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LMC: People don’t believe you live in a haunted hotel.  Tell us about the Horror Hotel.

DL: Ah, 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.

LMC: How much work does it require?

DL: A lot!  Especially for only two people.  We rarely have help.

LMC: Are you working year-round for the next season?

DL: Oh, 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 Hotel.

LMC: Do you typically get familiar faces each year, or do the newly dead cycle through there too?

DL: We get 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 that!

LMC: Do you ever accidentally leave your dirty underwear out?

DL: 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 table, see?”

LMC: Your props and scenes are very elaborate and add that touch of humor you are known for.  Tell us about some of your favorite scenes.

DL: There 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.

LMC: What do you use to construct a full-body prop?  Support, padding, etc.?

DL: 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’ out loud?

LMC: How do you go about finding the outfits that match the character, especially the movie characters that have a certain appearance?

DL: Laura 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.

LMC: Talk 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?

DL: We met 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.

LMC: Have to ask if the wedding was anything different from the norm.

DL: Did 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.

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