Events & Attractions

Spook Show 6 Haunters: The Art of the Scare Panel Recap

Horror Vixen, Donald Julson, Shar Mayer, and Jon Schnitzer during the Haunters: The Art of the Scare panel at Halloween Club's Spook Show 6

Yesterday, Halloween Club in La Mirada hosted its 6th Annual Spook Show. The annual free event hosted by the year-round Halloween store features over 100 vendors, food, drinks, live music, and presentations.  This year on a makeshift stage of stacked pallets and plywood in the store’s warehouse, they brought together some of the folks behind the haunt documentary Haunters: The Art of the Scare.  MC’d by Vanessa Decker AKA Horror Vixen, the panel featured the films creator Jon Schnitzer along with scare actor Shar Mayer and Nightmare on Loganberry home haunter Donald Julson, who were both in the film.  The panel lasted about an hour with Decker asking various questions to each member and we’ve got your recap below!

What Makes a Great Haunt?

Decker kicked off the presentation by asking each member of the panel what makes a great haunt.  Each gave a rundown of what they felt made a great haunt, but I felt Schnitzer’s answer was perhaps the most compelling.  In his answer, he talked of how haunts are a dual rights of passage.  He brought up one of Shar’s quotes from the movie and how a good horror attraction makes you laugh, cry, and feel like a kid again, but in contrast, he points out another part of the movie where a young boy is trying to convince Schnitzer’s nephew to go through the Nightmare on Loganberry maze.  In it, he says, “If you go through that haunted house, you feel like a man.”  It was then that Schnitzer realized that haunted houses are a place for adults to feel like kids and for kids to feel brave.  “When you go through a haunted house and you laugh and you can scream and have such an amazing time being transported that’s the greatest thing ever. Isn’t that why we all love Halloween so much?” said Schnitzer in his response.

Would Donald Julson Ever Do an Extreme Haunt?

The short answer, was no, mainly because he doesn’t want to get sued. But Julson also explained why he disagrees with some of the extreme haunts and how they are run.  “I don’t hate them,” explained Julson and later in his answer pointed out he liked Blackout and some of the other extreme haunts that tell a story and make people uncomfortable.  But the key for Julson is the ability for a guest to have a way out.

“With an extreme haunt, it should be about the individual trial going through.  With that becomes a choice.  When my brother, was a Navy Seal, he had a choice to do that. He went through incredible amounts of pain and turmoil and could have quit at any time he wanted to and there would have been no judgment. You need that choice,” explained Julson.

Julson also referred to some of the extreme measures used in haunts as a “cheat” when it comes to scaring. “Do I ever think anyone should get hit, punched, degraded, shamed? No, I don’t think that’s necessary for a haunt.  It’s pretty easy to scare the hell out of people, you just have to set it up. You get them in the mood to be scared, you hype them up, you pull them in, it’s not difficult. I don’t see why you would need to beat, torture, or drown someone to get that reaction. That’s a cheat.”

The Future of Nightmare on Loganberry

In the Haunters film, Julson’s wife says that when they had kids Donald would have to stop haunting.  Decker leveraged this moment to ask Julson for an update on the statement asking first if he had had any kids and second if he was still haunting.  To which Julson responded, “I have a two-year-old son now and it stopped me haunting.” After a long pause, he then said, “For two years.” During the panel Julson revealed to the audience that Nightmare on Loganberry would be returning this year after a two-year hiatus.  While details are still being fleshed out, Julson did confirm it will still happen on Halloween and it will still be free.

Shar Mayer on What It Was Like Being In the Documentary

When the questions shifted to scare actor Shar Mayer, Decker started with asking Shar what it was like seeing herself and her life in the documentary and if there was a moment she was glad had been preserved in the film.  Shar responded that her favorite part was that her husband got to be a part of the documentary.  “If you see the movie, you know he’s not into this. He’s not here today, he’s home and he’ll have dinner ready for us when it’s done.  He supports me,” said Mayer.  “Seeing my husband talk about it. That was really cool for me.”  Shar went on to talk about how the film has changed her life and how it’s created unlimited opportunities for her to meet other haunters, inspire folks to become scare actors, and has even given her the chance to travel and talk to haunters in other parts of the country.

The Evolution of the Haunters Film

During the panel, Decker asked Schnitzer, “When you showed the first 30 minutes of the film at Scare LA years ago it was different, what changed?” The answer unveiled that the original cut of the film was much different than the film you can stream on Netflix or purchase on Blu ray or DVD.  “When I did the first cut of the movie, it was about an hour and forty-eight minutes and it was completely insane.   If you’re a haunt fan, it’s just perfect.  But if you’re not into Halloween or haunts it was just like, so what? I actually tested out a lot of people that weren’t into Halloween or haunts and they didn’t quite get it.  They even said, ‘Well I guess everyone is just kinda crazy in this industry’ and I was like no, no that’s not true.  So I just kept working on it and reached out to mentors like Rodney Ascher, the director of Room 237 and The Nightmare. I reached out to the directors of Indie Game the Movie, about indie game developers making video games and the creative process and I took all of their advice and what I realized was when we were showing more of McKamey Manor and more of Russ [McKamey] it was almost like the darkness emphasized the light. Because then people were like, ‘Donald and Shar, I just love them, they’re so sweet, I love what they’re doing.’ And what was interesting was that a lot of people that aren’t into haunts, started to go, ‘wait a minute I wanna go try an interactive one, or I wanna go try this one.’ It’s interesting because when you start a debate, you almost pick a fight with an audience and what happens? You pick a side.

Why the Film Is Titled “The Art of the Scare”

Decker also asked Schnitzer about the name of the film and why he called it “The Art of the Scare.” “I wanted to emphasize that these are not loveable losers, these are artists. The idea about making a haunt, you have to be the P.T. Barnum of terror. You have to be the director, a producer, actor, a writer, a creative. You have to create something with the illusion of danger, without danger. You have to know about special effects, and safety, and emotion. There is so much that goes into it.  The word art to anyone who’s created before, it means sacrifice. What are you willing to sacrifice to make your dreams come true? And for haunters, what are you willing to sacrifice to make other people’s nightmares come to life? I wanted to show that in the movie.”

The panel was super informative and if you’re a fan of the film, or even if you’ve just seen the film it gives it all-new context.  During the panel, Schnitzer also revealed that he is in the works of trying to get Haunters turned into a television series.  The goal would be to create hour-long episodes in the vein of the film that introduces people to the haunt community, the people behind it and what goes into the haunts that terrify guests year after year.

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