Halloween is, hands down, my favorite time of the year. Growing up with a steady diet of horror films, I also looked forward to the one night I could dress up and pretend to be something I wasn’t, scaring other kids in my neighborhood to my heart’s delight.
As I got older, I discovered Haunts; attractions that would run during this season there were essentially haunted houses. You’d walk through, have some people jump out at you, and get scared. While my friends were screaming their heads off, I was giggling like a school boy. I loved getting scared. It made me happy. This is going to sound abnormal to most of you, but to me, Halloween is my Christmas.
When I moved out to Southern California, I found that it is basically the Haunt capital of the world. Haunts of all shapes and sizes lurk at every corner, and for every taste. I felt like I had found what I was missing my whole life. It’s great to know that I’m not the only one that felt that way about being scared.
Not only do the Haunts continue to impress me and countless others year after year, but they are also fascinating stories in their own right. What compels these people to create the stuff of nightmares, and bring them to life for our terror?
That’s the same question that Jon Schnitzer (BFA/Film Production ’01) wanted to ask. And lucky for us, he got the answer.
Schnitzer is the man behind
HAUNTERS The Movie
, a feature documentary about the visionary entertainers who create the most popular and notorious haunted houses in the world.
“I always was thinking about Halloween during the year,” Schnitzer said. “Why did I love getting scared? Why is it so much fun?” He was fascinated by the fact that one of the key things about going through these haunted attractions is that social norms are thrown out the window.
“You are asked to become a coward, you are allowed to scream, and you are allowed to become a kid again. It’s a great stress reliever.”
Though he has only been filming the documentary since last summer, Schnitzer has had this idea ruminating in his head for quite some time.
“I filmed Universal Halloween Horror Nights in 3D back in 2011, just for fun, and wound up editing it for weeks on end, not even really noticing how much time had passed. Watching the footage inspired me to shoot a documentary about something I was really passionate about. And considering how much I love this stuff, it was like ‘Why haven’t I done this already?!’”
Schnitzer feels that now is the perfect time for this type of documentary, because the haunted attraction industry is evolving. Not only are traditional walk through attractions still around, where scare actors jump out to scare people, but there is also a renaissance of a new type of haunt. Some of them, like Delusion and Blackout, are immersive, making the audience an active participant in the show, allowing them to live out these stories, and their fears, within the confines of the Haunt.
It’s the stories behind these Haunts that interest Schnitzer the most.
“Not only do I want to capture what it feels like to go through these experiences, but also what it’s like to build them. What do these Haunters sacrifice to reach their dreams, to achieve these amazing Haunts?”
He didn’t want just sound bites from the folks behind them, but to tell the full stories of these real people. The Haunt community is massive, and it is built on screams, but it is maintained by a mutual love of what they do.
“These people have to be the director, producer, story teller, everything, all at once, in order to pull off these things. They make it the most interactive, visceral theater on the planet, and it’s incredible.”
Schnitzer plans to debut
in October 2015, but is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to help make it a better movie. Though he has bankrolled the entire thing himself so far, he is using Kickstarter to reach out to those who get their “scare-apy” every October to help fund assistant editors, sound engineers, voice over narration, and more to help enhance the final version of the film. The Kickstarter even attracted the attention of Neil Patrick Harris, who backed the project and even helped promote it online.
“To me, this is my passion project. This is the one I will look back on in 15 years and say I am extremely proud of it. I never felt I went all in on something before, until now. I love this time of year, and I want to be able to share it, and the stories behind it, with others.”
For more information on Haunters, be sure to check out the
film’s Facebook page
To back the project, please
visit it on Kickstarter