It seems like the Halloween market is more popular than it ever has been. The elaborately created mazes and haunted houses and scare events seem to be multiplying yearly. Fresh blood for the masses. The industry is booming with new ideas and creativity, incorporating more and more high tech special effects, often involving all five senses. Here in Los Angeles many free neighborhood backyard haunts have stopped relying merely on sprayed spiderwebs and rubber skeletons and have become major contenders in the fright game.
So it is no big surprise that a convention should be organized catering mainly to those who like to do the scaring. After all, supplies for this niche often come from skilled artisans and specialty companies who are vying to be noticed. Originality is prized in this realm and cliché is often considered a dirty word. Enter Scare LA, the first major convention in Los Angeles aimed at those who rev up the chainsaws and man the fog machines, those who come up with the concepts to scare the wicked bejesus out of their fellow human beings. This 2-day event, held downtown in the spacious LA Mart is full of panel discussions, demonstrations and widely varied products for sale, ranging from animatronics, scented fog machines (charred corpse or swampy marsh, anyone?) to silicone wound kits and mutilated latex body parts. Basically something for every sick & twisted, yet imaginative, mind out there to work with.
Among the demos was an ongoing display of extremely detailed special effects make-up, some of which took four or more hours to complete. The chosen guinea pigs sat or stood patiently as they were glued, sculpted, sprayed and painted into the kind of otherworldly beings forced to hide in the shadows of bad dreams and horror flicks. Also, as an added bonus, there were many workshops taught by experts highlighting the finer points of haunt & scare technology. Classes on Airbrush Fundamentals, Gore FX, Costume Distressing, Maze Design, Music for Haunted Attractions and even a Scare Actor’s Workshop kept the creativity alive, while an artistic Tombstone Carving Workshop kept it dead.
An entertaining Coffin Ride kept Scare LA goers in figurative stitches. After removing my shoes and climbing into a double-wide model with my friend Chad, we laughed together in total darkness as our coffin jumped and jolted, with piped-in ghostly sound effects and smells of roses and damp earth. Or was that dirty socks? No matter, it was all in a day of eerie fun.
Then we moved on to some fascinating lectures. The most popular of the day, was given to a packed, standing-room-only crowd by the creative team of Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. I enjoyed a panel discussion called Classic Home Haunts in which three of the creators of some of the best free local neighborhood haunts (Boney Island, Rotten Apple 907 and the Backwoods Maze) talked about their experiences, showed photo slides and answered questions from the audience.
My favorite panel of the day, however, was called Ghosts of Los Angeles. This gathered a few local historians who specialize in taking a creepy view of our lovely city. Rich Berni, founder of the ghost-hunting team The Boyle Heights Paranormal Project and an expert on our area’s most scary hospital, Linda Vista, insisted that he believed Los Angeles to be one of the most haunted cities in America. He views it to be on par with New Orleans. GHOULA (Ghost Hunters of Los Angeles) founder Richard Carradine discussed his passion for collecting our city’s ghost stories and spoke of his love of finding tales of new hauntings in everyday places. His monthly event Spirits with Spirits gathers ghost geeks together to have drinks in locales noted for sightings of apparitions. A favorite Offbeat L.A. character, Scott Michaels, owner of Dearly Departed Tours, who has been covered in this very column, spoke about his colorful collection of celebrity death memorabilia, which includes the hot pink suitcase belonging to actress Jayne Mansfield that was removed from her final scene, a tragic car crash.
Finally, before leaving Scare LA, I submitted to a ghastly makeover myself. I allowed a special effects make-up artist to spirit gum my face with fake glass shards and paint on some very realistic blood. Looking in the mirror I smiled, knowing that the walk to my car several blocks away, in a still rough-and-tumble area of L.A.’s downtown, would be absolutely hassle free. No one would mess with the girl with glass in her face.