In the horror world, the DIY ethos has always been strong. From gore kills to creepy costumes, the genre and subculture embrace creativity. The genre has long transcended the world of cinema, and Spooktacular! explores one of its most iconic experiences. Director Quinn Monahan brings together many of the creatives behind SpookyWorld, a seasonal theme park and attraction based around horror culture. The result is a celebration of a bygone event and the history that disappeared with it.
In 1991, Spookyworld opened in Berlin, Massachusettes. Under the leadership of David Bertolino, the theme park grew in esteem. After beginning as a simple hayride attraction, it soon collected the attention of stars from stage and screen. As SpookyWorld evolved into a theme park tied into a horror convention, the creative input resulted in increased production design. Soon horror icons like Tom Savini (who also produces the film), Kane Hoder, and Elvira (a.k.a. Cassandra Peterson) would arrive nightly.
Monahan pulls the stories from the people on the ground, and their enthusiasm remains years later. For any fans of haunt experiences or haunted houses, Spooktacular! feels like a love letter to the community. While some lament long lines and crowds, there’s a sense of camaraderie between those who created it. Framing the event as a “horror summer camp” helps put everyone in good spirits.
While Bertolino comes across as eccentric and perhaps too enthusiastic to make the best business choices, he also clearly poured his heart into the event. There’s an auteurist streak to the story that cannot be ignored. Like a dark Walt Disney, Bertolino drew some of the most talented creators to his side. You feel that charisma through the camera, even as he tells another story about an event that should not have worked.
The craftwork from the mazes and costumes shine, even on older footage. The images remain scary, and the makeup work from the amateur teams impresses. The event’s culture resulted in concepts and techniques passed down to new team members. Even Bertolino’s push to save the macabre and horror artifacts ultimately came at a price. Unfortunately, we lost some of that culture with the event’s changing location and concepts.
However, the biggest issue facing Spooktacular! comes from less-than-ideal footage. Much of it feels like a home video, but it maintains its VHS quality. The documentary might have felt more essential with more polish in the edit or slightly higher production value. In a sense, it appeals to the DIY setting of SpookyWorld, but it undeniably will hurt its ability to expand outside its target audience.
Spooktacular! is not a perfect documentary but a work of love. The passion of Monahan comes through the film, and Bertolino clearly leaves a mark on him as a person. This helps Spooktacular! serve as a fun, caring, love letter to an event that has since changed its priorities.