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Spooky Empire's 20th Year: A Panel Moderator's Reflection on Orlando's Ultimate Horror Extravaganza

Written by Jaimz Dillman

Photos by Jaimz Dillman and Ellie Logan

When you celebrate 20 years of horror, rock n roll, and the dark side of Comic Con, you know a big party is coming. And that’s exactly what we got the last weekend of October in Orlando on I-Drive. Spooky Empire brought the madness of 3 days full of celebrities, vendors, artists, events, and more.

The autograph room was abuzz with over 60 stars from your favorite movies, TV shows, wrestling, and music. Robert Englund, of Nightmare on Elm Street fame, was the big draw this round. A previous guest several times over, his line is always the longest and most attended as he’s known to take time with each attendee who waits for a chance to meet Freddy. Lost Boys Keifer Sutherland, Jason Patrick, and Billy Wirth also drew vampire lovers from all around. The Mistress of the Dark, Elvira held court all weekend meeting adoring fans.

Panel hosts, Kid Cadet and I were joined by MTV’s Riki Rachtman to moderate reunions with the cast of Charmed, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Jawbreaker, Hellraiser, and Five Nights at Freddy’s on their opening weekend. Many more celebs told stories and spilled little-known facts during their Q and A panels and Joh Kassir even treated everyone to a bit of The Crypt Keeper’s rap. A small Tombstone reunion photo op was available with Lou Diamond Phillips and Sutherland as well as more ops with numerous celebs, some like Bill Mosley, appearing in costume.

Shopping was another highlight for anyone wanting anything and everything having to do with their face fandoms. Among all the vendors offering unique and horror-themed merch, local artist Mr. Eyes created a stir. His haunted designs are widely known and collected, as well as featured at fan-favorite Gideon’s Bakehouse. As often his merch is limited, lines formed early Friday when VIP pass holders were let in an hour before general admission so collectors could gather up their goodies.

The tattoo room was alive from morning to night offering over 200 artists coming in from all over to give lifetime souvenirs to those willing to go under the needle. Awards for tattoo of the day were given out at the end of each workday.

Parties continued into Friday night with burlesque from attendee faves the VaudeVillains. The first Goth Prom invited all dark souls to don their blackest duds and party with DJ Rogue of Cruxshadows. But the night wasn’t over yet as Prom ended just in time for the con’s first-ever drag show which received full standing-room-only audiences.

Saturday night had even more with burlesque shows featuring hotness from Bad Witch Burlesque, and a shadow cast show of Rocky Horror. Improv was also horror-themed late at night and those previously mentioned VIPs had their own gathering to mingle with celebs and win coveted merch and prizes. The Spooky Film Festival had screenings of up-and-coming works for attendees to watch through the weekend culminating in awards on the last day.

More awards were given out at the kid's costume contest on Saturday honoring the monsters of tomorrow. The adult contest wrapped everything up Sunday afternoon. Over $1,000 in cash and prizes were given away to some of the best costumes around. Every year the contest becomes more and more difficult for the judges to pick winners as the contestants up their game from the year before.

Two categories gave cash to Best Exhibition for costumes with 70% of the pieces bought, and Best Craftsmanship with 70% of the piece being made. Another cash award and trophy went to Venkman and Gozer for Best Look-a-Like. Best in Show overall went to the Inquisitor winning $500 and a custom guitar from Mohawk Crew. FNAF characters were a popular choice with Foxy winning the Craftsmanship category and a second Mohawk Crew custom guitar. Leatherface and Psycho-Sis took the Exhibition title.

Volunteers are heavily relied on to make sure everything runs smoothly and this was the first year without leader Denna Benna (as she was affectionately known) who passed this summer. Lots of tributes to her colorful style and personality were seen throughout the weekend and she would’ve been proud of the hardworking group on this show.

From something of a backstage at a rock concert concept to 20 years later taking over one of the largest hotels and convention spaces in Orlando, Spooky Empire has proven staying power. Now, after the more is more angle this year, we look toward the Spring show in May, a first-time visit to North Carolina in August, and back to Orlando in October 2024 to see how everything turns up to 21 next year!

Info, appearing guests, and tickets for upcoming Spooky Empire shows can be found at


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