Spooky Empire celebrates 20 years of scares

(Photo by Danny Garcia)

Spooky Empire returns to the Hyatt Regency in Orlando Oct. 27-29 to celebrate its 20th year of delivering the best sights, sounds and screams to Halloween lovers.

Touted as Florida’s Premier Horror Convention, Spooky brings together fans of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and more with a three-day convention filled with celebrities, musicians, wrestlers, cosplayers, vendors, tattoo artists and more, and this year promises to be bigger and better as they ring in two decades worth of conventions.

“There’s going to be something going on all the time through the entire convention, so you’ll definitely need all three days to experience it,” says Jaimz Dillman, Spooky’s media “Spooksperson.”

Spooky was created by Petey Mongelli and his wife Gina in South Florida in 2003. Speaking with Orlando Weekly in 2013 for the convention’s 10-year anniversary, Mongelli talked about how it all began with a conversation about starting a rock and roll convention.

“So we were listening to a lot of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper and KISS. It was all horror-related music, so we were like, ‘Why don’t we just do the whole show on horror movies?’,” Mongelli recalled in 2013. “So our main thing was to try and find the actors that were in all the horror movies. That was the hard part, because when we started doing it, there were no other horror conventions out there that were fully developed. So it was rough. We’d actually look up where the movies were filmed and we’d dive into the telephone books to try and find all the actors.”

The event grew year-by-year, and really took off, Dillman says, when it was moved to Orlando and visited by none other than Freddy Krueger himself.

“The first year that Robert England came aboard was really when Spooky was put on the map,” she says.

For a lot of the convention attendees it is the celebrities that get them in the door but it is Spooky’s open and accepting environment that keeps them there and coming back year after year, especially within the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s an all-inclusive event. It’s all genres, it’s family friendly, everyone is welcome,” Dillman says. “You can definitely feel that when you are there. People who come recognize that Spooky is a place for people who don’t feel like they belong in the mainstream to be able to go and express themselves. Whether it’s through cosplay, whether it’s through their art, the music they love or how they live their lives. Spooky is very involved in the LGBTQ+ community, we celebrate the things that make people unique and different and that’s why we say anybody who feels like they’re on the fringes of society, they have a home with us.”

While there will be select events at Spooky that are restricted to 18 and up, Dillman says there will be plenty to do for people of all ages.

“Yes, Spooky does have horror aspects to it and yes, some of it does have an air of creepiness to it, but there are some people who that is their lifestyle, even in their parenting and the way they bring up their kids. This is a family event for a lot of people so we have a kids corner where there’s celebrities that the kids will know, or voice actors from their favorite cartoons. They even get their own costume contest.”

At this year’s convention, more than 50 celebrities have been announced including Keifer Sutherland, Jason Patric and Billy Wirth from the ‘80s cult classic “The Lost Boys”; several monsters from your favorite slasher films including “A Nightmare on Elm Street’s” Robert Englund, “Hellraiser’s” Doug Bradley and “Friday the 13th’s” Kane Hoder; scream queens Heather Langenkamp and Andi Matichak; cast reunions from ”Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” and “Jawbreaker,” the 1999 black comedy written and directed by out filmmaker Darren Stein (who will also be a part of the panel), just to name a few.

One celebrity sure to draw large crowds is the return of the Mistress of the Dark, Elvira, aka Cassandra Peterson.

“It was a little difficult for her to come back to Florida,” Dillman says, “but we knew it would be really important to have her here to not only let the LGBTQ+ people here know that we all support them being a part of this community, even if some of our laws are not doing as such, but also we want her to know that we love her for who she is and we are not representative of our government at the moment.”

Peterson, who was already an icon with LGBTQ+ horror fans, revealed in her memoir, “Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark” which released two years ago, that she is a member of the community and is in a 20+-year same-sex relationship with her partner, Teresa “T” Wierson.

Peterson and Wierson had decided to keep their relationship a secret for years because the two felt the need to protect the Elvira brand. “I’m happy and relieved to finally allow our secret to see the light of day,” Peterson wrote in her memoir.

Other events that you do not want to miss include a special Shadowcast of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and a burlesque performance by the Vaudevillains Burlesque Company, both on Oct. 27 and free with your Spooky Empire admission. There are also many returning favorites including the Zombie Walk, costume contests and horror film festival.

And what would the Halloween season be without a good ol’ fashion haunted house? The Carving is a haunted attraction right inside the convention.

“Irving Maxwell was a locally known pumpkin carver, but his town stopped celebrating Halloween after a boy disappeared and the mother went mad and began killing children,” the experience’s synopsis reads. “His business dried up and no one wanted his work anymore. Bitter and delusional he started traveling to fairs and roadside exhibits to make ends meet. Late one night while carving his most delicate work he was interrupted by a drunk who would end up ruining the sculpture. In a fit of rage he split the man’s head in two and used the remains to correct his work. In his eyes it was a masterpiece. Now he is on the hunt for the perfect pieces to carve and turn into works of twisted art.”

This is a separate ticketed event at Spooky. Tickets are $10 and available leading up to and during the convention.

“This really is an experience like no other,” Dillman says. “It’s like going to a family reunion. There’s been proposals and marriages and spooky babies who have come out of this convention because it is such a tight-knit, caring, protective group of people who attend.”

Spooky Empire celebrates its 20th anniversary Oct. 27-29 at Hyatt Regency in Orlando. Tickets and more information are available at SpookyEmpire.com.

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