Posts Tagged ‘Haunted House’

Turn Up The Lights

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

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.

haunted Workshop

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.

parachute Walls

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.

voodoo Jungle voodoo Woman halloween makeup ideas

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.

skeleton Room

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.

torture Chamber torture Chamber

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.

psycho Path leads to the Cemetary zombie graveyard cemetary Night

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.

ebola Lab

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.

facade Modified

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.

meat Bags blood Paint

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.

butcher Shop of horror

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!

butcher Clown butcher Clown horror exit

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!

greeters zombie screwdriver zombie butcher Clown butcherzipper golem Witch kid Friendly Night host tour Guides butcher ghouls zombies goblins

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…

…what’s next??

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 31st, 2014

happy Halloween hitchiking clown with chainsaw blistered Pumpkin jack o lantern cannibal Pumpkin jack o lantern halloween


Dead Room

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Soundproofing a hallway is not as cheap as I’d originally thought.  Even the online “cheap” options aren’t really cheap when you’re looking at a LARGE space like our Dead Room, and you’re not wanting to spend more than $30 bucks.

Green glue?  $17 a tube is considered cheap!
Acoustic panels?  You’re kidding, right?
Rigid foam panels or soft foam underlay?  $6 for 2’x2’ panels or $30 for the 4’x8’ panels.  Two wall panels make up a hallway, and half of one for the roof, so you’re looking at $75 for 4ft of hallway.

No cheap options.

entrance to the dead room; cheap ways to soundproof a room

First step: double-layer the walls, using two wall panels on each side instead of the typical single layer.

Next: put a roof on the entire structure, then clad it in plastic.

This is going to shut out most of the noise of our haunted house, but it doesn’t give customers that uneasy feeling you get when the pressure changes in a room where the walls are specifically clad in soundproofing.

Collect egg cartons to tack to the walls?  Nice idea, but 4ft of hallway requires 96 cartons (and that’s with spacing).
Quilt batting?  $12/yard at its cheapest (0.5” thick) = $84/4ft of hallway.
Egg crate foam mattress covers?  $50 for a queen size (4’6”x 6’6”)
Old mattresses would be great, but you can no longer buy those from Goodwill or other OpShops, and we’d need about 20 of them.

See the problem?  So while we were totally excited about the concept of the Dead Room, we were suddenly realizing it might be nothing more than just a very dark room.

We started asking for donations of old curtains, sheets, blankets – and then we hit the motherload!  One of the guys knew someone who was replacing the carpeting in their home.

The day we installed it was a nightmare as it dumped rain and we hauled all our carpet inside the hallway to keep it dry while we measured it, cut it, and tacked it to the walls and ceiling.

That sucked.

Maze entrance

But the result was as close to what we wanted as we felt we were going to get.  The roof above the entrance to the Dead Room slopes downward, forcing customers to duck and look into the first dark hallway.  A strobe pointing at you from above the entrance kills any night vision you’ve acquired, and just inside, the light quickly fades as you see the hallway turn to the left.  And once inside, you get the slightly oppressive feeling from the sound dampening, and have to feel your way along the walls to find your way around the corners and back out into the light.

We do get a lot of traffic that slows through this area, and some people have crashed into walls when they moved too quickly, but it’s been great to slow everyone down just before the maze and the final exit.

On our budget, I couldn’t have asked for better!


Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

tree frog

Due to the recent destruction of our donated parking lot, our Haunted House design this year is much narrower than in previous years.  We kicked out the façade a ways and are utilizing areas behind the church to give us the same square footage in the floorplan, but as a result, the layout is very different from previous years.  We wanted to build on the confining feeling created by a narrower house, and really work to emphasize the additional length of the layout.  So while a customer may walk the same number of steps as they would have in a previous house, the lack of front-to-back switch backs or the long hallways that reverse on themselves, combined with the emphasis on keeping the traffic always moving towards the front of the house really messes with your head and gives you the feeling that this one just goes on and on and on.

Haunted House floorplan layout

The first problem was how to create the boundary that was previously created naturally by the zombie cemetery and corner building.  Luckily, our experience in building long, narrow hallways provided us with a solution, so it was back to Home Depot for a couple dozen nine inch nails so we could build a bunch of wall anchors.

nine Inch Nails

Originally, we thought we could build out to the temporary construction fence, but the road graders and dump trucks drive through it quite often, so we decided to give it lots of room!  We placed the wall anchors about 30’ back from the fence.

long view

Although I always refer to this portion of the house as “the maze”, there’s never really been more than one path through it.  A couple of dead ends have allowed us to place characters or maze runners with chainsaws, but there was only one successful path through the house.  This year, we put in an actual maze, with four paths through the house as long as customers continue to move forward.  We’ll see how it all works out as customers now have the ability to double back into the house rather than move out which may create some traffic bottlenecks, but then, that’s why we have maze runners.

the Maze

Another area I’m excited about is The Dark Room.  Our house tends to be very noisy – strobe lights, stereos blasting loud music and sound effects, smoke machines, and black lights.  The Dark Room is a section of covered switchbacks with no interior lights and walls clad in sound proofed material.  Customers enter via a low entryway, and their ability to see ends after the first turn.  From there, they will need to feel their way through the room until they are led to the exit, all the while unable to see anyone that follows them through the room, or what else might be hiding in there with them.  The sound proofing should also induce a slightly claustrophobic feeling as the pressure in the room will feel different without the hard walls to bounce sound back to customers.

We moved the zombie cemetery to a space up a small hill behind the church.  While we just started building the “Psycho Path” that leads to it, we’re investigating what we can do with the overhead space now that we have trees and mount points above an area in the maze.  As in all things, time and money will determine what we finally do when we open.

psycho Path

It’s dumped rain on and off as we’ve been building, so it’s really starting to feel like Haunted House season!  I really like the completely different feel to the house this year, and while I’m sad at the prospect of this final year, I’m excited by the new design that resulted from the changes to our parking lot!  With the maze built, the focus now turns to running powerlines, dressing out rooms and scenes, and finishing up the house before opening night!

Probably the most pleasure I get is the designing phase.  I think that’s the fun part where you can see how you expect it’s going to work, and you can kind of have a giggle sometimes if it looks good.  And then you have that horrible phase where you have to make it.
~ Blair Somerville

You always have to keep pushing to innovate.
~ Steve Jobs

Haunted House Final Year

Monday, October 6th, 2014

The congregation and clergy of the church whose parking lot we have been using for our Haunted House for the past four years do not actually own the church, nor the parking lot.  So we were sad to receive notice last April that the owner of the building had sold off half the parking lot and thru-way rights to a development company who are building a housing complex behind the current location of the church.  The plan, we’ve been told, is to sell off the church and the remainder of the property next year to be developed into a second housing community depending on the success of the first one.  With that in mind, I am sad to say that this is most likely the last year of our Haunted House.

dismantling the Mausoleum Haunted House

We showed up at the church, soon after receiving notice, to dismantle the cemetery mausoleum.  We built it our first year in the church playground, which ran parallel to the parking lot and had long before been overrun by berry bushes.   After reclaiming much of the playground, we built the mausoleum and converted the playground into our zombie cemetery.  It’s been standing alongside the parking lot ever since, so the congregation was probably happy to see it go after all these years.

first Pass cleared

Two weeks later, the building we’d used for Zombie Saloon and Haunted Bayou was torn down along with the picket fence and what was left behind of the playground.  A storage building at the far end of the lot along with our shipping container storage bins were moved via bulldozer around the back of the church.  And before the month was over, what was once a major piece of our Haunted House was bulldozed and cleared.

tree Removal road

In late July, they started clearing trees, and by September, the new road had been cleared, graded, and compacted.  No evidence remained that the area had once been inhabited by spooks and zombies.

road View

The single advantage to this whole thing is that the Haunted House is visible from the main road for the first time ever.  We decided to capitalize on this, and build our façade 30 feet forward from where we have built it in the past.  This also allows us to use one of the few remaining trees as an anchor point for the opposite end of the façade since we no longer have the bayou building for this purpose.

Haunted House facade

Now we’ve got to figure out a decent design.  We’ve lost 20 feet of width along the length of the parking lot but gained an extra 30 feet up front, so the house this year is going to be longer and narrower than ever before.  We’re talking about using some of the space out behind the church, so we’ll have to see if that’s available or not, and if so, what we could do with it to affect the design.

Our fifth year of building the house may be our last, but it’s gotten bigger and better each year, and I expect the same this year!  We’ve acquired quite a lot of really cool stuff over the years, so I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it all after this year, and I’m not sure how this change to our Haunt Space will affect the layout and design of this year’s house.  But I do know that we’re not holding back, especially if this is to be our last year!

A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time… You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

~ James Clear

Strike The Tent

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Haunted House sign

Dumping rain when we built the house.
60mph winds when we went to take it down.
Not a drop of rain or weather problem while the house was open other than a couple of near-freezing nights.

With all the rain we got when we put up the façade (and in previous years), we built some roof panels and placed them throughout the maze for protection from the elements for both our customers and our volunteers.  They doubled as structural support, adding strength and tying walls together in areas where we couldn’t use the anchors.  It’s always nice to be prepared for emergencies that don’t occur (rather than the opposite), but yesterday when we went to take it all down, a windstorm blew in – once the roof panels were off, the rest of maze was ready to take flight!  Luckily, the crew was able to work quickly and get it all down and packed away with minimal damage.

building a roof

roof panels

Maze runners our first year were zombies, rednecks, and ghouls – your basic group of scaries.  We only had ONE guy that could even be remotely compared to a clown, but found from customers that he was the one that freaked them out the most.

The next year, we built The Freak Show into the maze, locking customers into a strobe-lit shipping container with volunteers dressed in black body suits who would throw back their hoods to suddenly “appear” in front of customers and chase them around the dark confines.  Panicked as they were, it was nothing compared to the hysteria that kicked in when we introduced a few clowns into the mix.  Again, feedback from customers ranked this as one of our scariest “exhibits”.

And last year, we had clowns above the maze, throwing things down on people and chasing/taunting them throughout the maze.

But not until this year did we really build the maze around the circus theme.

Big Top Daytime view Big Top Nighttime

The Big Top is the final room in the maze before customers exit, so it’s also the first thing they see when they walk in to buy their tickets.  The sight of that circus Big Top, rising above the maze with the screaming laughter of clowns and chainsaws coming from within, was enough to make many a customer pause at the façade, debating whether or not they really wanted to come inside.

pole Dancing setting up the Big Top under the Big Top

Instead of lions or tigers or bears (“Oh my!”), clowns caged within two circus animal cars “greet” customers as they make their way into the Big Top.  Within seconds, the clowns fire up their chainsaws and “break out”, chasing customers out the exit.

maze runners

maze runners

We dressed all our maze runners as clowns this year, with full access to the thruways to get in front of and around crowds in the maze, and popping their heads through the various wall openings and doorways, so by the time you got to the final Big Top room, you knew there would be chainsaws somewhere nearby.  One of our clowns carried a simple bike horn which turned out to be one of the scariest sound effects in the maze.  He didn’t even run through the maze – just walked slowly around corners, occasionally sounding his bike horn and sending groups into running panic.

drop panel drop panel

drop panel drop panel

We created a number of “drop panels” throughout the house – openings in walls and panels that could be covered by lifting a sliding panel into place, only to drop it with a loud “BANG!”, exposing whatever was hiding behind it.  Lots of fun and very effective!

grim reaper camoflague clown camouflage clown

We continued last year’s idea of full head-to-toe costumes for some characters so customers didn’t know if they were real or not, mixing them among props that weren’t people.  Our grim reaper caught lots of people by surprise.

three heads

dead head

Three heads on a table, and one of them is real.  This only worked so well because the fake heads were REALLY high quality and lifelike.  I don’t believe the scare on this one would have been as effective if the other heads didn’t look so real.

packing up the haunted house

Overall, the house had a great “feel” to it this year, and I was really happy with the maze – lots of switchbacks creating blind corners and very few long views or open spaces.  Dressing our maze runners as clowns and building around the circus theme did a great job of freaking people out!  It seems a LOT of people don’t like clowns… who knew.  The train turned out as good as I had hoped and scared so many people (thank you Zookeeper!)!  I’d really like to figure out the webcam so we can catch photos of people when they’re scared that they can link to on social media or pass on to friends via the internet.  The plastic clad panels worked out much better than expected, so we will probably use that idea again.  We’ll have to see how well they store.  145 total panels for the maze this year: 33 of them clad in plastic and 10 completely rebuilt with the heavier ply since we still need some structural strength and support throughout.  That means we lost over 50 panels from last year to rot and deterioration.  Part of that is that we need to figure out a better way to store them, but from the start, we didn’t really build them to last, so the fact that we still have so many originals is surprising.  Final customer count surpassed every previous year, so we must be doing something right!

fluorescent walls skeleton cemetery zombie graveyard zombies

ghouls ghoul dance party witches clown Car

scared waiting Capt America greeters

American Beauty clowning around zombies scared

kid friendly night kid friendly night

Glad it’s over for another year.
I need some sleep…

Your idea is your currency; what you’re buying is a few seconds of the [customer’s] time, in which you must gain their trust, entertain or inform them, convince them of your message, and possibly get them to act on it.  But it also has to be currency for the user; it has to be funny, informative, or somehow valuable for them to pass on to someone else.
~ Matt Mason


Ghost Train

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

The idea is to shepherd customers down a dark, narrow hallway and into one of the shipping containers as if it were a tunnel, similar to the spider’s lair that we built last year.  However, once customers get half way through the tunnel, they’ll hit a chainlink fence that keeps them from going any further.  And then, out of the darkness, a train will suddenly appear, flashing its lights and blasting its horn, threatening to run them over, and (hopefully) scaring them back out the entrance.

revised Switchbacks train Path

One of our volunteers is planted at the back of each group to open and close doors for us as the groups pass through the maze.  This changes the paths and creates dead-ends if the group tries to back track to escape one of the maze runners.  Once a group enters the train tunnel, the plant swings a wall panel 180 degrees to block off the original hallway and open the next route along the maze for the customers as they “flee” the ghost train tunnel.

That’s the theory at least.

ghost Train Base

ghost train Finished

The train is basically a 2×3 platform on caster wheels, built to house an airhorn and foglights to mimic a train.  A crossbar at eye level holds the foglights, while a wooden box, mounted to the platform, holds the airhorn and car battery to power it all.  A small track, built from 1×2’s keeps the train moving straight towards the fence and the terrified customers.

ghost Train Lights Button

ghost Train Battery Horns

We originally planned on using two truck foglights, mounted about 4’ apart on the crossbar, for our train headlights, but found that normal car headlights, with the high beams hard wired, are cheaper and work just as well.  The train airhorn is a WOLO Xtreme Airhorn (Model 400 Airmite).  We researched YouTube videos of airhorns, and the WOLO is the cheapest model that still delivers a good punch!  We saw a couple of videos and reviews that said that the standard air compressor that came with it wasn’t loud enough, and suggested upgrading to a bigger air compressor.  So, we attached the horns to our shop air compressor, set at 220psi, and then compared that to the sound volume using the included air compressor.  The difference between them isn’t in volume but in pitch – the shop compressor delivers a deeper tone, but the volume is the same.  Since the standard WOLO air compressor that came with the horn is built to run off a car battery and seemed to work fine, especially in the narrow confines of the shipping container, we decided to keep it.

ghost Train Schematic

My mate The Zookeeper, an electrical engineer visiting from our company’s R&D Lab, wired up the whole ensemble for us, so it runs off a standard car battery, operated by a push button mounted on the handles of the train.

I would classify this as another one of our 100% kill rate attractions, similar to last year’s four statues.  While there are the occasional people who are not even fazed when the train suddenly appears, they’re rare – there’s always one group member that panics, but more often, it’s the majority of the group.  Reactions have ranged from “deer-in-headlights” to “running in panicked fear” to one group of teenagers who collapsed in a pile on the floor!  Mothers suddenly use their smaller children as shields, and teenagers are more than happy to sacrifice friends or younger siblings to get out alive!  It’s fun for the whole family.

The Zookeeper linked a webcam to a laptop running a Linux program that snaps photos when the majority of an in-camera background suddenly changes (ie: the darkened walls are suddenly lit by high-beams), so we could snap photos of victims as they reacted to the appearance of the train.  This gave us all sorts of great joy in the expectations of the resulting photographs, but due to funding, we weren’t able to come up with a laptop we could use during the actual haunted house (our proof of concept laptop wasn’t available for use in the haunted house *frowns*).  The good news is, we know it works, so we can plan for next time.  The bad news is, we’ve missed out not only on a ton of great reactions but also on an opportunity to gain more internet notice.  Now that the train is a known item, the surprise if we use it next year, won’t be as great.  But again, if we take photos, many people would come through just to pose when the camera goes off for their internet photo.

Air horn, car battery, headlights, switch and wires – we were able to build our train for about $100.

Perfect Weather

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Compared to last week, today’s build weather was absolutely beautiful!  (Even if I wasn’t comparing it to last week’s miserable onslaught, today’s weather was gorgeous)  Bright sunshine burned off the early morning fog and made for a warm, clear day.

Unfortunately, no amount of short term weather is going to undo the damage that 3 years of rain and humidity has done to most of our maze panels.  We’ve been replacing the plywood “skins” on 10-16 panels each year, and although the weather durable ply we used last year has held up well, this year, the remainder of the panels caught up with us – practically a third of the panels needed to be reskinned.


So we’re trying something different.  Some panels are used structurally, to provide sheer and lateral support to long walls or corners, but many of the panels are merely there to deter customers from heading in the wrong direction.  For these interior panels which need reskinning, we’re using thick, black, plastic.

First, we reinforce the corners to ensure we keep the lateral stability that the plywood has been providing.  Believe it or not, 2×3’s connected perpendicularly using 3” screws will eventually lose their rigidity and look more like parallelograms than rectangles after a year or two in the rain, even with the two interior cross braces.  So without the ply, additional support is needed in at least two of the four corners.

We’re using Husky 6mil black plastic sheeting in 10’x100’ rolls.  We can skin approximately 22 panels with a single roll which costs about $3/panel instead of the $14/panel when using ¼” ply.  We sandwich the plastic between the frame and a 2” strip of ply and tack them in place with a nail gun to create a greater grip and to keep the nails from ripping through the plastic.  Start at one side, then pull the plastic tight as you go and affix the opposite sides.  The locking strips have played havoc with our c-channels that we use to attach panels to one another, and the whole process is more labor intensive, but we don’t have to paint them, and they’re much more water resistant and lighter weight.  Additional cons of this method is that if someone gets rowdy, or the plastic gets a puncture or small tear, the whole panel is at risk.

Laying out the maze takes some time.  We start with the general ideas we want, and then trace possible routes on a map before finally deciding on a layout and placing the panels and doors.  This year, we really wanted to get people going clockwise around it (since they’ve always gone counter-clockwise in the previous years and end up on that long walk past the cemetery), but due to our fixed entry point and ending exit, it was proving too difficult, using too many panels or creating some really complex/expensive builds.

So now, we’ve got customers headed “kind of” clockwise.  We kick them out into the maze, and they immediately head left instead of to the right.  We’ve decided to opt out on the werewolf forest this year – fewer volunteers, but we’d also like to give it a rest and bring it back at a future date so it has more “oomph!”

We’ve got two interior maze areas with one-way doors that change a return path and add to the confusion, and we broke up the LONG narrow hallways with shorter narrow ones, so we don’t run into the wobbly build we had the last two years.  It also breaks up long sight areas, keeping the claustrophobic feel to the place, and creates more corners and twists for ambush.  I was really bummed at how many people ran past the zombies vs cowboys scene we had at the end of the zombie cemetery, so this year, our design forces them head-on to the cemetery twice, and also has switchbacks to bring them face-first to the building at the end and to slow down their hasty exit.

While corners provide the majority of the stability for the maze, we’re using the lateral wall supports and anchor blocks that we discovered/invented last year for stretches of wall that have more than three interior panels.  The stability we get from so simple a design continues to amaze me – it works really well!

I’m REALLY excited about this year’s build!  Can’t wait to try out some of the interior surprises and designs that we’ve got planned, and I’m hoping that we have enough time in our build to actually put them in to play!  Woke up at 3:30 this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, thinking about the build today.

Nice that the weather didn’t disappoint.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Perfect Storm

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

We chose what turned out to be the wettest September day since 1978 to build the front façade for the Haunted House.
We’ve always liked a challenge…

As the late morning pushed into the afternoon, the weather gave no sign of letting up.  But since we’ve gotten used to haunted houses in wet weather, we pushed on.


It was nice to have a large crew that consisted of regulars who have helped in the build over the years.  We’re getting really good at putting this thing up quickly.  A big benefit since I was soaked to the bone within the first half hour of the build despite my magical yellow rain slicker.

Walls and roofs will affect how the maze “floor” reacts to rain, but we got a pretty good idea of the trouble spots and potential flood areas that may occur in the maze if we get a lot of rainfall this year.  If our build day was any measure of how things are going to be at the end of October, we’re going to need to build some better roofs this year!

Haunted House façade

By lunch, we were done!  Just under two hours to get it all assembled this year – not bad given the driving rain!!  Sunday night, we had a massive thunder and lightning storm with flooding and high winds causing damage all over the area.

Monday morning, the façade was still standing.
No damage.
Roll on Halloween!

‘Cause nothing says, “Get Out! Get Out!!” better than a clown with a chainsaw!

Haunted House Post Mortem

Monday, November 5th, 2012

(See what I did there?)


It always feels weird making follow-up posts to the Haunted House in November, but then, future internet searches (regarding what happened in previous years in order to gain new ideas) don’t really care about the “when” a post was posted, but more, the “what” of the post.  Mostly though, these types of posts help me remember what worked and what didn’t work in a given year so we can do better the next year.

The anchors for the long hallways were a massive success!  Great stability!  Really happy with that solution.  We will probably invest in a couple more of those next year as a result.

Last year’s werewolf forest and psycho trailer worked so well that we re-routed the forest this year to lead THROUGH one of the shipping containers, which we converted into a spider’s lair.  A 7’ circular entrance narrowed to a 4’ exit as customers travelled through the spider and web covered lair, creating a claustrophobic result similar to being encased in spider webs – the walls and roof closing in on you and causing you to duck and crouch by the time you exited in order to avoid collision with the mass of spiders, egg sacks and spider webs adorning the interior.  Our webcaster worked magnificently in sheathing the interior walls in hot, glue webbing, while the black lights made it all “pop” visually and played havoc with customer depth perception.


We roofed the switchback hallway and sprayed the walls with expanding foam and luminescent paint, so along with strobes, black lights and a booming box, it made for a crypt-like feel at the end of long, dark, outside hallway.  It worked well to break apart people that clung to one another as you had to walk through it single file, and was a great place to hide maze runners and other staff.

The only problem we found was that a group of frightened people, walking single file through a narrow, hallway will NOT progress when they hear the chainsaws fire up in other parts of the maze that echo through the roofed off switchbacks.  We had a couple of “people log-jams” as a result, and on at least three occasions, people broke through the staff exits to get out into the “behind the scenes” areas, and we had to chase them back into the maze to get them to exit the place!  Always made me laugh, but it was always a massive exercise of herding frightened cats in a thunderstorm.

We had a room with four doors, each door offering an exit, with only one being the real exit.  This worked well in that you could get a group to go through the wrong way and be chased back out by a chainsaw wielding psychopath, but then they were loath to open any other doors and would rather do nothing than take their chances with another door.  At one point, a frightened customer ran out a door, dragging her girlfriend with her and accidentally slamming her face first into one of the open doors as a result!  *OUCH!*  Our final solution for this was for tour guides to open the other doors as people would run for ANY exit once the chainsaws fired up!  Unfortunately, this also tended to split groups, and at one point, a group of 7 teenage girls locked themselves in one of the dead-end rooms for 15 minutes before I climbed over the wall and talked them into coming back out.  Again – hilarious, but problem causing when you’re trying to get 100 people through the place in 2 hours.


Our zombies and clowns were (again), awesome!  Hours of volunteers working in the cold and rain!  Thank you!!



We had an idea for a “feral cat” which utterly bombed.  Last year when I was working on the house at 11pm, being the only person in the place, I propped a door to the workshop open while I was out working in the zombie graveyard.  I came in to lock the place up, only to have a blur of screaming darkness crash past my ankles and continually throw itself at the door, howling and screaming.

I screamed back.

A lot.

Eventually, I realised that some feral cat (or someone’s local pet), had wandered into the workshop looking for food or because it was warm, and was trying to get out after I’d closed the door.  I spent the next 40 minutes, running around the house, trying to get it out, propping doors open and herding it in a general direction, only to have it reverse, and have to hunt under things on hands and knees at midnight in the house, hoping the cat didn’t come screaming past and attack my face.

So this year, we created our own “cat” – a plastic cylinder, filled with gravel and glass and covered in thick fur, tied to a rope so it could “run” down the long hallways TOWARDS an oncoming group.  The idea was to recreate that primal fear that pumped adrenalin through my system on the night last year.  But, our house is too loud with chainsaws and boom boxes, so you can’t hear it approach; it’s dark in the hallways, so you can’t see it approach; and unless it touches you, it will pass you without anyone noticing.  FAIL.

What did work, though, was to attach black styrofoam tubing at knee and elbow heights throughout the hallways and switchbacks that people would randomly brush up against.  It moved and “gave”, and didn’t necessarily hit the person in front of or behind you, so you’d jump and others had no idea why, but would instantly react as well.  Cheaper; no one had to operate it or reset it like the “cat”; and the impact on the crowd was definitely noticeable.

By far, the best “prop” of the house for scaring people this year was four volunteer statues that randomly moved.  Four people, completely dressed in a costume from head to foot so you didn’t know if they were real or mannequins, which stood at various places in the maze – only one of them would move for a given group.  So if you came through a second time, and were warning your friends that “the pumpkin guy” was going to jump out at you, it wouldn’t – but the dead girl that didn’t move the first time, would.  BEAUTIFUL!  We caught even the hardest cynics with these guys, and they easily had a 100% “kill rate” for any given night.


Hot on their heels was our 12’ stone golem.  This costume was actually a backpack that you could strap on, with a giant head that extended above you and massive arms that worked via metal frames to reach out well past your own arm length towards people.  We had “the statue” seated on a massive wooden throne, surrounded by pumpkins as you entered the maze.  Tour guides would point out the pumpkin offerings made by local villagers who had to pass through the maze to keep them safe, and since we didn’t bring a pumpkin, one “volunteer” from the group would need to beseech the stone golem on the group’s behalf to keep us safe as we passed through.  Volunteer approaches (hesitantly, awkwardly or cynically – usually to much heckling by their companions); makes some kind of request for the safety of the group; stands to leave; and suddenly, the golem comes to life, roaring and grabbing at them.  If they didn’t jump – multiple people in the crowd always did.


 Another good year!  Once again, glad it’s over!  Some cool new things worked really well and others didn’t, but we ended up with some new ideas to try next year.  It’ll take us a week to tear it all down and pack it away depending on the weather, but nice to have made it through another year.

Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: Be intensely yourself.  Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at – just please yourself.
~ Ralph Steiner