By: Steph Cannon
Central Florida got extra spooky this Friday the 13th, with the debut of SPOOKALA, a three-day horror convention in Ocala, Florida.
Approximately ninety minutes north of Orlando, Ocala has the distinction of being considered “the horse capital of the world.” The sprawling, expansive World Equestrian Center was the ideal location to hold an event the size and scope of SPOOKALA, which saw over 7,000 paid attendees over the course of the weekend.
Organized by showrunner Deej Gualandri, Spookala brought in vendors, fans, and celebrity guests who all embodied the spirit of horror for the inaugural show, which appropriately kicked off on Friday the 13th. Keeping in line with the date, Friday featured celebrity panel interviews with actors Ari Lehman (the first Jason in the Friday The 13th film franchise), Tom Morga (Jason in Friday The 13th Part 5), and Thom Matthews (“Tommy Jarvis” in the Friday The 13th film franchise), as well as Felissa Rose (“Angela” in Sleepaway Camp).
Saturday boasted a number of exclusive celebrity performances and interviews that truly showcased SPOOKALA as a premiere horror event. Guest panels continued with actors Dave Sheridan (who was in character as “Doofy” from Scary Movie), James Jude Courtney (“The Shape” in the 2018, 2021, and 2022 installments of the Halloween franchise), and Harvey Guillen (“Guillermo” in the television show What We Do In The Shadows).
Attendees were also treated to acoustic musical performances by Ice Nine Kills, who took questions from audience members in between songs, and Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor. The acrobatic dance group Cherry Bombs also performed. Having those types of headliner-level acts included in the price of admission is not only unheard of for a convention, it sets SPOOKALA apart as an all-inclusive experience that strives to take care of its patrons. Additionally, for those that purchased VIP level tickets, there was an intimate, local club performance of Ice Nine Kills with full stage production later that night.
Sunday’s festivities continued with panel interviews with Wrinkles the Clown, Naomi Grossman (“Pepper” from American Horror Story), Miko Hughes (“Gage” from Pet Sematary), and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes). The weekend wrapped up with a cosplay contest highlighting some of the best costumes seen over the three days.
Meet and greets and photo opportunities were also available with Quinn Lord (Trick ‘R Treat), Mark Burnham (“Leatherface” - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022), Andrew Bryniarski (“Leatherface” - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003/2006), and wrestlers Danhausen and Malakai Black.
Emcee and Panel Host Matt Knowles said of the event, “The epic feel of the event cannot be understated. By having exclusive performances by the bands in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, it created an energy in the entire building like I’ve never seen before. Harvey Guillen’s panel, which immediately preceded the musicians, was the single most attended and enthusiastic panel I’ve ever been a part of.”
Professional photographer Leo Nocedo, who is a staple in the convention scene up and down the state of Florida, agreed. “I’ve attended a lot of conventions, and this is one the best I’ve ever been to,” Nocedo said. Fans of horror, music, wrestling, and pop culture were given a plethora of shopping opportunities from a wide variety of vendors selling props, handmade items, comics, posters, memorabilia, and more.
Images c/o Steph Cannon
In a state that features several horror conventions, SPOOKALA has found a way to set itself apart from the crowd as something truly special. This felt every bit of a showcase convention that gave attendees multiple one-of-a-kind experiences, while also keeping in line with an atmosphere that was completely family friendly.
If you missed the opportunity to check out SPOOKALA this past weekend, fear not; the event intends on becoming an annual occurrence in Ocala, FL. If the first installment was any indication, this is going to become a cornerstone of the Central Florida (and eventually the Southeastern United States) convention scene.