The Comic Convention has always been a mecca for various fandoms to come together and share, create, and basically just flip out over exciting it all is. As time goes on, we find Cons becoming more varied. The horror genre has always been quick to stand apart, with a proud fanbase ready to back it up. That brings us to Spooky Empire.

For the uninitiated, Spooky Empire hits Orlando, Florida twice a year, promising a slew of horror icons, off-kilter merchandise booths and kick-ass cosplays. Dubbed, “The Dark Side of Comic Con”, it wastes no time in welcoming those who always felt more comfortable in checking out the gorier offerings of any Con, as opposed to the usual Star Wars fare (although those people are welcomed too). While I’ve attended plenty of Cons before, this was my first time showing up at Spooky and I was sure to brush up on my homework beforehand.

The event initially started in Ft. Lauderdale in 2003 before quickly finding a permanent home in Orlando. Since then, it’s snowballed into one of the most popular horror conventions in the nation, so much so that they now are a bi-annual convention! While the “big show” is generally saved for October, an April/May event is usually in order for those wishing to get their horror fix earlier in the year.

Held at the Wyndam Orlando Resort alongside International Drive, this year’s mid-year Spooky was also in walking distance of popular tourist areas like The Orlando Eye and Pointe Orlando. It wasn’t too uncommon to see blood-spattered patrons duck into the nearest Ale House for a quick drink, much to everyone else’s confusion. While these kooky cosplayers were quick to stand out in the usual environments, everyone was at home on the convention floor.

My first lap around the Con was meant to check out the merchandise, but it was hard to pull my attention away from all of the brilliant cosplays on display. The usual suspects were there – You had your Freddys and your Jasons and popular Walking Dead characters – but it was the deep cuts that really put a smile on my face. The peanut gallery that is Mystery Science Theater 3,000 was on full display with one man pulling the strings for all of the characters, so to speak. Fans of Dead Spacecould easily spot Isaac Clarke in full gear, alongside a necromorph rigged to an ECV. To top it off, a Halloween Horror Nights favorite, Chance, was also hanging around to spread some cheer and fear. It was enough to make you forget October is still 6 months away.

Once I was able to bring my focus around to the booths, my admiration only grew from there. You have your usual t-shirt and toy booths that are at every Con, but some of these booths took it a step further to really bring fans something different. Those fascinated in the hobbies of Ed Gein could purchase masks, lamps and welcome mats that looked AND FELT like skin, thanks to Dark Seed Creations. If you wanted to memorialize some classic movie moments, Imagemotor Productionscarried wonderful wall mounts featuring Bruce (of Jaws fame), everyone’s favorite Jurassic Park T-Rex and Ghostbusters‘ Gatekeeper in Terror Dog form, complete with light-up eyes! If all that was too much too handle, you could’ve always dropped by The Shrunken Monkey‘s booth and relax with a nifty horror-themed Tiki mug. And those are just a tiny sampling of the varied products you could check out and purchase, mostly from local artists who were more than happy to tell you about their work and what inspired it.

Taking a break from the cosplay and commerce, I headed out towards the main event hall, only to come across the sound of buzzing and the smell of cleaning supplies. Ducking into the nearby ballroom revealed Spooky Empire‘s Tattoo Festival. Sporting costumes and t-shirts is one thing, but if you wanted to take your fandom to the next level and get some permanent ink done, there’s a bevy of artists at your disposal with deals to take advantage of!

I moved on towards the end of the hall to primary goal: checking out a Q&A panel to see a horror icon field questions from thirsty fans. Spooky Empire hosts plenty of horror and music stars that you can get autographs from and take pictures with, but if you wanted to revel in the stories of yesteryear, the Q&A panels are a must-see.  Several well-known horror veterans were doing Q&A’s, including the likes of Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Catherine Hicks & Alex Vincent (Child’s Play) and Matthew Lillard (Scooby Doo, Thirteen Ghosts), among others. At the top of my list was the leading actor of what’s arguably the greatest werewolf made thus far – a film that has yet to be topped in nearly 40 years – AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON‘s David Naughton.

Naughton’s no stranger to the Con and it shows. As soon as he hit the stage, he wasted no time in going into his background as a Shakespearean actor (British accent and all) as well as his brief stint singing and dancing for Dr. Pepper. Seriously, if you haven’t seen those commercials, you’re missing out! But it was Werewolf talk that the fans wanted, and Naughton delivered. Whether he was talking about his casting by John Landis or his first meeting with Rick Baker, it was obvious that Naughton was still immensely proud of his work in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF and more than happy to talk about it with people who weren’t even in existence during the film’s original release! That’s the power of great cinema. It’s pure magic when someone who’s a part of that can connect with its fans. (Visit our YouTube channel to see more with David Naughton).

And that’s what I felt represented the best quality of Spooky Empire; whether I was talking to the cosplayers, the people working the event or the people who were hosting the booths, everyone was respectful and quick to open up about their passions and what brought them there. It WAS the darker side of Comic Con and the moment you stepped in, you were welcomed by your fellow freaks and geeks. That sense of kinship only further stokes the fires of fandom, and I can’t wait to return!

Spooky Empire returns to Orlando, Florida this October.

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