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Event Recap: Midsummer Scream's Awaken The Spirits

By: Kayla Caldwell

On August 14 and 15, hordes of spooky fans showed up in their black and orange best for the first MIDSUMMER SCREAM since the pandemic. To say people were excited, would be an understatement. Despite it being a smaller location, the Pasadena Convention Center still had enough space for one massive vendor room (A + B) and one smaller vendor room, including a very brief “taste” of one of the mazes from this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, “The Curse of Pandora’s Box.”

You better believe I roamed those halls, stocking up on creepy cute dresses, bags, hats, and more. But while there were plenty of curiosities to peruse, my itinerary involved the main stage, the main stage, and, oh yeah, the main stage. One of the first panels up for me was the presentation or The Winchester Mystery House. Walter Magnuson, the general manager at Winchester Mystery House LLC, went a bit into the history of events at Winchester Mystery House as it heads into the centennial (and, yes, a big celebration is in the works).

He spoke of Houdini’s visit in Halloween of 1924, and how flashlight tours through the house began in the 1980s. And - good news! - they’ve proceeded with guided tours a few months ago. So, the Winchester is back in business. He also spoke about the 2018 film, Winchester, starring Helen Mirren.

Did you know that while parts of it were filmed in Australia, the others were shot at the actual Winchester Mystery House? Helen Mirren fans (which, let’s be real, is everyone) will be happy to know that the staff at Winchester Mystery House all spoke very highly of her for being knowledgable and respectful of Sarah Winchester, and the history of her home.

Now onto the plans for Halloween 2021. The theme for this year’s tour was actually an old T-shirt design, Director of Operations, Michael Taffe, said during their panel. The back of that old T-shirt read, “Lost in the House.” That’s the name of this year’s tour, “an indoor, theatrical paranormal investigative adventure.”

The show’s writer, Riley Raubacher, laid out she and Taffe’s goals for the show. They wanted to get a tour group in the house at the same time as paranormal investigators, and then they wanted everyone to get lost, including the tour guide! They also wanted the house to be scary and unnerving, and for guests to “feel like someone is right behind you.” Expect jump scares, sound and lighting effects, amid other “pretty big effects” that they wouldn’t mention. To sum it up, the pair asked themselves, “How do we bring the house to life?”

The Winchester Mystery House panel
The Winchester Mystery House panel

Taffe said they typically avoid things like blood and fire in the Winchester tours, just because it’s “more what you don’t see that’s scary.” Raubacher said that “sometimes the room inspires the story.” This year, the room in question seems to be the basement. It’s Taffe’s favorite place in the house, and he said that tours don’t usually go in the basement, and certainly not at night. Heads up for anyone heading on this tour - it can get pretty disorienting!

“The script really plays out like a film. It starts out like a normal night on the tour, but then things start to go wrong for the [paranormal] investigators, and it builds from there,” Raubacher said. Magnuson then shared that Master Magician and Apparitionist Aiden Sinclair, who is currently performing at The Stanley Hotel, will be returning to the Winchester Mystery House.

If you’re too afraid for the “Lost In The House Tour,” there will still be plenty to do at the Winchester during the fall. All Hallows’ Eve will also feature vignettes made out of Jack O’ Lanterns across the 4 1/2 acre garden. There will also be ax throwing, as well as escape room, “Houdini’s Spirited Escape.” These new offerings are just the beginning, if you ask Magnuson, who wants the Winchester Mystery House to be “the home for Halloween in the Bay Area.”

The 13th Floor Entertainment panel
The 13th Floor Entertainment panel

Next was the presentation for Thirteenth Floor Entertainment (including DELUSION and THE LA HAUNTED HAYRIDE). Jon Braver, creator of Delusion, was up first, and he dove right into details about this year’s event, “Reaper’s Remorse.” He said that he had actually seen this year’s location while looking for a previous event, but it didn’t work out. However, the building stuck with him, so he returned to it for “Reaper’s Remorse.”

“I’ve never been so excited for a Delusion before,” Braver said, adding that this year is the “scariest show, for sure.” For more details on “Reaper’s Remorse,” check out our interview with Braver, here. Then, onto the LA HAUNTED HAYRIDE

Jon Cooke let everyone know that the hayride will be returning to Griffith Park this year. However, due to construction they had to change location. Good news is, this new spot is even bigger than 2019’s, and they have a bit of extra time to prepare (at least more than the 10 days they had in 2019). The bigger location has allowed the team to make a bigger Midnight Falls town square, including more characters, sets, and food and beverage options (including a pumpkin spice coffee or two!).

Cooke said they “wanted it to feel like a living, breathing town, something we’re able to build year after year. It can always be evolving.” Because they’re such huge fans of John Carpenter’s The Fog, Jack Vincent will be back broadcasting on the Midnight Falls airwaves. Listen in, and you could learn more about the town. The panel stressed that you should not look at the town square like a scare zone, because they don’t want you running away, screaming. They encourage you to interact with the characters, so you can learn more about Midnight Falls.

Speaking of, the town has a new mayor in 2021, Monte Revolta. Turns out, he wasn’t even voted in. He just declared himself the mayor. As far as haunts, the “Midnight Mortuary” maze, which Cooke considers the traditional haunted house there, is back, but reimagined. The “Midnight Mortuary” represents the “dark house at the end of the street, owned and operated by the Marlow family, who are into some pretty dark things.” This year, there are completely different scenes, as well as an expansive outdoor cemetery, where the punk vampires are throwing their big halloween party.

Fan-favorite haunt “Trick or Treat” is returning. “It’s such a simple, yet fun concept: you’re trick or treating on Halloween night,” Cooke said. “This is the neighborhood where all the monsters live. You’re going to see monsters dressed up as their favorite monsters, essentially. We got two new house additions, as well as every single house will pack a pretty large scare, which is different. Be careful when you’re pressing the button [door bell] - Each one will trigger a cool scare.”

We found out about a brand new maze for this year, “The Dead End Diner.” Cooke said, “This all started because we wanted to create an old… crappy rest stop that you’d pull off to when you’re traveling across the country. It’s this old rest stop, with the cornerstone of it being the diner. As you get into the diner, you see they’re obviously eating human meat for dinner. It takes you on a path of how that food made its way to the table. So you’re going backwards through the establishment, back in the kitchens, then out to where they’re slaughtering their dinner. One thing we wanted to do with this to make it different and fun, and it’s in the name “Dead End,” is there’s actual dead ends throughout the maze, where the actors can trap you back there.”

Though the themes are recurring, Cooke wanted everyone to know that that doesn’t mean things haven’t been updated and improved. “At least 80 percent is brand new on the hayride this year,” he said. Get ready to fully immerse yourself into this Halloween town, complete with biker werewolves and other wild characters. Cooke also said that inspiration for these haunts can come from anywhere. “Shout out to my five-year-old on this one, he said ‘dad, wouldn’t it be so cool on the haunted hayride if you go into a pizza place, and there’s an animatronic band that comes to life and attacks you?’ I said ‘yeah, that would be pretty cool. Let’s do that.’”

The first panel on day two was hosted by our very own James Carter! He was on the main stage, along with Andi Noris, Katie O’Hagan, and Bekka Prewitt, for A VISIT TO RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE. James kicked off the discussion with the very specific, “Have you played the game, solo, in the dark, with surround sound on?” The response was pretty much a consensus of, “Are you insane?”

The trio of stars from the video game admitted that, thanks to COVID-19, they didn’t even meet each other until after the game was finished. “Often, you’re the only one in the studio,” Noris said. Of course, that was hard to believe as they all had such great chemistry - including with James! - it seemed like they’d been friends for years. They talked about how they get into character, and what it’s like to play a villain. For Prewitt, it’s a blast. “It’s fun to play a villain. I think I’m a decently nice person, but it’s fun to not be nice, and not get in trouble for it,” she said.

A Visit to Resident Evil Village panel
A Visit to Resident Evil Village panel

James also asked them all about their introduction to horror. For O’Hagan, it was a way of life. She came from a Halloween family, who made their own costumes, as well as a haunt! “To get to the candy, you had to go through the haunted porch,” O’Hagan said. “You had to earn it.” That doesn’t mean she was always fearless.

She saw Child’s Play as a kid, and since she had a lot of dolls and stuffed animals, it scared the crap out of her. “Of course, I was afraid they were all going to murder me if I wasn’t nice to them. So I would rotate them in my bed as a child… the ones that were in the closet, I would apologize to, and let them know that tomorrow night, they’d be in the bed. So, I’d rotate them so none of them would kill me,” O’Hagan said. James quipped, “You learned a lot of manners from horror!”

Noris, on the other hand, admitted, “Ernest Scared Stupid gave me nightmares,” adding, “I actively avoided horror for a really long time.” Thankfully, she was able to find a method that allowed her to ease into the scares. She would watch horror movies with the sound off, so that she could see the jump scares without any of the noises first. Now, she happens to love the film, Mother!

Spooky dolls at Midsummer Scream
Spooky dolls at Midsummer Scream

Prewitt was kind of a combination of the two. She saw The Exorcist at a sleepover in third grade. She said that while all the other girls in pink onesies darted out of the room, she sat cross-legged in front of the television, mesmerized; fascinated and terrified at the same time.

Childhood trauma aside, it’s a good thing they all got into horror eventually, because their Resident Evil game is a massive success! Just like their panel. You may think I will just praise James because, well, he’s James. But it’s just the honest truth that “A Visit to Resident Evil Village,” was one of the most compelling panels - and that’s coming from someone who does not play any video games.

That’s a wrap on 2021’s Midsummer Scream event, “Awaken the Spirits.” Check out our socials for more photos and videos from the weekend!


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