When the calendar switches from August to September, lovers of fall, Freddy Krueger and everything spooky start making plans for what some call the official kickoff to Halloween -- Scarefest.
Dubbed the Black Friday for Halloween by operations director and booking manager Layla Cook, the annual event celebrates horror fandom, celebrities and all things Halloween. Now in its 12th year, the festival got its start through Patti Starr, a world renowned paranormal investigator and author, among other titles she's held, including being the leader of the Bardstown Ghost Trek.
The first Scarefest was held at Heritage Hall in Lexington with the hopes of being a paranormal convention mixed with horror and sci-fi. It was there that Cook was able to meet Nicole and Brandon Griffith, who became sponsors for the event.
But due to unforeseen family circumstances, Starr had to sell Scarefest and everything it had become. Decisions had to be made and quickly.
"We had a week to decide if there was going to be another show," Cook said of the events that transpired.
The Griffiths, who had become invested in the event not just as sponsors but as friends, decided to buy it, and have been running the show since, along with their crew that consists of Cook, Adrienne Elder, celebrity manager, and Kimberly Spillman, the social media director, among others.
The ragtag team of misfits works tirelessly for each Scarefest, booking celebrities, making local connections in the community and finding vendors for the convention. Planning starts at the beginning of the year and only stops after Scarefest is over. Big names such as Bruce Campbell, best known for his role as Ash Williams in the horror favorite "Evil Dead," took years of planning to get him to this year's Scarefest.
"For a show this size, it's years of planning. We have more than 200 volunteers who run the show. What it takes to pull this thing off for us core people is we probably get about two hours of sleep over a six-day period. You're making sure that all of the people you're flying in are picked up on time, that they get in the car to get back to the airport to get home on time, that they get to their hotel, that they get down to their tables on time, that they get to their photo-op at the right time," Nicole went on breathlessly. "To make sure something this big and amazing goes well, it really has to have that much love and work put into it."
The fan-centric and driven event draws a large crowd each year, bringing people from all over the world and country to check it out, according to Nicole. In its early stages, Scarefest saw two women from Australia in attendance and have seen them every year since, bringing more people with them each time. Cook noted that they see lots of people from Canada and France, too, and that nearly 80% of ticket sales comes from outside of Kentucky.
"Horror conventions are a lot different than comic cons. Comic cons are easy to market to everybody, it's a family type of show," Cook said. "Horror shows are more like a subgenre and very artistic, so the fans are very serious. They research what the horror cons are, so if you're advertising, you're not reaching out to get the word out to them, they already know about it."
Nicole said when people hear Scarefest, they assume it's a haunted house or something that would scare their kids, but it's anything but. Her own son has been attending since he was three and they even had a kids day on Sunday. Kids under 10 get in free, with special vendors, a kid's costume contest, special crafts, activities and entertainment.
Kicking off a weekend of fun is the launch party at SKYBAR on Thursday night, which is free to attend and starts at 8 p.m. Guests can enjoy giveaways, drink specials, scary-oke and more. Friday is "Hero Day," where active and retired military and first responders get in free from 5 to 9 p.m.
Later Friday night is the VIP party at Manchester Music Hall, featuring the Imperial Court of Kentucky, burlesque group The Dames and musical act Freddy and the Cruegers.
Jeff Cochran and The Rockstar DJ Tre will be in the Bluegrass Ballroom of Lexington Center on Saturday for the infamous Southern Smackdown Costume Party, which will feature special celebrity guest judges and appearances, including John Kassir from "Tales From The Crypt." Pre-judging kicks-off at 9 p.m., costume contest is at 9:30 followed by a costume party at 10.
To find out more or to purchase tickets, visit thescarefest.com. While there, check out the full list of celebrities, speakers and vendors. Before Scarefest begins on Thursday, special events such as Axes, Brews and Booze with the Stars at Battle Axes or the Celebrity Ghost Hunt will be going.
Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.