Covid Halloween: Haunted Shack's A-mazing Conversion

In Chapter 11 of Halloween in the Time of Coronavirus, Bob Peitzman describes turning Haunted Shack from a short but terrifying walk-through into a larger-than-life display

Awesome! Faced with the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no chance that The Haunted Shack would be presenting its usual maze this Halloween; instead, they came up with something totally different and totally awesome, and we're not just talking about the spectacular size of the Stranger Things "Shadow Monster" poised atop an unfortunate movie theatre. We're talking about the fact that the creature is psychic! It talks, and it knew what we were doing! In Torrance to see Joe Bob's Haunted Drive-In, we had decided to kill two bats with one stone by visiting The Haunted Shack, and while we were taking a few pictures of the cyclopean creature, the damned thing jeered, "Hope you have fun at Joe Bob's tonight!"

Of course, the reality is somewhat more prosaic. The jeering voice is provided remotely by the haunt's home owner, Bob Peitzman, who was lurking nearby, well aware that we would be swinging by on our way to the drive-in event. Sadly, we do not visit The Haunted Shack as much as it deserves: it's off our beaten path and usually opens only one or two nights every Halloween, which makes scheduling difficult. One fortunate side effect of the pandemic is that the transition from walk-through to yard display resulted in Haunted Shack being open throughout October - providing an opportunity we were not about to miss.

If you have never been to The Haunted Shack, you should know that usually it presents a maze on par with the best Halloween Home Haunts in Los Angeles, packing a short space with jump-scares and clever illusions. The current display cannot match the fear factor, but it's so big that it does not disappoint. We're told that it will be even more spectacular on Halloween Night, when the monster will be lifting a live victim in its giant claw.

Before our visit, we had conducted an email interview with Peitzman on the subject of adapting the Haunted Shack to the realities of Covid-19.

Hollywood Gothique: When did it become clear that Haunted Shack would have to do something different this year, that the pandemic would not be over by October?

Bob Peitzman: We held a brainstorming session for this year's haunt in April, and just the fact that we've never done that over a video call was the eye-opening moment that we'd have to modify plans this year. By July, we had formulated a plan "B" that did not involve our normal walkthrough as we didn't feel comfortable putting friends and family at any risk. About the same time, my high school reunion committee decided to cancel our reunion on October. That was my sign.

Hollywood Gothique: What were the specific challenges that Covid-19 presented for Haunted Shack?

Bob Peitzman: As an enclosed, dark, walk-through attraction with small spaces, we had to completely rethink what we could be this year. We were fortunate that we were well ahead of the curve for when the state said "no haunted houses." What we landed on creatively is not what we started with in the creation process; honestly, there are a lot of other unusually great ideas we will implement in future years when the world is less restrictive, which fell out of these creative limitations. We did not want to just be an "aquarium" where every scare-actor was in a plexiglass box. So we started from scratch and did something totally unlike our last 21 years of haunting.

Hollywood Gothique: How did you go about reimagining Haunted Shack to take these challenges into account?

Bob Peitzman: As a small home haunt, we completely moved away from walk-through style to front-yard display. That was a tough pill to swallow for us as we love having the surprise of what lies beyond the first door of the haunt. Front-yard displays also present an issue with security and gathering while unattended which is always a concern. We feel we've mitigated much of that with design layout and frankly, just the elevation of our display.

Hollywood Gothique: What strategies were considered? Were any abandoned for whatever reason – were some simply not practicable or too expensive?

Bob Peitzman: We considered drive-in, drive-by (including street closure), a walk-through haunt but with one big room - full open-air, no roof, timed entries - sit down mini-show, front yard display, move offsite to a parking lot, and go dormant for the year. Most of these did not check the boxes for us of cost, practicality, safety and show impact. It needed to be fun, memorable, photo worthy, spooky, and a great calling card for future years.

Hollywood Gothique: What was the core element of Haunted Shack that you wanted to preserve?

Bob Peitzman: Honestly, the only true core element we have been able retain this year is that element of "wow" - wow, how did they do that, how much time did it take, where do you store it? - all those questions we normally get. A front yard display does not provide the same scare as we are used to with a small team of haunters each year; we just had to abandon that notion altogether.

Hollywood Gothique: Besides precautions to protect your audience, how different is this year in terms of theme/impact/approach?

Bob Peitzman: Our visual impact is much bigger this year. Instead of a twelve-foot by twelve-foot facade (which hides a six-minute long haunt) and only 2 nights of being open, we have a display that is up for almost the whole month. It's so large that there have almost been car accidents as people slow down to look at it. Our approach is to keep people safe and socially distant. We also swapped our normal free-will offering (which typically goes to a local cancer support group), to instead requesting food donations to be dispersed through a local food bank. That way people can donate anytime during October at the food donation receptacle. We won't get to scare you face-to-face, but we hope to wow you from six feet away.

See more picks of The Haunted Shack in our 2020 Halloween Home Haunt Odyssey to South Bay.

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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