Construction

We had a few obstacles to overcome this year before the haunt began. The school hired a new principal, which meant getting approval to use the stage on the Fall break, beginning in October was up in the air. Second, we lost out on 7 days of potential work when Mark and I found out the cafeteria/auditorium would be closed due to the floors being waxed. Danny, the janitor, informed me of that when I rolled up on Tuesday, August 30 with my truck full of PVC pipe and props ready to build. It was going to be no earlier than Wednesday the following week we would be able to get in order to start construction.

With a week to wait, Mark came over and we started building 16 feet of wooden wall and two drop windows. If you have never seen a drop window, check out this video from Hellmouth Halloween.

It was this video that inspired me to attempt to build my own drop windows in order to include them in the 6th Floor Haunt. I will discuss just how well we implemented this in the ‘Time To Haunt’ section that will conclude this series. It took us the better part of two days, but we were successful building seven 4’x8′ walls using 2x2s and 5mm underlayment. The drop windows were essentially the same 4’x’8′ wall with a 24″x36″ window that would appear to be a picture in a frame. The actor behind the drop window would trip a gate latch, which held the window up, releasing the panel to the ground, allowing the actor to scare through the window. Great idea in theory. I felt we implemented this feature very well, but failed to some degree on having the sort of impact and scare as those in the Hellmouth video.

Once we had access to the stage the PVC was brought in based on sections and we started building the frame. One thing I noticed, we were more liberal on the use of screws this year. Last year we secured the footing of the walls with heavy duty, black tape. I would say the majority of those footings all came loose. This year we started driving screws through the footings we made into the stage, which made for a much more stable frame.

The first day on the job we finish section one. We had some minor construction issues with some of the early turns leading from the entrance to the hall of faces, those problems ended up being magnified when we lost nearly 2 feet of the width near the front of the stage. Thankfully I had planned a 3′ dead space, which ended up being more of a 1 foot pocket by the time we had the first section erected. It also required me to make some layout changes starting with the exit from the hall of faces as you transitioned to the drop window hallway.

Day 2 was very productive, as we brought in power tools and carried in the 7 wood panels (and their supports), including the 2 drop windows onto the stage. The drop windows were very simple to build, as we followed the direction from Stiltbeast Studios.

As per the video tutorial, Mark and I very pleased with the results and were anticipating the scares we would get from these windows once the haunt was open. However we did have some issues with the latches. First, the screws we used were not strong enough. They could not hold the latch part (on the drop window) in place. One window latch seemed to be loose, moving up and down, which caused it to miss the catch in order to secure it in the up position. The other window required us to chisel out some of the 2×2 we used that was mounted on the backside of the actual sliding window portion. This same window broke on the night of the haunt as one of the 2″ screws sheared off, requiring the actor to manually hold the window in the up position.

Prior to the start of the haunt, we were very pleased with how easy the walls went up, as well as being structurally sound, which helped the over strength of the entire haunt as all the PVC was now tied into a central area. I painted the walls flat black and then started looking for picture frames that could be used to help hide the fact these pictures would actually drop when groups of people walked down the hallway.

The final section should have been straight forward, but much like the width early on, we lost another 2 feet on the length, which we caught while putting together the dot room. This area was supposed to be 10’x10′ but end up being 8’x8′ with 8 feet high so the sheets could fully hang to the floor. After the initial room was built I went back and a one foot extension on top of the 7 foot walls and attempt to round the corner. While it didn’t look pretty and probably wouldn’t win any engineering awards, I was able to accomplish both things I set out to do. The sheets would now hang the length of the walls, an improvement over last year.

Much like the end of the first section, I had to redesign the exit out of the dot room with the loss of two feet. In some regard this worked out better for the dot room, removed one area, which was supposed to have some chicken wire ghosts in it (which I never got to) and added space to a dead area that was to be used as storage. Unfortunately it shorted the area Mark, our clown was going to have available to roam. In order to make this more of a fun house type feel I planned on hanging swimming noodles down a 12 foot hallway with actors reaching out with fake hands for guest’s ankles. In my procrastination, I failed to order the swimming noodles in a timely fashion, which meant I had to figure out what to do with this hallway.

In the end we made this the hanging head hallway, a bloodied, head hanging by a meat hook in the middle of the hallway with lights and skulls and other assorted bones strewn on the floor. As guests turned right out of this hallway, they were almost out of the haunt. This final hallway was originally designed to be for Jason or Freddy you would need to get by in order to get out. After I decided on the clown theme, Mark ended up being outfitted as an evil looking clown, free to roam.

This was probably the best part of our experience this year, spending time together, sharing ideas and putting up the PVC. All the walls minus the drop panel hallway were done with black visqueen. Somehow we miscalculated the amount we required or wasted too much, but we needed to start using a second box of of 6mm, 20×100 black plastic before we could call the construction complete. This thickness was far too heavy and difficult to work with. We would have much preferred a thinner, 3mm plastic.

The addition of the drop window hallway, I planned on including a TV monitor at the far end of the hallway, which would allow guests to see themselves walking down the hallway. For safety reasons, we probably should have built this small exit and platform out of wood instead pf PVC. Instead, I used PVC and tied it into the walls and them screwed plywood over the top to act as our platform. It didn’t make the TV completely stable and we did have some concerns as some guests could potentially get out of control, buy the walls and send the TV crashing down to the floor or worse, onto their heads.

In order to keep the TV upright and in place, I screwed a few 2×2 in front and behind the TV and felt pretty confident it wasn’t going anywhere. The video camera was mounted underneath this platform and shot straight down the hallway. All cables, not only for the electronic equipment, but for lights and props were out of any foot path or mounted above the walls with relatively no interference for guests or actors.

Two years in a row we have used black plastic and honestly it’s feeling a bit old. Next year I want to minimize the use of black plastic, just how I plan to accomplish that I haven’t decided. I don’t want to increase costs for the walls. PVC, now that we have a few thousand feet of it can be reused for many years to come. Wood is cumbersome, expensive and difficult to store…storage, that is another problem in itself. For the level of design, construction and scare we provide, I am sure we will continue using the black plastic, but I am on the look for for a cost effective alternative.

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