Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA
For many people, the highlight of Midsummer Scream is its incredible Hall of Shadows, a veritable haunted amusement park full of mini-haunts, ghostly yard displays, and even a dark ride demo and spooky scavenger hunt! This year was no different, with the biggest Hall of Shadows yet! For the first time, Midsummer Scream had the entire convention floor, and the Hall of Shadows had its own space that took up a quarter or a third of that area. The result was a sprawling domain that had room to accommodate 17 different attractions, plus the Decayed Brigade slider floor and a few extra vendor booths as well—all without feeling too overly crowded like in years past.
The haunts were bigger and bolder this year, showcasing just how far this event has come in just four short years. Towering facades were a common occurrence, as some haunts went two-story with their elaborate elevations. Each haunt was also larger than ever before as well, thanks to the extra space to build. Given that the haunters only had three days to build and Sunday evening to deconstruct, it was an amazing effort to see these creations all come together. Lets take a look at what the Hall of Shadows brought this year to Midsummer Scream!
CalHauntS presents Tiki Terror Portal Entrance
The opening chapter to the 2019 Hall of Shadows was CalHauntS most elaborate entrance display yet—a colorful and delightfully spooky tribute to this year’s Midsummer Scream theme, Tiki Terror. The island theme featured grotesque pigmies and demonic monkeys, plus a crashed airplane and dense jungle theme. A human roasting on a spit made for a devious touch, and the excellent show lighting and twisted details added up to a great way to introduce guests to what they had in store.
Rosehill Haunt presents Cemetery Celebration
We wrote about Rosehill Haunt last year, the elaborate yard display in Studio City created by teenager Ben Conway. This year, for Midsummer Scream, Ben effectively took his entire front half of last year’s yard display to the Long Beach Convention Center with him to set up as a lush but eerie graveyard exhibition. The talking skeleton from last year’s haunt was there to greet visitors, and though Rosehill’s Cemetery Celebration was more of a static feature, it was still fun to pick out the little details on the tombstones and the elaborate background diorama. We can’t wait to see what they have in store this year!
Opechee Haunt presents Jack’s Haunted JamBOOree Haunted Hunt
Sam Kellman is always pushing boundaries and testing innovative ways of haunted storytelling--which is impressive enough for any home haunter, let alone someone who is still in high school. Last year, he brought a cult classic to life in the form of his Donnie Darko Experience attraction, but it was his 2017 home haunt, Jack's Halloween JamBOOree, that was featured at Midsummer Scream. That's because this year, Sam is bringing Jack's Halloween JamBOOree 2, a sequel that will feature an even more elaborate and advanced show than the exquisitely charming original, and at Midsummer Scream, Opechee Haunt presented a unique way to advertise the upcoming event.
Rather than do a display or walk-through haunt, Sam created Jack's Haunted JamBOOree Haunted Hunt, a scavenger hunt that took guests all across the Hall of Shadows and exhibition show floor to find hidden displays that triggered programmed theatrical scenes to tell the story of Jack and Gus--Opechee's favorite jack-o-lantern denizens--and their encounter with a mysterious shadowy figure who will play a leading antagonist role in the fall production.
This was something unlike anything ever put on at Midsummer Scream before. A preshow gave guests the instructions for what to look for, along with a map to the various locations. The ensuring 20-minute-or-so experience saw guests follow the exploits of Jack and Gus as Jack looked for his pumpkin friend, who had been trapped and squash-napped by some unknown entity. It all led up to the climactic finale scene that saw Gus' imprisoner reveal himself as the dark phantom, The Shadow (perhaps a friend of the original's villain, Wind), before guests banded together and helped repel the frightening silhouette. Of course, he had one final ominous threat before departing: he'll be back... in this fall's Opechee Haunt production!
Scareventure’s presents Bone Dry
Scareventure has been one of several veteran haunters at Midsummer Scream, and this year, they brought an Old West theme to the Hall of Shadows in the form of Bone Dry. Visually, this was one of the more elaborate haunts of the hall, with several detailed scenes ranging from a web-infested cavern to a saloon with a pair of saloon ladies all too eager to serve customers to an intimate town corral with an unwelcoming sheriff. This haunt felt a little lighter on scares, but the interactions were still very entertaining and top notch. I always appreciate when a haunt goes for humor in addition to scares, because not everyone is going to be startled, but adding another dimension can still ensure a haunt will be enjoyable.
The second of three yard displays in the Hall of Shadows was the creepy and striking Hellsir Cemetery. This was one home-made graveyard that photos could not really do justice. While many displays are conducive to solid contrast and illumination, Hellsir crafted a gloomy and more subdued visual ambiance. And yet, there were impressive details galore, from a Haunted Mansion-esque graveyard caretaker to a skeletal horse and hears to a crypt entrance in the background that bore spectral projections. What a fantastic job by the team on this showcase of the departed!
Wicked Pumpkin Hollow
Wicked Pumpkin Hollow has been an immensely detailed and consistent feature at the Hall of Shadows for many years. It was back this year with more glowing jack-o-lanterns and fiendish trick-or-treaters. Adding a cool and synergetic touch was the noticeable full moon coming from the towering Gothic Hills Cemetery facade behind Wicked Pumpkin Hollow, accenting the scene and making it feel that much more atmospheric. Whether this was intentional placement or a happy accident, it all added up to a fantastic display that countless people stopped in front of to take pictures, throughout the weekend.
Lights Out Productions presents Scream Queens: The Tribute Experience
Adjacent to Scareventure's Bone Dry haunt was a new mini-maze group this year, Lights Out Production, which presented a tribute to comedy horror series Scream Queens. This haunt was noticeably less detailed than many of the others, instead opting to focus on the experience and interactions. Guests were blindfolded and taken into a seance, where they held hands with the Chanels as they tried to conjure up a blood oath. Unfortunately, head Chanel's brief online research prior led to some comedic missteps in the procedure, until suddenly, the Red Devil appeared, sending guests through a brief maze component and scurrying out the exit. Though not as visually detailed or even that "scary" compared to some of the other mazes, the Scream Queens Tribute was thoroughly enjoyable on the strength of the actresses' organic and fluid dialogue and self-aware, campy tone.
The Dreich Society presents Fear Fest ‘89
The Dreich Society brought one of the more impressive facades to the Hall of Shadows and one of the overall top haunts of the weekend (in my experience). Their Fear Fest '89 haunt was a fun way to mix IP's with a semi-original experience, and it also incorporated a bit of the 80's nostalgia that seems to be all the rage these days.
From the onset, the theater marquee beckoned guests toward the maze, lighting up the immediate area with spotlights and flashing bulbs. It seems that the local cinema is holding a movie marathon of some of the decade's biggest thrillers, but when guests venture inside, the films very quickly come to life! Fear Fest brought a lot of experience in their relatively small footprint--at east compared to a regular haunt. With movies such as Friday the 13th, The Shining, and Alien brought to life, this haunt told a pretty well connected story and was one of the most cohesive of the hall despite its episodic premise. It also was one of the more advanced haunts, with an "elevator" component that was creative and surprising. It all ended with a great, strobe-filled phantom finale that sent guests out on a high note. Needless to say, kudos to Dreich Society for an excellent job!
Realm of Shadow presents Temple of the Fallen God
One of the great parts of the Hall of Shadows was the diversity in themes from all the vendors. The storytelling that each maze brought provided a pretty fun mix of different themes and mythologies, which mixed things up pretty nicely.
Realm of Shadows' Temple of the Fallen God took on the mysterious, abandoned indigenous tribespeople motif, taking guests into an arachnid den and deathly chambers and even a room of idols. The actors in this maze were pretty focused, exhibiting good energy in their scares and some pretty effective timing. This maze was in my upper echelon for the evening, because it did everything consistently well.
Bloodshed Brothers presents The Hyde Street Massacre
The Hyde Street Massacre has been another staple of Midsummer Scream through the years, and this Riverside County-based haunt was back with another installment of its murderous and semi-cannibalistic bloodfest. Missing this year was the sassy and perverse host who was so riotously hilarious last year. And the layout seemed a bit less sprawling. But the visuals and the various rooms were still gruesome and intricate, and the actors showcased some great charisma and dark humor.
An interesting byproduct emerged as I went through the maze, which was detailed and ornate as usual. But interestingly, this haunt ended up in the middle of my rankings because it seemed to be a repeat experience of previous years, and while the quality was still, honestly, quite good, its placement showed just how much the home haunt community has progressed overall in the past few years. The fact that compared to others, Hyde Street Massacre--a well executed haunt with good scares and storytelling--had dropped relative to some of the other haunts, shows the caliber of haunts operating these days.
If there was one facade that absolutely could not be missed, it was Reichland Asylum, which create the overall largest front to their maze out of any in the Hall of Shadows this year (though Gothic Hills Cemetery was a very strong competitor). Taking the tried-and-true sanitarium theme, Reichland Asylum was relentless with scares, and its actors did a terrific job keeping up their energy throughout the maze run.
The storyline was simple. As the front grouper explained, a doctor had recently set up shop within the asylum, and strange stories and emerged from the disturbing experiments and terror that appeared to be taking place within. Fortunately, the guests could simply enter and investigate to find out the truth for themselves. Easy, right? The result was a little messier, but in terms of action, out of all the mazes that I experienced, this one seemed to have the most energy and screams throughout.
Gothic Hills Cemetery
It's a very challenging endeavor to get these mini-haunts together in just a short amount of time, prior to Midsummer Scream opening, and that can plague an attraction into the weekend itself. Unfortunately, Gothic Hills Cemetery fell victim to such delays, opening later on Saturday due to technical difficulties. Once it was open, though, it actually had some of the most consistently long lines of the entire weekend. Part of this might have been due to its facade, which was almost as towering as Reichland Asylum but arguably more detailed, with a massive tomb portal built in, rolling hills, and that nifty full moon that indirectly accentuated the Wicked Pumpkin Hollow yard display. Standing in the center of the Hall of Shadows, this haunt definitely occupied a prominent and enticing slot of real estate. The other part might have been its designed capacity--guests took an out-and-back path, and as such, the maze could only accommodate one group at a time.
Unfortunately, at least in my lone walkthrough, the maze experience itself was a bit of a letdown. Scenically, though, it was still quite excellent, with several rooms within the crypt themed very well, and an overall creepy and mysterious atmosphere maintained. But this attraction was reliant on a "guided tour gone wrong" theme, and the actor who played our guide just didn't set the right tone for me. I was hoping for a commitment to the slow-growing terror of discovering the horrific truth of the Fitzroy family housed within, but the delivery felt superficial and Jungle Cruise-ish more than it did authentic and terrified. And the maze itself also proved light on scares. In fact, the big climactic scare was slow-developing and could have benefitted from some live actors to accentuate the grand reveal.
Although some of my other friends reported more positive reception, I just felt like this maze could have been even more than it turned out to be, with only a few small tweaks. It wasn’t that Gothic Hills Cemetery was poor. It was just somewhat disappointing.
Desert Decay Manor
Desert Decay Manor spent part of the weekend dark as well, but they had a decent excuse: the founders were part of the Tales from the Fog podcast on Saturday afternoon. When operational, however, this compacted version of the Palm Desert haunt showed why it's been one of the long-running and popular home haunts out there.
The theming was high quality, the scares were solid, and the characters were wildly entertaining and very much committed to storyline. Their sharp wit was evident in their references to some of the neighboring haunts and ironic remarks on how their family--which most neighborhood folks considered odd, just because they might happen to be a little backwoods and potentially cannibalistic--had been eclipsed by even stranger citizens who had recently moved in, such as the adjacent Reichland Asylum and interesting circus across the street (Phobia Productions; keep reading for more on that). It all added up for one of the most enjoyable mazes in the Hall of Shadows.
Sinister Valley presents Secrets of the Mist
You may recall Sinister Valley as those folks that took over Field of Screams last year and transformed it into an impressively much better experience. The theming and the detail between 2017 and 2018 were drastically different, and Sinister Valley's involvement was the direct cause of the improvement. So when it was announced that they would be coming to Midsummer Scream, it was quite exciting for fans to see what they would bring.
Well, the group ended up providing one of the most exceptional displays at the Hall of Shadows. Their Secrets of the Mist maze came complete with a jungle temple facade with serpentine motifs, and every half hour or show, this facade came to life with an elaborate light show that left witnesses awe-struck at the complexity and technical prowess on display. WIth fog and lasers to boot, and occasionally monsters who came out to lend extra ceremony to the ritual, Sinister Valley knocked it out of the park with their technical prowess.
Unfortunately, the interior of the maze itself was a notable letdown, as a relative lack of detail compared to many other mazes and lower energy from the actors provided a stark contrast to how spectacular the outside had been. This could have very well been my own luck of the draw that comes with the nature of haunted house experiences, and the theming may have been supplemented on Sunday (I only walked through on Saturday), but the maze itself did not feel commensurate to the talents and abilities that I know Sinister Valley can put together.
I'm still confident in what they have in store for Field of Dreams this year, though, which will be featuring one short maze and two extra long mazes from Sinister Valley as a follow-up to last year!
Phobia Productions presents Die Laughing
That circus that came to the town that Desert Decay Manor's folks were referencing? That was Die Laughing, by Phobia Productions. This twisted carnival was tucked in the back corner of the Hall, which may have contributed to its lesser lines compared to most other haunts. Or maybe it was the fact that they were incredibly efficient and pumped 6600 guests through both weekend days—quite an incredible accomplishment!!
The experience itself was relatively pedestrian in my experience, with theming looking a little sparse but solid scareactor interactions to balance things out. It was more weird and sadistic than scary, and to illustrate the sometimes-random nature of haunt experiences, I didn't even get the grand finale of being attacked by a clown wielding a giant fog cannon. Compared to the other mazes in the Hall of Shadows line-up, Die Laughing came up a bit subpar, unfortunately. Although I should note that I had a couple of friends rank this haunt much more highly on their charts. It goes to show that it's difficult to judge a haunt based on isolated experiences, and it's by no means a critique of the effort that goes into these creations, which is most definitely very high.
Coble Haunter presents Monsters of Mayhem
We've covered home-made dark rides before. South Orange County's Mystic Motel has delighted local residents for years with its garage-built mini theme park attraction.
Well, they weren't at Midsummer Scream, but the Coble Haunter was, and they showed off a demo of their self-built dark ride, featuring a theme to the classic horror movie monsters in the Golden Age of Hollywood. The ride itself was a literal short loop, but in that brief time, guests could encounter a ghoulish vampire, Frankenstein-ish monster, spieling zombie, and a blacklit skeleton. The vibe was deliberately campy, similar to a carnival dark ride, but it was exceptionally charming, and anyone with the talent and ambition to build his own dark ride definitely deserves an applause!
Twisted Minds Productions presents Salem
Last but not least, we have Twisted Minds Productions, another member in the line of young haunters such a Opechee and Rosehill Haunts that have embraced technology and innovative techniques combined with tried and true productions to manufacture some very creative and highly commendable experiences.
For Midsummer Scream, TMP brought the story of Salem and the witch hunts to the Hall of Shadows floor. The experience itself was light on the active scares, but it required actors to be synchronized with pre-programmed dialogue and effects to tell the story of one particular accused which who might not be as innocent at the historical condemned were. The result was a fantastic piece of storytelling that cohesively brought a beginning, middle, and end, and paved the way to what I assume will be a fuller story in the fall. Kudos to Twisted Mind Productions for their great execution on this attraction!
That wraps up the Hall of Shadows for this year. Seeing the scope and scale of the various haunts was exhilarating and promising. These haunts have come a long way from the original 12’x12’ restrictions of the first Hall of Shadows, and at this point, they have become halfway between mini-haunts and full sized haunts.
They’re also a testament to the passion and commitment and technical expertise of these amateur haunters—many of whom bring skills and productions that can’t really be labeled as amateur. Midsummer Scream has been a wonderful venue to both inspire and enable these home haunt entities to evolve their craft and create more and more elaborate haunts. It’s the canvas for these morbid artists to tell their various stories. And through all the multitude of things to see at the premiere Halloween and horror convention, it’s the Hall of Shadows that—in my opinion—most demonstrates the love, bond, and positive creation of the haunt community!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.