Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! Let's all drop a Nostalgia Bomb and take a look at the Ghosts of Halloweens Past!

— —

I'm Flame Retarded! Said so right on the box for the costume. I thought it was a peculiar name for an action hero, but aren't they all?

If they sold these today, I would totally put an embroidered gold scorpion on the back.

Here's me about to precreate the scene where Tony Montana psyches himself up for a gunfight:

Well, the storebought costumes are all very nice, kid. Congratulations, you're a consumer. However, you say you like "being creative," which is code for "inevitable low-paying Service Industry employee." So, sack up, champ. Show us what happens when you make your own costumes.

Yes, I can see you would take the time with crayons to write "Trick Or Treat" in a dripping-blood typeface and draw bats and skeletons on a plastic bag in anticipation of Halloween, but I also see you did not take the time to pay tribute to your favorite comic by fully Charlie Browning the ghost costume full of holes. You failed, kid, and you will always be a failure. I see failure written all over your face and your costume will never hide that, much as you'd like to try.

Alien Invader Costume.

Or Glam Rock Reject.

Go ahead and judge, Internet, it's what you do.

Okay, Me in 1978, we need to talk. I know you love sci-fi and UFOs and stories of alien invaders and that you thought it would be a cool idea if you dressed up as an alien invader yourself, but what you need to realize, and as soon as possible, is that there is a disconnect between the epic space battles going on in your head and what other people can see. I'm saying it's going to take a little more than using a magic marker to draw the letter "Z" superimposed over a jagged lightning bolt on an old t-shirt to convey to others the horror of xenocidal apocalypse and the destruction of all they love and revere.

You need to prepare for the eventuality that people handing out candy might just say "What are you?" You need to know the candy they eventually proffered was a sign of pity, not a reward for accomplishment. Except for that box of raisins there. You deserved that one.

It's fortified with rejection!

And FFS, work on the application and the contrast between the shades of makeup. You don't look like an alien invader, you just look like a dirty photonegative of a case of jaundice. And that single rolled up pant leg. What is that? Is that deliberate? I know for a fact that when you used a Bic ballpoint pen to scribble the concept for this costume down on paper you wanted to convey what an otherworldly uniform would be. With the exception of Fiddler Crabs, Terran biology and all its artifice gravitates toward symmetry. Hence, you thought that if you drew this thing with Harlequin coloration and one pant leg shorter than the other that would mean "alien" because "Nobody on Earth would dress like this." Well, that's all true, kid, and we can sympathize with if we don't completely understand the connections you make in your argument. But did you communicate this to your audience? The answer is no. You would need an advance marketing campaign prepared and distributed weeks beforehand to get that image associated with a horrific invasion before you even walk up to the doorstep with that pillowcase of yours. Decry the sad state of the need for a hype machine all you want, child, but it works. Furthermore, in this worldbuilding exercise of yours, did you even ask why this alien race would have the need to have one pantleg of their uniform shorter than the other? Is there a standard-issue raygun sidearm commonly strapped to their calf that requires dermal contact to recharge? Is this an homage to a mythic figure in their past, and for what deed would this be commemorating? Is this alien race born with a venomous barb on only one knee that gave rise to not only their being the dominant species on their planet but to the creation of a warrior caste as well? If so, was this feature encouraged by selective breeding or engineered through genetic manipulation? In any of these cases, did this biological advantage encourage a culture of conquest that still manifests itself even after their mastery of interstellar space travel? If any of these points in the backstory are acknowledged in your costume design intent, they not only have to be fleshed out, but broadcast to the viewer through visual cues.

I'm just saying that you suck, kid. Give up now.

Yeah, looks like that rolled-up pant leg was deliberate. Because I am just so gangsta like that.

Homemade Suburban Graveyard. Quick now: Is that the name of an AIP motion picture release or the name of an album by a Psychobilly band?

I put candles in the pickle jars propping up the cardboard tombstones. Not as effective as I thought they would be in simulating portals to Hell. No eldritch cult leader ever wants to hear, "Ooh, your Summoning is just so festive!"

Do the light bulbs on your robot face even light up? No? How did my secretary even let you in here?

I just don't see it happening, kid. If you didn't even bother to tape off boundaries for the fluorescent tempera paint splotches that laughably depict mechanical buttons, I just don't think you'll ever have the stuff that shows others you pay attention to detail when worldbuilding.

Oh, wait. Future You is informing Present Me that you actually grew up to contribute to a THEA-award-winning design team? And telling me, furthermore, to eat a multitude of dicks?


That's just Weird.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You Won't Believe Your Eyes When You See

Meet Mom and Dad

Mom does indeed have an explanation for you. A frenzied, sobbing one that involves pointing a kitchen knife at you.

I heard you were listening to a song on the radio about dying a dog dark green and that's animal abuse and that's an early warning sign of growing up to be a serial killer which is a fact I heard on the TV along with a news special on Punk Rockers who were instructing their violently aggressive audience to steal some money from their mothers to buy a gun and kill their parents and some experts said Punk Rock is just like New Wave and we overheard you say to a friend that you actually liked New Wave and so we were just so scared, baby. You scare us now, baby. So when I saw an ad in one of my suburban lifestyle magazines that talked about potentially dangerous problem children I knew the right thing to do was to call them up and ask what they could do and they told us the best thing we could do is have them take care of you while we just start over fresh and now maybe this time we won't fail and do whatever we did wrong with you.

So you've all figured it out now, alas, a little too late: Camp Knossos is an institutionalized oubliette catering to the timeless fears of parents who feel they are on the verge of creating monsters, not children. The Lurker was the one former Scout who escaped Camp Knossos thirty years ago, only to discover that he, too, had no safe place to which to return, nor would he ever, and neither would any Scout packed off to Camp Knossos. Since then, he lurked around the periphery of the Camp, mercy killing Scouts with secretive, swift blows to the head with his hatchet, and, when the opportunity presents itself, slaughters Counselors with a vicious and hopefully protracted vengeance. In fact, he's the one who dropped that Counselor into the meatgrinder in that earlier scene.

If Mom doesn't finish you off in the kitchen, then let Dad burst through the door with a revving chainsaw as the finishing scare before you make it through the final exit of the maze.

— —

I hope you were amused and horrified by this theoretical spookhouse attraction! If you need a recap, click here to go back to the initial introduction for this feature, click here to get the premise, and click here to start back at the Entry Façade to begin the walkthrough through each consecutive "Newer Post" link.

Tomorrow: Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Spoil The Big Surprise

The "Home Again" Set

After all of the harrowing ordeal that has gone before, stumbling one's way home again is a triumph, not just solace. Nevertheless, the terror that one has experienced throughout Camp Knossos casts a pall of fear over the familiar. Even the bedsheets benignly hanging on the laundry line now look like they could hide psycho killers. (As a personal aside, being confronted with a backyard full of sheets of hanging laundry in the "Halloween" maze at a previous Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights is about the only thing in a spookhouse that made me halt dead in my tracks and think of all my favorite NOPE NOPE NOPE .gifs.)

 Everything in the backyard now suggests ambush points: the obscuring sheets, the cellar door, the adjacent garage. The trauma of all that has gone before primes one with souring adrenaline that an attack will occur at any second from any angle. And what happens is...


It's a scare-free zone. Although this is counterintuitive, the lack of a scare feature in the backyard will allow the guests to realize just how wound up they are, and to stew in their own tension. They will subconsciously demand any release for their pent-up expectations that they will envision sources of fear in the most mundane of objects.

Oh, alright, if that doesn't test well, one can add an ubiquitous "cat scare" in the form of a raccoon puppet bursting out of the garbage can, or a luminescent ghost of a dead Scout bursting out of the shadows with the plaintive guilt-inducing cry of "Why couldn't you save me?"

But let's not dwell on that. Focus on the comforting yellow tones of the homestead. Why, there's none of the harsh reds of Camp Knossos here. See, the only thing red I see here is...

The print on the "For Sale" tag on my BMX bike. Why would they be selling my bike?

...and wait a sec. Are those all my comics, albums, and toys in boxes outside the back door?

This is a mistake. I'm sure there's an explanation. Let's go inside the reassuringly brightly-lit kitchen and everything will be answered.

Mom! There you are! That camp was a literal Hell! There was a deadly bus crash and all the Counselors were killing kids for fun and there was this crazy man who was lurking around the woods who chopped up people with a hatchet but I set a fire to escape and he burned up and I ran and ran and I had to hop on the back of a semi to make it back here and...

Mom, why are you looking at me like that? Mom?


Tomorrow: Meet Mom and Dad

Friday, October 26, 2012

Please Don't Reveal The Secret Ending To Your Friends

This Is How It All Fits Together.

I waited until now to provide the Plan View of the entire experience in order to avoid Spoilers. Click the links below to take you to the individual scenes described in the walkthrough:

The Entry Façade

The Bus Crash Scene

The Camp Knossos Entry Scene

The Bunkhouse Interior

The Shower Room and Toilet Stalls

The Lakeshore Exterior Set

The Mess Hall

The Arts & Crafts Room

The Perimeter Wall

The Canteen Kitchen

The Forest Fire Scene

The Home Again Scene
— —

A headcount of the ScareActors tallies a pool of 32 in the maze's current state; one would add at least half again to that total to accommodate the cycles of those rotating on break when their shift ends. Accounting for the additional staff of supervisors, tech gurus, and security must also be considered. The ultimate personnel roster may be considered too large to be financially feasible for one maze, and thus may be a source for determining cutbacks by working backwards from any trimmed proposed ScareActor positions to the individual areas in which they would work. It's all part of the limitations to be expected.

Monday: Home Again

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Forest Fire Set

Behold the results of the most desperate act of escape, or the connivance of vengeance, or the salvation of scorched earth. Whatever its initial intention, it crosses the line from solution to problem.

A variety of stage effects are utilized to convince those walking through that they are in the midst of an inferno, short of actual space heaters. The mere optical suggestion of fiery colors will psychologically create the effect of the perception of heat, and one can rest assured that the Fire Department frowns upon heating elements in even semienclosed temporary structures. More to the point, even if I did get Fire Marshal approval to use heaters, I would plant them out back in the break area so that the ScareActors who are dripping with sweat after a shift minimize their risk of sickness.

Rear projection scrims showing footage of forest fires, strategically lit silk panels and simulated flame units buffeted by hidden fans, UV-Reactive fluorescent paints in the hues of glowing embers, fiberoptic strands in the colors of burning brush, and backlit translucent forms are employed to fake everything from flame to the deliverance of a city on the horizon. Several of these bits of stagecraft are also used to create a dramatic end for the menacing Lurker.

Shrieking and flailing, trapped in a collapsed copse of burning trees, the Lurker burns before your eyes. An intricate network of power cords, hoses for air supply, and fiberoptic cables run up the legs of the outfit for the Lurker's BurnSuit to animate the flames that engulf the ScareActor. The Glowire company distributes Electroluminescent (EL) wire and amber LEDs that can be integrated into the costume to imitate the immolation of fabric and hair. Fabricating the suit so that it can be a single piece optimized for changing out the use of it from one actor to another is a performance specification priority, and the integration of clasps to suspend the suit from convenient wires worked into the set's structure can assist in this regular procedure.

Tomorrow: The Plan View of the "Nature Trail to Hell" Maze

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Canteen Kitchen Set

Here in the canteen kitchen of Camp Knossos, the ultimate levels of inhumanity are on display. The meat hooks, stew pots, and an industrial meatgrinder all testify that not only are humans slaughtered here, but repurposed as the basest of food. It is a bitter consolation that an evil Counselor somehow managed to get dragged into the grinding gears of the machine with the "Off" switch just barely out of his grasp.

The additional tension of immediate peril takes the form of a propane tank left on the stovetop. Blue LEDs simulate a live gas burner, a scorched metallic rainbow of scenic finish on the tank simulates the effects of real flame, and concealed speakers play the resonant sounds of metal expanding and a keening whistling suggesting the point of imminent explosion. Bursts of compressed air directed at passing guests will be sufficient to startle guests into reflexively thinking this expected explosion just occurred alongside them.

A showy device for quartering live Scouts dominates one wall of the set. Mechanical panels slide apart after noisy buzzsaws slide through the shackled body, revealing anatomically accurate section views of the corpse. Of particularly distinct showmanship is the integration of hoses that spray fake blood onto the glass partition as the body is split, enlivening the action. A thin sheet of cleansing water is utilized to clean the glass after the reset is completed, ready for the next set of attendees.

You may ask: why is there a bloody pentagram right next to the period-accurate can of Cheez Whiz? One can envision a scene of a sadistic Counselor  mocking a doomed and pleading Scout with the extra torment of courting damnation, but there is a more direct reference backing up this inclusion. Did you not know? Satan Eats Cheez Whiz.

Make note of the gasoline can placed by the door; it's crucial to tomorrow's entry.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Have You Got To Lose?

By now, bursting free of the horrors of Camp Knossos is now a priority, and the sudden view of the Perimeter Wall that complicates that notion is what demoralizes any Scout and guest alike. The wall scenic finished to resemble concrete slabs and a prison-style watchtower manned by a rifle-toting Counselor conveys institutionalized helplessness, and the displayed corpse of a Scout manifests the casual brutality that fuels it.

The placard on the crucified body of the Scout reads "THOUGHT WRONG." The meaning of this is up to the viewer: it could either refer to a warning to others that those who think they can escape Camp Knossos are fatally incorrect, or that the act of contemplating inappropriate ideas is a heresy warranting execution by the judgment of the Management.

A mounted searchlight sweeps the area, temporarily dazzling the guests, and point-source speakers play the sounds of rifle shots and ricochets to startle them. Ambient moonlight-blue light dappled through the boughs of a deciduous tree helps camouflage the set. You'd have to look hard to see the outline of the Lurker within the treeline. Do you see him here? If you do, it's already too late.

— —

Originally, I envisioned this portion of the attraction to be the camp's Athletic Field, sporting perversions of the traditional campground activities. My sketchbook ideas for gags for the Athletic Field Set include an inverted potato sack race and literal three-legged races.

A couple of these may work on the page, but it may take some explanation in a live setting which would detract from the immediacy of a walk-through spookhouse. So, these concepts did not make the final cut.

The showcase of this initial iteration featured a puppeteer behind the wall that would, when accompanied by the sound of the hiss of an arrow in flight, slam the shafts of arrows through the targets of an archery range as guests would walk by.

Here is a study of a Second Draft consideration of a Concrete Labyrinth Set to replace the Athletic Field Set. Although it does compliment the "Camp Knossos" theme of a sacrifice to the Minotaur, it is just too problematic to have any manner of multiple paths in such a venue for both circulation and safety concerns, even if it is such a non-maze as this is. To the cutting room floor it goes, even though I love to imagine that this would have been a key scene in the fictitious film upon which this is all based.

Tomorrow: The Canteen Kitchen

Monday, October 22, 2012

HHN 2011 Memories

I am inclined to treat this spookhouse design as though it were intended for Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, and the reason for this is the familiarity I have with the venue from working as a ScareActor back in 2011. Why was I cast for a role? My Substantial Beard. See, an Antarctic base full of Norwegians is a beardy, beardy place, and it turns out one of the spookhouse mazes they were producing involves the Thing prequel that was just released back then. Here is a recap of last Halloween Night.

First off: Wardrobe, Makeup, and Props at the ScareBase. It was Halloween, so all the Makeup and Wardrobe staff were dressed up as only genuine Hollywood pros can. I returned my pickaxe prop at the end of the night to a Snake Plisskin. I was devastated to be told that he had to explain who he was to some people.

Yes, it really is a monster of coordination just to get literally hundreds and hundreds of performers prepped in just a few hours every night. Now you know why ticket prices would be so high.

 O HAI!  Who's This?

Why, it's a "Nurse Rozetta" from the Alice Cooper maze! But what is she doing?

She's doing my makeup! U Jelly?

This is Lisette, and she is a terrific makeup artist. Over the duration of the event, several people would specifically request her. No, she did not dress like this on the other days leading up to Halloween, so you can factor that out of the equation.

This is as close as I will ever come to that Fabled Glamorous Life in Hollywood I keep hearing about.

The Final Result.  I heard people get cold just looking at me. But now there's a reason for that.

I PhotoShopped snow on the mountain in the background so the scene would look a bit more congruous. Frickin' Southern California, man, with its 80-degree Octobers.

I was plenty sore after the final five-day run. I was popping Ibuprofin like Dr. House gobbles Vicodin and I thought I should upgrade. What wasn't helping is that I inhaled a granule of that fake frost that peppered my beard and didn't think too much of the resultant protracted coughing. That is, until another granule dropped into a cup of water from which I was drinking, and it swelled to a gelatinous blob the size of an ice cube. So that nested in my lung until it threatened to gestate into a full chestburster. Fun.

That photo is not desaturated. That's all as you would see it in real life.

An aside regarding the wardrobe: Do you want to lose weight? Drop the expensive gym membership. Just get a parka, snow pants, snow boots and a thermal cap and jump out of a door every fifteen seconds with a pickaxe while screaming at people. Do that for an hour. Repeat after a half hour break. Boom. That's your diet plan right there. It is not unheard of for people working the Chainsaw Brigade in the ScareZones to drop ten pounds over the run of the event.

Now we move onto the "Thing: Assimilation" maze itself.

This is the exterior as seen from the queue line. It does look cold and creepy, doesn't it?

Oh, look. A frozen ham.

As we all know from our own photos, standard flash photography always goes horribly, flattening out the scene and presenting the scenic finish unflatteringly in unintended light, but it's necessary to pull some of the details.

The exterior of the maze itself is just a large black rental tent encasing the temporary scenic finished hallways, but your eye just gets automatically drawn to this façade, so strangely, you don't tend to notice the tarps.

This first room looks horrible only because of the flash. It's all glamorous icy blue lighting positioned so you don't notice that big gaping hole in the back where THIS bastard...

...pops out at you accompanied by a switch-activated roar and strobe. The ScareActor stands on a platform behind the wall so it looms over you like it's eight feet tall.

This is the Autopsy Room, where this alien corpse died in the process of assimilating a human. An actor in a half-formed flesh mask lies in there, lifting the chestplate slowly to reveal himself. While you're transfixed by that, another guy rushes out of the door with a grindsaw right at you. Hilarity ensues. And screaming.

You walk right past this, and there's no "velvet ropes" separating you from the exhibits. They pulled molds for these sculpts from the actual props from the prequel that was just released. Keep in mind, the producers of that movie allowed unrestrained access that included acknowledging that the Halloween Horror Nights event predated the release of the film by a few weeks, so they were graciously allowing "spoilers" of the creature. Essentially, they considered this to be just one more trailer to get one interested in the upcoming movie.

Now, this is the Rec Room where I worked. Notice: the door next to the curtained passageway just kind of blends in innocuously with the scenery. At least, in the low light (it's normally darker than even this) it certainly does. Then—

BANG! This crazy sonovabitch jumps through the door, screaming accusations about your Thinginess.

Look close. This photo was taken at the end of the night. See how the jacket is a bit darker along the ribs and elbows? That's sweat. Through the undershirt and parka. I didn't even know that was possible. Peeling off the undershirt at the end of the night was like crawling through a beached giant squid. It made me suspect I was an ammonia-based lifeform.

Here's the thing: This was not the worst costume to have at the event. Maybe, and let me stress it's only a maybe, a contender for a Bronze Medal, but the Gold Standard for misery was the Werewolf costume in the House of Horrors. Think of all the insulating layers for that: Underclothes. Prosthetic Foam Hump. Fur Suit. Torn but Complete Clothing. Latex Full Head Mask and Forearm-Length gloves. Fur on Top of the Mask and Gloves. And then, pull repeated shifts throughout the night, athletically leaping about constantly at guests. I saw firsthand one guy in full costume doing four-point loping across the floor and catching up with people he was chasing. I've got nothing but respect for the Werewolves.

Here is the main reason no one paid attention to that door in the first place. This is the other corner of the room, opposite the curtained passageway on the path of travel. Everyone would be looking at the person with an alien centipede merging with his face slumped in the chair. Many people would try to press up against the pool table to keep away from him which would only line them up to travel right at the door out of which I jump. It was especially effective when he would sit still enough for people to think he was a mannequin or animatronic, then he would lurch forward and grab at them. A nonzero number of people would then scream and rush back to the entry of the room, only to work up the resolve to run past him... right toward my door. I would then pop out and attack them, causing them to scream again and repeat the process. Sometimes, even more than once for the same person. Poor self-preservation skills, some people have. Working events like this will let you see this firsthand. It's fascinating how one would think all the reflexes that make a person drop to the ground when attacked would have been evolved out of the gene pool by now, only to be proven wrong again and again.

My other shift was at this steel-framed plexiglas window. I would stand back about three feet back from this, and the lighting was strategically placed and focused to obscure me only until I was pressed up against the panes. I would launch forward when people passed by and scream warnings at them in Norwegian such as "NEI! IKKE GÅ INN DIT! SAKEN ER I LIVE! KOM UT AV DET! KOM DEG UT!" One Friday I made a grey-haired grandmother in a white jacket hit the floor when I jumped forward to bang on the window and shout at her. I can't tell if this makes me awesome or evil. No. Wait. I enjoyed it. Evil. I also got a memorable scare for the "Thing" premiere after-party, where they had cast, executives, and contest winners go through the maze after the movie. That one looked like an executive's wife, and I swore they both looked right at at me and paused before I launched myself at the window and screamed at them, figuring, oh, well, this scare's ruined, sigh, might as well do it anyway. Well, apparently, no, they didn't actually see me, and I continued Sellin' It and Yellin' It as she did that clippity-clop high heels scamper all the way back down that hallway. All The Way. I call that reaction the "Full Reverse — BVR" (Beyond Visual Range). Yes, I have chronicled all the different varieties of scare reactions I got, because I am that much of a nerd.

This variant was for when other ScareActors had to do a "changeout" in the corridor behind me, so I would corpsesicle myself against the window to block the view. I would stop breathing so I wouldn't fog the glass, and just freeze until I could either see through a slotted eye or suspect that someone was moving closer to see if I was a mannequin or not. Then I would bang on the glass and shout. It worked less often than I liked, but when it did, you know that was the scare that they would tell everyone about. Or, more to the point, their applauding friends would remind them of it forever. Yeah, I'm talking about you, Guy in the Phillies Baseball Cap.

The Radio Room. A man would be cutting his throat at the console, and squirming centipede puppets would attack from the walls.

Outside of the kitchen, this burned, half-assimilated creature lies in the regretfully only noticeably air-conditioned space in the maze. I really could've used some of that sweet, sweet A/C.

This is the penultimate creature scare, which is seen right after you part the curtains leading from the kennels.

The performer inside is also raised up so that it looms above you, and the elongated puppeteered arms have about a six-foot reach. A kickplate-switch-activated strobe and roar accompanies its lunging.

This is the final manifestation of the Thing in this maze. This one has air hoses hanging down from its, I guess, face, which makes it twitch like spastic tentacles when triggered.

It was great during the final night's march through, when, after the last guest passes, all the ScareActors collect in each subsequent room and rumba through the rest of the maze. These last two creatures waved their arms in a Woop Woop, in the air, side to side like they just didn't care. It was a genuinely fond memory of farewell. You need to understand: I'm the type who will fixate on the practical implications of the loss of a paycheck opportunity and the postpartum depression of the severance from a schedule, but joining that scene of bloodied scientists and malevolent aliens parading through the corridors made me actually happy. Even though I know for a fact it's not true, whenever I remember those few minutes, I recall hearing the music of a carnival samba, or jazz from a New Orleans wake, or even the Nutley Brass covers of Misfits songs. I'm keeping that memory encased in amber.

ScareActor in alien form backstage.

Full-Body Jaw Creature backstage.

Closeup, no flash. More like the lighting you would see inside the maze.

These are stored near the snack table...

...As are these bits of Nightmare Fuel.

The mask in the foreground is used by the actor being assimilated/digested in the alien in the Autopsy Room. Alas, what you don't really see here is that the ear is translucent. Beautiful craftsmanship.

Clearer view of the character I worked with in the Rec Room. It's astounding how when I finally did see the movie prequel after working in this maze for a few weeks, I could tell beforehand what was going to happen to what character just from the way they were dressed. The costumes are that accurate.

You thought I was kidding when I said I chronicled all the different scare reactions I got, didn't you?

In case you're wondering to what I'm referring to by the "Amy Award," be sure to check out this:

And there's a sequel as well. Some YouTube commentators were expressing doubt that her reactions were genuine, and to those people I say: You have clearly never worked in a spookhouse.

And always remember: Your Screams Are My Nourishment.

Tomorrow: The Perimeter Wall