Why Do We Need Haunts?

Why is the atmosphere is a haunted house so engrossing? What about it makes it the perfect place to be yet the worst place to be? Haunted houses are those attractions that border on the edges of real and fake. They are fake in reality, but to believe they are real is half the fun. No one wants to be in an actual abandoned looney bin asylum where multiple grisly homicides and suicides took place, unless you’re into that sort of thing. However if you play make-believe and use your imagination, somehow, there is something almost charmingly enjoyable about all of it. Not everyone likes to be scared, but some people live to be scared, going to horror movies, being a daredevil, engaging in dangerous or enthralling activities. A haunted house, put on for the Halloween season, is no exception, as you’ll find flocks of people at these every year wanting to get their hearts pumping and have their minds be their own worst enemies. They are ultimately necessary to be honest. People need fear and challenges in life or else life just isn’t life. Going about your life isn’t easy and the more you get used to the everyday terrors that cloud around you, the better prepared of a human being you are. If you experience fear, then it means you are wholesomely human, and in a world where being human is just reduced to some computer screens and bupkis emojis, being scared helps bring us back to reality and make us thankful for being here, alive. Haunted houses do that for us. They give more than they take because they eventually help us cope and get away from it all, to experience frightening situations and become stronger from them and even have a little bit of fun. If you’re able to laugh a scare off, it means you’ve won. Not the monsters.

The Monster in Your Head

Monsters are real. But our imaginations are our worst enemies when it comes to conjuring up ideas of monsters. Monsters are merely figments of our imagination, either bland or enthusiastic exaggerations of our worst fears. Afraid of drowning? A drowned victim with ugly, long, black hair will come for you and do what you expect. Try and drown you. Afraid of fire? Burn victims attempting to light you on fire would be something to fear. Or just fire itself, an evil incarnate of fire trying to turn you to ash is just as relevant as any other fear. Whether these sound silly or just stupid, they are real fears with manifestations that people imagine due to their lack of facing said fear.

To a person who had a scarring experience with a bird when they were very little, that bird is now a monster, along with all birds in the world as well. They are now just representations of the horrible moment that plagued them for the rest of their lives unless they face it and get over it in a way. Spiders are considered fearful due to their extremely bizarre structure and creepy mannerisms. They are not evil but misunderstood. But regardless they are seen as monsters anyway due to them being the faces of fear in so much media and society today.

Monster is almost always a subjective term. Its definition is literally a beastly, foul, irredeemable, relentless entity or creature that wants nothing but to harm you. Monsters don’t exist without our imaginations though. Our minds always come up with the worst possible, so monsters come about due to our own insecurities and over-the-top ideas of outcomes. We run from monsters because we constantly need something to live for. Fear makes us scared but also yearn to live and breathe. To confront the monsters that people are scared would be too much for some, but it is ultimately what people need. But rational and irrational fears still will remain.

Whether it is something uncommon or understandable, fear makes the most out of humanity because being afraid does nothing but prove that you are human. It is normal to be scared but it is our imaginations that create monsters to slap a wristband on those mistreated fears. And there is a lot of damage to the mind when the monster is manifested. We just end up running from it in the end.

Fear Overload 2015 and a Look Back Through the Years

Halloween is just around the corner, and this year, Fear Overload Scream Park has done it again. Featuring two gargantuan haunted houses, this event has become the biggest horror destination in the bay area, and for good reason. We were founded in 2009, where our Sacramento, California event, open only for a few short weeks, saw surprising attention from the local haunted house junkies. At the time, the event boasted only one attraction, designed and erected in the span of a few short months. While the critics had mostly good things to say, the founders were simply not satisfied. They knew right then and there that they were unwilling to settle for anything less than horror perfection. Their goal was simple: create events that host multiple haunted houses of incredibly high quality. To do this, Hollywood set architects, mask creators, and costumed designers would need to be hired, and form a team unmatched in experience and expertise. http://photos.mercurynews.com/2013/09/25/photos-fear-overload-scream-parks-haunted-house-in-san-leandro/#1

Since then, the scale and quality of the annual event has continued to increase at a mind-blowing rate. Every year, the sets have become more elaborate and detailed, with more and more time being spent designing them to be the most intricate, labyrinthine structures imaginable. And while the sets are being built, the actors are training. Each of them goes through an extensive program designed by the some of the most experienced scarers around. By the time they have finished, most are unrecognizable as human. Through hours of training, they are transformed into a group of the most terrible creatures imaginable. At a certain point, crawling, leaping and screaming seem more natural than walking and talking.

This year though, things are even better. After last year, the founders determined that it was time to ratchet the experience up to the next level, creating haunted houses that are so utterly soul-crushing, the creatures themselves won’t want to enter. They have succeeded in doing just that. The first of the two massive attractions is Hostel: Tenderloin District. As the name suggests, this haunt takes place in the most notoriously rough neighborhood in San Francisco – http://www.spotcrime.com/ca/san+francisco, http://www.streetadvisor.com/san-francisco-san-francisco-county-california/questions/worst-neighborhood-in-san-francisco. Your group has decided to explore an abandoned Hostel in the area. After breaking in, you realize quickly that you aren’t alone. Someone, or something, is here to ensure that you never leave. Stay ahead of it, and find your way out before it finds you.

The second attraction, Seven Deadly Sins, takes place in the home of a heinous killer. Somewhere in the depths of his twisted logic, he has begun to use the bible as the onus for his horrific murders. Taking the seven deadly sins literally, he has begun to enact his own, creative brand of justice on the world, and you have been caught in the middle of it. Did you stumble in, or were you lured? Only the killer knows, and you are no more than a toy in his grand puppet show. Make your way through countless rooms and hallways, sidestepping the horrendous leftovers of his sickening acts. You had better hope that he’s not home, or you could easily end up just like the rest.

For tickets, and more information, visit fearoverload.com

How to Choose Actors for a Haunted House

When choosing an acting squad, it is imperative to choose a varied group of individuals. It is best to choose some people who are athletic, some who are good actors, and some who just look the part. Once the actors have been chosen, tailor the costumes specifically to their body types. Use rain suits, hospital gowns, burlap and chains to create incredibly detailed costumes for your actors. These items are easily attainable, and far cheaper than buying prefabricated costumes. Splatter blood on everything, and your acting squad will be looking top notch. Plastic weapons tend to cheapen the experience, and are actually dangerous. High quality rubberized props may be a good addition, however they tend to be expensive, and do not last long. Actors do not need these things anyway. Have them hide in the darkness, leap from furniture, and focus on being theatrical, rather than on cheap scares.

Strategies for Making a Horror Event Scarier

Many haunted house producers like to design haunted houses with fantastical themes that are not realistic at all. These can be fun for both the producer and the patron, but they are simply not as scary as more realistic haunted houses. At Scream Park California, we focus on creating real life scares that could really exist. For instance, vampires are simply not very scary. We all know that they don’t exist, and whenever we see them we are reminded of the fact that we are viewing a fictional character. It creates a barrier between the customer and the scare, greatly decreasing the scare value of the scare. Is the idea of a vampire frightening? Yes. The idea of shadowy creatures that feast on the blood of humans is horrifying. But the simple fact that it is well-known that there is no such thing as vampires ruins the scare value.
A haunted house that focuses on creating ultra-realistic situations will find far more success in scaring its patrons. For instance, a haunted house themed after a serial killer could be horrifying. It is important to choose a theme carefully, and brand the haunted house accordingly. A carnival theme is realistic, but could easily go badly if it is branded as a demonic carnival, or a ghost carnival, etc. A simple abandoned carnival grounds with terrifying characters in it will do just fine. People have walked through carnival grounds before. They can easily picture themselves at a carnival, and so when they walk through the haunted house, they will not be able to use a “this isn’t real” blanket to shield themselves from the scares. Realism is highly important, but the public’s standards of what is realistic are constantly changing. It is important to keep attractions updated, using themes that are relevant and nixing aspects of the show that are no longer scary.

Training Actors at a World Class Halloween Event

The number one most important thing involved in ensuring that your haunted house does not come across as cheesy, or even second rate, is training your actors incredibly well. There is simply nothing worse than having an otherwise fantastic haunted house experience tarnished by unprofessional talent. Even if the sets are perfect, the props are ultra realistic, the theme is spot on, and the storyboard is a work of art, a haunted house can easily get bad reviews if the actors don’t cut it.
Fortunately, it is fairly easy to train actors to follow a routine, and just so long as that routine has been developed carefully, the show will impress even the toughest audiences. When designing a routine, a producer must consider several common hangups. First, actors will always want to perform for too long. An actor’s shock value is lost quickly after he or she has revealed himself to the audience. Limit them to around ten seconds of performance time. From the time an actor reveals himself to the audience to the time he makes a calculated, and well rehearsed exit should be no more than ten to twelve seconds.
Second, most actors will want to reveal themselves by jumping out at patrons. As a customer, the novelty of the pop-out scare is lost fairly quickly. To alleviate this, make sure that some actors focus on building suspense, rather than popping out. For instance, if an actor in a hallway is constantly just out of view of the patrons, only visible for a fleeting moment every few seconds, a customer will begin to feel suspense build. That actor may not get to experience the rush involved with scaring the patrons facetoface, but he has successfully built suspense, and increased the value of the show.
Last, talking and hovering ruin the show. There is nothing less scary than when a costumed monster scares a patron and then continues to follow them. Actors love to do this, but it is far more annoying than scary to the patrons. Furthermore, it reminds people that they are in a haunted house. The actors are not allowed to touch you. Once you remember that, the scare factor plummets.

Prop Making

When opening a haunted house you’re bound to run into props you deem necessary in your haunt but cant seem to get your hands on. There are plenty of things like washing machines, sinks, or even beds that you may not want to spend the money on but still want. This is when design and construction becomes your friend. Using everyday materials with wood and joinery supplies you are more than capable of creating convincing props.
Begin with a drawing of whatever you want to create. This will help you create what is called an armature (framework for whatever you’re building).
Imagine seeing through the prop you want to design, what does the skeleton look like basically? What parts go where and how is it all supported? Draw the base structure out clearly so you know what each individual piece will look like and how they fit together in relation. Plan how you will attach your pieces together and how it will all ultimately take the shape of your desired prop.
Choosing your measurements comes next. It can be helpful to do some research and get the actual measurements on the object you are trying to re-create. This makes the object you’re creating read a lot more clearly to the audience. It would not make sense to have a washing machine that is two feet wide, 1 foot deep, and 6 feet tall because you never see them in those dimensions. Choose your measurements, make your cuts, and then assemble your design.
Finally comes detailing, right now you have a very primitive form of your final product. It may vaguely resemble what its supposed to or not at all but the important part is that you now have your foundation. A good detailing job is what turns a wooden box with a hole in it into a washing machine. Using assorted pieces of metal, nobs, and tubing will really make the transformation possible.

The Haunted House Industry Has Evolved

If there are two things that have become outdated in the haunted house industry, it’s 3D glasses and first-generation animatronics.
Let’s start with 3D technology. While the concept does sound enticing (Hollywood has been making 3D movies, so it must be cool) it’s important to give a second thought before completely redoing your haunt with 3D effects. First of all, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t life already in 3D as it is? Since the big screen is only two-dimensional, it makes sense that three dimensions would be an upgrade. But, how about for haunted houses? The biggest issue with 3D haunts is that in order to achieve the special effects, the lighting must be considerably brighter than desired. Therefore, the scares aren’t nearly as effective, ultimately detracting from the customer’s experience. In my opinion, haunt owners should utilize the darkness in their non-3D, well, normal life 3D haunts. It’s easy to tell that 3D technology had its time in the limelight many years ago, and the haunt industry has since moved on for good reason.
The second outdated technology I’d like to discuss is first-generation animatronics. I’m talking animatronics like the Bedalator and Deskalator from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s just too easy to tell that these animatronics are props, so they hardly ever produce good scares. Customers immediately know that it’s fake, and the worst that can happen is getting whacked in the head by the elderly man prop that jumps out of bed. Technology has drastically improved since these animatronics were released, and some of it has become extremely realistic. However, I would personally stay away from the first’generation animatronics for the inside of your haunt.

Shellac: A Set Designer’s Dream

After detailing our haunted house set, I can safely say that it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without shellac. In case you aren’t familiar, check out liquid shellac online http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shellac. It’s a pretty expensive material that I could only find (in stores) in small quantities. However, it made our haunts so much more detailed.
Shellac is alcohol-based, which means that it resists water-based paints. This means that any time paint and shellac are mixed funky things tend to happen. For example, here’s one trick I used to achieve a nasty, dripping mold look. Fill one empty spray bottle with watered down white paint and a second one with shellac. Spray a little bit of the diluted white paint onto a wall until it starts to drip. Then, spray shellac over it. The two liquids will react together to make a gross, curdled-like texture. If that’s not dramatic enough, add another layer of diluted white paint over it. You can also throw in some diluted black, gray or dark green to get the exact look you’re wanting.
Shellac’s second magical property is its tendency to take on different opacities. Dip a paintbrush in a can of shellac and smash it onto a wall. The shellac will run and pool in some places more than others. The places where more shellac tends to settle takes on a darker shade of brown, which adds another dimension of realism to your detailing. This property was especially useful while detailing the trim on household doors. The ridges in the trim allowed the shellac to pool and create darker areas while the flatparts of the door remained relatively light.
Shellac is a material definitely worth investing in. Pick some up from your local hardware store and experiment with it. You never know what else it could be good for.

Pros and Cons of Concealed Exits

Most haunted houses are labyrinths full of twists, turns, and dark corners. This is done so to make the experience creepier and longer. However, concealing the exit route for a room or hallway adds a whole new dimension to a haunt. Customers experience the terror of being trapped in a place with someone or something that’s out to get them. I’m personally the type to run away when I’m scared, so this type of haunt is my worst nightmare. Generally the people who remain calm and rational are the ones who manage to find the exits for the rest of the group. This sort of “survival haunted house” has been an emerging theme in the haunt world.
There are, however, certain downsides to concealing exits in survival type haunts. First, it all needs to comply with fire and building codes. In the event of an emergency, these exits must be easily visible and accessible to all. Second, delaying customers can be extremely disruptive to the flow of the line. On busier nights, this can mean delays, frustration, and a loss of customers. However, compromises can be made to find the right balance between wait time and quality of the show. One solution is to prop some or all of the exits open. You’d be surprised about how hard it is for people to find exits that are only partially concealed. The customers still need to search for the exit, but it generally won’t take them as long to find it. Another solution is to instruct the actors to hint at where the exits are. Chasing the customers towards the right area is also a good solution. However, I wouldn’t recommend that the actors ever break character to bluntly show them the way out. There are always more creative solutions to getting a group through than completely breaking character. Overall, survival-type haunts have been extremely successful recently as long as the right safety and practical measures are taken.