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Covid Halloween: Spooky Hollows’ sticky backstory

In the final installment of Covid Halloween, John Cassella discusses turning his home haunt into a show explaining the origin of Mr. Sticky.

Spooky Hollows is one of many home haunts doing a yard display instead of a walk-through maze this Halloween. Unlike the rest, Spooky Hollows had cut back to a display last year; nevertheless, the reality of the Coronavirus pandemic (and the safety precautions necessary in response to it) necessitated a rethinking of what the haunt would be this year.

The front yard of Spooky Hollows has always been decorated – a sort of prelude before entering the maze behind the house – but for Halloween 2020 some of the set pieces and props have been moved from the maze to the front yard, which is no longer a simple display but rather a show illustrating the backstory of Spooky Hollows’ signature character, the sewer-dwelling Mr. Sticky.

Hollywood Gothique exchanged questions with haunt-proprietor John Cassella on the process that went into transitioning Spooky Hollows to make it safe for trick-or-treaters during a pandemic.

Hollywood Gothique: When did it become clear that Spooky Hollows would have to do something different this year, that the pandemic would not be over by October? You had already scaled back to a yard display last year, so presumably this was not as big a change as it might have been otherwise.

John Cassella: We always have a yard display component to our haunt, but  we decided  pretty early to  do the yard display only this year. Even before  Midsummer Scream was  cancelled  for the year, which we were planning on bringing our haunt to, we  just had a  gut feeling that things weren’t going to be  “normal.”

Spooky Hollows 2020 John Cassella Interview
Detail from this year’s yard display.

Hollywood Gothique: What were the specific challenges that Covid-19 presented for Spooky Hollows, if any?

John Cassella: We normally would want to do a walk-thru  haunt but  since covid, we decided to again do a display/show. This challenged me to do something new, not just  a simple display, but a vehicle to push our haunt’s  backstory and technical  aspects.

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

John Cassella: Since I’ve been  working from home, I’ve been able to babysit a lot more personal projects for the haunt this year and that has allowed us to really push more into the show, which is refreshing and scary, because even though  the plans are all there, technology is fickle, and putting it all together and making it work is a monumental effort.

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

John Cassella: We obviously decided  pretty early not to do the walk-through, which was the main thing. Simply because of the work involved this year, I knew I wouldn’t have as much outside help as usual. I decided to  take on a version of the haunt that I could do mostly on my own, but some of my  crew are still coming by when they can.

Hollywood Gothique: What was the core element of Spooky Hollows that you wanted to preserve?

John Cassella: Our core story and pushing that forward – and in this case backward to tell the genesis story of our cryptid, Mr Sticky.

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

John Cassella: As I mentioned,  we’ve taken a page from  haunted “shows” a bit more this year. Applying  ideas from some of our favorite haunts, we’re hoping to give people the creeps at a distance through some  new visuals, both fun and  frightening!

Hollywood Gothique: Did any of the changes turn out to be improvements you might want to carry over next year, when, presumably, the pandemic will be over?

John Cassella:  Absolutely. We tend to build things to be legacy props, and we reuse and repurpose things from year to year. Even this year, we’ve moved some of our most iconic  pieces of our sets  out front to  incorporate into the show.

Spooky Hollows continues this weekend on October 30, 31, and November 1, from 7pm to 11pm on Friday and Saturday, from 7pm to 10pm on Sunday. The address is 16418 Gilmore Street in Van Nuys. Get more info here: spookyhollows.com/events.

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.