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We All Scream For Midsummer Scream!

Friday, August 11, 2023 | Events


At last, the Halloween season has returned! “It’s the middle of summer,” you say? Pish posh! Party City and the local discount stores have already started displaying their Halloween merchandise, and if that ain’t enough, Midsummer Scream struck again! Muah ha ha ha ha!

But seriously folks, a heck of a lot of love and work went into the curation of this year’s instance of the premier Halloween convention, which took place at the Long Beach Convention Center, on July 28 through 30. Producers David Markland, Claire Dunlap, Gary Baker, and Rick West hit all of the familiar marks. There were celebrities, instructional seminars for haunters, panels featuring professional haunt producers and designers, special interest panels, workshops, performances, additional horror-related panels, a horror film festival, the Black Cat Lounge (adopt a black cat, anyone?), an after-hours party and, of course, an enormous exhibitors area and the Hall of Shadows.

A demon from the Hall of Shadows (photo by Scott Feinblatt)

The beautifully grotesque decorations flanking the entrance to this year’s Hall of Shadows carried the stamp of role-playing games, as oversized D5s, D6s, D10s, etc. (for non-roleplayers, those are multi-sided dice) were incorporated into the displays. Presumably, these flourishes were inspired by the recently released Dungeons & Dragons film. The theme of the OG of role-playing games was also featured elsewhere, including a panel titled “Tomb of Horrors: Exploring the Dark Side of Dungeons & Dragons,” which was hosted by Luke Hart of The DM Lair.

An evil (and undead) jester from the Hall of Shadows (photo by Scott Feinblatt)

Once again, so much goes on at Midsummer Scream that it is impossible to experience it all. The event producers have told this reporter that one of the most unfortunate things about running the event is that they do not have the luxury to let loose and immerse themselves in the bacchanalia. Given that I only attended one day of the festive convention, I did my best to experience a decent cross-section of this year’s sights and sounds.

First, I popped into “Truth or Scare: Game Show Hosted by Barry Under Your Bed.” This light-hearted presentation consisted of horror movie trivia with a couple of puppets, Mudd the Magnificent and an enthusiastic audience. The fun in this room started before the presentation, as the people seated around me got into a very animated discussion about the merits of various popular horror films and franchises. Some snippets included this: “Halloween Kills was all right. The problem with it was in that scene with the mob, there was a lady with an unplugged iron, and that ruined it for me,” and, referring to the original Friday the 13th, “The woman’s son drowned in a lake; I can empathize with her, but I don’t think I would talk in his voice.” Then, when the conversation revealed someone’s love for Jason X, Jeff Heimbuch, the puppeteer who had just stepped onto the stage and had overheard this, reached out a fist, saying, “Did you say Jason X? Right here, dude!” Then, the trivia and puppets were off and running: “What was the name of the man who possessed Chucky?” “What was the first horror film to win an Academy Award?” and so on…

Selene Serene the Queen of Halloween (photo by Scott Feinblatt)

Next, I caught a bit of the “Ecology of Horror” seminar, hosted by author J. Dianne Dotson (The Shadow Galaxy: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry). During this literary presentation, Dotson identified aspects of popular horror franchises and monsters with biotic components. Specifically, she pointed out how fantastical elements of well-written horror stories had a basis in ecological realism and encouraged writers in the room to be mindful of such considerations when creating their fictional characters and worlds. She discussed the predatory behaviors of various fictional monsters and real creatures (like vampires simply seeking sustenance and killer sharks having their ecosystems invaded by new types of prey). She spoke about the effect of solar, lunar and weather-related phenomena on different creatures and how these conditions alter the behavior of various characters (e.g. full moon affecting werewolves, sunlight killing vampires, etc.). The takeaway was that writers give their monsters agency when they have them interact with the environment.

The lovely performers of Cabaret Macabre (photo by Scott Feinblatt)

Following this, I attended the “Internet Urban Legends” panel, moderated by Pacific S. Obadiah and featuring Shelby Scott (Scare You To Sleep podcast host and Skin Crawl director), Trevor Henderson (Mayfair Watchers Society creative director and Siren Head creator), and Jon Grilz (Creepy, SCP Archives, Small Town Horror creator). This was a fun panel, which I would have loved to have experienced in full. The topics I caught before having to race to the next panel included horror as an escape, how creepypasta blurs the line between real-life horror and fantasy horror, how stories posted on platforms such as Creepypasta take on a life of their own, the very real crossover of dangerous elements such as copycat murders in the case of Slender Man and real-life murder confessions like that of Reddit user @jasoninhell. 

After that, I hit one of the main presentation rooms, which featured a marvelously decorated stage, for the 13th Floor presentation. David Dastmalchian, a wonderful actor who has appeared in numerous genre films, was onstage – not as a panelist, but as the mediator. The panelists included haunt producers Chris Stafford, Melissa Carbone, Amy Hollaman, Jon Braver, Victor Mathieu, and Brett Bertolino. The panel featured discussions of haunts produced by 13th Floor (L.A. Haunted Hayride, Delusion and Shaqtoberfest), revelations of what’s to come at this year’s haunts and the backgrounds of the producers on the panel. Notably, this year will be Delusion’s final year at its lovely mansion space in Pasadena, and the theme of the haunt, which is distinct in that it is a story-based, interactive experience, will be something of a meta-greatest hits of past storylines.

A beastly treasure chest from the Hall of Shadows (photo by Scott Feinblatt)

When I left this panel, I was ready for a palate cleanser. I wandered down to the exposition area and took in the sight of thousands of Halloween fans (many dressed to the nines in glorious cosplay), hundreds of vendors, photo-op areas and makeup demonstrations. There were many friendly booths to visit. They included those of Kristy Adams, who was there representing her Las Vegas stores, Nightmare Toys and Nightmare Cafe, and selling her modeling pics; the Marquis de Sade presents ABANDON, a Las Vegas-based horror-centric theatrical group; a local Ghostbusters chapter; Force of Nature Productions, a local theatrical troupe who engaged me in a fun scavenger hunt, featuring colorful actors strategically located throughout the building; Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, my all-time-favorite, dark, experimental, black-box theater, which was presenting an abbreviated version of its brilliant Urban Death show; and many, many more. I also wandered into one of the theater rooms to experience the glorious performance of Cabaret Macabre, another production of Zombie Joe’s, featuring a sexy dance troupe (directed and choreographed by Brittany Deweese) performing humorous and creepy vignettes. 

A terrific Freddie cosplay, featuring the TV gag from Dream Warriors (photo by Scott Feinblatt)

I then treated myself to a walk through the Hall of Shadows, a dark zone with a dozen or so displays, installations and mini-haunts. I also checked out a couple of floor shows. The first was Selene Serene the Queen of Halloween, a fun presentation featuring live music, magic and a crew of undead dancers. Then there was “Retrowave Nightmare: Poltergeists and Paramours Fashion Show,” a half-hour fashion show (produced in conjunction with LVCRFT) featuring some pretty outrageous ’80s cyberpunk-influenced outfits and spotlighting a bevy of models of all body types.

A random sight from the Hall of Shadows (photo by Scott Feinblatt)

While we’re on the subject of inclusiveness, the final panel I attended was “Getting Frights Right for Everyone: Accessibility in Horror.” Moderated by Andrew Diego, this panel included Caylin Botsford, Maria “Pasta” Rago, Monica Foletta and Norman J. Gidney. Essentially, the panel largely consisted of advocates and ADA compliance personnel, who addressed the mechanisms that make various forms of audio and visual material accessible to people with disabilities. Foletta, however, is a deaf scare actor and advocate for deaf children and young adults. Using sign language, she gave a beautiful and inspiring speech for people who may be intimidated by their disabilities. Moreover, she stressed that opportunities exist, and there is plenty of room in the haunt industry for people with disabilities. They just have to learn not to be afraid.

For more information about this year’s Midsummer Scream programming, including a complete list of panels, presentations, and celebrities, visit