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Halloween Conventions Part One: Midsummer Scream

Only 95 days till Halloween but don’t panic

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Midsummer Scream

Midsummer Scream is celebrating its second year this weekend at the Long Beach Convention Center.

It is a mere 95 days to Halloween. For many that is no reason to panic but if you do a home haunt like I do it means you're down to the wire for planning and shopping. That’s why Halloween conventions like Midsummer Scream and ScareLA are so important.

As someone who has been a home haunter before there was a name for it, Halloween is severed-hands-down the best and most important holiday of the year. I start planning for each haunted house I do the day after Halloween so I can shop my Black Friday sales for the appropriate props and costumes I’ll need for the following year. So I have been collecting hanging bats at post Halloween sales for the past four years in anticipation of creating a cave for a Dracula haunt. I wanted a couple dozen bats at the very least hanging over kids’ heads.

I am not alone in looking at Halloween as a big event. It may not have eclipsed Christmas as the holiday Americans spend the most money on but it continues to grow, as people are willing to buy costumes for their children, pets and selves as well as splurge on animatronics for their home.

Halloween and horror conventions

Helping people like me get through the summer and providing a means to find everything I could possibly want is where Halloween conventions and shows come in.

Monsterpalooza is not strictly Halloween, but it serves up a celebration of movie monsters and make up effects that can inspire home haunters and anyone looking to do a spectacular costume. It is one of the oldest and largest horror-themed conventions and has its main convention in the spring and Son of Monsterpalooza in September.

ScareLA debuted in 2013 to bring Halloween to the summer and it will take place this year at the Los Angeles Convention Center Aug. 5 and 6. But this weekend, Midsummer Scream, which had its first convention last year, will take place at the Long Beach Convention Center. I have been to ScareLA each year and found great things to buy there as well as reaping useful information from how-to panels.

I have yet to attend Midsummer Scream and am looking forward to checking it out this weekend.

The two conventions have a slightly tangled history. I interviewed Lora Ivanova and David Markland in 2014 about their second year doing ScareLA for an NPR feature. But shortly after that, the two parted ways. Ivanova continues to produce ScareLA (which I will be highlighting next week) while Markland went on to create Midsummer Scream last year.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Midsummer Scream

A make up demonstration at last year's Midsummer Scream.

Midsummer Scream

I spoke with Markland, co-founder and executive director of Midsummer Scream, to get a preview of his convention.

“In a nutshell, it’s the Comic-Con of Halloween,” Markland said. “Which I feel is the lazy man’s explanation of it but it really does try to be a taste of October for one summer weekend. So we have everything that you would see during the Halloween season. We have a gazillion haunted houses that you can walk through, we have hundreds of Halloween and horror vendors, you can buy everything from T-shirts to props to decorate your home with to make up. We have, in addition, a bunch of performances going on from horror-themed burlesque to Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater. And in addition, we have all the Southern California theme parks coming out to give a preview of what they will be doing for the season.”

Conventions like Midsummer Scream and ScareLA serve horror and Halloween fans that want to enjoy the community feeling of gatherings like these.

“That’s why I think conventions do well,” Markland said. “It’s a chance to connect with people with common interests face-to-face.”

Markland says he’s been “a Halloween junkie” since he was a kid, and about 10 years ago he took what he called a “deep dive into the Halloween community” in L.A. and created a website called CreepyLA.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Midsummer Scream

Learn how to carve hard foam into a tombstone at a worksop during Midsummer Scream this weekend.

Growing popularity of Halloween

He considered why Halloween seems to be gaining popularity as a holiday.

“I think part of it is that people have discovered that Halloween is the most creative holiday that you can be involved,” Markland said. “Whether it’s make up or decorating your house, you can act and be scary and it’s OK. It’s just contagious.”

Halloween also taps into an active do-it-yourself community that can now go online and see videos of how to do just about anything from horror make up to how to build your own animatronics. The possibilities are endless and Halloween allows people to tap into their creativity for costumes and home haunts.

Midsummer Scream will have classroom set ups to address a specific range of skills like make up as well as more general classes on how to create your own escape rooms or how to create own haunted house business. Plus, there will be workshops where you can make props to take away like turning hard foam into a tombstone with your own name (or someone else’s) on it.

Last year, Midsummer Scream attracted about 8,000 attendees, which was about double what Markland had been expecting.

The convention will also host a Screaming Room that will show blocks of horror shorts and a performance stage where you can find Bob Baker’s Marionette Theatre Company, a vampire themed burlesque, and a live radio style performance inspired by "Tales From the Crypt."

Markland doesn’t see the appeal of Halloween conventions dying down any time soon because there is so much out there for people to discover and new things to catch their attention.

“Last year the big thing was escape games and that took Southern California, and really the world, by storm in the last couple years,” Markland noted. “I think two-and-a-half, maybe three years ago, there was maybe one escape room in L.A. Now there are dozens. Now immersive theater has become a really big thing. And next year something new will probably come up, maybe it will be augmented reality, the smarter brother of virtual reality.”

Whether you are counting down the days to Halloween or not, Midsummer Scream and next week’s ScareLA provide a great opportunity to shop for Halloween props and costumes, enjoy a variety of classes and seminars, and see a diverse spectrum of Halloween and horror art and performances. Who needs Christmas in July when you can have Halloween?

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