by Dot Cannon
Scare LA’s fifth-anniversary edition is off to a screaming start, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
And on Saturday, we were terrified–that we’d miss something.
(Those fears are not unfounded. With workshops, performances, haunts, screenings and panels all happening during Southern California’s first summertime Halloween convention, even a three-headed monster couldn’t see everything.)
But the good news: there’s one more day left to celebrate Halloween, and get some chillingly great ideas for October 31st! Day 2 of this year’s Scare LA, themed “Monsters Come Together”, starts at 11:00 on Sunday, August 6th.
New variations on Halloween
ScareLA 2017 combines previous favorites with some intriguing new territory.
At the start of Saturday’s program, we had the opportunity to meet the talented dancers from Leigh Purtill Ballet.
They performed an excerpt from their new show, “Sweet Sorrow™: A Zombie Ballet”.
And the great news? They’re doing two performances on October 8, at 4 pm and 7 pm! Here’s the link for more information.
Their show’s premise: what would happen if a magical potion raised Romeo and Juliet from the dead? (The zombie dancers wowed–and won–the Gong Show in June with their performance!)
AR, VR and B-O-O
New this year for Scare LA: the addition of virtual and augmented reality in several of the haunts.
The lines for “Float, a Cinematic VR Experience”, were monster-sized.
Meanwhile, in the “Scarywood” area, other ghouls and goblins waited to experience an NDE, courtesy of “Flatline”.
And a ghost hunt was in progress in the “Clever Fox Augmented Reality Haunted House”.
Now, “Scarywood”? This was an area simulating a spooky Halloween night, complete with red lighting and a series of additional haunt experiences. We especially liked the old-school haunted woodland.
And the cemetery served as a perfect setting for Wicked Lit, who previewed their upcoming Halloween programming with staged readings of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Unnameable”. (This is just one of several classic horror stories they’ll be performing in Mountain View Mausoleum, this October–their dates and times will be up shortly. They stage a fantastic show!)
Speaking of a fantastic show…
The Decayed Brigade Southern California sliders show, always a crowd-pleaser, brought something new to their stage for ScareLA 2017.
Their performance, entitled “The Dream”, began with the playing of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”…
…and took the “dreamer” through a scenario crawling with everyone’s favorite zombie sliders.
Meanwhile, exhibitors had all kinds of cool things for sale on the main show floor.
And the make-and-take workshops were busy teaching attendees the craft–of everything from creating prosthetics to embellishing tombstones.
“Darkness”, divas and expertise
The afternoon’s programming included a “Dark Divas” discussion panel, moderated by award-winning horror actress/producer/director Jessica Cameron.
For the next hour, she and five other female horror-genre luminaries would discuss the realities of working in their field.
“What do you think is best, most difficult, and how…(can we make) women in horror better represented and stronger?” Jessica asked the panel.
“I sort of had to create my own opportunities,” said actress Naomi Grossman (a/k/a “Pepper”, on FX’s American Horror & Freak Show). “I got my SAG card on my 15th birthday and wasn’t cast till I was 37, so I kind of had to pave my own way.”
“I think (Hollywood’s) expectation is, you’re a woman and you’re going to write more female-oriented dramas,” said TV and feature screenwriter Helen Shang. (Helen’s own work includes: writing on NBC’s critically-acclaimed series “Hannibal”, as well as CBS’ “Hawaii Five-O”. Sony Television studios has optioned her original spec pilot, “Terminal”.)
“(When I started directing), nobody was hiring, for sure not a woman first-time director,” said actress/director Kristina Klebe, a/k/a “Lydia Van Der Klok” in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of “Halloween”.
“Supposedly I needed to write a feature script and direct it till someone agreed to represent me. And that’s not the case with men.”
“We live in a country that is incredibly empowering for women, in contrast to a lot of other countries in the world,” said “Scratch” director/actress Emma Bell. But Emma, who is best known for playing Amy in “The Walking Dead”, said she’d encountered misogyny “directly to my face” while working in Hollywood–and accepted it as a reality.
“I would say to any (woman) in the audience who wants to be in the industry, go for it.”
Jessica pointed out the disparities she’d observed at film festivals.
“The thing that shocked me the most: men having their films screened with mine, got deals, and I did not (though I won in that category). I won twenty-eight awards and (decisionmakers said,) “We’re still watching you to see what you’ll do next.”
“There’s room for everybody, and so many layers to horror,,” said producer/writer/actress Bel Delia, who’s best known for her work on “Scratch” and “The Tunnel”. “We’re just going to bring more to it, and make it more special.”
Kristina agreed. “To think we’re taking somebody’s place is ridiculous, and it’s not right.”
The panel’s consensus: for a woman, getting recognized for talent in Hollywood wasn’t easy. For that matter, said Jessica, men had no easier path.
“If you’re a filmmaker, even if you’re not a woman, you’re going to have a battle to fight.”
At the end of the hour, the panelists offered their best advice for succeeding.
“The best advice I got,” Helen said, “a director/writer said to me, ‘whatever you’re doing now, you’re going to do it when you become a screenwriter.’ When I was on “Hannibal”, most of the time was (spent) sitting in a crappy room, thinking of a story. (It’s .0001 percent premieres, and the rest spent writing.)”
“Use whatever skills you have at your disposal, and don’t be stubborn about it,” Bel contributed.
“Being able to speak at cocktail parties (and network) is shockingly important,” said Naomi. “…and, not waiting for Hollywood to come knocking on your door…and, not having a Plan B.
“You have to love it, and by ‘it”, I mean the work. (Don’t just do it thinking you’re going to be rich and famous.) You have to love getting your fingernails dirty doing the actual work.”
A howling success
And, of course, a highlight of any Scare LA show is the “reveal” from Universal Studios, of their new “Halloween Horror Nights” mazes. Attendees began lining up at 1:30 for the 3:00 pm presentation by Universal Studios Hollywood Creative Director John Murdy.
Adding to the spine-tingling showmanship, Main Stage MC “Unman Dane” (also known as Universal Studios actor Ron Keck) introduced him.
Assembled “monsters” literally shrieked their approval when John announced a new “Titans of Terror” 2017 maze, featuring horror protagonists Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface.
Of course, John said, their three distinct movies presented an interesting challenge.
“You have to come up with, ‘what’s the facade going to be?’, ” he said. “It can’t be exclusive to (any one of their three domains).”
The solution, he explained, was a suburban house–where a young man had been planning a haunt. But rain and thunder have precluded guests stopping by. So now, the would-be haunter has to stay in and watch horror films. And that’s where “Titans of Terror” begins.
“How about more?” John asked. The audience shrieked. He obliged them by announcing Universal Studios’ “Titans of Terror Tram”–hosted by “Chucky” of “Child’s Play”!
In creating this tram, he said, he worked with Don Mancini, who created the “Chucky” character, and Brad Dourif, who is the voice of Chucky.
John had explained at the start of his presentation that Universal Studios Art Director Chris Williams, with whom he works in tandem designing mazes, had had a family emergency. Consequently, Chris had to leave for Northern California and was unable to be at Scare LA.
But John answered a number of questions “Halloween Horror Nights” fans had sent him through Twitter.
He also told the audience of his own beginnings as a home haunter.
“I (started) at the age of ten, in 1977, with a ‘Star Wars’ haunted house,” he explained. For the next four years, he continued, he did a home haunt. But the year he was fourteen, it got somewhat out of hand.
John said a real hatchet was one of his props that year. He himself stood in the bathtub, holding a knife. His father, looking out the window, saw neighborhood kids lining up for the haunt.
“He looks at me and goes, ‘we’re gonna be sued’,” John continued. “So, the next year, there was a little local haunt…”
After detailing the journey he took through theatre studies, early work as a Universal Studios tour guide and the detour that ultimately led to his current position, John paid tribute to his absent creative partner.
“Chris is like the Michelangelo of Halloween Horror Nights, and I’m like the P.T. Barnum,” he said.
Ready for Day 2?
Now, as John asked: “how about more?”
Sunday, August 6th, is Day 2 of Scare LA. (Here’s a link for information.)
Doors open at the Los Angeles Convention Center at 11:00 Sunday morning. You’ll get a chance to enjoy another full day of panels, haunts and workshops, enjoy all the cool stuff on the show floor…
…and you may even get to take part in a Rocky Horror sing-a-long.