In October, thoughts turn to Halloween, and many people celebrate by going to productions known as haunted houses. These can vary from the community production to the Hollywood-produced theme house, but the level of money put into a production is no indication of quality. A so-called amatuer production can pack more punch than a professionally created one; the true indicator of quality is in the level of planning and quality of participators.
There are two basic types of haunted house: the Creep and the Shock. The Creep is a type where little things happen to make the guest uneasy, such as skitterings in the ceiling. A good example of a horror movie where Creep is the major factor is The Others, where the isolation and confusion lead to a sense of dread. The Shock is a more in-your-face kind of horror, where frightening things might jump out at you. A subset of Shock is Gore, where blood and guck rule the day. This is more of the Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday the 13th kind of production. Of course, the best haunted houses partake of both Creep and Shock; a bad haunted house in one that either never elevates the fright level above Creep, or that abuses Shock until the guest is bored with it.
Think of how the movie Alien (the original) delayed showing the alien for as long as possible; the tension was drawn out by using strange noises and half-hidden glimpses. Horror movies of this stripe are a good example of how to construct a haunted house; they have a gradual build to an eventual climax. If one constructs a haunted house in the same manner as one constructs a good story, the house will have a greater impact than a strung together collection of random scenes.
When deciding to produce a haunted house, one should take into consideration the following aspects:
-The location. A haunted house is nothing without a "house", whether that is an actual house, a warehouse, or a community center. The shape of the space that you obtain will have a direct effect on the types of scenes that you are able to produce.
-The actors. The quality of people you have available to you will help determine the level of haunted house you can produce. There was one haunted house I participated in where a large number of high schoolers volunteered to help fulfill community service credit; most of them didn't care about the haunted house and were little more than indifferent actors. The house suffered as a result because there were too many roles that required an active commitment.
-The resources. This includes the amount of money that is available for the house, but this can be offset by willing volunteers and available props.
-The community. Is this a suburban neighborhood where they will bring their kids (even if you specify an age limit)? Then you should take this into account and ensure either a low-key haunted house or a safe area where children can be looked after while their family takes the tour. Is it a teen-heavy area? You might want to go for the gore.
Once you have figured out where, when, and how your haunted house will take place, you will be able to pick your theme, and begin to design your haunted house.
Next up: Community. *NEW*