One of the hardest aspects of haunt architecture, at least for me, is maintaining cohesion. As much as I may love my initial theme, I inevitably get inspired by amazing scenes that NEED to be in my haunt…but have nothing to do with my initial theme. While I will always be a fan of haunts that manage to stay consistently themed, I usually end up playing my favorite wild card in my own designs. I call it: The Séance Suite.
The Wild Card
A séance scene is great on its own, but we want to go beyond just chatting with the dead – for this trick to work, we have to join them. Hence, we use a two-room suite. The first scene in the séance suite establishes communication with forces beyond our control, and the second acts as a portal the guests pass through into whatever lies beyond. Once you’ve transitioned guests into this ‘beyond’, whether you call it Hell, an alternate dimension, or simply The Beyond, all bets are off. You can put just about anything past the portal, regardless of the theme your haunt carried up to this point. If your main theme is dark and organic, like a haunted hotel or abandoned morgue, using blacklights and dramatic costumes in The Beyond is an amazing effect. Conversely, if your main theme is already colorful (like a circus gone wrong), you may want to use more traditional demonic/evil elements in your Beyond. In my experience, The Beyond is the best place to use high-energy scares and bizarre props to create an erratic, possibly surreal, environment. Remember, unless you intend to transition back to your original theme, The Beyond is where you want to really spike your guests’ heart rates and guarantee the running-and-screaming exit that is a clear indicator of a great haunt.
The Séance Suite
Image from PumpkinKidFilm’s Flickr
A séance can take many forms to match the main theme of your haunt. A haunted circus’ gypsy will always welcome guests into her tent, a psychiatrist trapped in a hospital overrun with zombies may snap right as you enter her office and insist she can communicate with the dead to save you from the undead, et cetera. The séance suite should occur at the end of everything you can accomplish with your main theme and be a suspenseful, high-tension scene that guests enter after the hopefully (terrifying) ‘grand finale’ of the core haunt. This is the perfect place to use a guest’s name if someone managed to catch it and pass it along to your séance actor. An Ouija board and flickering candles are always nice touches, but all your first scene really requires is a fabulous actor to provoke the dead and a recording of demonic voices to answer her.
There are two important aspects to the transition room. The first is how you actually reveal the portal. As a lighting geek, my favorite reveal naturally involves dramatic lighting. I prefer to have an entire wall in the first room covered in non-descript cloth strips and have the exit somewhere along that wall, hidden when guests first enter the room. As the demonic voices raise to a fever pitch, I cut the lights in the main room, start a powerful fan blowing in the direction of the exit, and illuminate the entrance to the transition room using an LED strip. I love the drama of blue/purple, but red is also a good color choice for the lights. This works well because the cloth strips diffuse the light, the fan adds a new sensory element to the scene, the sudden change in light levels is disorientating, and guests are forced to physically move the cloth strips to enter the next scene.
The second important aspect is the transition tunnel itself. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but it should be long enough to distinctly separate the first séance room and The Beyond. Depending on the energies of the scenes before and after the transition, it may make sense to use moving lights, physical obstacles along a completely dark tunnel, or a white fog room.
Regardless of your decision, make sure whatever greets your guests at the other end kicks off a series of scares worthy of going through the effort of the transition.