2016-05-13 – ScareCON 2016 at Dreamland, Margate

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Every industry has their conventions – and basically, they’re all the same. Networking/bragging opportunities, a couple of trade stands where people push flyers and goodies into your hands. Talks from people who are either passionate beyond rationality about, or bored to death by their own subject. The occasional feud. A walking dinner and a forced-upon drink afterwards. ScareCON does tick quite a few of these boxes. But it’s all about the feel, and feeling-wise, it couldn’t be more different.

Whenever you’re really enthusiastic about something, you’ve always got these key events that are able to strengthen how you feel, and for me, a couple of these just came at exactly the right time. About a month ago, I fell head first into the Cracked family, which was such a monumental thing it still haunts me. Even before that, I had been thinking that ScareCON would be pretty cool to visit. With a large delegation of the Cracked cult present at the convention, the last doubts I still had were quickly cast aside. Quick recap – ScareCON is a convention dedicated to the live horror/scare industry, and as far as I know, the only one in Europe that does this.

For its ninth edition this year, ScareCON took over the recently refurbished Dreamland amusement park in Margate, a small seaside town in the South East of England. The town itself has this typical old-timey seaside feel, a town that was once really popular, but now feels somewhat desolate. Slightly run down arcade halls try to top each other in catching our attention with flickering lights and the sound of rattling coins – that is until five thirty, when the majority of Margate falls eerily quiet. Some gentrification projects are underway, but the almost creepy vibe is very tangible. The Dreamland park fits perfectly in this setting, with its classic attractions, vintage theming and fluorescent roller disco. The efforts that have gone into reopening the park weren’t in vain, it’s a lovely place, and they have absolutely succeeded in making the park accessible for modern days, while keeping true to the park’s original 1920s roots. Apart from their normal going-ons, they are obviously quite invested in the Halloween crowd. As Screamland, they had a good number of scare attractions up and running last October, even opening their doors an extra night specifically for ScareTOUR reviewers. All their efforts have now landed them in the position of hosting ScareCON, and rightfully so.

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From the get-go, you get this sense of immense fun and glee – the venue is crackling with enthusiasm. Outside the conference hall, there’s a mini-maze effects showcase stuffed with electrified panels and airhorns. The first presenter is hooded and dragged away by an enormous clown near the end of his talk. A posse of malformed and deranged characters took over the floor during the next one, a little hint of what is to come at Screamland 2016. The talks wouldn’t even need these grand dramatic displays, there were a pleasure to listen to as is, but why the hell not, right? It’s obvious everyone was having a blast – and it wasn’t even time yet for our own haunted walkthroughs! The talks covered a wide array of topics, from a personal account of the difficulties encountered transitioning to a year-round haunt, over methods you can use to stimulate and inspire your scare actors, to basic but essential stuff, like ticketing systems. I seriously can’t stress this enough, if you run a haunt or scare event, big or small, ScareCON is where you need to be next year – you’ll walk away with loads of new ideas and contacts.

Now, with the “serious” side of the convention nearing its end, Dreamland opened up two of the mazes from last year’s Halloween lineup – The Final Cut, and Dead and Breakfast.

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In The Final Cut, we started out in a vintage movie theatre, a really cosy one as a matter of fact! The smell of popcorn filled our nostrils and it all really made me want to spend some more time lingering through the rooms. All too soon though, we had to squeeze through the silver screen itself, into a world made up in a nineteen twenties horror movie style. The theming goes completely black and white, with UV lights illuminating the scenes, and several iconic creatures lined up to meet us – with a pretty electrifying Jekyll & Hyde transformation as a finale. I got to say, scares in this maze weren’t too heavy, and maybe somewhat predictable, but the atmosphere was spot on, and the transition from colourful movie theatre to somber black and white horror movie was executed nicely. I’d have loved a second go to take in the surroundings even more.

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Exiting the Final Cut, you immediately enter a small cue area just before Dead and Breakfast – a B&B haunted by ghosts, set during World War II’s blitz. In terms of originality, this one really takes the gold! We were welcomed by Fag Ash Lil, the quirky owner of this establishment, who gave us an unnerving bit of backstory, after which we got to exploring her guest house. After reaching the room we’d be staying in, it was quite clear that no one would be getting a Tripadvisor certificate of excellence tonight. Cleanliness, one out of five stars. Air raid sirens were going off, and we had to hurry through the bomb shelter, taking care to avoid any dark areas, where the ghosts would be able to get to us. Bullied both by soldiers in gas masks and a variety of paranormal entities, we finally got to relative safety after a ride down a rickety elevator. Which is when the electricity finally gave out – and nothing good happened after that. I loved this maze, the theming is mindblowing, the actors nailed it, and while the general storyline is all over the place, it works so well, and I got to commend the creators for their originality. Scariest moment of the night for me – trapped in a square corridor without an exit, endlessly walking around while three ghost girls were haunting us. I was last of our group, and one of the girls started hoarsely whispering “get out – get out – get out” in my ear. The other girls joined in, picking up the volume. Moments later, all three were screaming their lungs out, GET OUT! GET OUT! – with no exit to be found. Creepy stuff.

After that, ScareCON had one last trick up its sleeve – and it was a good one. Time to dress up for the Scareball! Image the scene if you can, a couple of hundred people, all dressed up as the stuff of your nightmares, in a vintage roller disco. Does it get more awesome than that? Awards were handed out, there was an insane dinner show by the Circus of Horrors (Fire? Yes! Crazy and disgusting stunts? Yes! Nudity? Yes! An audience gasping for breath? Hell yes!), and after all that, this band of weird and creepy costumed scare enthusiasts got to dance the night away. Ever seen a bunch of zombies and killer clowns do the Macarena?

What a perfect event. I cannot recommend this enough, if you are into scares, this is an absolute must. To top it all off, the Cracked crew had a little surprise of their own for me. My heart skipped a beat.

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Offical ScareCON photos by Stephen Candy Photography.

Official ScareCON website.

ScareCON Facebook page.

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