In all of the 50+ stories we’ve posted about Spooky Empire, none have received as much commentary as our coverage of the most recent, Halloween 2018, event. From a Funkogate fiasco fueling fan fury and riots due to poor planning, never has the reaction been so heated.
As a result, we decided to look into the matter and find a bit more insight into what may have happened. The result, below, is based on comments and posts about the event as well as direct discussion with a few fans.
We’d like to begin by saying, Spooky Empire is a fiendishly fun fear-centric horror convention. For the most part, fans are more like family then attendees. Engaging events, gracious guests from various monster movies and macabre media, diverse vendors offering outlandish opportunities for spooky swag and an overall outstanding 3-day party.
Staff and volunteers work hard to ensure that fans find favor with the semi-annual event. Over the past 16 years, Spooky Empire, which initially saw life as Screamfest in South Florida, has hosted horror happenings at Central Florida hotel convention centers (Wyndham, DoubleTree, Hyatt, Caribe Royale to name a few). As the years passed growth and popularity increased. Big name guests and larger attendance begat the need for bigger venues. With that growth came growing pains. Minor issues at one venue forced the event to find a new home, but, based on fan accounts, 2018 may have added unintended meaning to the convention’s motto “the darker side of Comicon.”
Logistics issues with parking (poorly maintained, unlit areas that sometimes took two hours to get parked), will call pick up for prepaid tickets (walk-in guests were able to gain entrance in minutes, while those who pre-purchased tickets waited in long lines to get their credentials), to what is being billed as Funkogate (where, again, poor planning led to collectors waiting hours for exclusive items that didn’t arrive as intended – ultimately requiring Orange County Deputies assistance to deal with angry guests on several occasions).
Despite the delays and disturbing behavior of some, most attending Spooky Empire on October 26-28 had an amazing experience. This is evidenced by several encouraging entries on the convention’s Facebook page:
”Did I hate the parking? It scratched up and ruined my cars paint. Did I wait 2 and 1/2 hours to get in? No. I waited for 3+ hours. Did I get lost and had no idea where stuff was? Yes. Did it make for an awesome adventure finding things and did I have a blast? YES. Can’t wait until April!!!” – D.R.
“We were there on Friday during the crazy parking. But we had a great time! Everyone is well aware of the wait time and lines so I say quit your bitching at Spooky and buy the VIP pass cause you have a year to save for the ticket and get in fast! Worth every penny! I can’t stand the people who do nothing but come in here and complain. Thank you Spooky thank you to the Volunteers that’s right volunteers those who weren’t getting paid and probably didn’t know squat and were getting mobbed by hundreds of fans who frustrated. Y’all took some rough unnecessary beatings and I’m sorry for those people who suck. But rest assured a lot of us thank you for your time! We enjoyed every aspect of Spooky last year and this year and will continue to do so!” -A.R.F.
“Petey & Gina, you guys are amazing! I’ve been loving your con for years now and always have a wonderful time! Were there hiccups this weekend? Sure. Did I come out way more exhausted than usual? Absolutely! But at the end of it all, y’all delivered another amazing con and once again made one of this girls many dreams come true! THANK YOU Spooky fam!!!🖤🖤🖤” H.C.
“Thanks for acknowledging all of the short comings of the convention. You addressed all of them in this message. I am sure it was a learning experience for you. This was my first spooky. I came from Virginia mainly to see Elvira in costume. Though there were things I was unhappy about, I got over it and ended up having a great time. I will definitely try to come back. I stayed at the Royale caribe, which was also very nice. I just had to go down the elevator and out the door and I was there. I liked the location. I’m sure it could be really good there if some things are improved upon. Thanks spooky” -T.S.
Others, however, were not so happy:
“This event was mishandled in so many ways. Those in charge of the convention, knowing the size of the venue, should have capped tickets for photo ops and autographs so that everyone could have a better experience. They knew how many tickets were sold and did not prepare properly. This led to the venue being extremely overcrowded. I can only imagine what would have happened in the event of an emergency if the hotel needed to be evacuated. Lines were disorderly, no one knew where to line up, those with VIP tickets were mixed in with people with General Admission tickets, volunteers were telling people different things, no one seemed to be in charge. This is led to a lot of anxiety as people were not sure if there would be able to receive what they paid for. It also led to celebrities feeling rushed during photo ops and autographs and not being able to interact with fans as they would if there was more time. The sound in the tent for the panels was horrific. The mics didn’t work and kept producing feed back that disrupted the panel. This was my first con and if I did not speak to other friends about how poorly handled this con was, I would like be turned away from cons.” – L.M.
“The Q&A panels for Spooky were, for some inexplicable reason, held in a giant tent behind the hotel this year. To keep everyone cool the tent had a number of very large, VERY loud air conditioners that were running continuously. Despite the best efforts of the sound crew many of the celebrities were almost impossible to hear, especially when the room was full on Saturday for the X-Files panel. People were also upset that, especially in the back of the tent, it was almost impossible to see the stage or the celebrities being interviewed. There were two large screens on either side of the stage but they never seemed to show anything but the convention logo over and over all weekend long.” – G.R.
“It was a clusterfu@#, very disorganized . . . We over heard some of the volunteers that were new that were near our line. Probably explains why they were very rude and didn’t know how to handle things. We got yelled at by these people only cause we were “cutting” the line for the pops. Only cut the line to get to one of them and ask where was the photo op. . . Yeah it was just a nightmare with parking then waiting at hour to get our wristband which we arrived at 4pm. I’ve never seen a line for will call that late in the day if the con started at 1pm . . . They really shouldn’t have had the pop there on the same day as the photo op. She wasn’t even signing autographs until Saturday. They could have released it at her table that day instead” D.B.
“Please check peoples bag when they enter! I know y’all are used to being a small con with lots of regulars in attendance but as you grow and get things like special releases you will start to attract all kinds of people. My husband and I waited respectfuly and peacefuly in the Pop line on Friday for many hours. Once that bad news broke and people started pushing forward to get the information for themselves he look at me and said “there was no security when we walked in, what if someone is carrying a gun?” we left the area well before the cops came got a signutae from Mick and left. I was terrified to be in that building after that mess. . .Please please please for the safety of your staff, talent and most importantly your guests implement some security measures!” – S.B
Apology and backlash
That statement, however, felt more like a slap in the face to some who experienced issues at the show.
“Wow. That’s the worst apology ever…“Yeah. There were lines. Get used to it, you’re at a con.” You failed to address why people waiting for tickets bought MONTHS in advance waited an hour to get in when people who bought on the spot got in immediately. Resources should have been re-deployed. Was it a SHOCK that there were so many pre-paid tickets. They’re PRE PAID!!!! YOU KNOW EXACTLY HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE CLAIMING THEIR TICKET!! . . .Parking- again, you knew what your will call numbers were. No one counted the number is spaces and compared it to the will call number? Again, easy problem to remedy…Maybe own the problem and not tell the attendees that they’re the ones at fault for feeling the way they did. When a dog pees on your leg, it’s not your fault you feel wet…Get a different social media person to type these up in the future. I haven’t seen an explanation this crappy since Hillary attempted to explain her private server.” – A.J.
“Lousy apology I fu@$ing agree, I paid for a fu@$ing photo op went all the way over there asked 7-8 crew members on where this place was cause I saw no maps on site I wrote that here on this post and they tried to blame me when you have 20 plus volunteers in the building not knowing their shit. I basically wasted my ticket and my photo op I didn’t even get to meet SID everyone was so fu@$ing lost in that building and I left early” – M.R.
“My friends and I attended Spooky Empire for the first Time on Saturday and I so badly wanted to love this event and attend every year but I was left with total disappointment over all. The celebrities were pretty nice and the event had a great lineup and idea. The wait times were kind of nuts but they made sure people who had an early photo op got in in time to get the photo op done. Every time line was insanely backed up though which caused mayhem the rest of the day. My photo op picture was taken an hour and 15 minutes late, then it took an hour to receive my photo. After that it took 45 minutes to get my pre paid reprint after multiple volunteers were rude for no reason at all. Luckily one volunteer noticed how long we had been waiting and helped us. Waiting for all of those issues caused is to meet the Q&A we wanted to see that was disorganized anyways. They needed signs and staff telling people which lines they should have been in, it was so disorganized! One volunteer in the autograph room even made my friend cry because she obviously didn’t understand how to just ask someone politely to move when we weren’t even standing anywhere near the poorly taped off line sections. Maybe spooky empire should hire real workers, train their volunteers, hire a better photograph company, and stay at the same hotel every year. We had to park in the woods near a caved in lake 20-30 minutes walking distance from the convention itself! I can’t even believe the funko pop situation, they had them Friday and it was chaos, none at all on Saturday, and received the last of them on Sunday just fine. It was a bizarre situation for a con that’s done this 15 times. I’m not sure I’ll go again as awesome as it should be for a horror and sci-fi loving person. . . . (Regarding the posted “apology”) They don’t really apologize for anything. They charged money for people to park a half hour away, give no concern to the 2 hour wait to just get inside, and almost come off snide and rude in their so called apology! Like it’s insane, half the people commenting have better ideas than they do. . . And no bag check. That was a really big concern for me. There was no security or bag or weapons check at all. Inexcusable. -D.A. (as written in a message to Inside the Magic)
Surprisingly, we even had a couple event volunteers share some insight
Seemingly fitting with the tone of Spooky’s apology note, one long-term volunteer is convinced that most of the negative issues and planning problems fall squarely on the ego of the convention owner, Petey Mongelli. She cites the following examples:
“The con has not only lost a number of prominent celebrities to Pete’s ignorance, ego and temper (Robert Englund and Doug Bradley come to mind) but we’ve been treated to a growing number of public tirades, temper-tantrums and awkward moments not becoming of an event owner (his on-stage commentary of Linda Blair after her appearance at the VIP Party in April of 2018 being a very obvious example of his lack of decorum or professionalism).” – Volunteer 1.
She, the volunteer, went on to describe what happened at the Spring 2018 VIP event:
“Linda Blair made an impassioned, if out-of-place appearance at the convention’s VIP party, promoting her work with rescue animals after which, convention owner Pete Mongelli took the stage and lambasted her appearance to the remaining guests as a “buzz kill” and apologizing for her ruining the party.” – Volunteer 1
“Con volunteers are largely invisible to Pete, unless they’re doing something he doesn’t like, at which point his ire is unavoidable. If it weren’t for his Volunteer Coordinator, Denna, few (if any) would come back. This most recent con saw more good people leave for the last time, disgusted with the obvious lack of planning and general mismanagement, and several concerned for their safety. Worse is how Mongelli has played the friendship and “Spooky family” card time and again to retain people working for him, oftentimes donating their time and resources with no compensation.” – Volunteer 2
To say that the convention, despite the problems posed above, is doing well would be an understatement. One volunteer passed along this amusing quote. Allegedly something they overheard Mr, Mongelli brag about as they were walking across the hotel on Sunday night/Monday morning: “Dude, I made so much fu@#ing money this weekend.” Nothing wrong with that, but it also suggests that the cost of extra security for bag/weapons checks; wristbands for limited edition collectibles and such could have easily been absorbed into the weekend’s operating expenses.
Finally, one long-term, seasoned convention attendee summed it up quite eloquently:
“I am amused at the condescension in “That’s what “Exclusive” means.” Duh, dude, that’s why people were there and waiting for 9 hours. I wasn’t even a part of that, and i find that sentence off putting. And “we didn’t expect the attendence.” Well, when you exceeded capacity, you needed to cut off sales. Like I said . . .I’m not putting those statements on the net or in your article, but, they really negate any apology vibe to me . . . Spooky has a loyal core of attendees. That’s who they cater to. I was merely a tourist . . . (regarding apology): and i find it very exclusionary and insulting (I guess i’m not done), that they say “it wasn’t our spooky family” that got mad about th funko’s or the parking or lines; because it doesn’t matter if it was funko collectors, or me, who’d never been before. . . I paid $145, before parking, to walk in the door; I deserve as much politeness as your “spooky family” Those collectors in line for a funko also spent money and they knew they might not get the toy but they deserved correct info they paid for that, not the toy”
In conclusion, your mileage may vary. Long-term, loyal fear friends will continue to flock to the Florida horror convention. Others, sadly, see the “by fans, for fans” element tarnished to the point of not wanting to return. In the end, Spooky Empire will continue to draw fear fans to their spring and fall horror events; hopefully learning from (and correcting) October 2018’s sore spots. Along the way perhaps a sprinkle of compassion and kindness might also weave its way into the equation as well.
Source and images: Spooky Empire Facebook Page, Funko-Gate Memes Facebook Page, Elvira Official Facebook Page, ITM reader feedback and messages (NOTE: comment attributions limited to initials or anonymous to protect the privacy of those commenting, in several cases, this was done by request). . . Additional images: Shanen Taylor, Michael Gavin