Spooky Empire mastermind Petey Mongelli spills his guts 

We sit down for a talk with the father of the one of the country’s largest horror convention

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MICHAEL GAVIN
  • PHOTO BY MICHAEL GAVIN

Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Horror Weekend

Friday-Sunday, Oct. 25-27 | DoubleTree at Universal Orlando, 5780 Major Blvd. | 888-690-4695 | spookyempire.com | $50-$65

Orlando loves Halloween. While other cities enjoy the typical traditions and neighborhood events – house parties, taking the kids trick-or-treating – we go all out. In addition to the parties and the candy-grubbing and the haunted houses and costume contests, we are also home to three of the largest Halloween-oriented events in the United States: There’s Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party for the little creeps, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights for the older crowd, and then there’s Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Horror Weekend, the alpha gathering of all things and people horror-related. For three blood-soaked days, the DoubleTree at Universal Orlando will be packed solid with costumed madmen, slasher-film legends and vendors selling nightmarish paraphernalia.

According to Petey Mongelli, the mastermind behind the operation, which got its start in 2003 in Fort Lauderdale, Spooky Empire is the mother ship for the nation’s sprawling horror culture. He says the market for horror events is massive and growing – so much so that in 2011, Spooky Empire introduced a Memorial Day weekend convention, called May-Hem, which has also become an annual affair.

We sat down for a few minutes with Mongelli to talk about the work that goes into putting together such an endeavor, and why he thinks horror is more than just a niche market.

Orlando Weekly: How did you get the idea to start an entire convention based on horror?
Petey Mongelli: We were actually planning a rock & roll convention at first, and the market was really bad at that time. So we were listening to a lot of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper and KISS. It was all horror-related music, so we were like, “Why don’t we just do the whole show on horror movies?” So our main thing was to try and find the actors that were in all the horror movies.
That was the hard part, because when we started doing it, there were no other horror conventions out there that were fully developed. So it was rough. We’d actually look up where the movies were filmed and we’d dive into the telephone books to try and find all the actors.

How do you feel when people describe horror as a niche market?
Well, I don’t know if it is a niche market, you know? It’s a tough market, for sure, because people think it’s scary. But Halloween’s the second-biggest holiday out there, and people are starting to realize that. Disney had Unleash the Villains [horror-related event] on Friday the 13th and it was overwhelming. I think their eyes opened up and they said, “Wow, man! This whole horror-scary-thing is out there for everybody!”
Horror is a great market for everybody, and everybody likes to celebrate Halloween. I mean, who doesn’t like candy?

What do you think usually turns the average Joe off from exploring horror culture?
I think people are scared. People are terrified to see what it is at first because they don’t realize how much fun it is. You always have those people who say, “Oh, well, I just don’t like scary movies,” but they like to dress up. And they like to celebrate a holiday. People just like to come together and explore their favorite movies.

What has been the hardest part in ensuring Spooky Empire is a success year after year?
Just trying to keep it fresh. That’s the hard thing. Trying to not do the same thing every year. We’re always trying to throw something in there that’s fresh and new. We’ll see so many conventions out there that just do the same thing every single year. We just try to do something fresh every time … and I think that’s what makes people come back year after year.

What do you think is the thing that makes this convention so successful?
I think the parties at nighttime. The celebration of everybody coming together,
hanging out, getting a couple cocktails and drinking. That’s really been the saving grace. Everybody really loves that atmosphere of coming together. A lot of people who come to the show, that’s their family now. So it’s like a family reunion every year.

Do you think Orlando realizes how big the horror market is?
Well, I think Orlando’s eyes are opening. Like I said before, Disney World is doing it, and Universal Studios is, too. All three of us are the largest horror/Halloween celebrations in the United States. Disney’s thing is great, Universal has the largest gathering of haunted houses, and we’re the largest horror convention. It’s all done right here in Orlando. We’re doing the numbers, you know?

What would you tell somebody who was having reservations about attending a convention full of blood and guts?
If you like to have a good time, this is the place to do it. It’s an atmosphere where everybody just has a great time. There’s so much stuff going on, and you don’t just have to be a horror fan to come. People just love seeing everything … the dealer room, you can get tattoos if you want ’em, the museums, the Q&As. There’s something for everybody at the show.
There are so many people who come to our show and are not into horror movies, and they have an amazing time. So I guess I would say that.

Can you tell me a little more about the Tribute to the Haunted Mansion walk-through experience you’re doing this year?
Well, it’s kind of a surprise. It’ll look similar to the props and stuff that are used in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, but it’ll be our take on it. That’s all I can really say for right now. 

Any other highlights for this year’s convention?
We have the creepy car show, where there are about 20 hearses, the big poker tournament, the zombie walk, which is amazing. If you’ve never seen it, it’s just over-the-top!

I have to ask: favorite horror flick?
I love the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. We’re very excited to be having the reunion this year [the original 1974 cast will reunite during this year’s Spooky Empire Ultimate Horror Weekend], so I’d have to say they’re my favorite. But I still love some of the cheesy movies like Motel Hell and the Leprechaun series.

All immortal American classics. Thanks for your time, Mr. Spooky.

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