The Awaken the Spirits convention on August 14 and 15 turned out to be a slightly scaled down version of Midsummer Scream, quickly but effectively arranged at the proverbial last minute. The producers of Midsummer Scream had abandoned plans for their usual presentation because of lingering concerns about safety during the Covid-19 pandemic, but when the situation improved after implementation of widespread vaccinations in the early months of this year, they managed to assemble Awaken the Spirits instead.
The result was essentially Midsummer Scream Lite, including all the dealers and exhibitors and most of the discussion panels one expects. Of notable omissions, there were only two: there were no theatrical presentations (e.g. Urban Death), and there was no Hall of Shadows featuring walk-through mazes (though Halloween Horror Nights did offer a brief preview of The Curse of Pandora’s Box) . Fortunately, what remained was more than enough to make the trip to the Pasadena Convention Center worthwhile.
Awaken the Spirits: Exhibitors
A wide range of exhibitors were on view, including displays previewing such upcoming Halloween attractions as Castle Dark, Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, Reign of Terror, HorrorWorld, and Fear Farm, along with theatrical productions such as Fallen Saints and Urban Death. We learned that Reign of Terror is now offering timed ticketing, which should cut down the wait in line, along with a special fast past for those who absolutely do not want to wait at all. Fallen Saints will offer another chapter in its continuing saga of historically-inspired horror, but it may not arrive until November, depending on how scheduling works out. HorrorWorld was promoting its summer production, using characters from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it will return to its demonic haunt house them in October.
The sole walk-through attraction in the Exhibition Hall, The Curse of Pandora’s Box offered a single jump-scare inflicted by a skull-faced demon with extraordinarily long fingers. The setting and voiceover narration promised a demonic visitation from Hell, which has us intrigued to see the full maze at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights.
These haunted attractions were outnumbered by booths manned by an extraordinary range of artisans, craftspeople, and artists, selling their wares. In fact, there were so many they could not all fit in the Convention Centers Exhibit Hall A; a big percentage were in the Exhibitor’s Hall building next door.
Some stands outs that caught our eyes were Psycho Coffins, which offers carved, decorative coffins, both full-sized and miniature, for use as utensils holders, jewelry boxes, or pet food bowls; The Horror Corner, which creates limited edition t-shirts with horror-themed artwork; Dos Feratu, a two-piece band performing vampire surf rock in the Los Angeles area; the Southland Ghostbusters are ready to believe you – and to appear in person to help promote charity events; Coffin Croozers, creators of coffin-shaped skateboards with custom original artwork; Fester’s Monster, featuring original painted wood carvings for buttons, refrigerator magnets; and Wicked Damsels, purveyor of excellent artwork both original (Glamour Witches) and inspired by popular franchises (Beetlejuice, etc).
One phenomenon that popped onto our radar – probably not new, just something we missed until now – was a proliferation female-run business catering to segments of the public not traditionally associated with horror: Bats and Body sells bath soaps and body oil; Girl in the Graveyard purveys a variety of appealing but spooky bath products; and Oxbloode offers cruelty-free, vegan makeup, including its signature lipstick, a bright red color named “Oxbloode is the New Black.” There has always been a glamour aspect to horror (thanks mostly to the romanticized image of alluring vampires), but the irony of female entrepreneurs offering cruelty-free glamour products inspired by a genre noted for violence (often against women) is remarkable.
Awaken the Spirits: Panels
With two stages operating simultaneously, Awaken the Spirits presented panel discussions of Halloween Horror Nights, Winchester Mystery House, 13 Floor’s Delusion and Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, and several home haunts.
Of these, the most entertaining was for Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest, which included costumed characters cavorting behind the panelists, strutting and posing for the cameras. Unfortunately, there will be no new mazes this Halloween, but there will be new shows and a new scare zone called The Dead Zone, featuring “Cyberpunk Zombies.”
John Murdy appeared on behalf of Halloween Horror Nights, focusing his attention on a single maze dear to his hear: as an unabashed fan of classic Universal horror movies from the 1930s, his contribution this year is a maze inspired featuring the Bride of Frankenstein, an iconic character despite having appeared for only a few minutes at the end of one movie. The maze, featuring a feminist slant, finally gives the character a chance to star in her own story.
General Manager Walter Magnuson, Director of Operations Michael Taffe, and Director of Marketing Natalie Alvanez previewed this Halloween’s show at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, which will be comprised of two elements: on the grounds around the house there will be a Jack O’Lantern trail (like Nights of the Jack); inside will feature a lengthy tour-gone-wrong, in which guests find themselves “Lost in the House” while some paranormal investigators are making contact with the beyond. After Winchester’s wonderful Halloween 2019 production of Unhinged, the new Lost in the House promises to be one of the big events this fall.
A panel from 13th Floor Entertainment, including Jon Braver, gave a presentation on their two L.A. attractions, Delusion Interactive Theatre and Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. Delusion is located in Pomona this year, with a story set in 1933 and guests encourage to come in period costume. The Haunted Hayride promises an expanded experience thanks to a change of setting within Griffith Park (the haunt’s long-standing home). The Hayride will of course be back, along with the Trick or Treat walk-through. New this year is Dead End Diner, where werewolves dine on human flesh.
Of the home haunts previewed, the most interesting is The Grey Phantom in Norwalk, an effort that debuted last year. The proprietor worked as a maze manager at Queen Mary Dark Harbor; when the event was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he decided to recreate it as a ;yard display. the event promises to be bigger and better this year, featuring a maze including scare actors.
Awaken the Spirits Conclusion
Despite the scaled-back nature of the event (which is completely understandable given the circumstances), Awaken the Spirits provided an excellent preview of what’s in store this fall. We missed the Hall of Shadows, which in the past has offered an opportunity to sample distant haunts that are hard to reach during the hectic Halloween season.
We also had a few qualms about the difficulty of maintaining social distancing (because of crowded seating in the auditoriums) during a time when the Delta Variant was creating a new surge in Covid-19 cases. Fortunately, all the paying customers we saw were wearing masks, and there is no indication that Awaken the Spirits was any kind of super-spreader event (in fact, the number of cases in Los Angeles dropped in the weeks following the convention).
These quibbles aside, Awaken the Spirits was just about as good as it could possibly have been, given the difficult circumstances that almost prevented Midsummer Scream from offering their summertime Halloween convention at all.
Note: The video at top features booths, displays, and interviews from the exhibition halls. We are working on part two of the video, which will focus on the haunted attractions previewed at Awaken the Spirits.