In just five years, ScareFest has become a staple on Lexington's fall entertainment calendar, bringing in horror and paranormal film celebrities including Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; Lea Thompson of Back to the Future; Adrienne Barbeau of The Fog; and many other stars, plus a broad slate of activities.
This year's event starts Friday at The Lexington Center.
Again, it prompts the question: How did this happen in Lexington?
It started as an idea in 2006 by event organizer Jeff Waldridge and Patti Starr, owner of the Ghost Hunter Shop in Lexington and an organizer of area ghost and paranormal events.
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Waldridge approached Starr about putting on a convention, and then he went off to research the concept.
"I attended all kinds of conventions, not just horror and paranormal, but sci-fi and other kind of conventions, even a lawn and garden show, just to get a good feel of how people ran certain events," Waldridge said.
He also looked at the region, what similar events were going on and whether there would be interest in the Lexington market.
With all signs looking positive, ScareFest was launched in 2008 and drew an audience of 5,000, Waldridge said, and the audience grew steadily to 12,000 last year. This year, the event sold out of VIP tickets before its first celebrity guest was even announced.
"That shows you that the fans trust us and know they're going to have a good experience," Waldridge said. "They aren't coming for the celebrities. They're coming for the experience."
Among the celebrities scheduled to attend the fifth ScareFest is Chandler Riggs, 13, who plays Carl Grimes on AMC's hit TV adaptation of the comic title The Walking Dead, created by former Lexingtonian Robert Kirkman.
"I've always loved conventions," said Chandler, who portrays the son of zombie-fighting protagonist Rick Grimes. "They're always so much fun."
He said the fan in him comes out at conventions, because he enjoys "meeting people I've seen in movies before."
"It's so cool to see them later on and learn what their views were when they making them," he said.
Another guest, Ghost Adventure star Nick Groff, said he enjoys ScareFest so much that he is bringing the launch of his new book and band to the event this year.
"I love ScareFest," he said. "A lot of events people just stand in line, get their autograph and have to walk away. At ScareFest, it's more interactive. People are awesome and respectful, and it feels like a more personal time."
"I want my celebrities accessible," Waldridge said. "We try to give the fans their moment. They've stood in line all that time, and we try to give them their moment with their favorite celebrity."
As the festival has grown, Waldridge said, he has been able to retain bigger-name celebrities, although booking them can be tricky.
This year, three of the bigger names have canceled. Horror writer and director Clive Barker bowed out because of health concerns, and Walking Dead star Jon Bernthal, who played Shane, had to cancel because he is filming a movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, with Martin Scorsese. Thursday afternoon, the festival announced that film actor Malcolm McDowell, star of A Clockwork Orange (1971), the rebooted Halloween franchise and many others, had canceled because of emergency eye surgery to repair a detached retina.
"With any of the celebrities, you take a chance of them having to cancel due to other films, other television shows," Waldridge said. "That's how they make their living, and these events are just to get closer to their fans."
But as in most years, Waldridge saod, there should be plenty of celebrities to keep the fans happy. He said that in the past five years, he has been surprised by who has been a hit and who's been a disappointment in terms of fan interest.
Candyman series star Tony Todd, and Doug Bradley, who played Pinhead in the Hellraiser movies, are always big attractions, even if they are not household names.
"They're icons because they played iconic characters and they keep working," Waldridge said.
Celebrities are not the only draw at the festival. Waldridge said he, Starr and other festival organizers keep adding elements. New this year is the Saturday night concert, which he said was a logical move considering that there are a substantial number of horror-themed bands.
"We just want to make it a great experience," Waldridge said. "That's what keeps people coming back."