I’ve been going to Spooky Empire since literally the first week that I moved to Florida. It was just a convention that happened to be going on around me with a great guest list and I needed to decompress and have some fun after an exhausting move, so I went. And I’ve attended every single one since. Some of them turn out better than others and that almost always comes down to the venue, especially if it’s a new location. This past weekend’s Spooky Empire saw a bigger turnout than ever before, and that came with some issues in addition to the exciting positives of longtime fans getting to finally meet their heroes in person, which is the magical thing that a convention like Spooky Empire offers.
The guest list for this event was insane. It was headlined by an incredible X-Files reunion. Not only were David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in attendance, but they were joined by Mitch Pileggi, Robert Patrick and William B. Davis, all of whom were also integral to the series. In fact, the X-Files cast was clearly such a huge draw for so many people that there were times when it felt almost more like an X-Files convention than a general horror one.
Of course, there were tons of other celebrities in attendance as well, from Cassandra Peterson (in character and costume as Elvira for a photo op on Friday) to the cast of House of 1,000 Corpses, not to mention Jen & Sylvia Soska and Spooky Empire regulars like Ricou Browning and Alex Vincent. It seemed like there were some major strides being taken to make sure that this would be the biggest Spooky Empire ever, including the very first Spooky Empire convention exclusive in the form of an Elvira Funko Pop that would only be sold at the convention and never be made available again.
And that—in a couple of different ways, I think—caused problems. The biggest of them being that this was the biggest Spooky Empire ever with the highest attendance they had ever seen, yet it felt small. The venue felt about as big as the Whyndham, where they hold their smaller April shows, at least in terms of general convention space. That meant a whole lot of people crammed into not a ton of space and it felt a little uncomfortable at times, even if it was actually well organized and very easy to navigate.
There’s also no way to write a recap of the event without discussing the events that occurred on Friday evening. In all honesty, I was hosting a trivia event of my own at the time, so I was in one of the panel rooms and so even though I saw what was going on, I didn’t see much of it nor did I see it for very long. As I understand it, here’s what happened: people lined up hours in advance for the chance to get their hands on the limited edition Funko Pop figure. In a situation beyond Spooky Empire’s control, only a very limited supply—about 400—of the already limited figure showed up.
When they realized barely any of them would get the chance to actually get their hands on the figure, people basically lost their minds. There was shouting, chanting—a few people blaming Elvira herself even sounded like they were shouting “lock her up”—fights broke out and there was even—by all accounts—some minor rioting. Fire alarms were pulled, which was what led me out into the hall from the event I was hosting to see some of what was going on for myself. The police were called in to break it up and escort people out and, to Spooky’s credit, the situation was handled quickly and things did return to normal.
Obviously it’s a shame for fans of Elvira to have to go through that. Many of the people who got aggressive to the point of even becoming violent were, naturally, scalpers who had already planned to purchase the figure cheaply at the convention and resell it online for double the profit. For fans of the character, though, an exclusive like that is a one-of-a-kind collector’s item.
It almost seems like Spooky Empire underestimated the insane collector’s mentality surrounding Funko Pops. There are people who will travel long distances to get their hands on a convention exclusive, because it’s a rare figure. They don’t care what the convention is or what the figure is, it’s the rarity of it that attracts people. They also underestimated the attendance, something they readily admitted to, which is in a way a positive thing. It’s always good to have more people turn out than you expected, but it’s important to be prepared for them. In general, as an attendee, my greatest issue was that the venue just didn’t seem set up for the amount of people in attendance. On Saturday, especially, it was incredibly congested. But parking, in particular, was a nightmare. The hotel’s lot filled up quickly, leaving most people to park on the grass around a pond. It felt like parking to go to a state fair, something I have no problem with as long as I know going into it.
The weekend itself was still fun, though. There was some fantastic vendor merch, from T-shirts to figures to extremely rare and hard-to-find issues of Fangoria and other monster magazines, some at a terrific price as well. One of the very best things about a convention like this is the chance to just wander the vendor room, it’s a scavenger hunt in which you never know exactly what you’re going to find. Some of the panels were great as well, but in some instances the smaller panels inside—ranging from authors to paranormal experts to general horror topics of conversation—turned out better than some of the bigger panels in the outdoor tent where most of the celebrity Q/A sessions were being held.
The tent was plagued with audio issues, so unless one was close to the front, they didn’t hear much of what was being said. The panels themselves were great, especially the 15th anniversary House of 1,000 Corpses panel, which offered an entertaining look back at the film. The Cassandra Peterson panel was structured differently from any panel I’d seen at the convention before. Instead of a Q/A session with fans, the moderator would introduce clips from the new Arrow Video Blu-ray of the film and prompt questions based on those clips. It was a different setup, but it made sense for a few reasons. One, after Friday night, they probably wanted to field questions from fans who were still upset over the Funko Pop situation. Two, a figure like Elvira in general opens up more lewd and unwelcome fan questions than some other guests. Either way, Peterson herself was in top form, as sharp-witted and funny as ever, rolling with the unexpected new setup like a true professional.
In general, Spooky Empire is still the place to be in October if you’re a horror fan in Orlando. There was a lot of fun to be had at the event, but it was still in some instances a bit of a circus. I look forward to the April show, but I would not want to see them return to this particular venue next Fall, as it simply didn’t seem set up for a show of this size.