The breath-halting thud of a recorded piano hits as soon as the elevator door opens and a tightly packed group of people stumble out into the dark, second-floor lobby. The music isn't instantly recognizable, but it invokes the mix of dread and morbid curiosity that marks the best horror scores. Old dolls pop out of a tiny crib and toy chest displayed under an eerie, corner light; “Now I lay me down to sleep,” reads the writing on the nearby chalkboard. There's a scream— ear-piercing, sort of human, sort of something else— not too far in the distance. Some people are trying to corral monsters into the elevator.

It's still early in August and we're inside the Reef (formerly L.A. Mart), a downtown building known for general design and creative work. Still, Halloween has overrun two floors of the venue for Scare L.A., an annual convention dedicated to the spooky holiday. Outside, the line is long and, inside, the panel rooms are frequently standing room only.

Co-founded by Lora Ivanova, who has worked on related events like the trade show HAuNTcon, and David Markland, who edits the blog Creepy L.A., this celebration of frights came out of their own fascination with October 31. After the 2012 holiday, the two lamented having to wait a year for another round of tricks and treats. Markland mentioned to Ivanova that there should be a dedicated convention. Ivanova figured that they might as well do it themselves. In its debut year, Scare L.A. brought in 4,000 people. This time around, Ivanova anticipated more. After all, Los Angeles loves Halloween.


Dienzo's art inspired by the Haunted Mansion.; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

Dienzo's art inspired by the Haunted Mansion.; Credit: Liz Ohanesian

There is a dearth of good statistics on the economics surrounding Halloween, Ivanova says. From experience, though, she views Los Angeles as a special place to celebrate, in a large part because of the entertainment industry. It's a city filled with make-up artists, prop-makers, effects specialists and other film and TV-centric trades. “A lot of them kind of share that passion for Halloween,” she says.

And people are willing to go all out to spread the gleeful terror of the season. “Even the home haunts around town exceed professional attractions elsewhere,” she adds, “because you really have some of the best people in the industry throwing a party in their backyard with props and attractions.”

Halloween event promoters big and small head to Scare L.A. to start spreading the word. There are biggies like Knott's Scary Farm and The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor and lesser known events like the Ghost Train at Griffith Park and Wicked Lit's performances at Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery. Whether or not you like big scares or something that's just a little unnerving, there's a haunted happening to suit your tastes. At Scare L.A., incorporating that diversity is an important part of the convention. “Halloween is a lot of things to a lot of people,” Ivanova says. The show floor is “curated,” meaning that the team carefully selects who will take part in the event.

Some promoters show off their attractions in the back of the exhibit hall. The Hellevator, from Field of Screams in Lake Elsinore, is a bumpy ride to the underworld that left this writer a little dizzy. Bellflower's Haunted Hollywood Sports brought out the zombie hunting practice range. Meanwhile, two young men from Yorba Linda showed off one of the scares from Perdition Home, an event held at a private house. Brandon Spletter, 24, has been turning his family's home into a Halloween extravaganza for years and now documents the process on YouTube. In 2013, 1100 people visited over the course of six nights.

But Scare L.A. is more than just prep for October. Some professionals spend months, maybe even the whole year, building up to Halloween. Others, make spooky their calling cards regardless of the season. For many, Halloween is a lifestyle.

“To me, everyday is Halloween,” says artist Rick “Dienzo” Blanco, intentionally referencing a 1980s synthpop tune from the band Ministry. Blanco's pop surrealist work is part Margaret Keane, part Haunted Mansion. Since Aug. 9 marked the 45th anniversary of Disneyland's ghostly ride, Dienzo displayed his best homages to the Haunted Mansion, one inspired by his first childhood spin in the Doom Buggy.

See also: Our photos of Scare L.A. 2013

He wasn't the only one who remembered this momentous day in Disney history. Upstairs, theater group Captured Aural Phantasy performed an old Haunted Mansion storybook record for the occasion.

Next to Dienzo's booth, Christie Creepydolls lives up to her artist name, showing off a range of goosebump-raising figures. There are Brides of Frankenstein and nuns. The dolls sometimes appear bloody and with teeth protruding from odd parts of their faces.

Creepydolls has been in business for more than a decade and the pieces sell all year long. They're vintage porcelain dolls that she sources from a variety of vendors and revamps with paint, fabric and sculpting tools. She'll frequently break the dolls to give them a new and frightening appearance. “I shatter dolls a lot,” she says. “I've gotten to the point where I can do it on command.”

Horror literature, monster movie-inspired fashion and even creepy cakes dot the show floor. Upstairs, people could learn how to put a hair-raising chill into their own lives with monster make-up tutorials and haunted house how-to sessions. Los Angeles Obscura Society gave tips on finding eerie local spots (Devil's Gate Dam and a ghost town by LAX are two of their picks).

Near the end of the day, it's hard to leave Scare L.A. There are just too many frights to ingest and October can't come soon enough.

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