Coulrophobia and You

killer-clownsOctober represents the 4th year I have been in charge of designing and running the haunted house at Vintage Parkway Elementary in Oakley, where my son is in his final year. Over the years the teachers, administration and students have been very supportive when it comes to my endeavors in creating an integral part to the school’s harvest carnival. Prior to stepping up to take responsibility, another couple managed the haunt where guests could have a “scary” or “no scary” tour through. Needless to say, I got rid of that shit real quick. Why? A haunt is a haunt, part of the fun is to get and be scared, right? So non-scary made no sense to me. Sure it’s an elementary school, but my goal is to have every kid exiting the haunt crying. That tells me, I accomplished my job and the kids had a good time.

The last few years I began searching for a theme to unify the haunt. I wasn’t happy with a mish-mash of crap that may or may not scare kids. Originally, my idea began as a carnival or “carn-evil” theme to keep it in line with the harvest carnival the PTA puts on with booths, games, food and a trunk-or-treat. If I would have realized the need for a theme during the first year I believe I would be further along today, than where I am now. But that’s not why I am blogging today. My unifying theme was clowns or coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

Social media has taken these otherwise innocuous reports and sent then viral, which the news media picks up and suddenly we have a revolution on our hands as Halloween rolls around. My first interaction with the clown phenomena was watching Dm Pranks Productions on You Tube. Absolutely sick and twisted, but hilarious to watch, the reaction of people running scared, away from what they just experienced.

Now I was realistic, knowing I would not be able to pull off a haunt full of pranks such as Dm Pranks, but the idea was genius! You can thank Stephen King, ‘IT’ and Pennywise in the 90’s for the term coulrophobia. While there are no hard facts and numbers of this phobia, estimates show from 12-15% of the American popular suffer from this. Chances are those numbers might be a bit outdated, thanks in part to social media and the news media blow many stories out of proportion, when individuals just want to have fun. But I am not here to debate the “fun” aspect over luring kids into a forest or van.

My enjoyment of clowns come from seeing the responses I get when others see me in the haunt. Startled, scared, maybe they begin to cry. It’s that satisfaction that tells me, “job well done.” Again, we are in a controlled environment, where none of the actors are going to touch or harass any guest. It’s purely ENTERTAINMENT VALUE! Unfortunately not everyone agrees.

To date, there has only been one incident in the haunt the past 4 years that involved closing it down a bit earlier than anticipated due to older middle or high school kids ruining the fun for the elementary school kids. Administration got involved, which was a good thing. Aside from that one incident, I have never been directed on what to create for the haunt when October rolls around. The administration and teachers have been very supportive of the time and effort I have put in to make the event enjoyable for the students and their parents.

Unfortunately you always seem to have that one parent who speaks out on behalf of the others than won’t saying, “…it’s completely inappropriate with everything going on.” Please, explain that to me. No child in our haunt has been touch, groped or fondled in the 4 years I have been in charge nor in the prior 2 years I was inside the haunt. So explain how dressing up as a clown is inappropriate? Would you prefer a flesh eating zombie? I mean, God forbid we have a zombie apocalypse in the near future, will you prevent your kid from seeing that as well?

“With everything going on…hoax or not this situation should be treated with caution when it comes to our children.” I could not agree more with you. Your child will be safe when they enter my haunt, no harm will come to them, but they might leave teary-eyed. If that’s wrong, then I suggest you and your child stay the hell away from the haunt. It’s scary…for some…but it’s done with best intentions. I am sure you have no idea how much money harvest carnival (which the haunt is part of) brings in for the school? The total amount collected (minus the budget to host the carnival) all goes to the teachers, which in turns goes to each student. Take this event away, both teachers and students lose out.

“I shouldn’t have to keep my son from doing school activities.” Uh, you aren’t. Come enjoy what the harvest carnival has to offer from games and food to trunk-or-treat! The PTA puts on an awesome harvest carnival! The haunt is just one aspect, if you find it inappropriate for you child, then by all means avoid it. No one is forcing to you face your fear of clowns, which has been reported by your local news and gone viral thanks in part to social media.

“This is unbelievable, you guys are worrying about the money you’ll be losing. What about children’s safety?” Above everything else a child’s safety is the most important factor when they enter the haunt. It’s my responsibility to make sure the haunt is built so walls don’t break or props don’t fall down potentially injuring a child. That would be absolutely terrible, something that no amount of apologizing could remedy. If I feel something is unsafe, then I look for another way to do it. When the haunt opens, child safety is still the utmost importance, as long as guests follow the posted rules, which include no running or touching of the props or actors, then everyone will get along and your child will exit. If they become scared and start to panic, we personally escort them out of the haunt.

As for losing money, you get your ass we would lose a lot of money for the teachers! This is one of the biggest and best fund-raisers of the year to close it down or worse, not have the harvest carnival would be devastating to the staff, administration and students of Vintage Parkway. While it wouldn’t be the end of the world, there would be a void in the school year at the end of October when fall rolls around and there is no harvest carnival, no haunt. Just a locked up, darkened school on a Friday night.

As for the clowns, this is my final year at Vintage Parkway. Please feel free to contact me and possibly volunteer your time and money to put on the haunt. To date, no one has stepped forward to take responsibility for next year. If you don’t like the theme, then make a difference, get involved and put together your own theme because this year isn’t changing. It’s coulrophobia and claustrophobia! Enjoy the haunt!

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2015 Haunted House: Post Mortem

Last Friday the kids, parents and staff of Vintage Parkway enjoyed a very successful Harvest Carnival organized by the PTA. The high point for most, The 6th Fright, which is the name I have given the haunted house since taking charge of the yearly project. This year was a lot of work, a lot of stress, but the returns in the form of crying, laughing and screaming were worth with.

After last year, I was very disappointed and honestly had very little inspiration to put in weeks of work with little return. Seen from a guest point of view, they don’t understand the time, effort and work that goes into a haunt, all they see is the final product. This year it wasn’t until September that I got around to putting together a layout and idea for what the haunt would be. In fact, it was the best haunt we have had in the 3 years I have been in charge.

Unfortunately this haunting season started off rough, as I took vacation in early October, planning on getting into the school during their fall break, while my wife and son played at Disneyland. What I wasn’t told, a week later was the district decided to re-tile the kitchen floor, which delayed janitorial from waxing the auditorium. All this confusion added up to being delayed two weeks and finally getting access the stage on October 12, providing 10 days to get the haunt up.

The most challenging part was yet to come. I knew I would not have my haunt partner, Mark G. as he held school hours and coached softball and soccer for his daughter. Thankfully he made a cameo and put in a few good hours. I also have Tom V. to thank for his knowledge and help in finishing off the details. There was one mom, Cathy W. who hung clown masks the 4th graders painted in a hallway. Beyond that, there was no help from ANY parents, which is very unfortunate.

The biggest problem Mark and I faced last year was getting the adult participation on the day of the haunt. Sorry, I can’t trust teenagers to be responsible, as they have acted unruly and wild the past 3 years. Thankfully the PTA (as usual) stepped up and delivered five dads who each took up roles in the haunt. This was a first!

Parents need to realize if there is no one to take responsibility after next year, the haunted house could fall by the wayside, which means the Harvest Carnival doesn’t make the as much money, which means the teachers and students lose. Then again, I guess most parents don’t care.

As for the haunt, it turned out to be a successful night full of thrills and excitement as the screams returned! What made this successful was the simplicity of the layout with a total of 5 areas or guests to walk through. This year I finally decided on a clown theme, which was introduced last year, but we took it up a notch this year. Just wait for next year (apologies to all those who despise clowns…mwhahaha!)! There were some Internet inspired, clown ideas I wanted to include, but time got the best of me and they will be worked on for next year. This included clown costume, which I kept pushing off, only to buy a Spirit costume a few days before the haunt.

This year we brought back two rooms; dot room and drop panel hallway back to The 6th Fright. Both are excellent scares and for the first time, I got to experience the dot room while standing in front of the costume, but in it. What an outstanding scare! The drop panels worked well, but I need to fix them before next year and come up with a better way to let the individuals behind the panels know when guests are coming. Tom recommended a motion sensor. Last year I used a monitor and video camera, which didn’t come off as it did well as it did for Hellmouth (see video). Hopefully we can get this perfect in 2016.

The dot room is getting a bit dated, as this was the third year I had hung the sheets. It’s a great haunt idea, but many guests at the school knew who or what was coming when they walked into the 9’x9′ room. Still the scares were awesome! The screaming was music to my ears! The only downside this year was the zipper on the Black Zentai Body Suit broke, which means we will have to buy and repaint the suit for next year. This would also be the time to repaint all the colored dots as well. Lots of work, but I do feel the reward would be worth it.

hand_hallwayTo start the haunt guests made their way through the entrance and turned right into the Hallway of Hands. I built 7 more wooden wall panels, each measuring 4’x8′ to allow us to screw the hands into the hallways. Inspiration came from this Pinterest post. Originally I had planned on 60  down this 12′ hallway that turns right, but only bought 36 severed arms. In addition to the plastic arms, I drilled five sets of 4 inch holes for kids to stick their arms through. This was the only participation I planned for 5th graders inside the haunt for numerous reasons. First it takes time away from processing guests to switch out kids who want to scare. I tried to minimize that time by using them near the entrance. Unfortunately some kids took it upon themselves to stand around the dark corners scaring people or worse yelling through the holes instead of placing their arms in them.

clowning_aroundAt the end of the drop panel hallway I was planning on narrow hallway to transition to the dot room. Unfortunately I miscalculated the stage dimensions by 2 feet and this hallway was a bit wider than I had originally anticipated. I did however make the area work, hanging  two clowns, while smearing white paint and writing on the walls, then dripped blood over the writing. I also added 6′ twitching clown I named Twitchy, activated by a foot pad. This room also had the emergency exit, just in case someone couldn’t continue on.

clown_hallwayPlaying on the clown theme I loaded up a 3 foot wide hallway with 200 balloons and hung clown masks painted by the 4th grade classes. This 20 foot hallway connected the dot room and the entrance to the laser vortex. The balloons were a bad idea, as they floated through hallways into rooms they weren’t supposed to be in. I think most of balloons ended up in the laser vortex room. Those that stayed in the hallway were popped by myself, as the clown or by guests.  About 10 feet down on the right side was a notched that housed Chester the Jester, a clown in toy box that would pop up when activated. This was also the hallway that I used to scare in. It also allowed me quick and easy movement to any part of the haunt within seconds to check on guests or those adults who were helping to scare.

laser_vortex1The final scare of the night was a new addition to the haunt, the laser vortex, which was at the end of the balloon hallway. Can’t tell you the number of people who stopped and had no idea where to go with ‘DO NOT ENTER’ painted on the vortex entrance. No problem, as the crazy clown would usher people in the proper direction. “Walk toward the green light!” Once inside it was a quick right turn into the laser vortex. This was the first time I had attempted this sort of room in a haunt and I wasn’t sure if it could be pulled off indoors, let alone in just 20 feet of space.

laser_vortexInspired by this laser vortex video, I figured this would be something neat to add to our haunt. I found online instructions, ordered the parts and with the help of Tom, we put it together and began testing. The 200mW green laser worked outstanding! I coupled this with a Chauvet 1301 Hurricane fog machine and a fan for a stunning effect on the night of the haunt. Even at 20 feet, the hallway was long enough and at 8 feet wide allowed people to make their way safely to the exit. We did struggle to get those fantastic effects as seen some of the You Tube videos at time. Even had some teenagers kick over the fog machine remote and it spewed too much fog out with ruined the overall effect for a time. Still I was  very pleased with this inexpensive haunt idea.

Here’s video from our testing a day before we went live with the haunt. There are some changes that will be made for next year, but it was still a very effective. Thanks must also go out of Mark Klem, who provided an original sound score for the laser vortex.

All in all it was a very successful night. I was a bit disappointed, with about 30 minutes to go in the Harvest Carnival there were very few people coming through. I was shocked when I walked out and there was no queue, which is something we have not seen in the past few years. Not quite sure what to make of it, but there was a long line stretching past the haunt for the trunk or treat display. Still can’t figure it out. I do we know we took a lot of tickets and got many, many people through.  Next year will be my final year in charge of the haunt and I guarantee we will go out in style!

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Haunting Continues

section3-1The haunting continues as my son and I spent the better part of 3 hours playing with PVC in the front yard yesterday. Neighbors driving by gave some odd looks driving, seeing my front lawn full of PVC. As you read, I laid out section one, which is the entrance, first room and a twisting hallway. As I hauled out the PVC from storage and set up my table I went back over the plans I had drawn. It’s interesting to note that on paper it appears I have much more room, but once I had the PVC laid out I realized there would need to be some modifications to the layout.

Last year the original plans I drew up had to be modified on the fly since I measured the stage incorrectly. The only way to make things work were to make 2 foot hallways. Talk about narrow! In fact these are too narrow for people to walk through, thus the labyrinth was a failure last year. This year I still included some 2 foot hallways when transitioning between the 6 different areas I have laid out. Again, it begs the questions, are these hallways and corridors too narrow?

section3-3As I walked the PVC layout on ground I realized a few actor corridors I had were too wide, while some of the hallways for guests needed to be wider. I decided to decreasing actor corridors to 2 feet. While actors usually won’t be actively moving through these corridors, it does allow for enough room to stand/sit and perform the given task. Two areas, Oodles of Noodles and Clowning Around seemed too narrow when walking the layout. These were designed as 3 foot corridors, but realized I was going to have further issues with props and devices I had planned to use in those area. So taking a foot away from the actor corridors I increased these hallways, used by the guests to 4 feet wide. Walking it a few more times, I realize this is going to work much better.

All these changes in the original plans doesn’t account for the fact I have not addressed the 2 foot hallway issue, especially in first part of the layout, where the halls twist and turn for about 18 feet. Without a major design change, I could increase the width of a few of the hallways, while keeping others narrower. Not sure it will have the desired effect, but there just isn’t the necessary room in this area of the haunt. Further review and ideas are forthcoming.

section3-2Overall I am pleased with how the design is coming together. The decision to start very early and layout all the PVC as it’s going to be erected has been invaluable. This has allowed me to find flaws (like narrow halls) that have would have remained overlooked on paper. It also allows me to see just how much material will be required. So far I have a short list of PVC connectors. Yes, with some $300 in PVC last year we still need more this year, but it will be a fraction of what we spent last year.

Once I have the layout finalized and all the PVC in hand I will build the entire layout in the front yard, 25 ft. x 34 feet. It will also require the 16 feet of wooden hallways I plan to construct in order to accomplish, what will probably be the centerpiece of the haunt this year. Then again the dot room could also be a surprise to those who experienced it last year. In fact this is the next area I am going to work on in order to get the sheets to hang in a circular pattern, which only increases the effect for the actor hiding among the dots.

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Haunting Begins

Let the haunting begin! Construction on the haunted house started a few days ago. I decided not to wait any longer and picked up all the PVC from my storage unit. Once I arrive home, I started separating all the connectors from the pipe and organizing it by length and type to make assembly quicker and easier. Last year it took Mark and I additional time to measure and cut many of the runs of pipe we were going to use, along with purchasing fittings to attach the PVC together.

pvc_pipeNow with a large inventory of PVC after last year’s haunted house it’s my intention to layout the entire haunt in my front yard, section by section. Tuesday I laid out section one on our lawn. It worked out well. Going off my plans I had to cut a few 7′ pipes to complete some of the longer, 6′ runs. Once I had all the pipe in place on the grass I grabbed the fittings and placed them at each intersection, depending on what it called for.

The entire process took less than hour to cut and set up. If I wanted to, I probably could have erected the walls (7′ pipes) to provide the real look of the layout. I didn’t see a reason to do this, as it would take more time. I bundled all the PVC together, bagged the connectors and labeled each. Section one was done.

Today, I will be putting together section three, which is that last third of the haunt. I am initially skipping section two because it is going to require the purchase of plywood and two by fours to create a stable hallway. It will also require me to devise a way to connect the PVC to the plywood. I don’t see this as a problem, but will be the most time consuming part of the actually layout of the haunt since there is additional construction.

Section three is 14’x25′ and unlike last year I believe there will be a fair amount of unused PVC. Last year the labyrinth took too much time to build and really didn’t turn out as anticipated, as the corridors were very narrow and confining. This is what happens when you need to adjust the plans on the fly because you ran out of space based on the incorrect measurements during the planning phase. Gone is the labyrinth replaced by some new haunts we are looking to add.

section1_layoutA highlight of section three is a room I created last year, the dot room. It will be the only haunt included from last year because it took me, my wife, mother-in-law and PTA members so much damn time to paint all the colored circles on 8 sets of sheets that represented the walls. I plan on using Gesso and repainting the yellow dots, which didn’t come out very well last year. Also planning on purchasing a Super Skin Black Zentai Bodysuit in order to paint colored dots. Last year it was sweat pants, sweat shirt and a mask. Talk about HOT! Hopefully this body suit will breath a bit better and allow dots to be painted easier.

Along with construction I am organizing details that will be included in the haunted house this year. What’s great it with 4 months before the Harvest Carnival, those involved will have time to really bring the haunt alive this year. Big plans, hopefully we can live up the hype and expectations. Did I mention clowns?

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210 Days Until…

halloween-hauntLast year was the first year I organized The 6th Fright Halloween haunt at my son’s elementary school. Previously I had only helped out building and running the haunt, but decided to take on the responsibility after hearing there would be no haunt for the kids if it wasn’t build last year. What is a Harvest Carnival without a haunted house? It would have not been the same sort of carnival and I think many kids would have been let down.

It’s only the start of April, but not too early to start revising the layout I drew up after last year’s haunted house and begin building props to fill the haunt. The goal for 2014, make it better and scarier (Ms. Chadd really loves to be scared). The most important part of any haunt (after safety, of course) is the layout, which I have been working on since October. While the haunt won’t be as long, it could potentially be more involved this year with better use of space and props. Yet for any haunt to be successful requires volunteers. Unfortunately, beyond the PTA board members, volunteers are few and far between. Although I have been recruiting a few dads I know to give me some of their time come August and September, in order to be ready for October.

Learning from last year, preparation is key, something Mark and I lacked last year, as was evident by the amount of time and work during the days leading up to the Friday haunt. Still, everyone who walked the haunt enjoyed it, in my opinion it was the best one I had seen in 3 years, taking nothing away from the people who came before me and provided their time and effort in order to put smiles on the faces of people who went through the haunted house.

I won’t give much away too much at this early point, as I know there are friends who favor Facebook and I want many of the haunts to be just that, haunting to those who walk The 6th Fright. I will say I am bringing back one room from last year, but everything else for the 2014 haunt will be new.

A change for this year will be including some plywood walls in a few areas of the haunt because PVC and viqsueen won’t handle the load or stress planned on those areas. Unlike last year, I don’t expect to spend 2 weeks building the layout and hanging visqueen, something that should be able to be accomplished in a week. While I have haven’t started laying out any PVC at this point, I will be building each section in my front yard in order to decrease the build time when we are allowed to access the stage, which should be in early October.

Props, given enough time, anything can be built. I am already looking at a handful of props that are pennies on the dollar compared to their retail counterparts at retail establishments like Party City and Spirit. Thanks to input and suggestions from the Halloween Forum, I have been spending time watching videos on different props and ideas for The 6th Fright. In addition to the haunt itself, my neighbor just replaced his backyard fence, I was lucky enough to score about 50 feet of weather planks, which will be turned into a facade for the entrance.

I know we have approximately 7 months until the school’s harvest carnival, but it’s not too early to start. I continue to talk up the haunt when at PTA meetings, knowing full well we need to finish out this school year and the events the school is hosting. Still the advanced planning will improve this haunt for 2014. With any luck it will be better documented than last year.

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