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Haunts USA Preview & Interview

Haunts USA, the new Halloween haunt on the block, makes its debut with a press-invitation-only night at its location in Northridge. I’ll be checking it out this evening and reporting back tomorrow, but in the meantime, I’m posting some excerpts from an interview I conducted with the haunt’s proprietors, Laura and Harlan Freedman.

Harlan is a television producer; Laura has worked in movie special effects. For years they presented an amateur yard haunt at their home; it was so well received that people suggested they should turn professional. They formed the Haunts USA company back in 2002, but they sat out the last couple of years because of problems finding a suitable location. 2006 represents their debut at the Northridge Mall.

With their love of Halloween, their experience as amateur haunters, and their awareness (as fans) of the short-comings of some professional Halloween attractions, Laura and Harlan Freedman promise a real treat for this October: a haunt with three separate mazes, a Fall Festival with activities for younger children, who are advised to avoid the mazes (they’re too scary, and there are no children’s matinees), and a convenient proximity to the restaurants and theatres in the mall.

HARLAN FREEDMAN: Northridge Fashion Center Mall stepped up to the plate, got the community involvement that we’re trying to do, got the entertainment value that we’re trying to accomplish, and put it all on paper. It’s a win-win for them, for us, and for the community. It’s an amazing location, where it’s a destination. We want an opportunity where people not only come to the haunted house, but if they want to eat dinner, if they want to go to the movies, if they want to go shopping, it gives them a variety of choices, rather than you go to the haunted house, then get back in your car and leave. So, that’s why we ended up working it out there. We believe that it’s going to be a winning location for everybody: Los Angeles, Northridge, and us.

LAURA FREEDMAN: There’s a really great community base out there. It’s a family-oriented area. It’s a place where families want to have those places to go. In Hollywood, people are a lot more scattered all over the place.

HARLAN: And we needed a space that was large enough for our event. It was important to have the Fall Festival component of it, because we wanted something for the families who come with little kids that shouldn’t go into the haunted house – there’s stuff for them to do at the Fall Festival. The families can let their teens into the haunted house, then have something to eat, and hang out. There’s something for all ages there.

LAURA: We always joke that 13-year-old girls are the best [haunt victims].

HARLAN: We’re going to have more scares per haunt than most of the other local haunts. I think in one of the mazes I counted twenty-nine different opportunities to be scared. Which makes a pretty intense walk-through attraction. I also think that Ultimate Effects, which is one of our sponsors, is helping us build animatronics that are pretty unique and cool and interesting. Because we’re partially profit driven and partially a fund-raising event, a lot of our volunteer monsters come from charities, and there’s a lot more heart that they have, so I think our ‘scare-actors’ are more passionate about giving the customers an amazing Halloween experience.

LAURA: We really think of it as a performance. It’s important to us that when our customers come through, they see a show. It’s a live event, and we take that pretty seriously.

HARLAN: As a television producer, the instincts I have are about, ‘What are the viewers going to like, and what aren’t they going to like?’ From that standpoint, I created three completely separate styles of mazes. If someone doesn’t like one of them, they’ll probably like the other two. They’re unique experiences. Extreme Madness is a very visual and audio-intense experience, with a lot of ultra-violet colors and an amazing soundtrack design that was done BY Oracle Post, one of our sponsors. It’s going to make for a very intense experience for any haunted house enthusiast. Zombieville is a Zombieville is a completely new experiment in haunting. We went through a similar maze several years ago, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it bigger, better, cooler, hipper, and I think I’ve got that. We’ll find out this year for sure! Nightmare Factory is just an intense rift on a dark-wall maze. It’s upping the ante. Long Beach, down at the Queen Mary, we love what they’ve done there. One of their mazes I found wonderful…how they put it together…It was just the simplicity of it and the uniqueness of where these monsters were coming out of the darkness, that made it a great experience. After rifting with Laura – because here experiences are different – she is absolutely the perfect victim for any haunted house. She attracts the monsters like honey and a bee.

LAURA: Each weekend leading up to Halloween is dedicated to a different charity. Weekend One is Kiwanis. Weekend Two is Project Grass of Los Angeles. Weekend Three is Special Olympics of California. With that, they provide us with fresh new volunteers each week, so they come in extremely enthusiastic and ready to work their weekend. I train them all. We help them hone in on what they’re best at, whether a scare-actor or helping me with operations or being an usher.

HARLAN: We’re excited about this year. Since this is our grand Northridge opening, we’re really trying to create an experience that will make people walk out of there, going ‘Holy Smokes! I’ve got to tell my friends about this!’ And we’ll be there for years to come. We think we found the perfect location, and if it goes as big as we think it is, who knows? It could become a full-time thing. We wouldn’t object to having a Haunts USA haunts in every major city in America.