Midsummer Scream is one of two huge Halloween/horror conventions in LA. (If you missed it, I’m sorry – but I did tell you about it, right damn here. The other is Scare LA, whose proprietor we interviewed last year.) We’ll take a stroll around the show floor in a second, but the things you have to actually be there to see include: classes on home haunts & escape rooms, film screenings & live theater, the presentation of the seasonal mazes for places like Knott’s and Queen Mary, a gothic lingerie fashion show, a ton of immersive experiences (both VR, walk thru mazes, escape rooms and interactive theater – including a few from our pals at Hollywood Fringe Fest) – plus Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), live and in-person. That’s just scratching the surface. (Also, overpriced concession stands, the kind you find at every convention center.) A few of these things you might find on Youtube or hear more about on your fave podcasts. Aaaaand a lot of it was once-in-a-lifetime, and it is now gone forever and ever. Sorry.
But let’s go to the show floor for a sample of things that are not completely out of your reach. Naturally, I had an eye out (literally, out – dangling by the optic nerve, stapled to the back of the socket) for items of a bookish bent… more or less.
The artists of Two of Imps, Tabitha and Anna, met ghosthunting. Overlapping paranormal interests (from Gothic lit to cryptozoology) led them to start an Etsy shop that features miniature cemeteries, diminutive portraits of bad people, creepy jars with skulls on them (never, ever drink from a skull’d jar) and lots else. The small, framed scenes – kinda like shadow boxes, but not exactly – are uncannily absorbing.
Clive Barker has his own store that travels to conventions. The big news in the world of Clive Barker is that Hellraiser Anthology Volume One is out in paperback, with the second volume debuting at Son of Monsterpalooza. The anthology is special because contributing writers explore the Hellraiser mythos- and they really get out there. One of the stories is in the style of a Little Golden Book. It’s produced in-house (their first) so they have not had to worry about things like censors. The mind races. Also, artist Shephen Imhoff designed sets of stone drink coasters that would give you pause if you saw them at someone else’s house… “I uh… forgot something… in my… car – berightback –”
and you were never heard from again
We’ve gone deep into the Horror Writers Association before – in fact, recently, with Mackenzie Kiera’s damn-near-comprehensive coverage of the Stoker Awards at the Queen Mary. Well, I didn’t get to go on a big ship to meet these guys. I just went up to a little table. Author Samaire Provost (that’s a helluva name for a horror writer) gave me the rundown — and I just now this second realized I didn’t take any of the candy on offering at the table what the hell was I thinking?? HWA is pretty incredible for both established and newer writers. Not only do they have cool gatherings on haunted boats, where they hand out awards – but they have mentorship programs for the less-established. This means you (possibly). Why in the world wouldn’t you immediately join this organization, if you are a writer of scary stories? It’s basically a book/writers group that actually does useful things.
(The inside/entrail scoop from Stoker Con, takes up 6 posts. Go here for Stephen Graham Jones, Richard Thomas, John Palisano, Dino Parenti, Billicent James San Juan and HERE for the whole bloody story.)
When I walked by Skullywags, I thought “Why don’t we have these?” This pirate guy makes stacks of books with a skull and a candle – … sign me up, RIGHT?! And look closely, these are not random stacks of Reader’s Digest – these are real pirate books (ok, maybe he wrote the titles on there- but they’re the titles of actual pirate books – the attention to detail is what counts). Not only pirates, but his “Monster Hunter” line includes vampires, mummies, etc. The working candles are electric. The skeleton pirate sitting on that big chest there actually opens into a bar. Yes – “Spirits guarding spirits”, and best of all – each pirate guy has a story behind him. Dude. (My birthday is only 8 months away, if anyone who loves me is reading this.) Says creator Michael Hanna (the actual pirate guy), “Treasure Island, Under the Black Flag, inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean – I read every pirate book I could get my hands on as a kid, and it followed thru into adulthood. I’m still building them – I love it – I’ve been doing it for about 20 years.”
Beer. In a city called Carson, a little south of here, sits Phantom Carriage. They make beer. But this is not your run-of-the-mill brewery; these barrel-aged brews are inspired by the Old World, and often horror: Baskerville, Lugosi, Crawling Eye, Faustian Bargain – for example. They’ve also got quality foodstuffs and free movie nights – you’ll be buried in ambience. Did I mention the beer? These guys are serious about pushing the boundaries — you might say, the evil scientists of local brewers.
Check out their IG for their cool atmosphere, and follow the link to their website.
Check out this little guy: Harvest Jack! Kinda like The Great Pumpkin, but real. He comes with his own kids book, all about the traditional (?) 13 Nights of Hallow – kinda like the 12 Days of Christmas, but not Christmas and not 12. And no leaping lords, thank god – those guys are lame. He’s more fun and cuter than any other orange-headed entity I can think of — and definitely safe for kids.
Best thing ever: Miss Havisham’s. This is your grandma’s boring china with a difference: a gloriously insulting, rude difference. Proprietor Melissa Johnson grew up around antiques and noticed that most people didn’t connect too well with the fancy tableware they inherited. So she started modifying and personalizing tea sets – actual antiques, mind you – with a sensibility informed by the elegant decay of her fave Dickens character, dear, poor, batshit crazy Miss Havisham. Personally, I like the Shakespeare “A pox on you”, but “We hate your baby” is pretty great, too. Stephen Colbert is a fan. But so would anyone be, who likes books, tea and just a smidge of alone time.
Unbound Productions’ Wicked Lit is the immersive theatrical event that takes place up in Mountain View Cemetery. You’ve heard of them. This year’s run is September 29 thru November 11 and features Ambrose Bierce, Margaret Oliphant, Liliom and something from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. (Which we’ve talked about before, as it’s one of the oldest books still avail for folks like us.) These are classic horror stories, adapted and staged, while you the audience walk along with the show. Two places ghosts love to hang out at are cemeteries and theaters. Good luck.
The Haunted Mansion. Still, your favorite post on this blog is the Haunted Mansion book. (Here is the 1st edition, and here is the 2nd edition.) So, you’re into haunts, and you’re into Disneyland. This is why we’re friends. Bats Day is sorta like Goth Day at Disneyland. It started in the 90s when two goth clubs did a field trip to Disneyland. The idea stuck, and grew into a multi-day event, with shows, costume ball (Haunted Mansion costume required), a market, etc.. The next Bats Day is a ways off, May 5 & 6 of next year, but these guys have been doing it for 20 years. 20 YEARS. Man. I once had a party where I said, “Please wear black” – that was it, that was all I asked. About half of those goofballs showed up in just whatever – I can’t even get people to wear a black damn t-shirt, and it was my damn birthday! Anyway, Bats Day knows what’s up. 20 years, going strong. You can even buy paraphernalia in their off-season.
Hum Along Productions offers a variety of cool doo-dads made with prints from Melissa Suto’s linoleum carvings. Pillows, totes and messenger bags, prints, hoodies – with maybe a Jurassic Park dinosaur or our pal Edgar Allan Poe or Frankenstein or Baby Groot. And they’re reasonably priced – which is so un-like most original, hand-made boutique items.
You know those little Christmas village miniatures they sell at Michael’s? You’ve seen the Halloween ones? That’s what Department 56 makes. This year they’ve got The Nightmare Before Christmas — errr sorry — Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Bef– gahh, ok — Disney’s Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. I love the tiny houses and weird little guys: “Headless Horseman” – a classic, “Witch Watch” – a witch looking thru a telescope – I mean, I get the alliteration, but why? Why does she have a telescope? Does she have an astronomy side hustle? and “Scary Ghost Catcher” – yes, a fake ghostbuster – this is who you call if the other line is busy. When I am old and collecting tchotchkes (as old people do), these will be mine, all of them.
Hey – remember when we did a ghost investigation at the store? I ran into our buddies from Planet Paranormal – the Official Last Bookstore Ghosthunters (I made that up, but who else?) The main guys are Bob and Brian, and Brian is in the store at the end of August with his new book Hollywood Obscura, which is a collection of classic Hollywood murders/deaths and paranormal aftermaths – some with fresh theories. Unlike with a lot of books on the paranormal, Brian is actually a good writer and a very serious researcher. His Queen Mary had me hooked on the history alone. I asked Bob and Brian how they got involved in paranormal investigation. Bob’s adventure started when he was locked in an empty cell at Alcatraz and felt someone grab his shoulder from behind and say “You’re mine”. Age 13. No fucking thank you. But Bob keeps coming back for more, like some kinda ghostbusting Marine. Brian started just as an activity to bond with his son – not his idea. His son lost interest, but Brian was hooked after something growled in his ear on the Queen Mary. Growled. SEE, THAT WOULD BE THE PART WHERE I TOOK THE HINT. Not these lunatics. Anyway, cool dudes. You can meet Brian on August 28, and ask questions about your favorite Hollywood murders.
Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin comes from Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players. Japanese literature has a rich body of ghost stories. These guys have created an immersive experience based on these tales that takes place in a 9500 square foot, six story building. It is completely immersive and very active – you will go deep into a world you probably know nothing about, unless you’re just super into Japanese ghost stories. There are films of this source material; check out the older one Kwaidan. Of course, you can read the original stories themselves.
Ghost story archivist and Disneyland expert Richard Carradine – yep, our facilitator from the ghosthunting panel – has a brand new book that I can’t wait to read. Every time he talks about the ghost stories that come out of the Happiest Place On Earth, people bombard him with stories from other theme parks. So he’s collected them in Dark Rides in the Sunshine: The Haunted Amusement Parks of Southern California. It includes experiences from 13 amusement parks plus 13 defunct parks. He’s revving up some new events with GHOULA, so keep an eye out for that.
Man, I run into a lot of folks I know at Halloween conventions. We very recently talked with Jordan Monsell about his parodic adaptation of Ghostbusters as a Shakespeare play: Ministers of Grace, and there he was with his vast array of highly original silhouette art (remember when he did John Dies at the End for Last Spookstore?) We talked about doing Ministers of Grace at the store, as a late night event. What do you think of that? You wanna see The Everlasting Puffed Man of Custard rampaging thru the aisles?
David Cheaney has an etsy shop called Cheltenham Road, and though he had a few horror items on offering, I noticed this Brontë and Austen coaster set, attractively priced. Seriously, if you’re a book fan, why would you accessorize your crib with a bunch of garbage from IKEA? Keep your eyes open and go for the details. These classic horror ones are pretty styling, too. And it turns out, we were this close to having Cheltenham Road items available up in our mezzanine — but who knows? Maybe someday.
Personally, I get tired of seeing merch from schlocky horror movies (as oppossed to great horror movies). That’s just my personal taste, though. We can all appreciate when artists of various types – from actors to brewers – draw blood from the literature that gave birth to the entire genre: Stevenson, Shelley, Dickens, Irving, Poe, Lovecraft, Shakespeare, Stoker, Radcliffe – evergreen and black as night. Squee.