;Friday the 13th, the infamous pseudo-holiday of evil popularized in silicone and celluloid, is now upon us. And on Oct. 13, 2006, an expected 10,000 horror aficionados will swarm Orlando for one of the biggest horror conventions in the country, ScreamFest. For the first time in its four-year history, ScreamFest will call Orlando home. Revelers will transform themselves with costumes, exalt horror celebs, immerse themselves in gory cinema and thrash to music — all to excess. And as has been proven at prior conventions, more than a few attendees will make bloody asses of themselves. This is, after all, a horror spree and not a time for temperance to reign supreme. Organizer Pete Mongelli says the only protest threat he's ever received came from a religious group that was upset that one of that year's guests was married to a porn star. Which proves once again that here in Jesusland, sex is naughty but violence is A-OK.

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;But how can a city so well-known for its "family entertainment" attract something so dark? The reality is that Orlando loves its gore — even as a family activity. Halloween is a month-long celebration, thanks in no small part to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, now in its 16th installment, with added backstage tours. Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens also have jumped into the act. New this year, the Nights of Terror attraction at the Mercado opens Oct. 13, boasting four haunted houses, several lounges and a food court.

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;Move beyond the theme parks for more signs of our blood lust. For downtown bars, All Hallows' Eve is easily one of the busiest nights of the year; all kinds of people in all kinds of outfits love to get liquored up. This is how we roll.

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;Scary entertainment goes on year-round, too. Consider our history of haunted houses. The late Terror on Church Street had 23 themed rooms of terror for its guests. For eight years, until it closed in 1999, this European import ruled downtown. Its owners blamed low attendance and high rents for forcing them to shut its doors. Skull Kingdom on International Drive, however, has had no trouble since it opened in 1997, thanks to its tourist-heavy clientele. Old Town in Kissimmee has featured the Haunted Grimm House since 1993. Again, it serves the tourist market, but not exclusively. Added to the above is a spattering of seasonal costume and horror merchandise outlets that seem to expand every year. Two of the nation's leading horror companies, Halloween Express and Spirit Halloween Superstores, have six locations collectively in the Orlando area.

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; Troma's ScreamFest Afterparty ;
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After surviving the onslaught of entertainment at ScreamFest, the horror doesn’t stop there. Troma Films’ afterparty boots up 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at Back Booth. Look for performances by burlesque girls and other acts, as well as screenings of short films and Troma trailers. Company president Lloyd Kaufman — who’s receiving a lifetime achievement award at the convention — hopes to raise funds for TromaDance by throwing the party.

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TromaDance is Kaufman’s answer to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Troma holds its event in the same city at the same time (the next is Jan. 22-25, 2007), but doesn’t charge filmmakers to submit their films, and the screenings are free. Troma relies on sponsors, fan donations and events like this one to fund the endeavor.

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For the last 30 years, Troma has produced mostly low-budget horror movies outside of the Hollywood system. Troma films generally bask in violence, gore, nudity, sick humor, political incorrectness and anything else your mother wouldn’t approve of. Kaufman himself has directed or co-directed such films as The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ’Em High. His upcoming project is Poultrygeist, described as a Troma take on Fast Food Nation with a twist: In this send-up of American gluttony, chicken zombies come back to feast on human flesh.

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So if you believe in independent film, this is your chance to show support, get drunk and maybe even dance with the Toxic Avenger.

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— SF

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;So why is horror such a big deal here? There's no real answer. As for the ScreamFest convention, Mongelli says it's convenience. He says Orlando is simply easier for all Florida horror fans to get to than Fort Lauderdale, where the event took place last year. Evelyn Fisher, owner of the local Halloween Express shops, says the horror interest here reflects a national trend. Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma Films, a leading independent horror and gore movie company, finds his Orlando fans to be extremely dedicated, and he doesn't know why.

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;So we have something of a mystery on our hands. Maybe it's a mutation in our theme-park genes. Maybe it's the water. Regardless, horror in Orlando gets bigger every year, and ScreamFest attendees could substantially flesh out that fact. This year, Mongelli expects several thousand more than the 8,000 people who attended the 2005 convention.

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;The menu for ScreamFest runs the gamut of horror-based entertainment: costume and gaming contests, vendors hawking memorabilia and gear, classes on topics such as "vampire teeth," cult film screenings and a festival for indie films, hardcore concerts and freakish performances, including one by an Elvira impersonator. On the all-important celebrity front, four actors from the Friday the 13th series will be on hand for autographs, photos and a special forum on the landmark horror series. (Pop quiz: In which Friday the 13th did Jason's mask first appear? Answer: No. 3.) Other guests include Tony Todd (aka Candyman), wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper and the Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin. Nostalgia/trivia buffs no doubt will be all over 76-year-old Ricou Browning, a Florida actor who played an uncredited role as the monster in 1954's cult classic Creature From the Black Lagoon. (Browning acted in only the underwater swimming scenes filmed at Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee, performing as a double for Ben Chapman, who played the monster out of the water.)

;;The film festival is open to aspiring Florida horrorists, who can show off their work to those in the biz as well as test audience reaction. There's plenty of partying to go around, with various live bands including locals the Green Goblyn Project and Gargamel! A midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with "shadow performers" who mimic the characters on screen, will be hosted by actress Patricia Quinn (aka Magenta).

;;Not on the official schedule are the spontaneous debauchery and hotel-room hopping. Unsubstantiated reports from attendees claim that last year Sid Haig, the infamous Capt. Spaulding of Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, seemed to pop up everywhere. Shane Swenson, Troma's booth organizer, says the entire Troma crew — minus him, of course, because he'd already passed out — got naked and paraded around in the hotel pool. And their mascot, the Toxic Avenger, rested in costume in the Jacuzzi.

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;In any event, the crowd this event creates will certainly be darker than what usually lurks around International Drive. But at the same time, ScreamFest is hardly out of place. We love us some gore, after all.

; arts@orlandoweekly.com

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