In the midst of the tragedy, tumult and anxiety that seemed to characterize a good part of 2020, there existed a general underlying collective fear among Halloween and haunt fans in the months leading up to the favored holiday.
Would Halloween events happen?
For lovers of horror and all things spooky, Halloween isn’t one day, or night. It’s the months leading up to Oct. 31 — starting from Nov. 1. And it’s also all the haunted attractions creators, theater groups, scare actors and vendors that spend all year thinking about their next chance to perform or create for all the fans who are waiting for their next Halloween event in … October, September, August, July … February.
So when Los Angeles County public health officials issued guidelines in early September prohibiting carnivals, festivals, live entertainment and haunted house attractions, the haunt community’s fears were confirmed.
“This year has been unlike anything anyone has ever experienced,” said Rick West, co-founder and creative director at Midsummer Scream. “2020 has done nothing but take, take and take some more. Beyond the devastating and unacceptable reality of human loss from this pandemic, we turn to the more superficial wounds for the sake of this discussion — the impact it had on Halloween. With SoCal’s theme parks shuttered indefinitely, the loss of some of the biggest Halloween events in the world was palpable and really devastating to the economy and spirit of fans everywhere. Pro haunts were equally affected, with only a handful managing to squeak by the regulatory mandates of social distancing and responsible safety guidelines set forth by the government.”
But the haunt community still came together — in whatever way it could — to make a new kind of Halloween. Not ideal at first, but somehow special in its own way. And while some pro-level haunted attractions went vehicular via drive-ins and drive-throughs, many in the community attribute Halloween 2020’s resiliency to home haunters.
“I think Halloween being canceled went out the door pretty fast,” said Jon Cooke, former Knott’s Scary Farm maze designer who is now creative director at Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group, a Halloween-centric themed entertainment company that put on 2020’s “drive-up” Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. “Everybody for the most part was able to figure something out. … I think the home haunts definitely carried the weight of Halloween for this season. They definitely did a great job with keeping up the tradition.”
Home Haunters Doing What They Do
This was Ryan Banfield’s fifth season of running The Haunted Rose out of his home in East Whittier. He’d been wanting to do a “The Colour Out of Space” theme for a while and thought it would work perfectly as a socially distanced yard display show.
“I was steadfast that that was what I was going to do,” he said. “There was really no question in my head whether it would work or not, because it has to happen for the kids. It has to happen for the community.”
And it did. His two-day event — Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 — attracted a healthy flow of spectators throughout the nights.
“Surprisingly we had about 391 guests for the Friday night, which was our Hearse Night,” said Banfield. “Halloween night, we had close to 500 guests.”
He spent about 2 1/2 months building for the show, which he did mostly on his own. With a full-time job at Disney and two young boys, the months leading up to Halloween are typically jam-packed. He did get a little more time to devote to the 2020 haunt season though because he was furloughed at his work. He got to check out a few of the local haunts like the Tunnel of Terror OC Haunted Car Wash, which was new for the season, and The Fleshyard Haunted House, which joined up with Perdition Home at Frosty’s Forest Pumpkin Patch in Chino.
“Halloween was saved by the communities … the home haunters, the people in the neighborhoods decorating their yards for Halloween,” said Banfield.
The Fleshyard creator Adam LeBlanc said his haunt teamed up with Yorba Linda-based Perdition Home haunt to create “Harvest of Horrors,” a walk-through corn maze built with several themed “rooms” throughout. The Fleshyard normally takes place at a pumpkin patch in Anaheim in a more traditional walk-through format.
“All our actors and patrons had to wear a mask and social distance while going through the maze,” LeBlanc said. “We didn’t put up any items that you would normally have to push through in a room to avoid those contact touch points. Since the event was outside, this helped with fresh air circulation.”
He said they learned about the opportunity for an event at Frosty’s at the end of 2019 — before COVID-19 hit.
“As the months went on during the pandemic, it was hit-and-miss with the city for a few weeks and lots of restrictions had to be implemented on the pumpkin patch to make sure the city approved it,” he said. “Once those obstacles were overcome, we had to be ready to build. It was definitely a unique build as well with it being inside a corn maze. We had to be very careful with the watering mechanisms for the corn, and make sure we didn’t break the corn during the infancy of its growing cycle.”
Nearly 8,500 guests visited “Harvest of Horrors” throughout October and Nov. 1.
“Which is by far the biggest amount of patrons The Fleshyard and Perdition Home have ever seen,” said LeBlanc. “Halloween was our biggest night at over 1,400 people. We still consider ourselves a small mom-and-pop-type operation, but we’re trying to elevate it to the level of Knott’s, Universal and Dark Harbor and make a place where people can go year after year.”
This was Hull House’s final home haunt in Buena Park before the family’s move to Arizona in early 2021. The home haunt ran through most of October as a yard display — with a few scare actors on some nights.
“Hull House has been around since 2016, but I have been haunting in some capacity since I was a kid,” said Bill Galvin. “We had a walk-through in 2018 and 2019, but for 2020 it was just a display.”
He said in addition to making it display-only, he adapted his haunt to the pandemic by arranging the lights so they were easier to view from a car, in case guests preferred to just drive by.
“I knew the whole time, I was gonna do it. Even if no one came, I would still do it,” said Galvin. “This was most certainly the year of the home haunt … and the 12-foot Home Depot skeleton.”
West echoed the sentiment.
“All eyes turned to what I have always felt is SoCal’s greatest Halloween asset — home haunters,” West said. “And they stepped up in droves, creating stunning yard displays in neighborhoods I visited with my girlfriend, from San Diego to Las Vegas. Even heavy-hitters that often incorporate walk-through elements shifted gears and created stunning curbside-viewing-only experiences this year that were theme park quality and then some.
“The most exciting aspect of what we saw this season was that many of the truly epic home haunts were designed and executed by younger generations of haunters — many in their teens. That is incredibly exciting and signals to me that the home haunt scene is alive, well, and thriving even under these most strenuous conditions. When things finally return to ‘normal,’ I can only imagine how fantastic our home haunts will be here in the Southland and beyond. Without a doubt, home haunters stepped up and selflessly gave back to their communities, saving Halloween.”