.
For those looking for haunted entertainment of one form or another, there were plenty of highlights, starting with the incredible Hall of Shadows. This year, the Hall was (stop me if this sounds like a broken record) more enormous than ever, occupying a wholly different entire hall from last year. The area allowed the various mini-haunts to spread out and grow to unprecedented sizes. While not full-fledged haunt footprints, the attractions were larger and taller than in previous years. Haunts like the Reichland Asylum and Gothic Hills Cemetery’s Fitzroy Mausoleum featured towering, two-story facades, while Sinister Valley brought an ornate serpent temple complete with regular light show to the Hall. Rosehill Haunt, Hellsir Cemetery, and Wicked Pumpkin Hollow showed off their fantastic yard displays, condensed to show floor footprint. The Dreich Society’s Fear Fest ‘89, Scareventure’s Bone Dry, Restless Souls Manor, and Realm of Shadow’s Temple of the Fallen God were among the highlights of the strongest Hall of Shadows line-up yet, with their richly themed and elaborately detailed experiences and wonderful talent. Oh, and that CalHaunts Tiki-themed entrance facade? Absolutely spectacular, and easily the most astonishing thing they’ve built for Midsummer Scream ever.
Zombie Joe brought two versions of Urban Death to Midsummer Scream this year—one suitable for all ages, and the other his typical 18+ showing. Force of Nature Productions returned with another iteration of its popular Fallen Saints production. The Theatre Macabre provided wonderful entertainment with a variety of acts, and the exhibition floor stage had more shows featuring magician Mudd the Magnificent, the Peepshow Menagerie, and the odd and ravishing Poltergeists & Paramours Fashion Show. Of course, the Decayed Brigade once again thrilled audiences with a trio of action-packed sliding stunts and tricks each day.
This year also showed an emphasis on family-friendly line-ups in the form of Paranormal Pixie’s Pumpkin Patch, which had numerous little shows suitable for the young ones. A drawing class, a marionette show, a balloon storytelling adventure, and various games were just some of the things that could entice those too young to experience the more intense thrills elsewhere at the convention.
There were plenty of meet-and-greets too, from Cassandra Peterson and Kimberly Brown to Christine McConnell and Leeanna Vamp to Justin Scarred and Bob Burr and many other notable names in the general entertainment and creative community.
All the while, guests could witness spontaneous “entertainment” in the form of people watching. Plenty of amazing and creative cosplays and bounds were available for all to see, and some guests even came in their haunt monsters alter egos. Roaming creatures showcasing make-up demos from famous names such as Boneyard Effects were also gruesome sights throughout the weekend. But one thing’s for sure: the incredible horror artistry of so many talented individuals was a feature attraction in and of itself!
Yes, Midsummer Scream was another rousing success this year—although some of the usual issues did continue to plague the event—issues that were mostly outside of the control of event staff, short of relocating the convention for a third time. The biggest problem continues to be the traffic and congestion as a result of parking shortages in the immediate Convention Center area. Many guests were stuck in automotive gridlock for 30, 40 minutes, or even an hour, only to learn that parking was full. Those who parked several blocks away (in typically cheaper parking) and walked over encountered less headaches, though. And that would be my pro tip to all attendees planning on visiting next year.
Lines to enter the convention were also long initially, but the countless White Bat volunteers worked tirelessly to quickly process guests through as efficiently as possible, and the waits didn’t seem to be quite as big of a problem as in previous years. Hall of Shadows lines continued to be extensively long, but there too, the issue is a matter of being a victim to self success. The solutions—introduce a greater number of mini-haunts and enlarge them for greater capacity—have continued each year, but the demand continues to grow as well. In this case, however, I did notice that the queues were much better organized and clearly labeled compare to past Midsummer Screams. The Gold Bat VIP ticket is definitely worth its money for anyone wanting to maximize their haunted attraction experiences.
Ultimately, Midsummer Scream has once again outshone itself. It has undeniably established itself as a veteran convention that should not be missed, on the same plateau as other local mainstays like Anime Expo and Wonder Con and other similar festivals dedicated to specific but overarching brands of fandom. Throughout the weekend, there was a camaraderie and love that really reinforces what makes the haunt community so great. People support each other, and events like this serve as a big family reunion for the ardent, gifted creatives who manufacture and consume the tremendous Halloween diet that seems to grow bigger and bigger in Southern California each year.
Midsummer Scream will return next year, August 1st and 2nd, 2020. Bravo to Executive Director, David Markland; Executive Producer, Gary Baker; Supervising Producer, Claire Dunlap; Creative Director, Rick West; and the countless volunteers, panelists, artists, performers, monsters, and crew persons for making this year the greatest year yet. We can’t wait for next year, and we can’t wait for Halloween season!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.