ScareLA 2018 Review

Some observations and reactions to the first day of the ScareLA convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center

Except for a performance space set up outside the convention entrance and a large room that serves as a kind of portal to the main hall, ScareLA takes place entirely in Hall K, which is filled with exhibitor booths, walk-through haunts, a slider area, a screening area, and a large stage toward the back. There were also numerous makeup workshops and a lounge sponsored by the Queen Mary.

ScareLA 2018 Review: Presentations
Makeup demo: The Gorgon as seen in Clash of the Titans

The presentations on stage emphasize celebrities, entertainment, and topics of interest to horror fans, rather than announcements about upcoming Halloween events (though John Murdy will be discussing Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood this afternoon). Veteran makeup artist Ve Neill told amusing behind the scenes stories of her film career, which stretches from 1977 today, including everything from Batman to Spider-Man, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and several Tim Burton movies. Ed Alonzo performed magic. Chris Hannan - a familiar presence to Halloween fans for his work at Old Town Haunt and Reign of Terror - read macabre poetry.

The most interesting bit we heard was during the Q&A for the "From Suspense to Scream: Unique Voices in Immersive Horror." Josh Randall, creator of the extreme haunt Blackout, described himself essentially throttling a female customer who freaked out and, in his words, tried to gouge out his eyes. Why the eyes? He said it's what's taught in anti-rape self-defense classes. Unfortunately, the panel's moderate failed to make the obvious observation: when one operates a business in which customers feel the need to defend themselves as if they are being raped, it might be time to consider changing the business model.

Although there was little previewing of this season's Halloween haunts on stage, we did hear a little bit about what to expect the Perdition Home Yard Haunt (a gory home haunt in Yorba Linda). The proprietors, who are selling t-shirts and posters of their spectacular artwork, told us that this year will feature a six-room walk-through, with each room devoted to a real-life serial killer: Manson, Gacy, Ramirez, etc. They seemed excited by my suggestion that they should have Jeffrey Dahmer watching The Exorcist on VHS (I had heard director William Friedkin comment on Dahmer's love of the movie), but a quick Google search reveals that it is actually The Exorcist III which earns this dubious "honor."

ScareLA 2018 Review: Haunted Attractions & Entertainment
One of many scary creatures haunting ScareLA

There is a nice variety of walk-through attractions. All were unfamiliar to us, coming from areas outside Los Angeles, so this is a chance to sample haunts that might be hard to reach when October rolls around. Most were fairly simple in construction, made of plywood walls or, worse yet, black tarp, but a few stood out.

Descension Castle, as the name suggests, has an impressive castle facade, festooned with skeletons. It begins with an introductory room, where a witch briefly gives the back story, setting up a scare. After that, the maze progresses through a series of nicely detailed sets, filled with props and live monsters.

High Desert Haunted House hides behind a rather generic sounding name, but what's inside is actually quite distinctive. Like Descension Castle, it features sets that place visitors inside a convincing environment that helps the actors bring the scares to life. This one is located in Apple Valley, not far from the All Saints Lunatic Asylum Haunted House. The drive to Apple Valley is a long one, but these two high-quality haunts will be worth the trip this October.

Pandemic Zombie Infection Game is more of a run-through than a walk-through. Essentially, it's a game of tag with zombies. Visitors move through a narrow path defined by metal fencing, while trying to dodge zombies. Those who make it through untouched head straight for the exit. Those unfortunate ones who are "infected" take a detour to be decontaminated. The actual method for this is a bit of a...surprise, which we will not spoil

Unfortunately, the entryways to many of these attractions are manned not by people from haunts themselves but by ScareLA staff, who do not know basic information about location and dates of operation. If you want to find out where and when the full haunts take place, you need to do your own research.

As for the live entertainment, The Rhythm Coffin (a familiar presence from appearances in such venues as the Queen Mary Dark Harbor) delivered a solid set of originals, plus a cover of "The Monster Mash." They will be back this afternoon. On the other end of the spectrum, Zombie Ballet sounded amusing but turned out to be dull - essentially, dancers in undead makeup giving a lethargic, zombie-like performance to recorded music.

ScareLA 2018 Review: Information & Conclusion
Security is tight at ScareLA

There is a conveniently located parking lot for the southern wing of the convention center housing Hall K; using it will save some walking. The food options within ScareLA itself are limited and crowded; unfortunately, the convention center's food court was closed Saturday; there were only vending machines and one small vendor selling pre-packaged salad and sandwiches. Best advice: eat somewhere else before going to ScareLA.

One final note: This year, ScareLA is billing itself as "Descend Into Darkness," the first-ever "Fully Dark Immersive Convention and Pop-Up Theme Park." The lighting is definitely low-key inside Hall K, which sets the mood nicely, but the effect is little different from the Hall of Shadows at last month's MidSummer Scream. Go in with that expectation, and you will not be disappointed

ScareLA continues today from 11:00am to 6:00pm at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The address is 1201 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles 90015. For more information, visit scarela.com.

More in this series: 

  1. ScareLA 2018 Review
  2. Video: ScareLA 2018

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.