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 Chances are those numbers might be a bit outdated, thanks in part to social media and the news media blow many stories out of proportion, when individuals just want to have fun.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!

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!

The 6th Fright: Clowning Around

evilclownsAt the end of October last year, I was rather frustrated with how The 6th Fright went at Vintage Parkway, my son’s elementary school in Oakley. Lots of little problems that were overlooked a budget that went well over what I should have spent and a lack of foot traffic because of a late opening all contributed to having very little desire to construct a haunt this year. But, as all things go, it’s nearing the end of September and that desire and drive has FINALLY reappeared. It’s taken longer than I wanted, for the creative juices to get flowing, but the clowns are nearly ready to be let out, so to speak.

Building on last year’s theme, I have made the unpopular decision to center the haunt around clowns. Many adults and kids have this phobia of clowns (coulrophobia), as do teachers and staff, which makes this year all that more enjoyable for those of us behind the scenes. It will be a fun house of clowns everywhere you look. Originally I intended to do a carnival theme, but was lost for good ideas outside of clowns and parent participation, which is next to non-existent the past 2 years.

This year I will bring back some haunts that I have included the past few years, but also show off a few new ones as well. I feel it’s a good mix. In the planning of the haunt I have noticed the layout is much more simple than in previous year, which should make of a quicker setup of the walls. Like last year, it will be a combination of wood panels, black plastic, as well as black sheets. Currently there are six different haunts included for this year’s harvest carnival or shall we say, “carn-EVIL” where the clowns will run wild!

clownsleepUnlike last year, I am not waiting to be given a budget and have moved forward purchasing props and animatronics in order to make this year’s haunt the best in the last 3 years. Most all of these purchases will end up going in my collection and will be reused for Halloween at my house when my son no longer attends Vintage Parkway. To accomplish what we want, it was going to come down to paying for and building props in order to make this a great time for kids, parents and staff. But considering what the school had for props when I took over, they should be set for years to come with drop windows, hundreds of feet of PVC pipe for walls and some props that can be reused.

It’s my hope there are volunteers who sign up to help the haunt out or we will end up experiencing similar problems as we had last year. The “hired help” last year wasn’t outstanding, one even walked out in the middle of the haunt. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work when you are needed for just 2 hours scare kids. This year, it’s my hope to get a total of 6 adults or teenagers (God forbid, I would probably be better off with 8th graders) to manage the door and “clown around” inside the haunt. In years past, 5th grades have been called upon to act as guides and actors/actresses inside the haunt. This year, the number of kids required is going to be less than last year, as it’s unmanageable with 35-40 kids who sign up to participate. The kids inside the haunt have just ONE responsibility and will require some blood hands (which also stains the skin for a few days). Fifth graders will also be acting as the guides this year as well, it’s my hope they don’t shine their flashlights at scary things inside the haunt. Nothing more frustrating to be dressed up in my dot suit, only to have the guide shine the light on me when a party of guests walk into the dot room.

lovekidsAs of today 5 adults should be able to manage all the haunts inside and single adult and 5th grader to manage the door and take tickets for entry. Managing the door is a big deal, too slow and not everyone will get through. We saw that exact problem last year opening about 20 minutes late because no one was designated as a ticket taker. Too fast and the haunts don’t have time to reset for the next group of guests. Hopefully we can get this down properly this year and everyone has fun.

In the end it’s all about the kids, not doing a haunt would not make the Harvest Carnival what it is, fun. Fun for the kids, parents and staff that are all involved in organizing and running the event. As long as kids exit the haunt in tears I know we will have been successful in scaring them. So they might not sleep that night and sudden develop a clown phobia.

Minecraft Halloween

minecraft-halloweenJust give me a minute and think of this. There are MILLIONS of people who have played and experienced Minecraft created by Notch and later developed and published by Mojang. In the many years of online gaming, I have seen very few games that had this sort of impact, not online online but offline. I am sure if we wait long enough we will get a Minecraft movie out of Hollywood. You laugh, I am sure some producer is trying to find a way to capitalize on this moneymaker.  While Halloween 2014 hasn’t quite got here, the Harvest Carnival at Vintage Parkway has come and gone but it has given me time to reflect and consider our options for a Minecraft Halloween in 2015.

What if your kids could walk though the epic world of Minecraft. Now don’t get me wrong Minecraft isn’t all that scary, unless of course you fall into a darkened hole and hear, “Ssss…” Could we capitalize on Minecraft and turn it into a haunted house for the Harvest Carnival? It would appeal to near every kid and quite possibly many parents. The gore factor is minimal with no blood being spilled in the actual game. The game features aspects of Halloween; pumpkins, skeletons, zombies, corn stalks, spiders and the present, creeper.

While we are over a year away from next year’s Harvest Carnival, I am excited about the prospect of exploring this idea and potentially capitalizing on the phenomena that is Minecraft. Just consider the wow factor and faces on kids when they come face to face with a creeper or meet Steve. I am sure we could go as far as introducing Stampylonghead and iBallisticSquid to the mix.

The layout could include some caves covered in diamond, gold and redstone, maybe add a house with zombies trying to break down the wooden door. Torches could be mounted on the walls to provide light and keep the spiders and creepers away. The possibilities are endless, much like the game. If your imagination can dream it, you can build it.

This would make plastic walls more valuable, but the would need to be painted in square blocks depending on what sort of area we were creating. Inexpensive LED lights could bring blocks to life as redstone, as well as power torches. Colored cellophane could provide the necessary color changes to white LED lights. PVC could still be used as a frame with plastic and cardboard bring used to create the necessary effects. All creatures could built using cardboard.

Right now let’s get through Halloween but I am going to further delve into the realm of Mincraft and attempt to use it as a theme for next year’s haunt.

2014 6th Fright

haunted_failureI’ve had a few days to reflect on the 2014 6th Fright this year, which was the centerpiece of the Vintage Parkway Elementary School Harvest Carnival. It took place this past Friday from 6pm to 8pm. Overall, I would say guests through the haunted were pleased with their experience. Me on the other hand walked away a bit discouraged and frustrated with the lack coordination and help, as volunteers were few and far between.

After nearly 3 weeks of our time and effort, Mark and I were excited to put the finishing touches on the haunt and open the doors to make sure everyone could get an opportunity to experience the 6th Fright. I arrived 2.5 hours early in order to set up the queue and ticket table and do some finishing touches inside. Everything was moving forward as planned and Mark arrived a few minutes later and started in on the checklist of things we had to finish.

One by one teachers brought me their permission slips for the kids who signed up to participate in the haunt. Mark had enlisted the help of another dad, Steve, who we used inside the haunt operate one of the drop panels. One by one we had teenage kids roll up saying they were supposed to help.

Thankfully Mark and I completed our listed and checked out the lighting, props and sound. Everything was in order and we were excited and ready to go, so we thought. Leading up to this day we were in need of 6 adults to help the haunt be successful. Mark and I were already going to be inside and two other adults would be required, one to operate the other drop panel and another to be dressed up as an insane clown. The other two adults would take tickets and coordinate the guides with a group every 1 minute, moving them into the haunt.

As the clock ticked closer to 6pm, we still had no adults helpers and my frustration level began to rise. Sometime between last Harvest Carnival and this year something was lost. It was the organization of Susan, a 5th grade teacher last year who coordinated the efforts for the guides and scarers. Now that she is a 4th grade teacher, we missed that coordination piece. That responsibility, unbeknownst to us feel on our shoulders, yet we didn’t think anything off it until it was too late.

As usual with PTA events such as this volunteers are few and far between. It’s sad that parents seem to have no time for their kids or don’t want to volunteer for varies reasons. In fact I heard a complaint from a parent who was upset because their child was there to be a scarer and was not being used. You know what? Maybe if you volunteered we wouldn’t of had this problem. As it was, 6:20pm rolled around and I had still not opened the haunt, Mark and I were not even in our costumes.

Finally we had two teenage girls walk up, the queue was already full and the looks of frustration were on some of the parents faces. I gave the girls a quick run down of what they needed to do, which wasn’t difficult but something was lost in translation. The haunt finally opened about 30 minutes late.

Thankfully Kim, from the office staff came up to the front and I attempted to give her a run down on what we needed. So now our teenage girls (both of them) were taking tickets and counting people, Kim did her best to manage a growing group of 5th graders, some I am sure who never got to scare or guide because of the lack of organization and confusion at 6pm.  Mark and I were very thankfully Kim came up and did her best to manage the situation, which by this time was not going according to plan.

Inside the haunt, I only used two 5th graders as opposed to the five I had planned. One of the teenage females, who was dressed in costume took control of the other drop window, which didn’t please me but we needed a body. Her lack of enthusiasm and failure to follow directions didn’t help the situation. In fact she cut out before the haunt was over when her drop panel broke. Again, more frustration on the night.

All was not lost, the haunt seemed to be very well received by everyone who went through it. We had some very positive comments, as well as a lots of screaming from kids through out the twisting, turning corridors. The best comments of the night came after the haunt was over and two moms said they had never seen so many kids come out of the exit crying. That alone made Mark and I feel we put together a successful haunt for the Harvest Carnival.

I only had to escort one group of 3 girls (5th graders) out of the haunt as they came running around the corner and nearly took out two walls to the dot room, while rolling into the sheet. It was unnecessary and walked them to the emergency exit and told them not to return. Aside from that incident no other kids were tossed out, but I can confirm the crying. Lots of kids inside were scared, which is great because that was part of the goal of a haunted house, to scare you.

We had one equipment failure, as I eluded to earlier with the drop panel. We had built the window using two and three inch screws. The gate latch, which was screwed to the actually panel that dropped to the ground sheared off, requiring he actor to hold the panel up in place before dropping it. Unfortunately the actor running that window cut out without my knowledge leaving the window open for probably the last 30 minutes of the haunt. Very discouraging to see when I would walk through the haunt, back to the entrance to escort new scarers into position.

I had planned for a better turn over of guests through the haunt. Maybe I set my expectations too high, based on the success we had last year. I was hoping for about 800 people to go through in 2 hours. As it turned out, the counter at the entrance showed 364 as the final tally. Nowhere near the foot traffic I had hoped for, which seemed to cap off the night for me.

Nearly 3 weeks of work, time and effort going into this haunt for what equated to about 90 minutes of being open. We might reevaluate the level of effort we put in next year, especially if we continue to get no volunteers. I don’t fault anyone on the PTA board, as they all other duties to attend to during the evening. The teacher have other duties as well during the night. Not sure there is even blame to place, even through we may think there is.

Unlike last year I had to draw up a letter to the 5th grade teachers, talk to each class about what the positions and responsibilities would be this year in the haunt and finally make up a matrix, based on 20 minute increments of time for kids to sign up for to act as a guide or scarer. This was work I didn’t get involved in last year. That was followed by a teacher asking me if I had the permission slips? I knew nothing about them.

So maybe we live and learn each year. But the experience this year was disappointing and will reconsider what next year brings, especially if we don’t see volunteers come forward and help. Between Mark and I, there are 3 years left before our kids are out of Vintage Parkway and I can’t think of a Harvest Carnival without a haunted house, but that might become reality if other parents don’t make time to get involved and help out.