Ever since I found out about Transworld’s Haunted Attractions Association (HAA), I’ve been envious of the massive tours of off-season haunts they attend. They are known for demos of the scariest and most complex designs of puppetry, animations and new forms of optical illusions that take place around the country for those getting into the haunt business, or those horror fans who just want to hob knob and reluctantly shell out the cash to get that ridiculously expensive Dragon Robot. The special effects lure teens and gore hounds to the thousands of Halloween and tourist attractions that take place every year. With last weekend’s Scare L.A. convention, I was able to get in on all of the fun.
Although the tone for Transworld is “Go Big,” the theme for Scare L.A. is “Just do It.” The annual event is all about DIY tips for props, simple makeup, mask-making, and faux finishes that make a memorial plaque for yourself look like weathered copper (along with shopping for the coolest shirts ever). Beside the rows of evil clown heads and life-sized marionettes of Ripley fighting the queen alien and her consorts, were long lines of folks waiting to get into the large conference rooms. Fans are happy to get even a tease about the upcoming Knotts Scary Farm, Universal Horror Nights, and intellectual properties like Wicked Lit or the in-your-face creations of Blackout and Alone.
Virtual Reality and multimedia were very intriguing, and really messed with your personal space. In “The Dark Ride Project,” which is an ongoing project from Professor Joel Zika of Australia, they have documented some of the oldest dark rides and spook houses still standing. Utilizing a 360 camera, you are able to see some of the classics that are quickly closing down or rotting away. The other VR attraction was called “Catatonic,” and it pulled the rug right out from underneath the wheelchair I was strapped into. The wheelchair shakes and vibrates at times, and you really get the illusion of being wheeled past loonies, and at one point even being shoved down the stairs. I jumped about three times and there was lots of laughter.
This year Scare L.A. debuted its first mini-haunt, entitled “Blood Offering: Curse of the Iron Witch.” It was short and claustrophobic, and I panicked some when my glasses fell off. There were some other cool mini-haunts, but it really wasn’t worth it to wait 30 minutes for something that lasts for only 3 minutes. But that’s my only gripe about this otherwise enjoyable event. The tone of Scare L.A. is fun, fun, fun. Little kids were dressed up like that creepy clown from American Horror Story, The Ghost Town Sliders got a chance to do their tricks to a pumped-up metal soundtrack, and a troupe of Zombie Ballerinas tried to balance grace and rigor mortis to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo And Juliet.
They had three mini escape rooms and a zipline for an extra charge, but the adrenaline was mostly on the inside of the convention hall, with people doing Cosplay tag, a zombie tag that involves running and hiding. There is no blasting their zombie brains out here, because you get no guns. Further down the road, it’s a different animal altogether with the completely portable and excitable Zombie shooting gallery which was set up in a trailer. Like most amusement galleries, you aim for the red targets. In this case, the targets were inside of skulls’ mouths, and when you score, bodies fly off the tables, criminals get electrocuted, and mutants jump out of toxic waste.
Elvira was there all weekend, and she is still a stunner who gives off a very healthy glow. One of my favorite panelists was Rodney Ascher, who directed the mind-boggling “Room 237,”in which people are interviewed about conspiracy theories concerning Stanley Kubrick’s take on “The Shining.” Ascher’s new feature drops you neck-deep into the scary world of sleep paralysis. I’ve been there, and sleep paralysis is scary. Although there were a couple of snotty celebrities, there were plenty of others who were very friendly (and not just after your cash with one of their Voodoo wax warmers).
So even though this convention doesn’t really cater to the big time haunters, most of us who needed spooky new jewelry or vintage monster toys to keep us busy until the end of September were leaving the Pasadena Convention Center with a pumpkin-shaped bag of swag, phone photos of some of the best ever pre-Halloween characters and big grins. Except for Glen Hetrick from SyFy’s “Face Off.” He never smiles. Part of his thing, I guess.