Scaring people is big business—and a lot of fun—at Midsummer Scream.
I had a hard time figuring out what Midsummer Scream really was at first. The website showed images of glowing jack-o'-lanterns and zombies shambling down a suburban street. Adding to my confusion, the website also promised a “Halloween Festival” at the Long Beach Convention Center in late July. Was Midsummer Scream a convention, or some kind of spooky street fair with bizarre timing?
I found my answer looking over the show’s schedule. The teams behind Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest and Knott’s Scary Farm were giving seminars on how to scare people in the most fun ways possible. There was also a talk on “the science of a bleeding pumpkin” and the “chemistry of disappearing ghost writing.”
Midsummer Scream is a convention for haunters, or the people who put on haunted houses or scary amusement park rides. Yes, there really is a convention for everyone.
“We really wanted to put together an event that we’d want to go to ourselves,” David Markland, executive director of Midsummer Scream, explained.
The convention is held in July because that is when everyone from the “home haunter” to the pros at the big theme parks start building their haunted attractions for Halloween. And Midsummer Scream provides everything you’ll need to shock trick-or-treaters.
There are classes on applying horror makeup and “scare acting” along with a vendors’ room where you can score fake blood and “Hayz for Dayz” fog juice in industrial quantities.
“The amount of money spent on Halloween goes up every year,” Markland said before noting that nearly 8,000 ghouls and their admirers showed up to this year’s inaugural Midsummer Scream, far exceeding expectations.
“This was my dream con,” Cory Sklar of the Illogical Contraption podcast said. “The makeup and the costumes were amazing.”
During Midsummer Scream, the halls of the Long Beach Convention Center are crowded with gore-drenched zombies and creepy clowns. There was even a carnivorous half-man, half-plant creature or two thrown into the mix. Unlike a horror movie convention where people dress up like Freddy Krueger or Frankenstein, the industry pros at Midsummer Scream conjure their own creatures out of latex and whole cloth (literally).
“It was scary to walk around,” Sklar admitted.
Kristy Ellison is one of the cast members of Boccali’s Haunted Hayride in Ojai, Calif. Already frightening enough in a demonic doll costume she designed herself, Ellison drove down to Midsummer Scream to take some classes to make the Haunted Hayride even scarier.
“I already went to a bunch of vendors,” she said, waiting in line for a slice of pizza. “I’m going to be all stocked up for this Halloween. I learned a bunch about scare acting that I will share with other actors to help them improve."
Besides the workshops, Ellison’s favorite part of Midsummer Scream was making new connections “in the haunt industry.”
“We never can really visit our haunting neighbor attractions,” she said. “We are all super busy with our own haunts. This was a huge treat for me.”
Ellison says she’ll definitely be back to Midsummer Scream next year, and hopes that “Haunted Hayride will have its own presentation.”
“Hint hint," she teased.
Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit in—even when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.