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Event Review: Orlando's Spooky Empire April 2021

By Jaimz Dillman

With masked fiends lined up outside the Wyndham hotel in Orlando and the faint smell of (fake) blood in the air, Spooky Empire is back baby! The weekend of April 30- May 2nd saw the return of the dark side of cons for their bi-annual celebration of all things creepy, crawly, sinister, and scary. Having the second planned year in Tampa canceled due to the pandemic, fans were eager to welcome the smaller of the two yearly events back to O-town. Mayhem as it's known, aptly named for the month it's held, is considered to be the lead-up to the much larger spectacle in October.

Friday's opening showed guests were ready and willing to abide by the safety precautions put in place by the hotel and Spooky administration to ensure all had a good time. Masks were required in all areas, social distancing was enforced by a more distanced vendor room, staggered seating at celebrity panels, and room capacities kept at a minimum. And hand sanitizer. Everywhere. Long-time Spooky attendee Rob Lozak said, "It was a long-awaited family reunion. It was a giant step in things getting back to normal, even if most people wouldn't find anything normal about it."

Delivering the best sights, sounds, and screams to Halloween lovers since 2003, as touted on the website, anything and everyone who's on the fringe of what's usual will feel right at home in this unusual setting. For an entire weekend costumed and self-proclaimed weirdos, freaks, and misfits gather together and delight in the macabre offerings from various merchandise vendors, meet their favorite celebrities from tv, music, and movies, and might even take home a permanent souvenir from the tattoo festival.

First-time attendee Cherran Dea made a split-second decision to add to her planned Halloween tattoo sleeve and selected Vlad the Impaler for a feature piece on her arm. "I walked into the tattoo where there were rows and rows of talented artists. I was looking for something spontaneous and spooky and the artist was able to start my tattoo right then and there. I'm so happy with my experience and I can't wait for the next Spooky Empire to collect my next one!"

Though it almost felt like old times gone were the large pool parties with music pumping Dj and groups setting up camp in the hotel's hallways. Smaller groups would see each other outside or in hotel rooms to reflect on the happenings of the day.

Celebs appearing gave guests the option to remove their masks during photo and autograph sessions but everyone stayed in good spirits about the rule. Barry Bostwich of Rocky Horror fame, offered the chance to have underwear autographed as a nod to his character Brad Majors and Corey Taylor of Slipnot was a huge favorite of the weekend.

Vendors had a bit of a reprieve from last year's cancellations when Spooky teamed up with the Wyndham for a pop up holiday event in December but saw sales overly abundant in May. Rick Styczynski of 13X Studios said' "I have been doing conventions for the last 4 years and this Spooky Empire was my number one show in sales. I thank Spooky Empire and all the amazing fans!"

As costumes and Halloween go hand-in-hand, it only makes sense to wrap up festivities with a contest offering over $1,000 in cash and prizes. Kids are invited to get in on the action as well, although no one wants to pick a single winner of the jr. contingent so they all go home with goodie bags and medals.

Contestants in the big contest compete in two categories: exhibition, where at least 70% of the costume has been purchased and then pieced together and craftsmanship, at least 70% of the costume is made by the presenter. A panel of well-seasoned judges picked their favorites and then doled out the cash winning placements with Shredder taking home the grand prize Best in Show of $500 and custom-made wrestling belt made by Mohawk Crew.

After hearing the chatter through the halls of the hotel and on forums once all returned home, it's safe to say the upcoming October 22-24 weekend at the much larger Hyatt Regency will be the party of the year. And now that mask guidelines have been lifted and vaccines are being handed out like trick or treat candy you can definitely expect one hell of a good time.

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