Midwest Haunters Convention brings the spook to summer
By (614) MagazinePublished June 1, 2012
One fateful night in the summer of 2004, Jerry Seinfeld, John Kerry and Snoop Dogg were all staying at the Westin Hotel in downtown Columbus when a mob of bloodthirsty zombies, ghouls and unearthly creatures descended on the hotel, searching for thrills in the night.
“The Secret Service freaked out,” laughs Kelly Collins, the 56-year-old co-founder and co-producer of the Midwest Haunters Convention (MHC), as he recounts the bizarre scene from the event’s inaugural year.
The throng of costumed professional Halloween aficionados was eventually relegated to a side entrance. Apparently there are some security concerns about having a presidential candidate in close proximity to a few hundred unidentifiable individuals dripping with fake blood, weird body paints and grotesque prosthetics.
The attendance of the random trio of unknowing celebrity guests was an auspicious beginning for MHC, which has grown considerably in popularity, recognition, scope and venue since that first event. This year’s soiree takes place from June 8th through June 10th at the Greater Columbus Convention Center and Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Columbus. It features more than 105 exhibitors, and attendance will likely top 2,500 people, making it the largest convention of its kind in the world, according to Collins.
MHC was the brainchild of Collins and his wife Neena, who co-founded the event along with another couple, Barry and Kathy Schieferstein. They spotted a niche in the market for an affordable haunting convention after TransWorld’s annual Halloween & Attractions Show began pre-qualifying attendees to spend a minimum of $5,000. MHC was created to offer education, shopping and social events to actors, designers, home haunters and make-up artists within the haunting industry who had been effectively priced out of the TransWorld show, which includes items on sale for upwards of $30,000.
“The Fearsome Foursome,” as Neena Collins refers to the co-founding couples, started the convention in 2004 at Cooper Stadium, where Kelly Collins worked as a consultant running the Terror Park Haunted Attraction. The first MHC events were held in the bowels of the stadium on the concourse under the stands.
About 300 people attended that first convention, which has now expanded to include participants from all 50 states and New Zealand, China, Germany and Canada, among other places. They come from all around to learn, share and revel in a haunter’s paradise.
“This is their Christmas,” sums up Kelly Collins, a 27-year veteran of the haunting industry and a resident of Lewis Center. He was born in Worthington and runs The Scare-a-torium in Dublin along with his wife. By day, he works as a marketing supervisor for White Castle Food Products, the chain’s frozen foods division.
MHC includes events like Scaryoke, a Body Art Fashion Show, 35 different classes for haunting industry professionals, and overnight bus tours of haunted houses around the region, which allow haunted house owners to enjoy the scares for themselves and borrow some of their favorite ideas for their own attractions.
And of course there are vendors, with names like BrainChow Studios and Dapper Cadaver. Collins estimates the average buyer spends between $500 and $1,000 on all kinds of haunting props, makeup and paraphernalia.
“You want to touch it. You want to see it move. You want to see how it interacts with people,” he explains about the advantage of buying props at a show like MHC versus purchasing online.
The convention also includes contests, like the ever-popular Monster Makeup Wars. The competition features five teams of three that can use only secret items from MHC-supplied makeup kits to turn a model’s face into the specter of a gruesome monster. Previous year’s kits have included items such as string, cotton balls, safety pins, bald caps and cereal, in addition to makeup. It’s kind of like the TV show Chopped, except instead of a plate, the canvas is someone’s face.
Collins’ favorite event is the Masquerade Party, a huge bash on Saturday night featuring custom-made costumes that often take two to three months to design and build, with special effects worthy of a major Hollywood movie.
The party includes the Miss Scary Midwest Pageant and the Scariest Character Contest, which rewards method acting as much as a great costume.
The Masquerade Party encapsulates MHC as a whole: people devoted to the art of creating fear who couldn’t be happier to celebrate the opportunity to share their passion with one another.
“These are the nicest people you’d ever meet,” Collins states. “We are in a fun industry. This is like a Christmas vacation for us.”
They are still awaiting word on Mitt Romney’s attendance.
Midwest Haunters Convention
June 8th – 10th
Greater Columbus Convention Center and Hyatt Regency