By SCOTT FEINBLATT
Midsummer Scream first hit the scene in 2016. Ever since then, the premier summer, Halloween festival has established itself as one of the top two horror conventions in Southern California – the other being Monsterpalooza (which actually holds two events per year). And while MS did return in 2021 with two events, “Awaken the Spirits!” and “Season’s Screamings,” in August and December, this is the first year since the epic Halloween convention went dark (due to COVID) that it has returned to its usual haunt at the Long Beach Convention Center. Suffice it to say, “Thanks. We needed that!”
Although the convention opened its doors on Friday evening (July 29), this reporter was only able to attend on Saturday and Sunday, when the doors opened at 11a.m.. During the first hour or so on Saturday, the line into the convention stretched for blocks. For $135 a pop, Gold Bat ticket holders could circumvent that inconvenience and head straight to the security check-in and have first crack at the Hall of Shadows (dark zone with a collection of mini haunts and haunted attractions), the show floor (where hundreds of vendors were located) or any of the panels. For the rest of the weekend ticket holders ($63 for the whole weekend or varying prices for single-day tickets), there was little chance of making it inside for the earliest of the panels.
I chose to begin my adventure with the panel called “Tricks ‘r Terrors: A History of Halloween in America.” This panel took place in the grand ballroom; There were multiple rooms for the variously sized panels, presentations, lectures, and for the MS film festival. In the grand ballroom, the stage was beautifully decked out with an enormous haunted house facade, and the presentation, given by award-winning authors-historians Lisa Morton and Ted Dougherty, was equally exhaustive and enthralling. In short, they discussed the evolution of haunted attractions while emphasizing how captivating each phase in this evolution was with a public that never seemed to get enough of the stuff; They deftly connected this with the moment we were collectively experiencing at this monumental gathering of souls. All the while, an enormous line of people continued to shuffle its way into the convention center to get their fix of the Halloween spirit.
Throughout the weekend, I did my best to experience a balanced measure of the event’s programming, but there is no way that any one person could have experienced it all. As usual, I enjoyed visiting the Hall of Shadows, where there are always various installations, presentations and where small and dedicated haunt producers typically provide 2 to 3-minute walkthrough experiences to promote their upcoming haunted attractions. I spent a good deal of time on the showroom floor, which in addition to being chock-full of vendors, included an aisle of celebrities, various photo ops, classrooms, arts and crafts areas, makeup demonstrations, and where one can find amusement by simply marveling at fellow guests, who frequently dress to the nines and make themselves up to maximize the experience for themselves and for their fellow Halloween lovers. And of course, I attended as many of the seminars and shows as I could.
Some highlights of those presentations included Bob Baker’s Hallowe’en Spooktacular, a presentation by a legendary puppet studio; History of Horror Comics, presented by Ben Dickow of Captured Aural Phantasy Theater; Halloween Radio Spooktacular, a radio theater-style presentation by the charmingly-named company Worst Ever Productions; Reign of Terror: 10 Years Retrospective, a biographical presentation by Bruce Stanton, whose passion for creating a home haunt turned into one of SoCal’s best seasonal destinations and raises money for charities; Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet, presented by the dancers of Leigh Purtill Ballet Company; and 30 Years of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, an absolutely brilliant black box theater, which routinely serves up gory, sexy and thought-provoking entertainment.
Highlights from some of the larger-scale presentations included The Walking Dead‘s Greg Nicotero: Let’s Get Spooky; Composers of the Apocalypse, which featured guest performers: John Massari (Killer Klowns From Outer Space), Harry Manfredini (The Friday the 13th franchise), Holly Amber Church (Open 24 Hours), Alan Howarth (Halloween 2-6), Richard Band (Re-Animator), and Christopher Young (Hellraiser); and a presentation by John Murdy, creative director of Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood at Universal Studios. Murdy always announces his new mazes at Midsummer Scream (“Scarecrow: The Reaping” for this year).
So for anyone who wasn’t there, you get the idea of how epic this convention is. I could easily write an entire essay on just the horror comics presentation, and I didn’t even mention the Saturday night party, which featured music, dancing, a costume contest, a magic show and a screening of Child’s Play with live commentary by writer-director Tom Holland. For anyone in the SoCal area – and for horror fans far and wide – this annual event is an absolute treasure for the horror community, and as I said before, “Thanks. We needed that!”