Spooky Empire – December 2016

Back in October, Spooky Empire died of fright when it saw the sea-monster Matthew churning past the beaches. But then the tears and chants and sacrifices of the devoted (and the staff) raised the beloved horror convention from its sodden grave, and sent it foully reeling down International Drive to the Orange County Convention Center for the December 2nd weekend.

Any pre-order tickets that had been purchased for the original dates in October were also good for the rescheduled show. There was a strong selection of vendors, artists, and dealers, including Lux Nova Studios, Cade Mikaels, and Alkemie and Artistry; along with creatives like the writers Scott Baker, LJ Heydorn, and Tyson Hanks.

Rescheduled Spooky still delivered a strong celebrity line-up, including Kane Hodder, who has played Jason Vorhees four times and still looks like he could bisect a teenager with a meat cleaver; musical satire superstar “Weird Al” Yankovic, who hasn’t aged since the ’90s; and Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson.

But the biggest stars were the young actors from Stranger Things. I was standing in an upstairs hallway, reminiscing the merits and drawbacks of early eighties video games with Justin Jordan of Underground Horror Radio and paranormal investigator and author Jenny Ashford. Suddenly, it was as if someone had pulled a piercing shriek like a zipper straight down the length of the nearby Stranger Things line, each teenage girl being one of its teeth. I saw a small kid running past the line, accompanied by a burly adult who was running just as fast. Just as he disappeared into the men’s room, I realized that the kid was Caleb McLaughlin, a fifteen-year-old actor from the show. The excitement had hardly quieted when Mr. McLaughlin, finished with his business in the restroom and still accompanied by his adult minder, made the return trip at the same speed; and the screams spiked every ear in the halls again.

Although the convention was well-organized, and tickets that had been pre-ordered for October were still good in December, the crowd was surprisingly anemic – and it wasn’t just the popularity of death-mask makeup and slashed-throat prosthetics. When Hurricane Matthew forced the October cancellation, the word in nerd circles was that Petey’s twice-yearly gore hound & tattoo extravaganza might die of the failure. Hopefully, the December reschedule will keep Spooky’s corpse animated enough to stagger into the spring show in 2017. But the vendors and artists at the Orange County Convention Center whispered their answers and shook their heads when asked about sales last weekend. Will the show go on?

But if Hurricane Matthew and the election of Donald Trump had cast a funereal twilight on the proceedings, the fans made the most of the pall. The cosplayers, tattoo fetishists, makeup artists, filmmakers, and weird little bastards whooped it up all weekend and late into the night, even with the ad hoc nightlife arrangements. The joy of all things revolting is still strong in central Florida.


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Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through Amazon.com. He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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