10 Creepy-Cool Halloween Things We Did at the ScareLA Convention

Liz Ohanesian
ScareLA is a convention for Halloween fanatics.

It’s never too early to start planning for Halloween. There are costumes to make, parties to plan and haunts to build. At ScareLA, an annual convention that takes place every August, Halloween fanatics can get all the prep work done while checking out themed attractions and taking in panels featuring guests famous for their work genre entertainment.

As the name implies, ScareLA is a regional event. The Halloween haunts that make an appearance here are local and range from DIY ventures to the major amusement parks. Of course, this is a city where the entertainment industry is local, so the crop of guests was quite impressive. Panelists included voice actors from Disney rides and writers from The Simpsons and, as is common at L.A. conventions, at least a couple of the people inside the exhibit hall were recognizable from reality television.

In two days at ScareLA, I covered as much ground as my feet could handle. Here are the highlights of what I did at the convention.

1. Roamed the Goblin Underground.

Liz Ohanesian
Figment Foundry’s Goblin Underground was inspired by Hellboy 2.

There comes a moment at every convention where I turn my head and think, this is the coolest booth at the convention. At ScareLA, that happened when I set foot inside the Goblin Underground.

The Goblin Underground was created by Figment Foundry, a collective of artists based in around Los Angeles and the nearby Inland Empire and they turn up at conventions in the area with eye-catching projects. In fact, I met one member of the group last year while covering Son of Monsterpalooza for Topless Robot.

Tayler Brown of Figment Foundry describes the group as a “practical effects club,” with members who are skilled in animatronics, puppetry, sculpting and other pursuits. They’re also Guillermo del Toro fans and the Goblin Underground was inspired by the Troll Marketplaces in Hellboy II.

The booth, which took about three months to put together, overflowed with creatures. There were carnivorous plants, including an Audrey II with a mouth that resembled Greta from Gremlins 2, made by Aubriana Zurilgen. Animatronic creatures were perched on top of rock formations and, in one corner, a little goblin was passed out, booze still in hand, after some apparent hard-partying. A lot of the items inside the booth were for sale – “It’s kind of like the black market of the monster world,” says Brown – and some were just for show. It all felt like another world, though, which is what I like to see in convention booths.

2. Tried Two VR Experiences That Were Like Theme Park Rides.

Liz Ohanesian
Spectral Illusions makes digital effects for parties. Now, they’re bringing virtual reality into the haunt game.

I’ve tried a handful of VR games and experiences over the past year, but none that felt like theme park rides. That changed at ScareLA, wherein there were two demos for Oculus Rift experiences that did a pretty good job of mimicking the sensations of a day at the local amusement park.

Spectral Illusions, a company that specializes in making spooky Quicktime movies that people can use to make their Halloween events a little spookier, brought out The Seance. As the name would imply, this experience begins with you trying to make contact with what lies beyond this physical world. Of course, things go awry and you end up in a ghostly mess. At times, the experience reminded me of Tower of Terror at California Adventure, with quick jolts up and long drops down.

Meanwhile, Virtual Screams, from developer Ryan Batcheller, is a roller coaster ride through a “phobia simulator.” The backstory for this experience is that you’re trying out a new technology that should get rid of your fears, be it claustrophobia or arachnophobia. Of course, the experience itself ends up scaring more than it soothes.

What’s interesting about both these experiences was knowing that those thrill ride sensations were in my head. I was aware that my body was still. It’s similar to the dreams where you feel like you’re falling, but wake up in the exact same spot where you fell asleep. VR will mess with you.

3. Got a Couple Scares in the Mini Haunts.

Liz Ohanesian
Spooky Hollows was one of the “mini-haunts” on site at ScareLA.

At ScareLA, there is a section of the convention dedicated to “mini-haunts.” These are very short segments of haunts that serve as a preview for what we might get to visit this Halloween. Of course, the lines in this area are often quite long, so I only had the chance to check out two mazes on Saturday.

I tried mini-haunts from The Curse of Devil Swamp, an attraction in Covina, CA, and Spooky Hollows, a haunt based in the San Fernando Valley. Both relied on the “swamps are scary” angle. As a native Californian who has never set foot in a swamp, I’m down with this premise. I also liked the way both haunts unfolded in a very short period of time. These were classic Halloween haunts, where a couple creepy folks distract you from the fact that there’s a big scare coming at the end. In both instances, I didn’t see the scares coming. Well done!

4. Ogled Furry Creatures on Ouija Boards.

Liz Ohanesian
So cute. So evil.

Cody and Nana Williams are the team behind Yetis & Friends, who brought their work to ScareLA for the first time this year. They make adorable and devilish monster heads that are mounted onto boards. Cody was a Boy Scout and says that mythical beasts like yetis and sasquatches were a part of his early influences. Nana, who is from Vienna, adds that they are also into Jim Henson-style fantasy movies and folklore. Their furry creatures take on the forms of lots of different beasts, like gnomes and even a Krampus. My personal favorites were a special ScareLA collaboration that they did with Ouija Board-makers Fiendies, seen in the photo here. These demonic cuties would be the perfect addition to any metal-blasting home. m/

5. Started Planning for the Holiday.

Liz Ohanesian
Abbybelle sells horror-themed ornaments for your Halloween tree.

ScareLA is a convention dedicated to Halloween. Of course, this means that horror films and other related media are a part of it, but the focus is on the October holiday itself. Much like the Christmas boutiques and craft fairs that pop up late in fall, this is the sort of event you want to attend if celebrating the holiday is a big part of your life. There are costumes and masks galore, plus classes on how to make your home spookier. There are also lots of people selling decorations and, sometimes, the Halloween decor takes on the look of Christmas. Why not? With its long nights and cold (or, in California, cold-ish) weather, December is a far creepier month than October.

Halloween trees dotted the aisles at ScareLA, some with beautiful ornaments. Sam Secor of Abbybelle makes adorable figures and ornaments, like a pumpkin in a pirate outfit and all sorts of black cats. She says that the pieces based on Universal Monsters, which she started making last year, are big sellers. For Genevra Thorn, who makes pendants that can be used as ornaments, the old school monsters are favorites as well. She says people might stop by her booth when they see slasher-flick icon Jason Voorhees, but then they’ll gravitate towards a character like the Mummy.

It’s not just ornaments that will give your home the Halloween spirit. Andy Alexander, a.k.a. the Grim Wreather, makes elaborate holiday wreaths with glittery skeletons and other odds and ends that he finds at spots like T.J. Maxx, Dollar Tree and the 99 Cent Store.

6. Saw a Vintage 3D Comic Come to Stage.

Liz Ohanesian
Captured Aural Phantasy Theater performs at Tales from the Crypt story.

Captured Aural Phantasy Theater is an L.A.-based group that performs vintage comics in the style of radio dramas for retro-minded nerds at El Cid in Silver Lake and at events like San Diego Comic-Con and ScareLA. They are also the other theater group with permission to perform EC Comics live, which gives them access to some excellent material.

For ScareLA this year, CAPT performed short works before panel sessions. On Sunday, I was able to catch their version of the Tales from the Crypt story “The Strange Couple,” which appeared in a 3D issue back in 1954.

We received old school, paper 3D glasses to watch the performance, since it also featured panels projected next to the stage. We were also warned beforehand that the visuals would be a little blurry. I had a really hard time seeing the images, which might also be because those old 3D glasses don’t fit over the ones I need to see letters at a distance. The performance, though, was exciting. Our narrator, using a voice similar to the Crypt Keeper, guided us to a tale filled with anxieties of the pre-cell phone age. Like many an old horror tale, this one starts with a car that breaks down in the rain and a person who hopes to rely on the kindness of strangers that live in a creepy house and subsequently ignores every single sign that this will not end well.

7. Saw the Voices Behind Spooky Disney Hits.

Liz Ohanesian
You’ve heard these actors on numerous cartoons and probably a few Disney attractions too.

You know the folks who are as into Disney as they are into Halloween? They’re usually the ones obsessing over the Haunted Mansion and, maybe, Nightmare Before Christmas. That crowd was in force for “Disembodied Spirits,” a panel focusing on the voice actors behind some of Disney’s creepiest hits.

Corey Burton has a host of voice acting credits to his name, but, if you take a trip to the Haunted Mansion during the holidays, you’ll hear him as the Ghost Host. Mark Silverman does a fierce Rod Serling impersonation. In fact, his is so good that he plays The Twilight Zone host on Tower of Terror. Meanwhile, Peter Renaday’s voice has appeared on lots of Disney attractions, like Country Bear Jamboree and the Mark Twain Riverboat. For Haunted Mansion fans, though, he’s known as the Ghost Host on the 1969 Disney album.

In a panel led by L.A. Times journalist Brady MacDonald, the voice actors reflected on their unusual careers. Silverman revealed that his Rod Serling impression came about as a result of prank calling Telly Savalas for L.A. radio station KROQ in the ’80s. His vocal similarity to Serling comes in handy now too. He mentioned an instance where he broke out into Twilight Zone-style narration on a Target elevator.

Renaday, who also voiced Splinter in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and Burton talked about Peter Freese, the legendary voice actor (he was Boris Badanov amongst many other characters) who is perhaps the best-known Ghost Host, the voice that you’ll hear on the ride most of the year. When they weren’t reminiscing, the actors broke out into a lot of different voices.

8. Heard Tales from “Treehouse of Horror.”

Liz Ohanesian
The Simpsons writers past and present discuss “Treehouse of Horrors.”

Even in my least favorite seasons of The Simpsons, I could normally count on the “Treehouse of Horror” episode to be a hoot, so this session dedicated to the annual special episode was my must-attend panel of the weekend. Moderated by journalist Kevin Ott, the panel featured former writers for The Simpsons, Jay Kogen and Jeff Martin, plus current writer Carolyn Omine.

This wasn’t just a look back at some of The Simpsons greatest moments. Omine told the crowd that the show’s 27th season will feature a Halloween episode, “Halloween of Horror,” in addition to the “Treehouse of Horror,” adding, “our goal is that it actually is a scary episode.”

The writers talked about the evolution of “Treehouse of Horror,” how it was a unanimously popular decision when creator Matt Groening conceived of the first such episode. Soon, they said, it became a hit with the staff. These episodes, they all note, give writers a chance to run wild with the characters without disturbing the continuity of the show. Omine also points out that it gives the artists annual freedom too, where they can experiment with colors that aren’t typical for the series.

The episodes also gave life to some now-beloved characters in the series. Kogen had a particularly important role to that end; he was not only a writer for the show, but he initially drew Kang and Kodos. They discussed the parodies that drive “Treehouse of Horror,” from horror classics to less obvious material. Omine referenced her 2011 episode, with a segment inspired by The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, noting that the subject matter of the source material – near complete paralysis – was “horrifying.”

This was certainly a panel for the fans, filled with minutiae that even hardcore fans might have forgotten. After all, the show has been on for more than a quarter of a century.

9. Watched People Apply Make-Up. It’s More Exciting Than You Think.

Liz Ohanesian
Cat Paschen and Niko Gonzalez work on model Keaghlan Ashley.

On the show floor at Scare LA, make-up application became a kind of performance. Throughout the weekend, artists conjured frights at various booths inside the convention center. They methodically applied prosthetic features and thick, fake skin. They flicked power from brushes after applying layers of goop that would transform ordinary humans into cinema-quality creatures. The process can take hours and, more often than not, the show was on the part of the artists. Most of the models stayed still, save for an occasional glimpse at a cell phone. On Sunday, though there was an exception.

Over one of the stages presented by studio Bone Yard Effects, all eyes were on a girl in white. Keaghlan Ashley is not a dancer, but she moves like one. Graceful even when make-up artist Cat Paschen and her assistant Niko Gonzalez (you might recognize the from the SyFy series Face Off) were working on her, she struck arched-foot and raised-arm poses as the cameras flashed. She was painted an iridescent shade of white over prosthetic pieces in her cheeks and sprayed with glitter for an effect that perfectly captured the “Angels and Demons” theme of Bone Yard Effects’ exhibition.For someone like myself, who can’t put on eyeliner without fidgeting, this was a sight to behold.

10. Ate Spooky Treats.

Liz Ohanesian
Morbid Cupcakes served gory treats that were popular with the ScareLA crowd.

It’s not Halloween without treats and, fortunately, a few folks brought themed sweets into the exhibit hall. Morbid Cupcakes added fingers, brains and all sorts of gory elements to their confections. The Cake Countess offered an assortment of Halloween-themed treats surrounded by a display of massive gothic and horror themed cakes. You should have seen the goth girls cooing over a black wedding cake. Meanwhile, Hollywood Blvd. candy emporium Sweet! brought out their candy bars inspired by Hellboy and Famous Monsters.

I tried to be sensible and save my junk food splurges until the end of the trip; this turned out to be a really stupid move. Treats go fast when everyone is celebrating Halloween early. By the time I did my shopping, both Morbid Cupcakes and The Cake Countess were waiting for re-ups. I did, however, score one cupcake covered in red candy that looks like broken glass and blood from the former. From the latter, I got two chocolate-covered pretzel sticks in holiday colors. I also bought one Hellboy candy bar from Sweet. As of the time of this story, I have only eaten a pretzel. It was quite tasty.

Previously by Liz Ohanesian

“7 Things We Want to See in a Xena: Warrior Princess Reboot”

“7 Awesome Things We Saw and Heard at the Saturn Awards”

“9 Lessons Learned at Adult Swim’s Potentially Touring Drive-In Event”

“10 Creepy Awesome Things We Saw at ‘Son of Monsterpalooza'”

“8 Things We Learned at L.A.’s Anime-Centric EigaFest”

“8 Things I Learned at Power Morphicon 2014”

“The 18 Coolest Exclusives to Snag at San Diego Comic-Con 2014”

“20 Best Cosplays We Saw at Anime Expo 2014”

“14 Episodes of Highlander You Need to Watch”

“7 Lessons Learned From Watching Star Wars with Someone Who Never Saw It”

“9 Awesome Things You Might Not Know About Cartoon Network Studios”

“7 Reasons Why Marvel Superhero Movies Are Really Boring”

“10 Surprising Facts About Titmouse Animation Studio”

“The 8 Goth-Rockingest Episodes of The Venture Bros.”