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.

 

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.