Witches, zombies and ghouls gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel this weekend. They brought tricks – head to foot in frightful finery, makeup that oozed and a passion for all things horror – as well as treats all in support for families facing costly illnesses.
Scares That Care hosted its first convention in Williamsburg, which started Friday with film screenings, chances to meet celebrities, costume contests, vendors and more.
The nonprofit organization was conceived by Joe Ripple, a retired police detective who saw firsthand the anguish of childhood illness when his partner’s daughter was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She died at age 4.
Ripple was working soon after as security at a horror convention when he was struck by the idea to combine such a festival with a charity to provide for families in need. He said the frightening physique is not indicative of the horror community’s inner character.
“I got to see how kind and generous horror fans really are,” he said.
Scares That Care began visiting other established horror conventions in 2006, spreading its mission, and obtained official 501(c)(3) status in 2011. The organization has given away more than $65,000 to families and organizations since its start.
Ripple said having its own convention was a natural progression of the charity, and through Lisa Pacheco, the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance’s director of conference sales and sports – who is also one of Scares That Cares’ 88 state representatives – he began eyeing Williamsburg.
“We absolutely fell in love with the place,” Ripple said.
In addition to the spacious layout at the DoubleTree Hotel, the Historic Triangle offered a wide range of activities outside of the convention. Pointing to Busch Gardens, Water Country USA and Colonial Williamsburg, Ripple hoped guests will bring their children for the spooky festival.
Karen Novak, on Scares That Care’s Board of Directors, said Saturday the number of guests to the convention met the expected 3,000 visitor mark. While fighting with flight delays and celebrities schedules, she was impressed by the friendliness of all involved.
Liz Gray traveled from Annapolis, Md., with her young daughter for the convention, not bothered at the idea of bringing her child to a horror event. Gray said nothing at the festival was “too horrifying,” or as disturbing as the horror films themselves.
While her daughter’s favorite part of the experience was having her face painted, Gray was impressed by the mission of the event.
“The idea that this is a nonprofit horror convention is really what brought me down here,” she said, adding that other similar events can get expensive.
Scares That Care funds grants to offset the financial burden of childhood illness, burns and breast cancer, but this first convention also collected funds to go to local organizations FISH and the Heritage Humane Society. Pacheco chose those two as causes that many locals know, support and serve a broad range of needs in the area.
“Because Williamsburg has welcomed us, we want to give back to them a little bit as well,” Ripple said.
The word about Scares That Care’s mission has reached beyond convention-goers to the celebrities, as well. Ripple said many actors from movies across the years reached out to the organization to participate in this weekend’s conventions.
It was William Atherton, who played Walter Peck in the movie “Ghostbusters,” who brought fan Michael Kermabon to Scares That Care.
“I wanted to have him autograph my proton pack and get a photo,” Kermabon said.
The Chesapeake resident has attended similar conventions, including sci-fi events, and heard about this one through Facebook.
Kermabon tapped into the horror community that converses online and frequently convenes in person at various events and festivals across the country. After virtually connecting with other horror convention fans over the Internet, Gray met many of them in the flesh Friday night.
With the nationwide convention schedule in mind, Ripple planned Scares That Care for a summer, which he said is typically a lull for events.
Williamsburg resident Alice Crowell has traveled for conventions and was happy to see one close to home, attending with her family. Her daughter was participating as a model in the “Make-Up Wars” professional-level competition Saturday afternoon.
Apryl Crowell’s transformation included staples on her forehead, skin missing from her lower face and screws jutting out of her shoulder. The effect was created with silicone layers built up around the hardware.
Matt Angus, who has been doing special effects make-up since the age of 16, won the make-up competition with his work creating a witch whose body was deteriorating after absorbing sickness from children. He created eerie folds, which almost entirely concealed the models’ eyes, using a cast of her face and building clay on top of it.
Elsewhere at the convention, guests bid on silent auction memorabilia, heard from their favorite horror authors, and accrued signatures from some of the convention’s lineup of actors.
Crowell’s husband was looking forward to meeting celebrities. She enjoys reuniting with a community of their “horror friends,” but it was not the scares that brought her to the event.
“I’m not a horror fan,” she said. “I support the family, but I still have a good time.”
That enjoyment is Ripple’s ultimate goal: While he wants the convention to raise money, he wants guests to have fun and not feel like they are being berated for a handout.
“If people don’t come and have a good time, they’re not going to come back,” he said.
If the convention is a success and the hotel staff continues to be as welcoming, Ripple said he will plan to keep the event in Williamsburg. A Scares That Care weekend is already penciled in for next year.
To learn more, visit the Scares That Care website.