This past October, Florida celebrated the Halloween season with the fun and gory bang of Spooky Empire. Featuring award winning horror icons, artists, vendors, a celebrity charity poker tournament and tattoo festival, plus a zombie walk in the streets led by Dawn of the Dead’s Mike Christopher, Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Horror Weekend was the place that every horror enthusiast wanted to be Halloween weekend. Petey Mongelli, owner and event producer of Spooky Empire, said the thing that separates Ultimate Horror Weekend from other conventions is simple: “It’s not a Con. It’s a party.”
Ultimate Horror Weekend got its start in 2003. Mongelli told me, “At the time when we started, there was nothing like this. I was going to other conventions in Florida, which were, to me, kind of lame. So we wanted to put together a convention that was more event oriented like they do in New York. It wasn’t just a couple of guests and a vendor room.” Spooky Empire weekends occur twice a year, hosting thousands of fans. (A second weekend in May dubbed “May-Hem” was introduced in 2011.) This October’s guest list was impressive, boasting Doug Bradley (of the Hellraiser series), Scream Queen Danielle Harris, Alex Vincent (Child’s Play), Patricia Quinn (Rocky Horror Picture Show), Bill Moseley (Texas Chainsaw Massacre II), Ve Neill (Beetlejuice) and Glenn Hetrick (The X Files). Homage to classic fright cinema, guests also included the cast reunion of Creature From The Black Lagoon, People Under The Stairs, and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The supreme guest of honor for 2013 was zombie king George A. Romero. Romero was in the company of many friends, with zombie Mike Christopher, SFX Makeup Artist Barry S. Anderson, and actor/SFX Makeup Artist Tom Savini also present.
Attending fans from all over the world wore elaborate costumes, ranging from their favorite mass murderers to their favorite murder victims. Many are “Spooky regulars”, and attend each May and October, creating a true party atmosphere among the crowd. With Spooky Empire being famous for it’s Rock-n-Roll guests, (this year included Twiggy Ramirez from Marilyn Manson and Peter Criss, drummer of KISS), Ultimate Horror Weekend is Central Florida’s largest and latest after hours pool party.
“The party atmosphere and the pool parties all kind of happened by accident, and on their own,” Mongelli says. “They just developed little by little. We promoted more to the mainstream attendee, like rock n roll concertgoers for example. It was an entire audience of people that have never been to a convention before. We weren’t drawing the sci-fi convention type fans. So the attendees at our show brought more of a party vibe then you would see at other Florida shows, which were the popular conventions at that time… We like to see the final product, and see everyone enjoy themselves and appreciate all the work we put into the show.”
Fans of the convention definitely enjoy the show — I even spotted some guests sporting Mongelli tattoos. I asked Petey Mongelli how it felt to know that his show had become so significant to the horror community. “It feels great. It lets us know we are doing our job, what we set out to do. Growing up as a KISS fan, all I ever heard was ‘you wanted the best, you got the best’. That became my motto, to put out the best product out there.”
At this year’s event, Dee Snider (Twisted Sister, “Holliston” and Strangeland) provided a rare opportunity this year for fans, hosting a showing of Strangeland one evening, and also providing photo ops as Twisted Sister. Other special features were the Mucklebones Haunted Mansion walk through — a stunning display, replicating the “Haunted Mansion” ride at Walt Disney World to life size scale. Closing out horror weekend was a fan costume contest, judged by SFX Makeup legends Tom Savini, and SyFy Channel’s “Face Off” judges, Ve Neill and Glenn Hetrick. For horror enthusiasts that have never been to a Spooky Empire horror weekend, Mongelli said, “They’re missing out on a great event. They’re missing out on new friends, good times, new memories, and just an all-around amazing weekend!”