don’t believe you live in a haunted hotel. Tell us about the Horror
good!, a question I can answer in a less paranoid way. This place
is both our home and our ‘haunt’, in every sense of the word. It’s
about 150 years old. It really was a hotel back around the turn of
the century…uhh, the previous turn of the century, I mean.
There are ten bedrooms. We bought it in late 1992, when a little
old lady was living here all alone in just a few of the rooms. It
was a real shipwreck, with paint peeling, holes in the ceiling,
plumbing and wiring that had been installed by the ancient Aztecs,
plus fallen arches, a deviated septum, all kinds of problems. So we
spent a summer fixing it up to make it delightfully unlivable. And
yes, a lot of people in the area did already think the place was
haunted. A lot of strange things have happened here, but I don’t
usually discuss that with the media because I don’t like to sound
like I’m saying, “Oooh scary, kids, my haunted house is really
haunted!” It can be a little embarrassing.
much work does it require?
lot! Especially for only two people. We rarely have help.
you working year-round for the next season?
no. Most of the year we’re doing mask work. We typically don’t
start on Horror Hotel until mid-August. We stop taking
pre-Halloween mask orders in July. We finish those orders up and
start on Horror Hotel about six weeks before it opens. I suppose
that’s because our house looks enough like a haunted mansion already
that it only takes six weeks to turn it all the way into Horror
you typically get familiar faces each year, or do the newly dead
cycle through there too?
a lot of repeat business. Many humans have told us that Horror
Hotel is a big part of their Halloween tradition. Some say it’s the
only haunted attraction they let their kids go to. And it sounded
weird to me, but one boy said he’d been coming here every October
“all his life”. It sounds funny, but when you stop and think that
we’ve been doing this for ten years now, he really has been
coming here all his life! Each year we put a life-size monster
figure in the gift shop for people to have their picture taken with,
and some of our patrons now have a full set of photos of themselves
with each monster, one from every year! I love hearing stuff like
you ever accidentally leave your dirty underwear out?
There’s an easy way to avoid that: Don’t wear underwear. But I do
recall that, on our first year, there was a big dinner table scene
and on one of the plates was a battery-operated moving hand. Sure
enough, halfway through one night I noticed a torn-open battery
wrapper displayed in plain view on the table. If anybody would’ve
remarked on it we’d have said, “Err, that’s there on purpose-- One
of our robots just ate those batteries and left the wrapper on the
props and scenes are very elaborate and add that touch of humor you
are known for. Tell us about some of your favorite scenes.
have bee a LOT of different scenes and room designs over the years.
To be honest, a lot of them have fallen a little short of my
expectations in one way or another, often due to time constraints.
One of my favorites was the werewolves’ campout, where we had a pack
of werewolves gathered around a campfire in the woods, roasting rats
and eyeballs on sticks. I also thought the pumpkin carving contest
between Michael, Jason, Leatherface and Edward Scissorhands was
great. And of course our dead girls’ slumber party was very
popular. Some of our scenes are more humorous, like the pumpkin
carving room I just mentioned, and others are more dark and creepy,
like our ‘Exorcist’ room or the dead train engineer. It’s always a
delicate balance with the humor-to-horror ratio. I like to keep
things light-hearted enough so that people don’t actually have a
miserable time…most people really don’t want to be scared to the
point of emotional trauma, you know…but at the same time you have to
acknowledge that danger, death and decay are part of human
existence, and that irrational evil is very real, so people
shouldn’t get too comfortable. I try to project a mood of
uncertainty. It’s like saying, Yes, these are horrible monsters and
they really do terrible things and kill people, but since they’re
taking a Halloween break from their usual habits to come out and
enjoy the season, they probably won’t kill you tonight. So you can
relax to some degree. Go ahead and look at them up close and
personal. It’s a very unique experience, especially for kids. A
lot of times the kids who are the most terrified at the beginning
and are already crying as soon as they come in are the ones who are
begging the loudest to go through again by the end. Scaring the
saliva out of the public is great fun and I’ve done that a lot of
times too, so I’m not knocking the idea of really frightening
people, but scaring people half to death is almost too easy.
Especially when you’ve already got them in a dark scary place and
they know you’re out to scare them. It’s a more intriguing
challenge to creep people out in a more subtle way while still
giving them an evening they’ll remember as a good time and a
worthwhile, offbeat entertainment experience.
do you use to construct a full-body prop? Support, padding, etc.?
Anything and everything. Some of the monsters were purchased
display-ready, like Pumpkinhead and Predator. Others are made of
actual store mannequins, and a lot of them are things we boogedied
together out of PVC pipe, foam rubber, chicken wire, duct tape,
fiberfill, 2 x 4s, old stew meat, pencil shavings, actual dead
bodies, or whatever else it takes to get the right look for a
particular character. I guess we like the PVC pipe skeleton covered
with foam rubber method best. Did I just say ‘actual dead bodies’
do you go about finding the outfits that match the character,
especially the movie characters that have a certain appearance?
is an excellent seamstress (emphasis on the ‘stress’), and she
personally makes whatever we can’t find in either a costume catalog
or the good old Salvation Army thrift store. It’s amazing the great
stuff you can find at thrift stores. Our favorite source of really
outstanding horror costumes is an outfit in PA called Castle Blood
Haunt Couture. The stuff they make is all custom and it’s
first-rate quality. Their stuff is made like real clothing, not
cheesy masquerade costumes, and it always adds a nice dimension of
realism to the figures. On some occasions I’ll send them a
videotape of some old horror movie and tell them the costume I need
recreated, and let them go to work on it. They always come through
for us and get something just perfect to us on time.
about Laura. Sounds like a match made in, well, we won’t say
where. Seems like you two were made for each other, as corny as
that sounds. How did the two of you meet?
in a haunted house. Honest-to-Cthulhu! Laura’s brother Richard was
my best buddy in high school. Richard worked on the haunted house I
was running while I was still in school. He brought his sister to
see it one night and that was the first time we met. We didn’t see
each other again until a year later, at my next haunted house.
Laura grew up as a monster freak--well, a freak anyway--building
Aurora monster models, reading Famous Monsters Of Filmland,
watching horror films at every opportunity, all the classic ‘young
monster nut’ traditions. Laura and her sister Carol had their own
little ‘Monster Club’ when they were kids. Laura was the first girl
I ever met who knew all about movie monsters. Of course everybody
knew Frankenstein, Dracula and the other classics, but Laura and
Carol were also big fans of “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”, “Black
Sunday”, and all the lesser-known horrors. So, unlike a lot of
monster fan guys who have wives that roll their eyes and tolerate
their husbands’ horror obsessions, mine actually loves the stuff
like I do. We watch at least a part of some horror, sci-fi or
fantasy movie practically every night before we go to bed. And we
try to make it to every genre movie that comes out on the big screen
even to this day. How many women do you know who can talk about the
difference between a Dario Argento movie and a Lucio Fulci one?
She’s also become the leading “hair chick” for masks, and spends a
lot of time doing custom hair jobs on collector pieces. She’s
sculpted a few great collector editions too, like the Teenage
Werewolf and IT- The Terror From Beyond Space. When the U.S. Post
Office issued the Universal Monster Stamps in 1997, Laura got her
picture, in her vampire makeup, on an official Post Office
cancellation stamp and Horror Hotel was designated an Official
Postal Station. That was really cool. And the collector mask of
her that Henry Alvarez did is one of our best-selling pieces. So
Laura has definitely had an interesting life, shall we say.
to ask if the wedding was anything different from the norm.
you have to go and ask that? At the risk of disappointing
everybody, I have to report that we ended up having a perfectly
normal, traditional church wedding. When it was in the newspapers,
I had friends who scanned the article over and over trying to figure
out what the joke was. People called me up and said, “I give up--
What’s the punch line?” They were that sure the article was some
sort of a gag. The idea of anybody marrying me was clearly
impossible. We got married in 1985, and I’m still crazy about her.
I still worship the ground she crawled out of.