Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Theories on Nightmare: Superstitions/ Haunted Houses in General

Every year I go through a very deep process of figuring out what went right and what went wrong with previous years haunted houses. I am constantly trying to conceive of ways to make Nightmare the perfect haunted house. Part of that is to figure out ways to scare people in the way they want to be scared while, for me at least, not being derivative in anyway. Meaning I don't want to just create a haunted house with the same gimmicks that all haunted houses go by, but trying to do them better. That's not good enough for me. I want to create a wholly original event that doesn't behave at all like a traditional haunted house, but scares like one. And hence is scarier because it's so new, original and unexpected. I think in year's past I have succeeded in creating pretty original concepts, but I don't always nail making them absolutely terrifying. At least not to everyone, and that is the goal.

Nightmare: Vampires was one of the most audacious attempts at creating a new kind of haunted house that I've done. In an attempt to replicate the formula of many recent horror films, i tried to create a story that slowly built with a bigger pay-off at the end. So I actually had the first ten-minutes not be scary at all; focusing only on story/ character building. I don't feel this paid off in the way I had hoped, at least with the majority of our audience. Or perhaps it did, just no one realized it. I say that because one of the main complaints I kept on hearing was how short the haunted house was, when in fact in terms of time that it took to walk through, it was the longest we've done. The reason for this, i believe, correlates with another thing i kept on hearing which was how people thought the museum part of the house was an actual museum and that the part where it got scary was the haunted house. When in truth the whole thing was a mock museum and that was the haunted house. There was a story attached to that concept about vampires attacking the very museum that celebrated them. But because the first part was set-up and focused on establishing the museum conceit it seemed like two different events, and if you look at it like that then, yes, the "haunted house" would have been entirely too short.

So how do I resolve this? How do I make it work for our less astute patrons, while maintaining a level of theatricality that i firmly believe if done right will truly make Nightmare sublime? I believe with all my heart that this would make a haunted house truly haunting. A theatrical haunted house with characters, through-line, empathy and wholly original scares and not one that is just about how many clever ways I can hide people, and how many props i can line the walls with. But I now know it has to be both. And if i can perfectly mesh these two kinds of haunted houses, friggin' forget about it. It will blow your mind (or at least torment you in your dreams for weeks to come). So when i went into the design phase of this year's house, i took all of this into consideration. Over the years, this is what i have grown to know about what a haunted house patron wants:

- strong theme
- identifiable storyline, but one that doesn't bog down the scare factor
- creative ways that people jump out and scare you
- creative set pieces and art direction
- something they haven't seen before in a haunted house
- unexpected twists
- good performers
- good masks
- scares right from the beginning that only grow in intensity
- interactivity
- want to be a part of the story
- be physically engaged (but not touched in a violent way)
- be at least 30 minutes
- end with the biggest bang of them all

am i missing anything? I hope not because this is the list i cobbled together when creating Superstitions, attempting to accomplish each. My team and I feel confident that we have accomplished this with this year's House. We are deep in the design phase. Story line and concepts have all been storyboarded, the designers have all weighed in with their designs and now all that's left is to get it up beginning August 23rd when we load-in. I am so eager for you to see Nightmare: Superstitions. If you have been a long time fan of Nightmare this will certainly be your favorite house (I promise), and if this will be your first year, then prepare to visit a haunted house like you have never seen. It will blow your mind!