PopHorror Goes To ScareLA Los Angeles, CA 2018: Summertime Halloween

People are generally surprised when I admit to never having attended a horror convention, and they’re not alone. I’m surprised at this unfortunate fact. However, after interviewing Jon Schnitzer (which you can find here) and Shar Mayer (which you can find here) for their hit documentary, Haunters: The Art of the Scare, I was invited to join them for Halloween in the summer at ScareLA. As most horror fanatics, I am always anxiously waiting for the season that brings out the freaks, geeks and ghouls. So, when I was offered the opportunity to experience Halloween early with fellow horror fiends, I worked endless hours, saved up some cash, packed my bags and headed for the City of Angels. Was it worth it? Read on to find out!

Me at opening day for ScareLA

The immersion aspect kicked off the second I walked on the grounds as “armed” guards greeted me from the ground and towers warned of a pandemic, advising that I make my way to the quarantine area. I entered a haunted maze filled with hungry zombies, and after I found my way through, I was checked for bite marks. Unfortunately, I was infected, so I was ordered to wait for the cure. When falling in line for treatment, a curtain was lifted and a machine gun blast hit us where we stood. I hadn’t even made it through the maze and I was already dead. Shit.

The first thing I noticed was an abundance of unique vendors and exhibitors. I love collecting horror-related items that you can’t necessarily find in retail stores. This was a smorgasbord. Not only did I find some unique apparel, but there were booths specializing in hard copy horror obscurities. I immediately felt at home and in my element.

When I came across the Dread Central booth selling copies of Terrifier, I have to admit, I initially wondered why I should purchase this indie horror film that I could find at the nearest retail store. It was almost as if Dread Central’s John Squires read my mind. He immediately showcased a reversible cover with artwork that would have gotten them banned by family-friendly retailers. I picked that shit up without a second thought. And he unexpectedly sweetened the deal with more swag, including a t-shirt, a poster and more!

Alternative Artwork for ‘Terrifier’

I continued to explore, wondering what I should check out next. It didn’t take me long to find myself in line for a meet and greet with Robert Mukes from House of 1000 Corpses. He was incredibly down to earth and conversational. I postponed the photo opportunity for day 2 of ScareLA since we agreed to try to conduct an interview. Unfortunately, our schedules did not match up, so readers will have to settle for the autographed graphic that I gladly purchased.

Robert Mukes signed graphic

After adding more unique horror merchandise to my growing collection, I looked around to find several people who chose to dress for the occasion. ScareLA is Halloween in the summer, after all, and those who dressed the part went full force with impressive and outrageous costumes and makeup.

L-R: Posing with Morticia and Gomez Addams, an effeminate Jason and Erica Peterson in some gorgeous lizard makeup

In awe of the unique costumes, I continued my descent into the darkness of ScareLA. Aside from the various vendors, there were makeup artists and body paint experts doing demonstrations and a variety of haunted houses staged throughout the convention arena. Several bands, including Van Sidhe Band and Rhythm Coffin, added a rock n’ roll edge to the ambiance, perfectly capturing the October mood. Also featured on the floor was the Terror Tours VR experience, which was aboard a big black bus from Hell at the low cost of $20.00. Talk about a Party Bus to Hell!

Ryan Rusin and Cheyenne Baragiola and their ‘Sweeney Todd’ cosplay

Attracting me to the main stage were several acts and panels. The first to catch my attention was The Mitchell Sanitorium. This performance is a mashup musical combining elements of Broadway hits portraying a story of what happens when escaped lunatics find refuge in an abandoned asylum. Assuming the identities of cult favorite Broadway shows, this theatrical team never missed a beat or note while singing the songs loved by many while behaving very… inappropriately.  Everyone involved in this production dominated the stage, capturing the craziness embodied in fan-favorite provocative Broadway hits that have become iconic in the world of theater.

L-R: Amanda Krueger as Nurse Jeanette Noir, Danielle Inks as Fuschia and Elli Rahn as Rabble; Ryan Fisher as Tommy Nauseous and Amanda Krueger again; Liam Haynes as Dr. Bradford Minor

 

L-R: Lee Marshall as Fränk M. Footer; Sheer Aviram as Neely Pritt 

Another notable performance was the zombie ballet. I had no idea what to expect from such an act, but the actors played the undead part right from the start, approaching the stage like walkers from The Walking Dead. This outstandingly creative performance was well choreographed with passionate dancers who somehow fused the grace of ballet with the ridged mannerisms of the undead. How this worked, I will never know. But there was flow that was just captivating.

Me surrounded by the Zombie Ballet performers

Though my biggest complaint was that the celeb appearance lineup was slightly misleading, I know the ScareLA team is always working to improve the horror fest experience with every passing year. Personally, I had several people on my list for a meet and greet who were unfortunately not in attendance this year. However, there were several iconic names I had the pleasure of meeting. Along with Robert Mukes, I met George Cameron Romero (the son of George A. Romero) and conducted a surreal interview I never imagined I would find myself involved in. And, of course, I met the legendary Linda Blair. Though I did not get much time to speak with her (anyone who has ever met her at other festivals knows how busy her booth is), I did tell her that she was the first person in horror to really traumatize me as a child. She replied that I probably deserved it, sparking a shared laugh. After meeting her, I completely respect Linda as an icon, a person and an advocate for dog rescues.

Linda Blair and I at her meet and greet booth

Aside from the headlining names of horror, there were plenty of familiar faces from the indie scene. You never know who you might run into at ScareLA. Among the passionate individuals who warmly greeted me at the convention were Shar Mayer (Haunters: The Art of the Scare), Jon Schnitzer (Haunters: The Art of the Scare), Trista Robinson (Purgatory Road, Silent Retreat), Vida Ghaffari (Holy Terror, Abeyance), Danielle Inks (Insomniac), Jerami Cruise (special makeup effects artist for American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon) and Jessica Cameron (Haunters: The Art of the Scare, Truth or Dare, American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon).

L-R: With Vida Ghaffari who has twice been featured in Variety for the much anticipated Sci-fi horror film ‘Abeyance’; Danielle Inks shows PopHorror some love

Other attractions sprinkled throughout the convention include several haunted house mazes that had incredible lines of anxious guests waiting for frights. However, you didn’t need to wait in line for a couple of jump scares with The Decayed Brigade slider crew lurking around every corner. This team of skaters donning rave-esque glow lights, wildly dark clothes and wicked face paint picked unsuspecting victims to startle in the dimly lit arena of ScareLA. They may have even gotten me once or twice… but I plead the fifth.

The Decayed Brigade slider crew

Splitting up the two day event was the ScareLA Saturday night after party. Starting out slow, the party gradually picked up with Tom “Disco” Loveland warming up the crowd with hits from the ’80s, ’90s and today. As the drinks and snacks flowed, the party grew, even featuring a dance-off and costume party. While Loveland proved himself to be an entertaining DJ, the party was taken to another level with Groove Martini covering many familiar tunes while working the crowd with a strong stage presence that reflects their name. This versatile band features Lemuel Clark on drums, Nipun Nair on bass, Zach Nazar on percussions, Aiym Almas on vocals, Avelino Ramirez on keyboard and Niklas Karlin on guitar. You can check out their ScareLA after party performance below.

While the after party was a fun-filled monster mash, there is so much that goes on at ScareLA that it takes two days to get the full experience. I dare say that a third day could be added to the mix. Highlighting the Monster Stage were names such as Ve Neill (Oscar Winning makeup artist for Batman and Beetlejuice) talking monsters, Ed Alonzo (Max from Saved by the Bell) performing magic and playwright/novelist Chris Hannan reading original dark poetry. Another headliner was George C. Romero who spoke about his father’s legacy, a man whose work left a lasting impression in horror with classics like Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies. Among all the great panels, it was John Murdy’s big reveal and Jon Schnitzer’s panel for Haunters: The Art of the Scare that stood out among the rest.

Universal Studios Creative Director John Murdy addressed one of the largest crowds to gather at the ScareLA main stage for a very big announcement. What he unveiled left the crowd amazed. Detailing this year’s theme for Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, Murdy explained what visitors can expect this season from one of the world’s best Halloween attractions. Taking a classic approach, Murdy and his team will dive deep into the Universal archives and bring to life the classic Universal monsters, the first ever to first grace the silver screen. Displaying the graphic details formed by the mad geniuses in the Universal Horror Nights laboratory, Murdy gave us a first look at Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, R.M. Renfield, The Phantom of the Opera, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Bride and The Wolf Man.

The Mummy design for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios

 

Renfield design for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios

 

The Bride of Frankenstein design for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios

As stunning as this presentation was, we were in for an even bigger treat than anticipated. Thanking the audience for their patience on account of technical difficulties, the haunt legend invited to the stage one of the most iconic guitarists ever to shred in rock n’ roll history. Causing the audience to go wild, Slash from Guns N’ Roses was given the spotlight. Scoring this year’s Halloween Horror Nights walkthrough maze, Slash granted the audience with the first public performance of the musical score Horror Nights attendees can expect to hear upon their visit.

Universal HHN creators John Murdy and Chris Williams discuss this years plans with guitar legend Slash

Such a display on the main stage is difficult to follow. However, wrapping up the final hour of ScareLA was the Haunters: The Art of the Scare Monster Stage panel. Because this epic documentary introduces a horror subgenre that may not be widely known beyond the haunt industry, this panel was an appropriate note to wrap up such an amazing two day event full of diverse horror entertainment.

Those who are familiar with Haunters: The Art of the Scare are aware of the individual stories featured in the documentary. What many people may not know is that Director Jon Schnitzer carefully crafted this film over the course of four years, and it has been available to the public for just under 12 months. Appearing on the panel to discuss their thoughts on the film, Shar Mayer, Donald Julson, Josh Randall (Blackout), Alexander Burke (Musician, Studio Engineer) and Jessica Cameron talk about haunts and update fans on where they are now.

L-R: Jon Schnitzer; Shar Mayer; Donald Julson
L-R: Josh Randall; Alexander Burke; Jessica Cameron

Having ScareLA be my first convention was a pleasure and an honor. This was something I only dreamed of experiencing. As much footwork, planning and preparation as it took on my part, this epic adventure never would have happened without certain individuals. To Tracy, the Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror, thank you for being available whenever possible and being a friend. To Shar Mayer, you were the catalyst that inspired me to explore options to make this all happen. To Jon Schnitzer, thank you for being a passionate creative who welcomes a stranger with a hug. To Jenn Nangle and Charles Chudabala, thank you for being among the first to welcome me with open arms. To Danielle Inks and Jessica Cameron, you two introduced me further into the local LA culture without hesitation, and I cannot thank you enough. To Brialynn Massie, Ashley Mary Nunes, Todd Nunes, Gene Blalock and Rachel Amanda Bryant, you were all great to meet in person, and I loved getting a chance to speak with you. To Joseph Davis, Brian Gerson and Robert Cortez, thank you for opening your home to me with a Labor Day grill out. Last but not least, PopHorror’s own Tori Danielle. Thank you for taking a chance on me. My life has seen much more fulfillment since I joined the PopHorror team soon after the initial launch, and I am grateful to be part of this experience.

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