Q&A: Pirates Cave reveals Origins amid pandemic

In the second installment of our Halloween in the Time of Coronavirus series, Captain Dave Larson navigates a safe voyage through Covid-infested seas
Pirates Cave Dave Larson Interview
Dave & Jacob Larson

Pirates Cave Home Haunt, which has been serving family-friendly scares in Orange for 21 years, will be embarking on a slightly different voyage this Halloween. In response to concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic, the father and son haunt team of Dave & Jacob Larson are switching from their usual walk-through to an open air stage show titled "Origins." The six-minute presentation will illustrate the pirates' back story with multiscreen video, synchronized lighting, effects, and live actors (staying six feet away from the audience of course).

Viewers will be expected to wear masks and stand in designated spots in order to maintain social distance. To minimize crowd size, Pirates Cave has expanded its schedule to six nights, presenting "Origins" on October 23, 24, 25, 30, 31, and November 1. Hours are 7pm to 10pm nightly.

Hollywood Gothique interviewed Dave Larson via email about the challenges of safely mounting the Pirates Cave during a pandemic.

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

When we saw that the big guns like Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal City Hollywood cancelling, we knew that Covid-19 was still going to be a problem. It was evident the Pirate's Cave would need to make some adjustments

Hollywood Gothique: What were the specific challenges that Covid-19 presented for Pirates Cave?

As all haunts do, we have lines where people are close together.  We also utilize close-up scares and confined passageways. Our haunt was always technically outside, but it seemed the walls needed to go, and the audience would need to be separated more from the actors. After the big events closed, the home haunts were gravitating to yard displays. Being the Pirates Cave, we decided to run with that concept, and take it to the next level.

Pirates Cave Dave Larson Interview Covid
This year's goals included avoiding long lines.

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

You have to start asking yourself how do you make a yard display interesting, hold people's attention, and be scary as well?  How do you scare people form a distance?  We decided to utilize some old scare techniques to get reactions out of the audience without getting close.  Some of these ideas led to the design of props for socially distant scares

Hollywood Gothique: Were any potential strategies abandoned and for being impracticable or too expensive?

We were originally thinking about a drive up experience utilizing an FM transmitter to send our program audio to the car. The more we thought about it, the more we became hesitant to deal with lines of cars choking up the street as well as blocking  neighbors driveways.  I also didn't want to be a parking lot attendant. We have a great relationship with our neighbors and plan to keep it that way.

Hollywood Gothique: What was the core element of Pirates Cave that you wanted to preserve?

We have some great props and scenes we have developed over the years. In order to preserve those familiar scenes we designed the Origins story around them. If you are familiar with the haunt and our rooms, you will see how each one of them integrates into the story as well as hints at what we want to accomplish in the future. The origins story was written not unlike the Pirates of the Caribbean motion picture story. Disney had these iconic scenes in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and wanted to integrate them into the movie. In order for them to accomplish that, they had to essentially write a script backwards. They had to write a story that would include these well-known scenes. We did the same on a smaller scale.

Above: Familiar props will reappear in this year's version of Pirates Cave.

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

This year's event is really a stage show in our front yard. Normally we would have 4 different controllers, 1 for every room in our walk through haunted house. This year we have 1 controller running the sound, projectors, dmx lights, fog machines, and other effects. This has been a daunting task and a little scary to rely one controller to handle everything.

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?

This year we upgrade our event to utilize DMX lights. DMX stand for "Digital Multiplex" and refers to computer controlled lights. We will have 18 of them, and each one can be individually controlled by the computer. You can program them to change colors, vary their brightness, and create strobing effects. Lighting as always been important to our design, and this new acquisition takes us up a step. The flexibility of DMX lighting is been quite exciting, but it's also challenging to program them, as well as operate them in an outdoor environment. When we return to our normal haunt next year, we will definitely continue using the DMX lights.

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The Pirates Cave's address is 2548 E Garfield Avenue, Orange, CA 92867. Admission is free, but a $1 donation is suggested. Reservations are not required. Get more information at their website.

Note: The article original posted on September 26. It has been updated to include the Q&A with Dave Larson.

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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