House of Spirits: Immersing Guests in a Halloween Sandbox

Meyer2Meyer Creative Director Justin Meyer on serving up a haunted cocktail soirée unlike anything else in Los Angeles

You can imbibe creepy cocktails at The Cauldron. You can party with the living dead at Bite. You can explore a spooky mansion at the Reign of Terror Haunted House. But only one location allows you to do all of this – and more – under a single roof: House of Spirits: A Haunted Cocktail Soirée, which is making its debut for Halloween 2019. Produced by Meyer2Meyer Entertainment (the brains behind The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride), House of Spirits is a remarkable synthesis of haunted house, costume party, and interactive experience, including open bars, live entertainment, a scary scavenger hunt, and even scarier excursions into the basement.

This satisfying cocktail recipe shoots House of Spirits to the top of Hollywood Gothique’s favorite Los Angeles Halloween events. Seeking the secret of this strange brew, we interviewed Justin Meyer, owner and Creative Director of Meyer2Meyer, on the subject of how the company had blended this perfect Halloween apéritif.

House of Spirits Interview Justin Meyer
Inside the House of Spirits

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: There have been a couple of popup Halloween themed bars in Los Angeles. How was the decision made to go a step farther and turn "House of Spirits" into an immersive experience for Halloween?

JUSTIN MEYER: Meyer2Meyer Entertainment started about two years ago, and our mission was to develop a style of show that was unlike any other experience in town. We found the format that worked best for us and our content was the sandbox-style, free-roam interactive party atmosphere. We infuse it a bit in our Rated R Speakeasy event (co-produced by Graham Skipper) and into Kaleidoscope Experience, another whimsical adult playground event we throw in April.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What was the inspiration for the approach you took, or looking at it another way, how did you determine there was an appetite for this particular form of Halloween entertainment – combining cocktails, puppet shows, a sort of scavenger hunt upstairs and scares downstairs?

JUSTIN MEYER: We have been in the industry of Halloween Events for over a decade, having spent 10 years working on the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride and Great Horror Campout. As the creative director for that programming, I certainly developed a style. I also saw what the audience responded to the most and what they valued the most. Those elements we began to infuse into all of our M2M productions, and it seems the formula is well received!

House of Spirits Interview Beckett Mansion
The Beckett Mansion, setting for House of Spirits

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: It strikes me that House of Spirits takes the template from Ghost Ship and transfers it to a haunted house: it's a three-level event with drinks and interaction with your hosts on the main floor, some kind of entertainment upstairs, and scares below in the basement. Was this part of the development process?

JUSTIN MEYER: We honestly didn't have Ghost Ship in mind when we developed this program (or any program M2M has developed). We put a lot of focus into the format we designed for Kaleidoscope Experience and applied that to this show. I think it's coincidental that there are three levels—that's just the layout of the house. As I developed each area of the house, I wanted to vary the experiences: Main Floor is a variety show veiled as a Haunted soirée, upstairs is a scavenger hunt interactive game, and the basement is all about keeping things edgy and a little frightening.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What are the safety concerns when offering alcohol to guests who will be walking (possibly running in fear) up and down narrow staircases in an old house – some without handrails?

JUSTIN MEYER: There is no running in fear at this event—it's not really that kind of show. We think the fun of this is that guests get to dress up and enjoy a macabre experience at a slightly different pace. That being said, it is an old house with narrow halls and staircases, but we put a lot of focus on lighting each step with candles and glow tape, and cautioning the guests to move through those spaces delicately and safely.  We never rush or scare anyone on a staircase.  Our staff is vigilant and highly trained.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How did you calculate the approximate time necessary to "complete" the experience? (We got through everything in two hours but left wishing we could have "hung out" more with our ghost hosts.)

JUSTIN MEYER: That is something that we developed from Kaleidoscope Experience. We approximated the amount of time each piece of content would take given the capacity of the house and made our call based on that. It has proven to be just enough time to get everything done, but certainly we have heard the guests wish to spend just a little more time inside—but we don't feel that's a bad thing! A lot of content and desire to stay and play means guests should come back and explore things more!

House of Spirits Interview Justin Meyer
Entrance to the Goya Gallery

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: There seems to be some confusion about the artists Francisco Goya and Francisco Preciado de la Vega. Goya gets a gallery and a drink named after him, but the back story of the house involves Vega. How did this come about?

JUSTIN MEYER: When I first designed this show, I used Francisco Goya and his final days working on the Black Painting series as my inspiration. I created my own original character, Francisco Vega to tell our story. This is not the same artist Francisco Preciado de la Vega. Our Francisco Vega is an original character, not a real person. We gave Goya his own bar and gallery as a nod to him as my inspiration.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What are the advantages that your type of attraction has over old-school haunted houses?

JUSTIN MEYER: We love it when guests come dressed up! The more they interact, the more they get out of the experience - and that starts with them coming in costume or period attire or simply dressed for a cocktail party. Another advantage is the the sandbox style of the show, meaning you get to choose your level of interactivity and experiences, which you don't always get at other attractions.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How would you characterize "House of Spirits" for someone wondering how it compares to other Halloween events, whether immersive experiences or haunted house walk-throughs? What does yours offer that they don't?

House of Spirits Interview Justin Meyer
Avante Garde entertainment at House of Spirits

JUSTIN MEYER: Ours offers cocktails, which not all haunts do. Ours is also a wide variety of entertainment, where other haunts have a tendency to stick to a singular experiential theme. We also pride ourselves on our style—our creature characters and suits designed by amazing artist Tanya Cyr and our focus on avant garde costuming design—really sets us apart from other shows and is very much a part of Meyer2Meyer's M.O.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Looking at your production from the business end, how are interactive experiences like "House of Spirits" more viable than traditional haunted house attraction?

JUSTIN MEYER: From our perspective, we always try to just create amazing content in a unique way. The quality of the show elements and the guests experience are always our first priority, so we put a lot of our resources toward that. I think the success is seen through our attendance—House of Spirits is almost completely sold out. That seems to be directly related to our social media marketing presence (thanks to our business partners at FEVER) and the general description of the event, which clearly resonated with people.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Looking toward the future, are there plans to do "House of Spirits" as an annual Halloween event?

JUSTIN MEYER: Absolutely, we're definitely going to push to make this annual. We are also curious if this style of show has any legs outside of the Halloween season? I guess the audience will be our best test as to whether a year round version would be viable. We are also looking at other cities as well, and would be excited to expand the show beyond Los Angeles.

We resisted the temptation to take immersive interaction to the next level with an impromptu organ recital.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Taking a broader look at immersive events versus old-school haunted house attractions: Popup haunted houses seem to be a thing of the past in Los Angeles – driven out of the marketplace by the theme parks like Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Instead, we see a variety of immersive experiences: interactive plays, escape room games, etc. House of Spirits isn't quite any of those, but it's definitely something more than a jump-scare walk-through experience. Do you think this is a real trend?

JUSTIN MEYER: I think there is a need for more interactive shows, rather than passive audience experiences. We get enough of that from our streaming services and cell phones. The visceral and tactile experience of a unique live event is exciting and interesting, and I'm not surprised it is a popular trend.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Is this the future of Halloween?

JUSTIN MEYER: We'll see! I think there is a place and a need for all styles of entertainment, especially when it comes to horror or the Halloween experience. Variety is the real secret, the real spice of life. You need it all, or else you find yourself pigeon holed and quickly stale. We're excited to be one of the most unique and varietal experiences out there today.

House of Spirits continues through November 2 at the Beckett Mansion, 2218 S. Harvard Boulevard, Los Angeles 90016. Get more info here:  houseofspiritsla.com.

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.