The Halloween & Hauntfest Convention

Halloween and Hauntfest 2017
Halloween and Hauntfest 2017, by Toby Marks on Flickr
Normally scheduled in late August, the Halloween & Hauntfest show is appropriately billed as “a gateway event to the Halloween season.” To those of us who kick off our official celebrations with the start of Dinosaur Dracula’s Halloween Countdown on September 1, the timing hits that perfect sweet spot. The anticipation, that period of time I like to call “the run-up to the countdown”, starts to build throughout August, so that by the time this event rolls around Kassi and the kids and I are practically bursting with Halloween excitement.

The Hauntfest is a haunter’s convention, intended for professionals as well as amateur Halloween enthusiasts. From Friday to Sunday the show features speakers, workshops, and a fair number of exhibitors selling or featuring their product and advertising local haunts. I always get a kick out of the workshops, because there are so many interesting and cool classes to attend, on everything from Dollar Store decorating to advanced lighting and motorized prop effects, to molding your own custom masks with latex, etc. The classes are $20 a pop, or you can pay $90 for a weekend-all access ticket that gets you in to everything — which in my opinion is a fantastic deal. It would be fairly easy to make a weekend of it. Most of this stuff is intended for the pros or at least serious home haunters, but what Halloween fan wouldn’t want to learn how to make their own motorized animatronic monsters? Or fake blood?

And for the more sociable convention goers, there is usually an after-hours party or other themed event Friday and Saturday nights.

It’s important to remember that although the Hauntfest show is open to the general public, it’s really geared towards those in the business. This is not a fan convention, like Texas Frightmare Weekend. The exhibitor floorspace is much more limited, and although the booths are generally visually appealing, maybe about half specialize in direct sales to businesses. There are no celebs signing autographs. No cosplay. Though you will find plenty of costumed creeps repping the local haunts.

Also, this is supposed to be a family-friendly event — and it is, I guess. To a point.

I’m just saying. I hope your kids like clowns.

Cause brother — they had the clowns. Walking through the door was like stepping into Bedlam. Just complete, meltdown-inducing, thumb-sucking, animatronic carnival mayhem.

Demented clown
Demented clown, by Toby Marks on Flickr
Decapitated clown
Decapitated clown, by Toby Marks on Flickr
Gore skulls
Gore skulls, by Toby Marks on Flickr
Clown dwarf skeleton
Clown dwarf skeleton, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Clowns in your face. Dismembered bodies. A stack of skulls piled up in feces.

It was madness.

For some reason they decided to put the absolute sickest prop maker of them all, Demented Design Studios, right at the entrance. Now granted, these guys are fantastic at what they do. The quality of their pieces are outstanding. And I get that the organizers probably appreciated their shock value — but when you’re walking in with your four year old in tow, springing all the hideous shit the show has to offer right in your face like one of those snake in a can gags from the seventies is probably not the most family-friendly way to open the show.

Not sure about the clowns
Not sure about the clowns, by Toby Marks on Flickr

About ten seconds in, I could tell the little one was starting to lose it. I tried to reassure him while checking out stuff myself and quickly taking pictures for the blog. I also wondered if my daughter was going to freak out, as clowns used to send her into a panic. But she pushed through.

Skull Jester
Skull Jester, by Toby Marks on Flickr

That little jester guy in particular gave him the heebie-jeebies. (Do people still say that?) I think the main thing about it was its kid-like height. The eyes were right on level with his, which really scared him.

Later I’d find a way to cheer him up and get him excited again (read on), and there was nothing else quite as terrifying as those clowns, thankfully.

Reindeer Manor
Reindeer Manor, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Reindeer Manor is the oldest continuously running haunt in Texas, the doors having opened back in Halloween of 1974 — a very special year for me personally. However, the old homestead it was built on dates back to the twenties, and today is more like a campus of old buildings that really give off the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe, being as isolated as they are from their neighbors.

Haunt character
Haunt character, by Toby Marks on Flickr

You can always depend on Reindeer to turn out for all the local conventions, usually with a cadre of creepy characters repping the haunt and posing for pictures.

Bag toss
Bag toss, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Also with a fun booth of their own was Wylie, Texas’s The Haunted Armory, a student volunteer-run charity haunt with a big local reputation. The money goes back to the kids theater and debate clubs, and a little to the local National Guard Armory as well, where the haunt is staged.

Return of the Living Dead Zombie
Return of the Living Dead Zombie, by Toby Marks on Flickr

This impressive life-sized replica of tarman from Return of the Living Dead was made by the folks at In Search of Brains Creature Design. I forget how much it sold for, but it certainly made one hell of a showpiece.

Scarecrow masks closeup
Scarecrow masks closeup, by Toby Marks on Flickr

They also did these creepy looking burlap masks that sort of reminded me of the villain from the movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown, though there have been several other movie villains that wore burlap masks. Jason Vorhees? Dr. Decker of Nightbreed? Is burlap some secretly sort of evil fabric? Not sure what that’s all about, to be honest.

Skull Pumpkin
Skull Pumpkin, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Among all the other novelties and horrors I found this little wink to my favorite Halloween blog of all time, and one of the inspirations for my own. Although it’s not updated very often these days, I’d still recommend people give the old Skull and Pumpkin a good and deep read, as it remains as inspirational and evocative of the Halloween spirit today as it ever was.

Madly Made Creations
Madly Made Creations, by Toby Marks on Flickr

If you’re looking for a nice decorative Necronomicon for your home or office library, look no further than Madly Made Creations. Klaatu barada nikto!

Smiling Necronomicon
Smiling Necronomicon, by Toby Marks on Flickr

The faux-skin covers were very well made and had a variety of “feels” to them. I believe most were false books, hollow on the inside, so they could be used as gift boxes or for storage.

Baby Frankenstein
Baby Frankenstein, by Toby Marks on Flickr

After checking out a few vendor tables and playing some bean bag toss at the Haunted Armory booth, my little one was still reeling slightly from the visual and assault auditory clown-assault at the door. And then we happened to run across this bit of randomness, which totally rescued the day for him and us.

Vampire jack o' lantern plushie
Vampire jack o' lantern plushie, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Plushy Halloween pals! How cute is that? I spoke with the owner and he said his wife or daughter had stitched those together for the show, mostly for fun, to sell at the booth. So they were one of a kind! The boy loved them, so I snatched them up. Got a special deal on them, too, since my kid was so obviously in love with them.

Baby Frankenstein, a new friend
Baby Frankenstein, a new friend, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Special thanks to the folks at Missing Finger Productions for introducing Baby Frankenstein to our lives. Now maybe I can finally live down the emotional scarring left by the time we lost Baby Pumpkin at that restaurant a few years back.

Horned skulls
Horned skulls, by Toby Marks on Flickr

These guys did more than just plushies, of course, in particular a LOT of custom skull props and masks.

Horned Glow Skulls
Horned Glow Skulls, by Toby Marks on Flickr

I kind of go big for anything with glow or fluorescent effects, so these really caught my eye.

Glow Skulls closeup
Glow Skulls closeup, by Toby Marks on Flickr

The Frankenstein glow skull was compelling, but damn that blue one would have been a good pickup. I’d imagine it would be pretty eerie under the right lighting. Alas, my budget for the day didn’t allow it.

Gnarled Mask
Gnarled Mask, by Toby Marks on Flickr

I forget exactly who made these gnarled looking masks, but I thought they were pretty well done. They were framed, to hang on a wall.

Hearse hood ornament
Hearse hood ornament, by Toby Marks on Flickr

At the back they were selling an actual hearse. I don’t recall if it ran, or was mostly just a prop, but it looked to be in pretty good condition.

Inside the hearse
Inside the hearse, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Casket not included. But you did get a mystery trunk of spookiness. What’s inside? Maybe the body that was supposed to go in the more expensive casket?

Zombie Standee
Zombie Standee, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Somewhere in the early 2000s internet culture became obsessed with three diverse groups of fantasy stock characters — ninjas, pirates, and zombies. And of the three, only the last has hung around as some sort of perpetual attention draw, though the steam may finally be letting out of that engine. Nevertheless, the whole concept behind paintball, in whatever form that happens to manifest, will always be great fun, especially when there’s not a chance that you yourself will be hammered in the head or arm by returned fire.

And that is why I think Zombie Safari will survive, long after the zombie craze has flattened out.

From the zombie attack bus
From the zombie attack bus, by Toby Marks on Flickr

Brains!

The next attraction really caught the interest of Kassi and the family. She would have loved to have tried this last year, but unfortunately our schedules didn’t allow for it. Maybe this year.

At the back of the show was the actual zombie attack bus itself! The idea behind Zombie Safari is that you and your friends or family board a repurposed school bus outfitted with an arsenal of airsoft rifles, and drive around a park area where the bus is assaulted by a mad gang of zombies out to kill you.

Inside the zombie attack bus
Inside the zombie attack bus, by Toby Marks on Flickr

You basically have to defend the bus by shooting the zombies, which as any student of zombie lore knows usually involves blowing their brains out. It makes me wonder how that works in real life. Like, do the zombie actors where helmets? Makes me feel sorry for those guys, but I guess you’d have to be an extraordinary crack shot to get a clean head kill from a moving bus down some Texas back road.

Ornate skeleton panel
Ornate skeleton panel, by Toby Marks on Flickr

There were lots of exhibitors selling directly to haunts, of course, like this one that sold modular panels meant to fit into, or form, the walls of a haunt.

Gratefule Dead Band
Gratefule Dead Band, by Toby Marks on Flickr

We left the show with this display of a skeletal band, that was meant as a yard decoration for Halloween. They were difficult to photograph all together, but I liked the effect, especially with the lighting. I felt like they were singing us out the door.

Jason Vorhees with asian umbrella
Jason Vorhees with asian umbrella, by Toby Marks on Flickr

The Halloween and Hauntfest is an excellent way to welcome the season and stoke the fires for cooler times ahead.

Check it out!