Theme Park Magazine (TPM) recently had a conversation with Ryan Banfield, a themed entertainment designer who has an enjoyable and haunting hobby – The Haunted Rose attraction.
Ryan has worked on a number of haunted attractions, including as a props technician for Knotts Scary Farm. His passion was channeled into a home haunt – The Haunted Rose which uses inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft to tell its stories. The Haunted Rose was an instant hit and has now evolved to a bigger attraction at The Whittier Museum in Whittier, California.
With Halloween nearing, now is a great time to explore, with Ryan, the elements that go into creating a home haunt and larger-scale haunt attraction.
TPM: Hi, Ryan, and thanks for agreeing to an interview with us. Halloween is a special and busy time for you. How did you become interested in home haunts?
Ryan: I started haunting when I was in junior high, this would be around 1995. I used to decorate my friend Chris’s house and then later my parent’s home with the usual black trash bags and jump out at the neighbors to scare them on Halloween while giving out candy to the trick or treaters.
Up the street from Chris’s house was another neighbor a man named Doug in his early 20’s who would deck out his house with a full gothic graveyard with lumbering zombies on his lawn with a walkthrough haunt that went through his garage, into his backyard, through his side yard eventually ending back In front of the house. Doug’s daughter would creep out the neighbors with the makeup she was wearing which featured a fake eyeball falling out of its socket. Doug would chase you out of the maze revving a gas-powered chainsaw. Doug was officially my first inspiration to be a haunter and after experiencing his maze a couple of seasons it really pushed my mind to want to up the ante on the trash bag yard displays and one day build a full-fledge walkthrough haunted house that was equally immersive and full of story.
Couple this with relishing in visiting The Factory of Fears at the old Sears building in Lancaster Ca., and a Rotary Club Haunted House put on in the Lancaster Parks and Recreation building just a few miles from where I lived, and this was fuel for a budding haunter’s fire.
I was very much aware of the haunt industry that is a year-round business in the Mid-West and back East from reading publications like Hauntworld and Haunted Attraction Magazine as well as the Haunted Attraction Tour issues of Fangoria that were published in October in those days. I also looked forward to watching America’s Scariest Haunted Attractions specials on the Travel Channel. It was all very inspiring.
Fast forward to 2002 and I was the first of my class to complete the now standard high school graduate senior project. The senior project consists of a written 10-page essay on a chosen career path you would like to explore before graduation, and a 15-hour job experience session with an in-person mentor. I decided to research being a designer for the haunted attraction industry. I reached out to Leonard Pickle of Haunted Attraction Magazine and Dafe.org (Dark Attractions & Funhouse Enthusiasts) for guidance in researching the historical humble beginnings of haunted attractions and the art behind what it takes to create them. I designed and built a freestanding 5,270 square foot haunted attraction at my parent’s home in Littlerock, Ca. called “Dr. Macabro’s Island of Death” as my 15 hours on the job experience portion of the senior project. I estimate I put well over 500 hours into the production. The attraction was recognized by the local newspaper and television media stations.
I later went to work for Doug on his pro haunt Antelope Valley Scare for two seasons, first as a scare actor, and then eventually I got asked to design the graveyard and embalming room scenes for the haunt.
After working a few odd jobs over the summers in the high desert I applied to Knotts Scary Farm and was hired part-time as a props technician to fabricate prop and scenic elements and decorate the mazes. After many seasons of remaining part-time with Knotts and working in many capacities for them, I decided to start my own brand of haunted attraction and The Haunted Rose was designed, fabricated, and produced in 2016.
TPM: Tell us a little bit about your The Haunted Rose home haunt attraction and what inspired you to start it.
Ryan: After many years of working on Knotts Scary Farm haunted attractions and doing other various productions in the entertainment industry, I longed to give creating my own brand of a haunted attraction a shot at life. What I decided to create was a haunted attraction unlike I had seen done before that allowed me to combine the classic gothic themes of horror that I loved into a very immersive and continually evolving storyline… a brand of attraction that ounce you were made a fan you would return year after year to experience this unique experience that can only be found in The Haunted Rose Attractions. I was also mind full that each year’s theme can be enjoyed immensely by even the most casual Halloween celebrant alike.
TPM: As it relates to your haunts, how do you define “immersive” and what type of details does it take to take that immersion to the next level?
Ryan: Creating an immersive entertainment experience takes a lot of dedication to detail. One of the things guests of The Haunted Rose comment on is how well we build and decorate the sets. They are so authentic in look and feel that the guests forget they are walking through a haunted house attraction and can fully enjoy the storyline and performance of the characters they experience throughout the attraction.
We feature immersive details such as scents. There is nothing more immersive than walking through an environment that has a smell that further enhances its believability. We also use fog effects and special colored lighting to emphasize the mood of the environment from a visual standpoint. We have even gone as far as to put down mulch, leaves, dirt, and grass to enhance the guests’ experience of terrain as they walk through our attractions.
We have found many creative ways that engage the audience through these senses and it isn’t always as apparent to the guests till they exit the attraction and then realize what they just experienced. These details are so rewarding to the guest experience and shouldn’t be ignored.
TPM: How much time do you put into the “backstory” of your home haunt?
Ryan: I usually have a few themes for the next year in mind before I’m even done completing the current season’s haunt. I let the ideas fester and evolve and devolve till the commencement of the current season. I usually like to commit to a new idea no later than March after reviewing a few choices during the Christmas season. By then I commit to the idea and that’s when conceptual exploration comes into play.
Sometimes the theme is fleshed out as a story treatment, sometimes it begins with a great illustration that realizes the overall look and mood of the theme.
I usually start construction on sets and props by late July and have the maze fully constructed by the first week of October.
The Haunted Rose is known for being a highly detailed attraction that allows guests to see something new even after they have toured the attraction several times because there is so much to view and take in.
A strong backstory is crucial to the attraction’s overall makeup and design. It’s the story that lends believability and allows the guests to buy into and be enveloped in the environments we create. We also go to great lengths to create a complete atmosphere for our guests utilizing sents to test the guests’ sense of smell and giving a variety of terrain that will be experienced under the guests’ feet. Then finally we craft the perfect soundtrack comprising of a melding of ambient soundscapes and theatrical musical scores.
TPM: Your haunts are heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. What is it about H.P. Lovecraft’s stories and style that inspires you?
Ryan: H.P. Lovecraft’s universe is some of the most horrific stories I have ever read. The core idea that is central to Lovecraft’s Universe of Cosmic Horror is that the universe is ruled by creatures older than the dinosaurs existing at the creation of the earth, alien races from other dimensions and galaxies that are so horrific that in many cases the poor soul that is unfortunate to view them goes insane with madness. These creatures interact and rule in this universe and find the human race insignificant in the face of their existence.
I find the idea of humankind’s insignificance in the universe to be one of the most horrific and humbling storylines you could create a narrative from. We live in a time now with the internet, technology, and social media that has made general society obsessed with their self-importance. So I feel that a horror story that celebrates mankind’s insignificance is wholly relevant and totally sobering from a social standpoint in today’s society.
Couple this narrative with the vast variety of stories that Lovecraft penned and you have a multitude of themes to pull from ranging from, Horror, Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Fantasy, and the Supernatural.
TPM: Do you have a specific audience in mind when building a home haunt?
Ryan: My aim when designing a haunt is never to attract a specific audience but really focusing on how to deliver the best show I can year after year. Through doing this the thematic and story of the maze appeals to a wide range of audiences. My attraction is almost always applicable to an audience of all ages because I feature no gory imagery in my attractions. Over the years I have found that my audience has become fans of the unique literary Easter eggs and detailed set design that we feature in the attraction. Others come for the evolving storyline that is equal parts something familiar but also a completely new show.
TPM: What goes into making a storyline evolving?
Ryan: To create an evolving storyline I have introduced the character of Dr. Macabro who is the owner of the Haunted Rose Mortuary. Through his inter-dimensional experiences, he is able to visit and study different locations and creatures, and monsters. This dimensional travel storyline allows us to keep the haunt theme fresh year after year and it enables us to visit any storyline that we desire. We like to focus on storylines from classic gothic horror literature.
TPM: Creepy LA is a website that has covered haunts and Halloween since 2007. Their haunt awards, called “The Cadavers,” named The Haunted Rose “Best Home Haunt” of 2016. Why do you think your home haunt made such a big impression?
Ryan: In all honesty, I wasn’t aware that we were up for the Cadaver awards in 2016 until it was announced that we had won for best home haunt in Southern California that year. From what I gather from the returning guests year after year is that they really appreciate the effort that’s put into our show from the immersive storyline to the highly detailed environments, to the unique performances from our amazing team of scare actors. They really know how to embody their roles and we are notorious for dropping well-placed puns to lighten the mood of a rather horrific experience. Our team is not afraid to deliver on all levels and for the guest experience, the passion of the creation really shows through and is 110% genuine.
TPM: How has The Haunted Rose changed since 2016?
Ryan: In 2016, we created a storyline involving The Rose Mortuary ran by Doctor Macabro a mad scientist who studies necromancy and the supernatural. He has created a resonator machine that allows him to visit different dimensions to study creatures and monsters of all different varieties.
In the 2016 debut of The Haunted Rose, the maze was a multi-element-themed storyline that introduced the guests to the overall idea of dimensional travel and a universe of Lovecraftian creatures.
In 2017 The Haunted Rose returned with The Maritime Horror which is based off H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth which tells the tale of a seaport village Innsmouth where the villagers have sold their souls to an ancient sea god named Dagon for wealth and prosperity and immortality. The downside is the villagers are transformed into humanoid fish creatures. The guests are informed they have been caught by the villagers and must find a way to escape the town or be sacrificed to Dagon.
In 2018 The Haunted Rose went on hiatus for one season in anticipation of the arrival of my second son.
In 2019 I created Carters Crypt based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Statement of Randolph Carter. Randolph Carter is a researcher of the occult who conducts an expedition to a cemetery on the edge of a swamp. He ventures into a crypt that leads down into the ground and is never heard from again. The guests were instructed to enter the crypt to discover the fate of Randolph Carter and discover that he was eaten by cannibalistic albino ghouls who feast on the dead bodies underneath the graveyard.
In 2020 we thought outside the box due to Covid and delivered a socially distanced theatrical performance of The Colour Out of Space which unfolded in the front yard of my property and lasted five minutes and featured an automated light show of kaleidoscopic sound and color.
For 2021 we are joining up with The Whittier Museum as a new location to create Realm of the Supernatural. Dr. Macabro is back and is convinced his deceased wife Lenore is trying to reach out from the other side to communicate with him. He opens a portal to try to communicate with her and inadvertently releases the spirits of Whittier’s past from the Realm of the Supernatural.
Realm of the Supernatural will be open on October 29th, 30th, and 31st from 6 PM – 10 PM at Whittier Museum in Uptown. You may follow us on Instagram @hauntedrosehauntedattraction
TPM: I understand you do something called a Hearse Show. What is that and how does it tie into The Haunted Rose?
Ryan: The annual Hearse Show is a classic car show themed around hearses and funeral vehicles specifically from the 1800s through the 1980s. This is to give a spotlight to these beautiful vehicles and the guests have a blast viewing them on display and learning about their history. Last year we featured 10 vehicles. This season we are expecting 17 classic hearses on display from many different regions of Southern California. The hearse show is organized by Charly Botello – Dedcadi64.
TPM: How did you join forces with The Whittier Museum for your Realm of the Supernatural project? Also, what challenges are there in adapting a home haunt to a much larger scale?
Ryan: I actually came across a post on social media that The Whittier Museum was preparing for its annual community event. From the aid of a mutual friend I was encouraged to call them and inquire about interest in featuring a haunted attraction and to my surprise the museum has been aspiring to feature an attraction for the last two years. Once introductions were made things moved very quickly. Concepts were developed over a month and a half, construction was completed in two days and we are currently working on all the finer details of the attraction.
Fortunately, since we have been producing haunts for the last five years we have a lot of assets to pull from to create an attraction on a much larger scale than we have done before. The biggest challenge was being creative with transforming the museum space while protecting the museum displays and utilizing the available space to its best effect.
TPM: What is the most difficult part of building a home haunt?
Ryan: Building a home haunt to the level of detail and immersion that is expected from a pro haunt can be very expensive. Especially with the inflation of building materials, we have had to be very resourceful and creative in the building of the attraction to keep the overall cost down.
TPM: Outside of scaring people, what do you like to do?
Ryan: I just really like the creative process from beginning to end. Whether it’s designing attractions, props, sets, or costumes. There is nothing more rewarding than creating something from complete scratch and getting to see it through every phase of creation to a successful finish. Designing and building immersive worlds is something I really excel at and enjoy.
TPM: If someone wants to start a home haunt, what advice would you give them?
Ryan: Come up with a unique theme/storyline and stick with it at least for a few years. There are a few reasons I recommend this. Sticking with a theme/storyline allows you to build up haunt assets like props, walls, and scenic elements that can be reused year after year in creative ways and won’t have you breaking your bank each year. Creating a compelling story for your audience is important in favor of just a scary or even gory haunted house. The guests will remember your attraction if you have a storyline that sticks out amongst other haunt offerings.
As mentioned earlier having a solid storyline lends believe-ability and escapism for the audience and makes for a strong and memorable attraction experience for your guests who will surely return year after year to experience your unique storytelling.
TPM: Thanks for sharing your time with our readers, Ryan! It’s greatly appreciated.