Interview: How Covid-19 dammed Coffin Creek

In the third installment of our Halloween in the Time of Coronavirus series, Gary Shireman explains the decision to cancel Coffin Creek in 2020.

Coffin Creek would seem to be well situated to operate in spite of Covid-19 restrictions: its location, Crossroads Riverview Park in Corona, provides a wide-open setting with plenty of room for social distancing, and several of its five walk-through attractions are all or partially outdoors, including a hayride and a haunted trail. Nevertheless, the annual Halloween event was cancelled for 2020, when it became apparent that reconfiguring it to protect customers from the pandemic would mitigate the entertainment value that fans expect.

Hollywood Gothique interviewed proprietor Gary Shireman about the reasoning behind the decision, which illustrates the difficult challenge faced by haunters this year: how to balance safety and scares.

Hollywood Gothique: Did you consider putting on a revised version of Coffin Creek this year?

Gary Shireman: Our team got together to discuss how we could make it happen. We considered doing one attraction and turning the Hayride part of our event into a drive-through type attraction.

As you know, the hayride is entertaining but not very scary. The first obstacle was how to make a drive-through attraction scary. Driving up and parking your car to let actors surround you isn't very scary when you know it's going to happen. Safety is always our number one priority at Coffin Creek, and immediately we saw some issues. Like what if a driver got too scared and panicked and ran into something? What if an actor gets too close to a car and gets injured? So after discussing some of the other negatives, a scary drive-through was out.

We thought about doing a kid-friendly drive-through event, but kid-friendly wont-work at Coffin Creek. Our fans expect to be scared when they come here, and we try our best to make that happen.  No matter what scenario we came up with we felt that our fans would be very disappointed. So the whole drive-through idea was scrapped.

After reading and seeing the, "not so favorable" reviews of other drive-through haunts, I am convinced we made the right decision not to do one.

Hollywood Gothique: After giving up on the drive-through, what, ultimately, finalized your decision to cancel Coffin Creek?

Gary Shireman: The biggest reason we couldn't open this year is that our location is owned and controlled by four different government agencies: The Army Corp of Engineers owns the land (federal government). Riverside Parks Department has the master lease of the land (county government). Permits and inspections are handled by Economical Development Agency (county government) and Cal Fire (state government). Getting all four agencies to green light the event was becoming a monumental task. That's when we started to toss around the drive-thru idea, which became a no-go. As the major haunts started to cancel their events, we knew things weren't looking good for us.

The first week of August is our deadline for getting all our plans, permits, and paperwork to the county for approval. With the no pre-approval or guarantee that we would be allowed to open this year, we decided to cancel the 2020 season and put our efforts into 2021.

We are determined to make 2021 our best year ever. We are currently redesigning some of our attractions and designing a whole new attraction. Coffin Creek 2021 will go from five attractions to six with bigger and better scares.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.

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