By Tara Bennett
This past weekend amongst the Mardi Gras, festivities the Belle of Baton Rouge was filled with the kind of fun only found in October as HAuNTcon 2015 made its way to BR.
Each year, HAuNTcon brings people who love haunted houses and Halloween together for five days consisting of four haunt tours, over 50 hours of haunter education, shopping, networking with fellow haunters, and celebrating with an annual costume ball. The idea for HAuNTcon came from founder Leonard Pickel, who has been doing haunted houses since 1976. Each year HAuNTcon moves to a different city and offers visitors and local haunters a chance to see shows and haunts in the off season. This was the first time HAuNTcon made Baton Rouge an official stop on their tour, though they have visited Louisiana in the past, specifically for the 13th Gate.
“The 13th Gate is one of the top three haunted houses in the world, maybe even number one in my personal opinion,” said Pickel. “So it’s a huge draw for us, so when we’re looking for a place to go, we’re always looking for those kind of haunted houses to draw people to because people want to see those type of haunts.”
According to Pickel, several years ago when HAuNTcon was in Houston, they flew everyone from the Pre-show tour into Baton Rouge, and that night they visited the 13th Gate. The next day they did paranormal tours of New Orleans and saw House of Shock before flying everyone back to Houston for the tradeshow and convention.
“So we’ve kind of been here before, but the convention itself hasn’t,” said Pickel.
HAuNTcon kicked off officially on Feb. 6 with the “Pre-show Inspiration Tour,” a bus tour of Louisiana’s local haunts and attractions. Attendees were provided with a visit to the Old State Capitol building as well as a backstage lights-on tour show of the 13th Gate, which Pickel applauds the haunt for its ability to suspend one’s disbelief.
“Their show is phenomenal,” said Pickel. “It’s the level of detail they have and the creativity and the realism.”
The pre-show tour then took route to the Crescent City where attendees could visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, a walking tour through Bourbon Street and a backstage tour of Mardi Gras World. With no time to catch their breath, the attendees then returned for the Kick-off Haunt Tour at 13th Gate and Necropolis 13, which allowed them to live out the full haunt experience that normally only occurs in October. The Haunt Tours continued on Saturday and Monday night with tours of The Rise Haunted House and The Mortuary Haunted House.
One of the major elements to HAuNTcon was the offering of business classes, creative sessions, demos and hands-on workshops. Classes began early Saturday morning and through-out Tuesday afternoon.
Over 50 hours of education were offered during the convention ranging from topics such as social media campaigning, actor safety, making fake body parts to the psychology of fear. According to Pickel, haunt education is the key component each year to HAuNTcon to give people the chance to enhance their own haunt or build a haunt from scratch.
“I’m big on education,” said Pickel. “Education is the most important part of bettering [haunt] shows. If I can teach them how to what they do better, faster, easier, cheaper then they’ll be able to make more money doing what they’re doing…”
Instructors include haunt industry notables such as Robert Kurtzman of Creature Corps, Ross Karpelman of House of Shock, Quan Gan of Gantom Lighting and Controls, Chris and Jeff Davis of Davis Graveyard and more.
Buy and Sell
Along with the haunt education, HAuNTcon offered a tradeshow, which had the newest haunted products and services on display, which could also be bought at whole sale. Several vendors carried high quality makeup, masks, lighting equipment and lifelike zombie and clown puppets.
“[HAuNTcon] allows everybody to see all the different product out there and there’s different things that people make from lighting to masks, to prosthetics…” said Kurtzman. “So anything and everything you want to find in the haunt industry you’re going to find at these kind of conventions.”
One vendor Froggy’s Fog offered scents to add a whole other level of fear to one’s haunted house including scents such as “electric chair,” “gothic,” “cotton candy” and “slaughter house,” which certainly left an impression on attendees.
“I seriously thought I was going to throw up when I smelt the spray,” said Whitney Cole from Amarillo Scaregrounds, located in Texas.
HAuNTcon’s signature event is the annual Costume Ball. This party held on Sunday night gave people who normally work in October a rare chance to get into costume for fun and celebrate Halloween. Sponsored by Froggy’s Fog, this year’s party offered party favors, prom photos, a Cajun buffet and free beer. Haunt owners, actors, makeup artists and Halloween fanatics from around the region were in attendance for an evening of partying, networking and ghoulish fun.
“This was incredible fun,” said Hannah Morris of Picayune Mississippi. “I live for Halloween and look for any chance to celebrate. As soon as I learned about HAuNTcon I had to go and I’m glad I made that choice.”