Turn up the lights.
Turn off the noise.
Remove all the people, and this place is no longer an event.
It’s just a moment in the past.
Regular nightly attendance this year was our lowest ever, except for on Kid Friendly nights and Halloween itself where we broke all attendance records for the night from previous years. Maybe it was the construction. Maybe the weather dampened people’s desire to be out. Maybe we’ve just cycled through the latest generation of High School kids and are working on a new one. Whatever the reasons, overall attendance was just short of last year’s but we still had a steady stream of customers through the house most nights.
In previous years, we have tried to create a confining/claustrophobic feeling in many of our hallways by making them narrow or leaning the tops of the wall panels inward like a collapsing building. I wanted to make a 20” wide hallway this year (our typical hallway width is 44”, and our narrow hallways are 36”) that customers would have to turn sideways to press their way through, but we get enough variance in people sizes that we figured someone would eventually get stuck. Instead, we took the parachutes used in last year’s Big Top and draped them from the ceiling and walls to drastically alter the shape and volume of one of our hallways. Add a fogger machine and minimal lighting, and you get a very weird hallway that “breathed” and left natural folds for hiding characters or props. Still didn’t get the claustrophobic effect I was hoping for, as the parachute “walls” are thin and moveable, but it created some good effects.
We built a Voodoo Jungle using the tree we built a few years back and the camo netting from the Haunted Bayou. Nice to have accumulated so many good props over the years. Our Voodoo Woman volunteer went all out with some amazing makeup effects and was great at reading groups as they came through – hiding behind the tree until customers passed her before startling them and jumping into action.
Similar to the Dead Room, we had an interior room draped with heavy black curtains and blacklights, and our girls that worked last year’s drop panels ran around inside dressed as skeletons. The back of their costumes were completely black, so they would melt and blend into the walls anytime they stopped moving and turned their backs. Then a quick spin, and VOILA! They “magically” appeared in front of people, running through crowds, and basically scaring the hell out of everyone! One of them would occasionally follow at the back of a crowd since it was so easy to appear and disappear whenever the last person in the group would glance back. It was such an effective room that, depending on the response of the particular group, we would often close the exit and send them through the room a second time.
We built a torture chamber, complete with a stretching rack and characters playing both victims and torturers. Three or four characters, dressed as zombies, would sneak up behind the customers if they stopped to watch the scene play out, and then chase them off to the next room in the house. Lots of work and dressing with hit and miss on the reactions.
The zombie graveyard this year was moved out back of the building due to the road construction. Customers follow the Psycho Path up a short hill to the cemetery which ringed a MASSIVE tree. Other than hanging things from the branches, we never got around to fixing things to drop from above which was a bit disappointing to have missed such an opportunity. Once the house gets started, I get caught up in the nights running it rather than changing or improving things. Lots of rain made the Psycho Path slippery, so we had a couple of mishaps as customers were walking down from the cemetery and would get charged by a zombie or a chainsaw wielding groundskeeper.
The Toxic Waste room was converted into an Ebola Lab this year (#currentEvents). We have a couple that sets this room up and works it every year, and they are fantastic! A lot of the extra props and effects are all theirs that they bring and improve upon each year. My favorite part had to be that they clad the hallways in and out of the room with thin, white plastic, similar to what you see in movies when the CDC sets up a quarantine area. But since the plastic was so thin, it would give you glimpses through it of moving “creatures”, and would whip around in the wind. The rain would stream and drip down it, adding its own effect and causing it to stick to customers if they brushed against it in passing.
And then there was our final room.
It MUST make a BIG impact, and there MUST be chainsaws.
We want people to run screaming from the house as new customers are walking in.
Our first step, due to the narrowness of the house, was to alter the front façade so customers exit THRU the façade, rather than into the waiting area behind the front doors. In order to ensure entering customers could still see them, we removed four wall panels from the exit hallway and replaced them with a 16’ section of chainlink fence. So customers in the waiting area could see the customers running out, but they didn’t collide with one another or get in the way.
We decided to make the final room into a Butcher Shop, but we didn’t want people stopping to look at tables of body parts and characters being cut up. We want them to exit, running and screaming. So we took all our prop bodies and body parts, and stuffed them into white, 45 gallon trash bags; splattered them in “blood”; and hung them from crossbeams in the final room, positioning the top of the bags at about 6’ to block the view of our typical customer as they moved throughout the Butcher Shop.
The maze had two exits which dropped customers into two different sides of the Butcher Shop – you could see your friends entering, but you couldn’t see the exit, and you couldn’t see what else was in the room with you (unless you dropped to the ground to look under the meat bags which no one did). Customers had to push the bags out of their way as they moved through the room in order to search for the exit, but our Butcher Shop Clown didn’t have that problem. He not only knew the room layout, but also could tell by the sounds once the majority of the group had entered, and that’s when he fired up his chainsaw, and started to pursue customers throughout the room until they found the exit!
It worked beautifully!
We splattered acrylic paint on the bags for the blood effect, and although they were dry by the time we hung them in the room, the rain made them wet to the touch, which added to one’s reluctance to move them out of the way to pass through the room. Add foggers and strobe lights to the room, and we had a lovely nightmare for customers to end their tour. Many times, as the chainsaws started up, customers would frantically push their way through the meat bags only to find another wall where they expected to find the exit! The chainlink fence lined exit worked wonderfully to allow entering customers to see them running out without anyone getting in the way of their terrorized departure.
Our 24 volunteers did a wonderful job with their own makeup and costumes, and the new shape of the house this year really worked out well! There are always things, post Halloween, that I think of doing better, but the house really had a great feel to it this year, and although attendance was low, I thought it was easily our best design yet!
It took us only a day to take everything down and pack it up – a new record for us. Don’t know if we’ll have another house next year, but if not, this was an awesome way to end our run of Haunted Houses! One group of kids that came through on Halloween night is graduating from High School this year and off to college – they have attended every year as a group since year 9. So awesome! So much fun! So cool to have been a part of that!
So depressed to walk into work knowing this event is over…
Tags: Haunted House