Midsummer Scream in Long Beach, CA, kicked off the 2019 Halloween season with spooky flair and a fair amount of nostalgia. Now, the largest Halloween and haunt expo on the west coast, this year’s theme was the dark side of Tiki, featuring artwork from world-class artist Jeff Granito and Tiki Terror entryway designed by SoCal’s famed haunt builders, CalHaunts.
I will not mourn the passing of Halloween because Halloween lives here all day, every day, all year around.
What I will miss is the community spirit that shows up every September/October. I’ll miss the creative inspiration that buzzes around Halloween season, driving people to craft, create, cook, make, bake, paint, draw, write, sing and celebrate the spooky beyond. I’ll miss seeing the adorable kids in their costumes and the funny, imaginative guises from the adults. I’ll miss the haunts and the mazes, and the creative minds that have built elaborate, sometimes ingenious, macabre sets. I’ll miss seeing decorations and the lights in all the stores, and in the yards where I live. I’ll miss hearing Halloween tunes on the radio and watching thrillers and spooky movies on television. I’ll miss people talking about their favorite memories and how they’re looking forward to making new ones. I’ll miss the festive harvests, the parades, the pumpkin patches, the endless rows of candy, and the fun Halloween treats that make us feel like kids again.
I’ll miss the Halloween season, but Halloween is never over, oh no, Halloween is forever.
Halloween lovers and horror fans (aka screamers) gathered over the weekend at the Long Beach Convention Center to kick-off the unofficial start of the 2018 Halloween season, as Midsummer Scream returned for its third year. This spectacular convention celebrates Halloween, haunts and horror. Here’s a recap of convention highlights:
Hall of Shadows
The Hall of Shadows was split this year between haunters, vendors, filmmakers and special effects on one side, and the interactive scare zone on the other, where SoCal’s top haunters previewed their upcoming spooky haunts for fall.
The Hall main stage featured everything from zombie burlesque to the classical quartet Nostalgic Nebula. The flexible and talented Decayed Brigade, SoCal Sliders, returned with a brand new show. My personal favorites were Murder House Production’s Trick ‘r Treat maze and The Haunt Store’s display of those awesome AtmosFX projections.
Six Flag Unleashed showed off their glow-in-the-dark world, with the most talented folks on stilts I’ve ever seen.
Warner Bros. Studio Tours showed off costumes and props from It and The Nun, in promotion of the upcoming Horror Made Here: A Festival of Frights, starting in October.
The Show Floor
This year, there was an abundance of creepy and unique creations from some exceptionally talented artists and creators, where screamers could find everything and anything relating to Halloween and horror.
Screamers over 21 were able to get a blue wristband and purchase adult beverages at bar stations around the convention hall, or one of two cash bar attractions hosted by Sinister Pointe’s Scary Place and Slashback Video, courtesy of Bearded Lady’s Mystic Museum.
SoCal Valley Haunters & Classrooms
Thinking of creating your own decorations for Halloween but don’t know where to start? Well, Midsummer Scream had you covered. On the Show Floor, SoCal Valley Haunters taught screamers how to create their own tombstones, carve foam pumpkins, make lanterns and village displays, with the help of Dept. 56. Down the hall, classes on Halloween floral arrangements, budget decorating, yard displays and more, inspired a whole new generation of Halloween designers.
Theater Macabre, Black Cat Lounge, Screaming Room and Second Stage
Screamers flocked to the upstairs second floor, where they could fall in love with rescue kittens in the Black Cat Lounge, or attend haunt shows and theater presentations from Bob Baker Marionette Theater, Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater Urban Death, and many others. Inside the Screaming room, screamers could watch horror shorts and listen to spooky stories. A nice respite for weary feet.
The Grand Ballroom
The Grand Ballroom, which seats about 2100 people, offered sneak peek presentations on this fall’s upcoming horror theme park and haunted attractions, and two very special panels:
On Saturday, screamers celebrated the 30th anniversary of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark movie, where they were treated to interview clips of cast of the movie and with amusing, funny and witty anecdotes from the Mistress of the Dark herself, Cassandra Peterson.
On Sunday, screamers packed the room again for the 25th anniversary of Hocus Pocus and hear behind-the-scene stories. After an incredible live performance from The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Hocus Pocus, the panel featured actress Thora Birch, who played Dani, producer David Kirschner, screenwriter Mick Garris, composer John Debney, production designer William Sandell and make-up and special effects artist Tony Gardner.
Elvira, Mistress of Midsummer Scream
The fabulous Cassandra Peterson spent two days signing autographs at her booth, where Elvira’s Boo-tique and Sweet Hollywood were selling candy, clothing, novelty items and other amazing Elvira wares. I swear this woman has done a deal with devil or something because she does not age! This past year, Cassandra retired Elvira from doing Knott’s Scary Farm and I heard she’s cutting back her schedule, possibly to work on an autobiography? In any event, it’s so great to see her at Midsummer Scream. I hope she returns next year!
That pretty much wraps up my experience. I’m sure I missed a ton of stuff because there’s just so much to do and see.
Midsummer Scream is now my favorite horror convention. I have a feeling this show is only going to grow and get better. Highly recommended for Halloween and horror fans.
Summer camp, beach vacations, cook-outs, pool parties, lemonade, fireflies, hot temps and endless sand, these are the things that make summer memorable. Halloween may be right around the corner, but summer is still in full swing. So, if you’re stuck inside during the heatwave, here are 10 great summer horror flicks to watch.
It Follows (2014)
There’s no mention of summer in this movie. It just feels like summer. Boredom often leads to casual sex, which leads to fear and paranoia, and eventually, leads to the suffering of life-long consequences. One of the creepiest things about this movie is watching the mundane life of Michigan teens. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell never really explains the origins of it is but whatever it is, it’s hella scary.
Summer Camp (2015)
Taking jobs in exotic locations is all the rage during summer. Four Americans sign up to be camp counselors in Spain for the summer but a rage-inducing virus turn the young compadres into blood-thirsty fiends. From the teams that made the mega-hit The Conjuring, and Rec, the wildly successful Spanish zombie films, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill zombie film. No spoilers, but let’s just say, these aren’t your typical “undead” folk.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Who doesn’t love a good summer by the water? When teens return to the scene of the crime from the previous summer, they are haunted (or hunted) by a mysterious stranger. This by-the-book slasher film starred all the biggest 90s super teen queens and heartthrobs of the time. Besides that, nothing special here unless you like watching snobby teenagers get their comeuppance.
Just when you thought it was safe to go tubing down the river… genetically altered piranhas attack summer resort residents. After the success of Jaws, 1970s Hollywood cranked out a slew of numerous man v. nature horror films. This Roger Corman production was a direct rip-off but not quite as spectacular as Jaws. It did, however, help cement the hungry little fishies’ legacy as devilish man-eaters. The movie spawned a sequel and two remakes including the 2010 all-star gorefest, Piranha 3D, which is porn stars, piranhas and Elizabeth Shue, no seriously.
The Lost Boys (1987)
Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old and never die, sounds like a great summer motto, right? Two teens move to Santa Clara, the murder capitol of the world and find vampires. This movie made two Coreys famous and solidified Kiefer Sutherland’s villainous David as one of pop culture’s greatest vamps. Director Joel Schumacher hired acting heavyweights Dianne Wiest, Ed Herrmann and Bernard Hughes to offset the movie’s camp. Horror movies really shouldn’t be this fun. Now what was that main character’s name again?
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Going away for the summer takes on a whole new meaning. After witnessing a tragic accident, Angela goes to live with her crazy aunt, who eventually sends her off to a summer camp being stalked by a serial killer. After Friday the 13th hit it big in 1980, a slew of low-budget slasher camp-themed movies followed. This is probably the best of the bunch. This cult classic’s cringe-worthy kills still pack a punch and a shocking twist ending, on par with Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Summers are hot and dry like a desert. A small town is terrorized by bloodthirsty sand creatures. Tremors is fantastic homage to the old Sci-fi monster movies of the 50s and 60s. The charismatic pairing of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward lead an all-star cast in a perfect blend of action and comedy. None of 5 sequels that spawned afterwards quite live up to the originality of the first one, but they’re all still good b-movie camp.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Camp counselors, the unsung heroes of summer, and horror films. Cursed Camp Crystal Lake enlists the help of several young adults to prepare for the opening of summer camp but brutal killer arrives first. Jason Vorhees, the iconic killer drives the first film’s plot but his actual appearance doesn’t happen until the very end. No matter, he gets plenty of screen time in the other eleven movies following. It’s the second highest grossing horror franchise at $773.4 million, following behind The Exorcist. Rumor is the film series will end at lucky 13. Fans shouldn’t hold their breath while waiting for legalities over film rights to get sorted first.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Sometimes, summer is an unbearable scorching hell. In August 1973, after picking up a bizarre hitchhiker, a van full of young people stumble upon a house of terror. Considered a horror masterpiece, it was shot in Texas, during summer, in 115-degree heat, so the sweat dripping off the actor’s faces is real. The killer and several of the film’s details were based loosely on real life cannibal Ed Gein, but that’s as true as it gets. Writer and director Tobe Hooper did manage to coax some the authentic acting and screaming from its unknown cast. It’s the only movie on this list to be banned in several countries around the world (reasons vary, everything from the graphic violence to use of power tools in the title). Leatherface went on to become a horror icon and the mere sound of a chainsaw revving up, still sends chills up the spine.
“You’ll never go in the water again.” Summer of fear. A giant great white shark terrorizes the beach community of Amity Island over 4th of July holiday. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel, Hollywood’s first known summer blockbuster, Jaws is more a study in fear than it is about a man-eating shark. It’s about personal fear, communal fears, societal fears, mass hysteria, imagined fear, projected fear, and of course, fear of sharks. It’s nearly the perfect thriller that continually builds suspense throughout the whole movie. Amity Island’s colorful characters jump to life, thanks to excellent casting choices and the brilliant script has snappy dialogue, including one of the greatest monologues ever written for film, performed by the mesmerizing Robert Shaw. It’s all backed by John Williams’ unforgettable score, which is now burned into the mind of every filmgoer who puts a toe in the water. Many people claim their fear of sharks and swimming in the ocean was born after their viewing of Jaws. No other film in history of cinema has had the impact on our society in the way that Jaws has. It is the ultimate summer horror film.
The Burning – Another summer slasher camp movie with Cropsey (yes, that Cropsey)
Blood Beach – Beach blanket bingo with monsters
The Hills Have Eyes – Don’t break down in the desert
Turistas – Don’t break down in a foreign country
Club Dread – Don’t let serial killers stop your party
Best thing about ghost movies is you can watch them any time of the year. Ghosts and haunts will never go out of style and you do get extra points for watching in the dark, alone. Below is a list of my faves. Let me know some of your favorite ghost thrillers are in the comment section.
12. The Haunting
Based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, this is the original haunted house movie that set the bar for all others. Directed by Robert Wise of West Side Story and Sound of Music fame, Mr. Wise made good use of camera tricks and special effect devices to achieve the claustrophobic feel and distort images. Truthfully, this should be number one, but it’s always on all the top ten lists of favorite horror films. Just trying to mix it up today.
11. Lady in White
Lukas Haas plays a bullied new kid in school who accidentally witnesses a ghostly murder of a little girl, who haunts him until he helps her solve the mystery of who killed her. This classic ghost story is based on a real urban ghost myth of the Lady in White in Rochester New York. Perfect for Halloween time.
- The Orphanage
Guillermo del Toro helped produce this creepy tale about ghost children haunting a woman after her own child disappears in her old childhood home. Lights out, subtitles on, trust me you’ll be hiding under the blanket.
- Paranormal Activity
Take one yuppie couple, one yuppie California track home, one yuppie camcorder, and mix in a bad spirit, it’s scary goodness for those who don’t watch Ghost Hunters on a weekly basis. There are a few genuine freak-you-out moments that will stay with you long after the movie is over.
- The Devil’s Backbone
Another brilliant Spanish language thriller from Guillermo del Toro. This isn’t necessarily a horror story so much as it is a drama with horror elements. Set after the Spanish Civil War, the film has lush cinematography, great acting and a unique story about greed, lust and revenge, topped off with things that go bump in the night.
- Stir of Echoes
Even the undead can be connected to Kevin Bacon, who plays a man haunted by the ghost of a young woman after being hypnotized by his sister-in-law. Instead of asking to be re-hypnotized to forget everything, like normal people, this guy decides to go in search of the mystery that is plaguing his mind. Careful what you ask for. This story will scare the pants off anyone, but mostly homeowners.
- The Others
Nicole Kidman hides her photo-sensitive kids in the dark while waiting for her husband to return home from WWII off the coast of England. Strange noises and occurrences are only the beginning of their troubles. This is a classic ghost story with brilliant cinematography and a unique twist. Ms. Kidman even garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Not as scary as the others on the list, this blockbuster directed by Tobe Hopper and produced by Steven Spielberg, lays down the classic laws of all house hauntings and manages to send a strong socio-political message as well. Don’t f*** with Native American burial grounds. The tragic untimely deaths of several of film’s young stars in years following its release, only cemented Poltergeist’s spooky legacy.
- The Sixth Sense
This movie put M. Night Shyamalan and his trademark plot twists on the map. By now, everyone knows the twist of this one and that’s a shame, because it’s a damn fine ghost story if you overlook the gimmicks and allow yourself to be invested in the relationship between the characters. Seeing dead people has never not been scary.
- Session 9
Remember all the movies David Caruso made after leaving his brilliant-on-fire TV career? Neither do we. He did make one hidden gem, however, and this is it. Abandoned mental institutions are not places to screw around with. They’re filled with otherworldly rage, sadness, violence and pain. If you decide to take job pulling out the asbestos in one, make sure you’re in good mental health, or you never know what else you might pull out.
- Ju-on a.k.a. The Grudge
This might be my favorite on the list. Ju-on or ‘curse grudge’ is basically the belief that when a person dies with a deep and powerful rage inside them, a curse is born. The curse doesn’t stay in one place, instead it spreads by killing anyone who encounters it. That’s right, a never-ending ghost story. You can watch either Ju-on, the Japanese version, which is told out of chronological order and might be slightly confusing, or the American version, The Grudge, with Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar. Both are equally terrifying because filmmakers brilliantly decided to use the same actors to play the vengeful spirits in both films. There are sequels and such, but only the first movie lives up to the hype.
- The Shining
What evil weird things happen in creepy hotels, stay in creepy hotels—for like, an eternity. This is perhaps the greatest movie to show that there’s a fine line between the supernatural and insanity. It’s very, very thin line. Luckily, if your kid has a psychic gift, a.k.a., the Shining, you’ll know when to bail on room service before you get checked out for good. From the lush cinematography to its wildly metaphorically indulgent story, Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece is my pick for the scariest ghost story ever presented on celluloid. Good to watch with friends or all by yourself, if you dare. It’s a MUST watch in the dark.
Blair Witch Project – Before there was paranormal activity in the suburbs, there was paranormal activity in the woods.
Audrey Rose – Marsha Mason, Anthony Hopkins and reincarnated children. Creepy.
The Changeling – George C. Scott and an old spooky haunted house. Nuff said.
The Entity – Barbara Hershey can’t escape this sadistic ghost, based on real events.
Trick ‘r Treat – Trick r’ treat demon reminds us of the real spirit of Halloween, which includes of course, a lesson in not messing with the dead.
The Eye – The reason against reusing other people’s perfectly nice organs. The original Japanese version is much better than the American version.
1408 – Another haunted hotel, this time with fancy special effects and the always dependable John Cusack & Samuel L. Jackson.
Ghostbusters – Not scary, but totally funny and it does have lotsa ghosts. A real fun time.
Thirteen Ghosts – If you like ghosts who cut victims in half, this is the movie for you.
Here are ten things to do while we patiently await the return of the Halloween season.
- Listen to Halloween Music
From spooky orchestral to monster remixes, the fastest way to invoke some Halloween spirit is by getting your groove on. If you don’t have time to create a Halloween playlist, the good folks at Halloween Radio got you covered with four different live channels to stream online. Lend them your ears here: http://www.halloweenradio.net/
- Read Halloween Themed Books
Sometimes it’s just fun to read novels set around Halloween time in the middle of spring. October Dreams Volume I and II is a great collection of short stories, novellas, and personal essays from the world’s best literary minds. Who knows, you might be inspired to write your own Halloween story.
- Watch Halloween Themed Movies
Believe it or not, there’s a lot more Halloween themed movies out there than Halloween or Hocus Pocus. Check out some more obscure movie titles, like The Monster Squad or Trick r Treat. Careful, the first one is for kids and latter is most definitely not. You can find more movie suggestions here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_set_around_Halloween
- Plan/Shop for a Halloween Costume Early
Whether you’re buying a full outfit or shopping for accessories, now is a great time to start looking for things that sell out during peak season. You could even find sales online or sharp discounts. Remember to buy items that fit. It is risky business buying costumes two sizes too small, in hopes of losing weight by October.
- Practice Halloween Recipes
Practice makes perfect! Sure, you could wait until October to make chocolate-pretzel spider balls or toasted ghost marshmallows, but there’s always a risk involved in trying out a new recipe the night before your big shindig. Pinterest is filled with hilarious Halloween recipe fails. If your waistline and your wallet can afford it, work out the kinks of the kitchen now, and by the time Halloween rolls around, you’ll be the Betty Crocker of Samhain.
- Make Halloween Crafts
Since the emergence of Pinterest, DIY Halloween has become wildly popular. It’s easy to find online tutorials for dioramas, door wreaths, etc. Places like Michaels, Joann, and local art stores happily cater to your craft needs all year-around. While stylized Halloween supplies are indeed more abundant during the season, generic supplies in Halloween colors can be found every day. Online shopping off-season could yield some pretty good discounts too.
- Visit a Real Haunt
From haunted homes to spooky hotels to abandoned asylums, chances are there’s a few places near you with a ghostly past. Taking guided ghost tours is most entertaining way to learn about history of your town or city and an excellent way to get some exercise. You may even have your own paranormal experience. The spirit world doesn’t exactly wait until Halloween night to make contact.
- Shop for Vintage Halloween Items
If you’re lucky enough to hit right the estate or yard sale, it’s like finding buried treasure. eBay, antique shops and swap meets are also good places to find vintage wares. Buyers beware! If you plan on getting into the collecting business, be sure to do a little research on what’s vintage and what’s not. Take time to research market values of rare collectibles and learn how to spot replicas (cool) or outright fakes (not cool).
- Find a Halloween Conventions, Expos, and Tradeshows
There are several websites dedicated to passing on information on expos and tradeshows that you can attend outside the Halloween season. Some shows are for home haunters, which has grown into its own multi-million-dollar business; and some that simply celebrate Halloween, horror and such. Conventions and expos often showcase new industry trends, animatronics and products for haunters. Film festivals are another subject entirely, but another awesome way to satisfy those Halloween cravings. Check out the Favorite Links page to find events near you. https://halloween-haiku.com/favorite-links/
- Join a Halloween Facebook or Google Plus Group
Find like-minded souls who share in your love for Halloween by, what else, talking about Halloween! Halloween fans love sharing ideas and tips and movie and book review with each other. Seriously, Halloweenophiles will gobble up anything and everything Halloween, because every day is Halloween!