Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review: National Haunters Convention

I attended the National Haunters Convention yesterday in Oak, PA, and was hugely disappointed by the show. The venue seemed smaller, the vendors fewer, and the supposed highlights of the event -- two on-site haunted attractions -- were a joke.

Part of the problem was likely due to Hauntcon being scheduled for the same weekend in western Pennsylvania. While I had considered attending the show, the six hour drive wasn't all that appealing and from what I heard from people who went to that show instead of NHC it wasn't all that much different there.

According to rumors that have trickled their way down to me -- and I'm way, way, way down on the list of "need to know" people, so it's like the old game of "Telephone" you'd play in school, a lot gets lost in the translation -- Hauntcon deliberately scheduled its show the same weekend as NHC in an effort to cripple the show. Regardless of whether it's true or not, it seems both shows ended up getting shot in the foot.

But NHC had its own problems that went just beyond the torn loyalties of vendors who would have had to choose one show or the other (and it seemed many chose "the other"), National Haunters Convention did the worst thing a company could: it over-promised and under-delivered.

As disappointed as I was with the vendors that were there (and I did buy some stuff at the show, but shockingly no one was selling air cylinders at the show and that was one thing I had hoped to buy), I can give NHC a pass on that, though I think it speaks volumes about which show the vendors thought was the more important one. What I can't forgive is the sloppy way NHC handled its marketing.

They made a big deal of having two haunted attractions on the show floor that were going to be run by The Psycho Trail, which bills itself as the best haunted house in South Jersey. There were going to be zombies and clowns around every corner with thrills, chills, and excitement. We'd laugh, we'd cry, we'd come back for more!

Um, no.

First, thank goodness I didn't have to pay to go through owing to having subscribed to Hauntcast. However, because the haunts were so lame, I don't think they were charging anyone. Good thing.

The first was a maze of chain link fencing. Since the top was open and the convention hall lights were on you could see right through from one end of the maze to the other. What you could also see was there were no actors and no props. Seriously, you were walking through a "maze" (and I'm being charitable describing it as such) and there was nothing to see. I do recall they had a metal shelving unit tipped over in one area and that was about it. Oh, and a couple of plastic things that may have been barrels cut lengthwise in half. It really looked like they had gone into the storeroom of the convention center and found some stuff not being used and threw it here and there.

Oh, and we were "attacked" by zombies: a cute teen girl and her 7-year old brother dressed inexplicably as a cop who jumped on a section of fence. We then asked him to go run and jump on the fence again so Joiseygal could vlog it. That was it.

The next haunt was the clown haunt. I have no idea what they were thinking. A couple of plastic masks were hung on the wall and hit with fluorescent paint was the extent of the decor, but because it was again an open haunt the paint had zero effect as you'd expect. And they did some imaginative work with Great Stuff (okay, snark has been turned off): on the horizontal 2x4's that held up the maze walls, they made long lines with the expanding foam and spray painted it orange. But only for 2 or 3 walls and they either ran out of got tired. Seriously, that was the extent of the decor. Okay, they did have Chuckles the Clown sitting in one room.

One section had some PVC cages in it, but no actors in there (note to Dave from Pandemic not touch the props in such a lame haunt, they will come off in your hands!). There was one clown -- I think she might have been the older sister to the other two "actors" -- who popped in here and there with a whoopee horn she blew every now and then. She did tell us to come back in October as it was going to be better then. Well, it couldn't possibly have been worse.

Although I bought a couple of things at the show, I didn't spending much money there because there wasn't anything really all that interesting -- or affordable for the stuff I was interested in. I bought a prop mask and some small body parts, but only because they were $1 each, and some Foam Coat from Hot Wire Foam Factory. Dave (who also puts on the awesome Dead with Dave show on YouTube) highly recommends it for coating foam props so a small, 3-lb container that cost $10 seemed worth it. I also bought a doll that reminded me of the La Santa Muerte dolls I wrote about last month. It was definitely overpriced for how it was constructed but I knew my wife would like it.

Some of the static props from one of the vendors looked like low quality stuff. Although their animatronic ones had some good movement to them, I'm pretty sure I could replicate for $20 what they were trying to sell for $400. All Scares was also there with their hydraulic props and while very cool and professional, it's just out of my league.

We did manage to come across one vendor, an author hawking his books, who managed to insult my friend's wife even while complimenting her. He told her she had pretty hair and bright eyes, but was coasting through life because of her looks. He then told her she was psychologically crippled because she read books for information and education, not for simple pleasure reading (she's a special ed teacher). Okay, way to go with turning off potential customers!

We did watch some of the "makeup wars" they had going on, and that was interesting too, though some artists were definitely more talented than others. I didn't attend any of the classes there, though I did get to meet Allen Hopps of Stilt Beast Studios. I admire his artistic talents a lot and it was fun to be able to meet in person people you see regularly online ("It's YouTube Wednesday!").

So in short, it was a huge disappointment and I won't be attending NHC again anytime soon. Sure some of the show's shortcomings were the result of a rumored personality conflict between the two haunt show owners, but NHC shouldn't have promised attendees they would be geting so much more for their money when in fact they would be getting a whole lot less.

I'm not sure I'm going to go to Hauntcon either in the future, if for no other reason than if the rumors are true, than that wouldn't be a show I'd want to support with my money. Both shows could have been good for their attendees (that's what it's supposed to be about, right?) and probably profitable for both, had not one or the other had too big of an ego.

While these shows are supposedly geared more for the home haunter, there really wasn't anything to suggest that at NHC this year, so I guess it comes down to it that if you're going to go to a haunt show, just save your pennies and go to Transworld.


  1. I was also incredibly disappointed with this year's NHC. It felt more like a craft show than anything else. There was no entertainment to speak of (Last year there was a quiz show, a coffin ride, etc). Certainly not worth $25. But the real disappointment for me was the Cadaver Cotillion. It was held in a party room in the middle of a kid's play center. The lights were kept on almost the whole time, making it feel like a grammar school dance, and the DJ was horrible, so no one was dancing (Note to DJ: if you see people dancing to a song, let it PLAY, don't keep mixing & fading into new songs).
    I don't know that we'll be back next year :(

    1. Yeah, so many people have echoed these sentiments. It's almost as if they realized things were heading downhill and they just said "the hell with it" and let it go. There was so little effort made on anything.

      DJing is a real art, so I've heard, and there are a lot of untalented ones out there. Key is being able to read the crowd and unfortunately it sounds like you had one of them.

      I'm curious, though, how many people showed up for the dance?


  2. You hit it on the head, I think. I'd estimate about 75 people were there. I dont know why they didnt put more effort in when they knew the Travel Channel would be there filming though. It is going to make for very lame television :/

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