Rex B. Hamilton reports on the 2012 TransWorld convention

March 24, 2012

Greetings, Fellow Haunters:

I had a lovely time at the TransWorld Halloween, Costume and Party Show in St. Louis the weekend before last. I was there for five days - Wednesday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. I have attended every TransWorld bash since 1997. I took something north of 800 photographs - you’ll see my favorite ones on my Facebook page.


The convention now takes up nearly all of the floor space at the America’s Center - downtown St. Louis’ exhibition hall. This year saw the first use, in my memory, of large classrooms/meeting rooms on the second floor. The first-floor classrooms/meeting rooms have been in use since the day that TransWorld first set up shop here in 2009.


The social events that I saw included:

The bar at the Rennaisance. The place is too darn small to hold all the people who want to attend, and the hotel doesn’t have anything bigger to offer. At some point on every evening I was hemmed in by others trying to squeeze their way in. If you could find a place to sit, the joint was a big hoot because of all the people you could yak at. If not, you turned around and went somewhere else.

Opening Night Party, sponsored by Westland Insurance at the Morgan Street Brewery on Thursday, March 8. I had dinner at a swanky eatery called Carmine’s and arrived at Ken Donat’s (Westland Insurance) party after it had officially ended. But there were still plenty of people who couldn’t stop having fun. The brewery has a lot of room - two 2-story buildings with a nice open patio in between them. It was a glorious night, with a full moon hanging overhead, so I opted to yak at people in the outdoor patio for a while.

Insane Shane’s Kick-Off Party on Thursday, March 8. The place was jammed with people; it was a loud, rollicking affair. Shane seems to have a good thing going here. But if he were to ask me what changes would make the party even tighter, I would offer him these three: 1. Find a larger space (like the hotel’s ballrooms via the underground tunnel) 2. Erect a stage that lights and presents the costume-contest entrants, the emcee and the house band in a grand way 3. Set up a separate photo-shoot area where ghoulish posers can strike their best pose for the many cameras there.

The Newcomer Orientation on Friday morning, March 9, from 7:45 until 9 AM, Bill Criscione (Ghostly Manor) led a team of 7 owners of notable haunted attractions in an interactive session that sought to help TransWorld newbies understand the convention and how they could reap the greatest benefit from the time spent there. It was an unexpected treat when Dwayne Sanburn (The 13th Gate) graciously introduced me and handed me the microphone. I gave the room 45 seconds of what professional actors do and why owners need to embrace them.

The Haunted Attractions Association auction, 5:30 to 7 PM, Friday, March 9. Philip Morris (Morris Costumes) gave a 15-minute talk about his life experience with “ghost shows” and how he has scared the dickens out of generations of people with the costume he created that became known as Bigfoot. The old-timey videos he ran during his session were a blast from the past.

The Darklight and TransWorld Party at The City Museum on Friday, March 9. This party was sponsored, in part, by the Haunted Attraction Association. I had never been to the City Museum before and in the two hours I was there I only saw a small portion of this tangled, twisted indoor playground. I’m a big fan of surrealism (a good example is Salvador Dali) and this place is surrealism on steroids. If I ever go again, I’ll be sure to wear lightweight, beat-up clothing I don’t care about and bring a pair of kneepads for crawling around on metal/concrete structures.

The HAA Annual Awards Banquet on Saturday, March 10 from 6:45 to 9:30 PM. My understanding is that the HAA is the merger of the IAHA and the HHA. The banquet was the same size and just as pleasant as last year’s soiree’. Many deserving haunters were recognized and applauded that evening.


What caught my eye on the convention floor were these items:

The rusted-pipe scene in the Dark Zone by Dead House Designs. The setup was built out of PVC tubing, but the paint job was one of the best.

The large, spitting dragon in the center of the Scarefactory’s Dark Zone booth. If you took the time to watch it, you saw a human being sitting right behind the dragon’s head controlling the monster with levers in hand. To me, this was a milestone. This was the first time I’ve seen an animation of any size controlled by a technician. Up till now, animations were driven by computer programs, motion sensors and pressure pads - not people. I’ve been yelling at haunt builders for years that all mechanical scares should be driven by actors, not software interrupts. Perhaps someone is listening.

The haunted fireplace/mirror-over-the-mantel piece by Dead House Designs was a first. A hidden camera secreted into the fireplace projected a real-time video of those standing in front of it onto the large flat-screen monitor that was dressed up look like the typical big mirror over the mantel. Face-recognition software captured your normal face, morphed it into a snarling, ghoulish visage
and projected it onto the fireplace’s “mirror.” It’s a lovely effect, but would severely slow down customer throughput if placed inside a haunt. This piece, in my opinion, would be best served by placing it in an attendee waiting area.

Scarefactory’s shooting-gallery of zombies was another creative step forward for this company. This piece was arguably the best it has ever created. Sliding panels of all sorts allowed hidden zombies to slither out of the woodwork and menace the shooters. The whole thing is really pretty. But the shooting gallery, and a handful of other first-time shoot-em-up vendors on the show floor brings up this troubling question: are haunt performers prey or predators?


What I missed were:

Stan Jung’s haunted house, Quarantine on 17th Street. I didn’t get to act there because I was so late from the HAA party. The make-up came off around 10:30 PM

Many more hours at the hotel bar. If you could hang out there all night, every night, you would have learned so much about the haunt industry.

All the other haunters who were on the show floor whom I did not encounter, purely by accident. There is simply too much for one person to do at TransWorld. But I gave it a good try.


If I had to pick a single hour out of the entire convention that was the most enjoyable, it would be this one: From 1 to 2 PM on Saturday, I worked (in costume and make-up) at the Midwest Haunters Convention booth in the very center of the show floor. What made it an enjoyable time is that I shared the booth with another long-time haunted-house veteran in make-up - Scott “Spookmeister” Kelley. (You’ll find a photo of the two of us on my Facebook page.) We had a lot of laughs startling, entertaining and posing for photographs with the many attendees that surged by us. The booth was a corner booth, so we had people walking by us in all four directions.

Many of the folks that Scott and I spoke to already knew about and/or are planning to attend Midwest Haunters Convention from June 8 - 10 in Columbus. We’ll both be there and we hope you will, too.

If you enjoy attending haunt conventions in the Midwest, there’s another one for you in 2012 - the Great Lakes Fright Fest in Petersburg, Michigan on June 1 - 3. In both 2011 and 2010, I could not attend Midwest Haunters Convention _and_ Great Lakes Fright Fest because of an unavoidable scheduling conflict. Both events, those two years, took place on the same weekend - you had to choose one or the other. This year will be a sigh of relief because the conventions will occur on consecutive weekends

Great Lakes Fright Fest is so unlike most other haunt cons: the attendees are mostly yard/home haunts. The show is held at a quiet, well-maintained private campground. The classes on Saturday and Sunday are free. Families and dogs are welcomed with open arms. There is always plenty to eat and drink. And there is a real, working haunted house that everyone helps construct and is then open to the public on Saturday night.


My thanks go out to Joe Thayer and Jennifer Braverman, the brains behind the convention, for a fun-filled weekend of haunted delights. Every which way you turned, you met someone interesting, saw something spooky or learned something ghoulishly new. Could it be anything other than TransWorld?

Very truly yours,

Rex B. Hamilton

13939 Clifton Boulevard
Lakewood, OH 44107-1462

Evil is Good