Jessica Peralta

Q&A with The Empty Grave Founder

Michael Talarico is a busy guy. By day he is the marketing and public relations manager for a motorcycle helmet manufacturer. Come Halloween time, he’s also the owner and founder of The Empty Grave Haunted House in Laguna Hills.

Oh and did we also mention he’s a husband, father and “Walter,” a monster at The Empty Grave?

We told you he was busy. Fortunately he got a little time to answer our questions about being a longtime haunter and this year’s maze.

How long have you been running a haunted house?
This will be our 11th year as an independent haunt, and about our 15th year haunting altogether.

What is this year’s theme?
This year our guests will be part of the story. Guests will be graveyard shift workers at a haunted factory.

For longtime fans and guests, how can they expect this year’s maze to be different?
Well, we are going back to our roots. Our actors will interact with you much more. We are also doing a much better job telling our story all the way through the haunt. We’ve built all new sets and scenes and really focused on details.

What inspires your creative process?
EVERYTHING! We pull inspiration from all over the place. We always try to do things a little differently, so when we see something we like, we think, “How can we put our own twist on that?” We also draw a lot of inspiration from our location. We spend hours walking and surveying our locations before we even pick up a hammer. We try [to] learn how the location itself can help tell our story.

Describe how much work, manpower, etc. goes into putting on this attraction year after year.
Well, we have a small staff, so the amount of work is pretty tremendous. People who visit tend to forget that it all has to be built from scratch… Everything you see is made by hand and designed with intent. From the sound and lighting, all of which need to be wired and installed with safety in mind, to the sets and costumes… It all has to come together just right. The love, dedication and passion of our crew is really what sets us apart from other events. These people put their hearts and souls into this event to bring it to life and their passion for sharing the joy of the Halloween season shines through in everything they do.

Do you have moments during your run that you see someone’s reaction and you are reminded how it’s all worth the work and effort?
YES, absolutely. We all get these feelings often. Our guests are great and always so appreciative of what we do. I think it is clear to our guests that we love this season and we love sharing it with everyone.