Planning for Halloween

Halloween is about six months away, and I intend to premiere a new, original haunted house at that time (or, really, a couple weekends ahead of that time).

This project’s influence is more firmly rooted in the tradition of dark rides than what we most commonly call “haunted houses.” It’s the beginning of a process that I expect to last the next couple decades. I’ll go into the whys in future updates, which I expect to deliver weekly, but here’s the first batch of whats.

Actually, first, here’s the who: I’m John Holdun. I live in New York City and make a living as a software engineer. I have about half a BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU; I dropped out to pursue web development professionally. It’s something I grew up with, before discovering film and theatre in high school. Now I’m kinda flip-flopping again.

So, the haunted house experience will be maybe ten minutes long and self-guided—that is, you’ll move yourself through it; there are no ride vehicles. It will be more funny than scary. There will be no human characters; instead, there will be about a dozen gags (you can read some of my earlier thinking on gags in dark rides). These will range from static tableaux to simple animatronics, with my rule of thumb being one motor per gag. Think of elaborate window displays. (I think of elaborate window displays almost constantly.) The characters will probably be carved from foam and rendered at something like child scale; maybe four feet tall?

At the moment, this thing is called Graveyard Jamboree. I’m picturing a lot of swinging skeletons and grinning ghosts. I’m hearing an original song, with lyrics, that plays continuously through the attraction. If I do everything right, my project will be dismissed as a blatant ripoff of the finale to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. (If I do everything wrong, my project will be dismissed as a giant piece of garbage.) There is a lot to learn, and for this first project I’d like to focus on the logistics. On future projects, I’ll focus on pushing the envelope, thematically and narratively. More on that later.

I plan to stage this in New York City. It will be harder to do in NYC than…probably anywhere else, but I think I can pull it off; there are lots of weird little spaces throughout the city available for short-term rentals. (One resource I really like is SpaceFinder!)

Anyway, I have a lot of work to do! So far I’ve some general ideas for more than enough gags and started building a small prototype of one of the mechanical gags: two skeletons juggling their skulls. I’m extremely new to absolutely every skill required for this project, so I expect this to be a long, difficult process, and I expect you to follow me every step of the way.