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!

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.

6th Floor Haunted House: Tonight

enter_if_you_dareAfter nearly 3 weeks of construction and countless hours of work, the Vintage Parkway 6th Floor Haunt is ready to open doors. The haunted house has been in development for nearly a year, unfortunately some of the ideas I had hoped to include this year fell by the wayside, as I ran out of time, money or just made the decision not to include it this year. Tackling on this project last year, we failed to develop a theme in which to build around, so buying assorted props and adding more “sutff” to the haunt was how we approached this project.

This year, in the months leading up to the haunt I decided a carnival/fun house theme would work very well with the overall Harvest Carnival theme that the school does to support this PTA sponsored event. By the time I got going, it was too late to implement this theme in conjunction with the Harvest Carnival, but we were able to include a few.

Mark Greer and I spent many hours, between shuttling kids to practice and other events, as well as work and other priorities to put together the 2014 version of the haunt that will debut (and end) tonight beginning at 6pm. While it’s tiresome work and at time expensive we had a great time being together the resources to make this haunt happen. Vintage Parkway is going to have a great set of resources when Mark and I no longer have kids in the elementary school, it’s my hope VOLUNTEERS can keep it going.

After walking out of the stage last night, I felt good that we had accomplished something this year. Unlike last year, there were areas that felt incomplete and we were rushing to throw things together in order to open up on time. Problems plagued us before the doors opened and we had to settle for how the haunt looked. This year, we were better organized and many of the resources were already in our possession. We had most of the material for the layout, minus the wood we needed for our 16′ hallway we built.

Unfortunately, I probably spent more than the PTA President wanted me to (sorry Amy), but as we were developing and putting together the haunt, we have been trashing many old props that are damaged and old, which wouldn’t be used in ANY haunt. I know re-purposing older props does happen, but some of these were not worth making that effort. We did however add many new props, most clown related to be included in our haunt the next 2-3 years. We picked up numerous masks, a few costumes and other hanging items that we have strategically placed this year.

It’s funny, but I am already thinking “next year we will…” and we have not even opened the doors for the 2 hour Harvest Carnival this year. We will have to see just how organized it is. We request more help than we have asked for in years past. We will have 5 actors (responsible teens or adults) in the haunt, not only participating, but as chaperones, in order to monitor kids (usually middle school and high schoolers) who seem to think it’s fun to f*ck around and piss off Mark and myself. In addition to the actors we are including 4-5 fifth graders, who participate as  a “scarer” or “guide” for a 20 minute period of time. While I was hoping for a list of 90 students to round out the matrix I created, we did get 57 students to help out, some I am sure will stick around for more than their allotted 20 minutes.

I have been looking back to last year and some of the problems we had. The biggest problem, people purchasing tickets to use at the Harvest Carnival. That piece was our of our hands, but many people were let through without providing tickets, which on some level was fine. We also failed to have enough flashlights for the guides to us, so it seemed the line was never ending and groups of people were not being processed at a good rate.

This year I am hoping for a total of 800 people to go through in 2 hours. Those might be some loft goals, but I think we could achieve that number. We know kids love to go through more than once. Parents will usually go through with younger kids and friends of kids who go to Vintage Parkway usually end up showing up. So while I am not dwelling on the number of people or the amount of money the haunt makes, I will be curious to see how well we do in 2 hours.

With the time and effort we put in, it would be great if the school district and PTA could run the haunt for the Harvest Carnival on Friday and then for a few hours on Saturday. Not sure if there would be any added cost to have some staff on hand, as well as a janitor and PTA folks to manage the haunt. Might be an opportunity to make the teachers even more money, which in turn is spent on the kids.

The other idea we will look to implement next year, adding a photo booth in the haunt. Just like the roller coaster rides at Disneyland, I checked with the gal who does much of our photography at events and it’s definitely affordable. Just like selling ticket for food, drink and the attractions at the Harvest Carnival, we would sell tickets for a photo and provide the individuals with a numbered receipt in order to claim their picture. Add a $2 or $3 charge and it’s more money donated to Vintage Parkway.

Regardless of the number of people who walk the haunt or the amount of money we make, being safe, scary the kids and having fun are the priorities for this evening. We look forward to having a great time “clowning around” the 6th Floor Haunt. As a reminder, the Harvest Carnival begins at 6pm at Vintage Parkway Elementary School in Oakley. 

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.

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?