Horror fans and Halloween aficionados perpetually keep their eyes peeled for festivals, conventions, and attractions which cater to their types. Fortunately, as time goes by, more and more events provide welcoming invitations for ghosts, goths, goblins, and other nightmarish entities to congregate for some good ol’ pre-Halloween fun. In 2013, ScareLA launched its first annual Halloween festival, at LA Mart, as a way to bring creepy peeps together, learn about the haunted attraction industry, stock up on masks and make-up, and generally immerse themselves in an environment steeped in their favorite holiday’s flavor. This year, ScareLA is raising the bar for immersive horror events by presenting the convention in the dark; that is, in addition to the festival’s featured haunted mazes and attractions, it will be presenting its showfloor in an environment lit like a haunted house, wherein guests might just be surprised by random monsters. In order for us to get a clearer idea of what guests might discover in the darkness, as they venture into the LA Convention Center where ScareLA will be held this weekend, OC Weekly spoke with the event’s founder and executive producer, Lora Ivanova.
First, Ivanova explained the rationale for wanting to hold the festival in the dark. She said, “The whole concept being that Halloween is a night experience. It is about All Hallows’ Eve. It is about being in the dark and confronting your fears. And it just seemed like walking through a fluorescent-lit show floor just doesn’t accomplish that vision even if we had kind of a section that was in the dark.” As for what, exactly, fans can expect to experience when they arrive, Ivanova said, “Attendees, are actually going to enter through an experience; they’re not going to enter into a conventional hall. They will enter through a dark hallway and actually a kind of a zombie apocalypse scenario. Immediately as they land on the show floor, they will have a chance to be engaged in that LARP [live action role play] experience and a zombie world where some of them will survive, [and] some of them just won’t.”
As for the little’uns, who might find this introduction a bit too scary, there is a way to negotiate the festival’s entrance to ensure their survival. Ivanova said, “A lot of our monsters are actually parents. They’re well-familiar with how to treat a child in a scary environment. We’ve designed the walkthrough and the floor plan in such a way that if you, yourself, are not somebody who wants to be confronted by a monster or you have a little kid that you want to be mindful of, there’s always an ‘out’ of these kinds of flows, and so you can just proceed straight to the show floor area, which is where we have kind of a kids’ workshop…then we can introduce them to that environment in a fun and creative way.” She went on to explain that the safe zones not only provide an area where children can enjoy a non-threatening experience of the show, but also opportunities for the braver souls to unwind and let their adrenaline go down, before diving in again.
Beyond the entrance experience, the festival will feature an increased ratio of interactive experiences throughout. Ivanova elaborated, “We are going to be about 50 percent on the interactive side. Previously, as in most other shows, it’s usually kind of a third or a quarter or it’s a section of a fraction of the experience.” She detailed the nature of some of those interactive experiences. “We are going to have at least five full-sized haunts at ScareLA 2018 [each occupying over 2000 square feet] as well as dozens of smaller experiences; pop-up, AR, VR……we have quite a few games and experiences like a giant eyeball pit, a huge, huge Ouija board…we will have our first ever ride…a psychedelic, UV, 3-D light ride on a little ghost train, which will be really fun for attendees.” She added, “If you’re lucky, some of the undead cowboys around the track might maybe even rob you!”
The festival will also feature the types of appearances, panels, and presentations that regular attendees have come to expect, featuring horror community faves like Linda Blair (The Exorcist), John Murdy (Creative Director of Universal’s HHN), and Ryan Turek (Blumhouse Producer). There will also be areas with classes, film screenings, live bands, and in the center of the convention, Ivanova said there will be a lounge and silent disco area, where fans can rent (for free) bluetooth headsets that will play DJ sets. As per tradition, there will also be an after hours party, dubbed Summerween, which will take place at an [currently] undisclosed DTLA location, on Saturday night.
Creating this level of an immersive experience has its challenges, but Ivanova pointed out that new challenges are routine for her and her team. She said, “I think every year I walk into this with the idea that we’ve done it so many times, this year it’s got to be easy; and every year we change something in the formula that creates a slew of new challenges.” Some of the principal challenges this year’s format presents have to deal with controlling sound (especially as it pertains to the guest speakers and panels) and controlling light (the exhibitors still need to be able to showcase their wares and services). In spite of these challenges, Ivanova expressed her excitement about the new direction. “I’m looking forward to seeing what works, what doesn’t work this year, and moving forward I think that it will be a format that will resonate…so, I welcome those challenges as stressful as they are.”
ScareLA will take place Aug. 25-26 at Los Angeles Convention Center. For more information about the festival, including complete listings of programming, guests, activities, and ticketing information visit www.scarela.com