Apply for the 2022 Hauntathon at http://hauntathon.info/
Sept. 4, 2022

Reign of Terror Haunted House: A Retrospective

Reign of Terror Haunted House: A Retrospective

Reign of Terror Haunted House in Thousand Oaks CA is one the longest-running independent haunted attractions in Sothern California. Their journey has been anything but easy. In this presentation recorded during Midsummer Scream, founder Bruce Stanton...


Reign of Terror Haunted House in Thousand Oaks CA is one the longest-running independent haunted attractions in Sothern California. Their journey has been anything but easy. In this presentation recorded during Midsummer Scream, founder Bruce Stanton shares the trials of their 23-year odyssey in haunting. Follow along to our Hauntathon: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork

Transcript

Well, thank you all for coming, I greatly appreciate it. I'm glad to hear some chuckles because people saw me in the Slayer shirt. That was a speed metal drummer named Brandon out of Orange County that reached out to me and wanted to film something that he had done these YouTube videos. I thought this would be a great idea, "do you know, Slayer's Reign in Blood?" He said, "no, but I can learn it." And he even immediately learned how to play the song, came up, and filmed. So, the significance of the song, I'm Bruce Stanton, I'm the owner and creator of The Reign Of Terror Haunted House.

So, I'm 51 years old. I started this when I was 29. Growing up in the 80s I was born in Culver City in California, I was a big heavy metal fan, and became a speed metal fan and from there on... and Slayer is one of my favorite bands. When I initially thought about naming the haunted house, it was going to be Reigning Terror, because I was a huge fan of Reign in Blood Terror. I would tell my friends, "hey, this is what I'm thinking, I'm going to name this haunted house Reigning Terror, and no one got it. They said, "Reigning Terror? What is that? What does that mean?" You know, "it's like a spin-off of..." So, I got so much negative publicity about it, it's like, "OK, well, we'll change The Reign Of Terror." That's kind of how the name came about. So, the significance of the song is I love that because it kind of brings me full circle of everywhere where I've been. 

So, first of all, I want to thank all of you for coming. I mean, it's an extreme honor for me to see people come in that are interested in what we're doing. If you've been to the haunted house, thank you. If you haven't been to the haunt, I definitely think it's something that's worth seeing, no matter how far you live. The haunted house today, we're located at the Janss Marketplace in Thousand Oaks, in Ventura County. 

So, it's 28,000 square feet, we're a permanent haunted house, with 135 rooms, and 10 unique themes. We've got 51 animations and over 100 static characters, and we have a staff of 75. We incorporate the biggest state-of-the-art technology that we can with our digital scenes, the animations, animatronics, and timing that we do. We have a digital camera system now, we can completely control and operate the haunted house through an iPhone. So, we can turn our compressors on, we can turn on the audio, we can do everything. We can change our Haunted House ambient sound to our security sound, we can set up our Christmas show, and all through your phone, and it's something that we just kind of love doing.

The reality of it is, how did we get to this point? Because we didn't do it overnight. So, like I said, I started The Reign Of Terror, not really that much different than, I think, most people who get involved in Halloween, and that's just my pure love of Halloween and haunted houses. I think that Halloween, for a kid, it was kind of the first time that you had freedom outside of your parents. You got to walk around, it was at night, you might not have done that much, and I think that's why it was just so inspirational to me, such a positive experience.

We moved from Culver City up to the Bay Area when I was a teenager. I stopped trick or treating, and I started doing just a little display at my parents' house, nothing more than you kind of see, but I just loved doing it. So, I went to college, I went on, I got a career, and then in 2000 I bought a home in Thousand Oaks. That's kind of when everything started. I remember not really even thinking about doing a haunted house up until it got very close to Halloween, and then I started seeing Halloween decorations, and I literally think like there was a switch that was just flipped. It's like all of a sudden, all that experience that I had before came back and it's like, "hey, I'm going to do this."

The first year was a yard display, pretty standardized. I remember as a kid going through, someone opened up their house and allowed you to walk through their whole house, and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So, the second year, which was in 2001, I turned our house into a complete walkthrough. Now, it was terrible. I mean I have a picture of the dining room table and there's a person with their head sticking up and there's no coverage whatsoever, you're looking at everything in my normal house, but hey, for what I had, you know, it was a start. 

We had about 40 kids that came the first year and we end up doing at the House for eight years. It grew from 40 to 400 to 4,000 incredibly fast, and it was kind of like a creature of my success. At this time, I wasn't savvy with the Internet and Instagram, I don't even think Instagram existed, so it just was kind of a word-of-mouth type of thing, and it just exponentially was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. But it was a hobby of mine and I loved doing it.

The good thing, I was in a financial situation where I knew there were going to be costs affiliated with the Haunted House. So, I wasn't going to build a haunted house and then stick it in my backyard. I had a nice car, so I wasn't going to not park the car in the garage. So, I think I kind of set my tone a little bit different, that I followed all along from where I'm at now, and that's kind of like you got to pay to play, so to speak. I knew I had to invest to have something that was going to be different than what everybody else was doing. 

So, I got up storage unit, and that was a 5-by-10 storage unit, that became a 10-by-10 storage unit, that became 2 10-by-10 storage units, I had a 14-foot moving truck, I had a 26-foot moving truck, we had 2 26- foot moving trucks. So, it was just exponentially getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We never charged, we had a little donation box out there, and I put that out there really more just for the gratitude because so many people came. That was kind of a show of appreciation if someone liked it. It was never designed to recoup the money, that was never the point of it. I was doing it just for the love of it. I mean, our storage alone was like $5500.

I found out about the trade show, Transworld, which is the big Halloween trade show that's in Saint Louis, used to be in Chicago, and I started going early on and I met people that were like me. They were in their mid-20s and early-30s and they were in a situation where they could start building a haunted house. Now, mind you, when I finish doing this at my house, the house that I lived in was 1500 square feet. In fact, we're going to show a slide show kind of at the end, and you'll see the original house. The haunted house the last year I did it, it was over 2,000 square feet. There were rooms in the front, there were rooms in the side, there were rooms in the back, and it in took over the entire house. Other than a kitchen, a guest bathroom, and a guest bedroom, every room inside the house was the haunted house. What I did is I built the structure in the House so I could take it all down. So, it was incredible how fast it came down. I never put nails in the walls and there were substructures that were done.

I started building like in September. Now, mind you that the whole House was a haunted house, and it was full of dark walls, and haunted houses are all about being dark, so my bedroom was behind the wall. There's a slideshow in there and you'll see, and it'll be quick, but it'll show you the wall, my bed was on the other side of that wall, so for the month of September in October, like I was living in a tomb. I mean, I thought it was cool. So, mind you one thing for everyone who was thinking, I was single at the time. Not because of that reason, hopefully not, but the reality of it was I really could do whatever I wanted.

So, I was willing to do what, you know, the neighbors or other people wouldn't because hey, I had to answer to myself. It was a fantastic thing and I loved doing it. It was a hobby of mine, and this is what I wanted to do. I used to work on old muscle cars, and this became that new hobby I was going to invest in. So, my plan was this was it. I was doing a home haunted house and it was going to be fun and when it wasn't fun, I wasn't going to do it. But the city had a different plan for me. 

So, on the 8th year and 4400 people later, and KCal 9 News covering the story. Which, they called me ahead of time, this was the first negativity I've ever got about the news. They called, they said, "look, we want to do a story about the haunted house," and I said, "No you can't, because the police are going to shut me down." It was kind of like, "well that's great but, we can do it with you or without you." So, I thought, "well, screw you, I'm going to be there at least." So, they showed up, it got bigger and bigger and bigger.

So, the city came to me and said, "look, we love what you're doing, but you can't do it anymore. You're blocking off your street." We were on a cul-de-sac. "You've got neighbors on adjacent streets that are complaining, people are parking all over." I mean, it was crazy when you think about it now. We didn't just do it for one night. Quickly it went from one night to two nights to four nights, and four nights was the most that we had ever got to. But you figured, you know, we're having over 1000 people on a cul-de-sac that are congregating, and you can think about kids running around and inevitably this was ideal, that this is what happened. I later found out that in the line in 2007, the last year I did it, was the former mayor and some kind of city official. So, they were kind of scoping me out, I guess, but it was perfect timing.

So, what they did is, they provided me a space. They said, "look, we want you to do this, we're going to give you a space." Now, I did it through the Conejo Recreation and Park District, which was kind of the entertainment part of any city, and all cities and stuff have it. They were Halloween fans, and they tried to do events in the past, but they never could get anything off the ground because they never had someone as crazy as I was, or someone that had all the assets. So, they provided me a space, it was about 2,000 square feet. So, immediately we've overgrown that space, we were outgrowing. But it started teaching me more of what was going to be involved in the haunted house.

When I started, even when I was at my home, I would do things that the average other person wouldn't do. I don't know if anyone is familiar with Haunt World Magazine, it's a magazine subscription, it's kind of phased out now, it was big, I think, in the 90s and 2000s. They would talk about haunted houses, and there was a haunted house owned by a woman, Sidney Neal, that was in Salt Lake City, and it was called Rocky Point. Rocky Point, to this day, is probably one of the best haunted houses in existence, I mean it's shut down now, but she opened up her haunted house to professionals and people that were in the industry of kind of laying out what to do.

I'm four years into my home haunted house, it's nowhere close to something like this, and I reached out to them and said, "hey, I'm not a professional haunted house, but I'd like to attend." She said, "absolutely." So, I went there, and that laid out a foundation that I didn't really realize so much then as now, but it set the groundwork of what to do and what not to do. So, I feel like I had a huge advantage.

When I'm talking about what to do and what not to do, I mean, the reality is it's your haunted house, you can do whatever you want, that's the beauty of it. But The thing is, we always kind of talk about this term that we throw around about haunt stew. So, to me, when you go into a haunted you want to get immersed in that environment. If you're in a sane asylum, you want to feel you're in an insane asylum, and when you can get that, that's when I feel that you've achieved success. But, if you go from an insane asylum, into a kitchen, into a funhouse, the things aren't making sense. Now, it's still fun, it's entertaining, but it really, it's taking you out of the story. So, for me it was always about making sure safety, making sure people throughput, making sure that the guests had a great experience, that you weren't bunched up, that people got to see the animations, that they had time before they re-triggered. These are all things I was doing at my house that became vital today, and they really separate The Reign Of Terror today over a theme park where you're putting in thousands of people. 

So, we basically lasted one year at the city center and then the Janss Marketplace, which is in Thousand Oaks kind of the original mall, they had a great relationship with the CRPD, the Conejo Recreation and Park District, because of fireworks and they said, "look, we love what you're doing. We'll provide you a space if you do it here." They gave us it was like an 8000 square foot shoe store that we were in. So, now all of the sudden we're moving, we're taking our moving trucks and we're starting to pack up for this new space. They gave me a temporary lease agreement, and as soon as we partnered up with the city we've been a nonprofit haunted house. We're raising money for the theater and the teen center and different things without the city of Thousand Oaks. Now, we've expanded, and I'll get into that a little bit later, so that it was always kind of a nonprofit.

The thing is, again, I have a professional career. I sell dental implants. I'm sure you guys all knew that when you saw me. The thing is, Halloween is just for fun. I mean, people always ask me, "are you in the movie business?" No, I'm not, but I had the passion and the drive behind it, and I think that's really what you need.

So, we started setting up, but at this point I have to admit that it was kind of like I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants. We did this home haunted house, it was very successful, it had a lot of control. We had moved once, we tore down, and we put it into trailers. At this point when I started to move, I bought a 53-foot semi-truck trailer, because taking it to storage just wasn't working out. I mean, it was getting harder and harder and there was so much energy exhausted in just that. So, we could store the props. When we were in a certain spot, we would set up an area where we could store our props, and then we put the walls and stuff in a 53-foot trailer.

So, we got this spot for three months. The Haunted House is about 6000 square feet and it's everything is going great. It's the middle of October and the mall comes to me and says, "look, we've rented the space. How fast can you get out?" This is like, I mean this is a haunted house's biggest nightmare, so it's like, "well, we can get out of the end of November when you said." It was like, "well, no, no, we need you to get out sooner than that." So, I don't know if there was a little bit of obligation or however, they felt, but they said, "look, we love what you're doing. We'd like to show you another space," and this was above the Gold's Gym. 

So, if you're familiar with Janss Marketplace, the gym was an old catalog-type store that closed down years earlier, and was converted to a gym, and the upstairs was kind of like the attic. So, they looked at that space and I went, and I looked up there. The first thing came to mind is, one, is the fire department going to let me do this? Because when I looked at it, there were no lights, it was just it was a 31,000-square-foot space that had nothing in it, wide-open, haunted house dream. Not a window, not in air conditioning, it's just black all the time. So, I said, "well, will the fire department let me let it set it up?" Then #2 is, "can I leave it set up? Can it be permanently here?" They said, "no problem." 

 Well, as soon as they said that, now the haunted house is really kind of stepped into a different phase of where now it's kind of like, the sky's the limit. We're in a huge space, it can be there year-round, and we can work on it year-round as we're building. 

We get up into this space the first year, this is 2010, just to give you kind of an idea. There's an entrance door and an exit door, The distance between those two is 195 feet. So, we've got 6000 square feet to fill, 31,000 square feet. So, it's almost like we could have one linear line that goes from the entrance to the exit. At the time it was kind of a Victorian theme, stuff from my house and stuff that we had kind of expanded. We would always build the walls and stuff at my house and then truck them in, but now that we've got a permanent location, now we've got a space that we could build.

So, now, going with that whole theme of kind of making sure everything made sense, we just continue to add different themes. You know, we would kind of run out of ideas or run out of space for the Victorian, or our traditional haunted house, and then different themes kept adding on that. But all along it was always the plan of expansion and what was going to be best for everybody coming through. I mean, we love doing it. 

I mean, I used to use the term for years, "this was a labor of love." It kind of got kind of cliche and I felt, "yeah, you know, is it really?" But it really was, and it really is today, because the haunted house is no easy feat. Anybody who knows, you know that there's a lot involved. But we just wanted to make sure that we had the right foundation and that everything was going to make sense. We weren't just going to throw things together, we weren't going to produce something that we didn't think was to the standard of which The Reign Of Terror needed to be. I think again, it's that groundwork, and the thought that we always had that kept us pure to where we are today in making sure that this event and everything makes sense.

Also, like with the themes, what we tried to do with the themes was each theme was to kind of target a different level of fear. So, our cave is very dark and claustrophobic, we have the funhouse which, of course, would be people afraid of clowns, and then all the themes. So, there was something unique, like our clown right here in the front. So, there was a transition, it wasn't just one long linear type of thing. We were kind of never really running out of ideas.

So, in 2012, we got to the point where we had 65 rooms and I remember thinking, "Oh my gosh, there's 65 rooms now." When it was in the house it was 13. That's the maximum amount we got at the house. So, now we're at 65. So, in 2012, another big thing happened in my life. I got married, my wife Mary here in the front. I got, kind of, a partner in the haunted house. In the beginning, Mary was more just selling tickets and there to support. But as she kind of understood, she developed the same passion that I did, but had a completely kind of different avenue, and it really elevated up. Mary is more of a people person, where I was getting into more structures and making sure that we're building things right. Again, it's kind of that next level.

Now, 2012, 2013, 2014, we're still kind of a community haunted house. I mean, we're not really doing a lot of marketing, we advertise in kind of the local throw-away paper, and we got kind of spread of word-of-mouth, but that only took us so far. The other thing is, is I would constantly get people that say, "look, we want to film, we want to do this, we want to..." We typically wouldn't do it just because it didn't ever really fit our schedule, and also, we were always building so it wasn't like they had an established haunted house or something that they could work with. 

For those of you, it's just kind of a funny story I like to mention now. I did not find it funny, hopefully, you guys sure did. In 2013, we got reached out by Comedy Central and they were doing Nathan For You. So, Nathan For You was a Canadian comedian that would come in and he did these spoof ideas where, just one of the examples is he had a spoof giveaway where if we were late delivering your pizza, we'd give you a free pizza. Well, when you found out, the pizza was about that big. So, he wanted to come to the haunted house and what he wanted to do in the haunted house was create an environment where you were so afraid you were going to sue the haunted house. So, as a haunted house owner, that is the worst idea in the world, to plant the seed that someone could come in. But, you've kind of signed the agreement, they didn't tell you what they were going to do. But if you want some giggles, the original first season of Nathan For You, whatever it is you'll find it. I enjoy it.

Now, in fact, there was a gentleman that was downstairs in the convention floor and said, "Oh hey, were you on Nathan For You?" It's fun now, it was a pain in the ass when we did it. It was a 14-hour day, and if you guys are ever in these situations, I highly recommend not doing them, no matter how much they say they're going to pay you, because they always have some loophole where they don't pay you. We did get paid from that by the way, but it wasn't very much, and I think the Janss Marketplace took that because it was really their space.

So, in 2015 we started with online ticketing, and online ticketing really elevated us to the next level, and we started getting people that come from all over. Just to give you a fun fact about the haunted house, the number one city of online tickets that people buy for The Reign Of Terror is actually LA. That LA proper, so not Woodland Hills or Northridge, but the actual city of Los Angeles. So, more people are coming from Los Angeles than our own darn locals. I'm not really sure why about that, but that was kind of an interesting thing.

Then, as we were building and building momentum, it really became a thing, there were other structures that were involved, and this is where Mary was critical in the haunted house, and it became actor training and actor staff. Before, everyone was volunteers, and we got a great group and it's like, "well, what can you do? OK do this." I feel like it was better than others, you know, probably not as good as some. But we didn't really have a structure and when we kind of put the structure of training actors and really valuing the asset of which the actors brought. I don't care how good your haunted house is, if your actors are bad, the haunted house is bad. Because no one's going to remember the beautiful sets because when you have some terrible actor that's in your face, or whatever they're doing. Training the actors, making them more involved, and letting them help with the flow, you know, these were all critical things that we were able to establish early on that really helped us in, whereas we grew and got bigger and bigger. 

In 2015 we had a pretty good actor staff, and we had one of our actors, his name was Tom, and he was a resident of Thousand Oaks, he's like 35 years old, and he developed cancer. He was a young, healthy guy, and all of a sudden, he's got cancer, and this was in January, February, there was a GoFundMe page, and we said, "well, you know, yeah, we could give him $100, $500.00, or whatever in a GoFundMe page, but it seemed so impersonal." Since he was part of the haunted house, we said, "let's open up the haunted house. We'll open up the haunted house." It happened to be in February of 2015, and there was a Friday, the 13th. So, I thought, "well, great, I know nothing better than that, you know, Friday the 13th." So, we opened it up, and every dime we made, except for some small expenses like fog fluid or whatever, went to Tom, and it was a great event. 

It opened up our eyes to start doing specialty events, and we've done specialty events. We raise money for animal shelters, we raised money for the Thomas Fire that was at Thousand Oaks that burned out a lot of people, people homes, we've done for Make A Wish, we've granted three children their wishes. These are just great things that over the years we've raised about $125,000 for these different organizations. It's that stuff that, really, we love doing that keeps the passion going. That's why I think, again, when you look at The Reign Of Terror, it's not just, "how many tickets can we sell, how fast can we put people through?" Because if that was the case, I could tell you right now, we wouldn't exist, and I'll get into that just a little bit later.

So, now we started doing these specialty events as it was great for the actors because it kept the momentum of Halloween going. I remember when I would do a home haunted house, I wished Halloween was twice a year because we did so much work for one, two or three or four days, I wish it was more. Well, now it's like, be careful what you wish for type of thing because the haunted House now kind of runs almost year-round. In 2017 we reached 100 rooms, we were at 23,000 square feet. I mean, there's something I never really thought imaginable. It's kind of like setting the bar, but all of a sudden, like, "hey, we're there." 

The space we were in there was a huge challenge, and that challenge was it was upstairs. So, every single thing that was in that haunted house had to fit through a standard door, it was 36 inches by 80 inches tall. So, if you've been to a haunted house and you went to it upstairs, you saw there's some stuff that's a hell of a lot bigger than that door. In particular the truck, the pickup truck, we have 1967 full-size truck. So, we bought it, we cut the frame, we had to section the truck apart, and we brought it all up through that door. Everything we would haul, we would bring the lumber, and we'd haul lumber up and build everything upstairs. But that really was the challenge of a space like that, is you were extremely limited. 

Now, the benefit of it was we were on, and we are today on, a temporary lease agreement. Our lease is renewed a year by year. So, being in the attic of Gold's Gym it's like, "well, no one's going to move up here, it's a tombstone."  Over the years we had threats, we had people that would come up, and I always thought, "what would happen?" And I never really planned for that, but it seemed like it was pretty impossible. But we kept trucking along moving everything was great.

In 2018, now we were at a level where we're getting tens of thousands of people in the season, we're getting extreme crowds and we're losing a little bit of our luster of what The Reign Of Terror was all about, and that was that intimate experience. How do we hold the candle to Universal Studios? We do it because we don't put you through in a conga line. Hey, I'm a huge fan of Universal Studios. I think those guys are incredible, and when people come to me and say, "oh, you're way better than Universal," I don't necessarily know if I agree with it. But I can agree with it in the sense that we can provide you a better experience. 

The last year I went to Universal was 2011, and I remember going through a nightmare on Elm Street Maze, I had about 40 people in front of me, and probably 40 people behind me and I couldn't move. I just thought, "well, this isn't fun." Now, I had the VIP pass, so it let me go into all these different haunted houses, but that's not what we wanted, and we wanted to make sure that we weren't going to have that. But as more people show up, it gets harder and harder on how you're not going to have a big conga line of people. 

So, we implemented this queue line system. So, we put you in in three troughs, and through a computer we can control how many people go into those troughs. So, right now we have it set up where it's either 30 seconds, 45 seconds, 60 seconds, and we're putting people in between six and eight people. Four to six is actually ideal. So, from that, now we're controlling how many people go in, and it's not like this group goes in in one minute, this group goes in in 2 minutes because we want to make sure that, again, everyone is kind of getting this intimate experience and they're able to kind of flow through, but they're not just being rushed. But when you have 135 rooms, that putting people in the beginning only lasts about 25 rooms, and then people are starting to catch up.

So, we have re-queuing focuses that are inside the haunted house where we re-queue you up. The classic one is in the middle of the haunted house. It's our section called quarantine. It's kind of a post-war lab that's being controlled by military, you come in and there's a Sergeant, you've got ABCD on the floor, and he can bring you in and put you into this ABCD. We can house about 35 people in this room. He pulls people in the back that are afraid, which we love to do, put them in the front, we force them through. But the whole thing is you have a huge group of people that are being entertained. What we're doing is we're re-dispersing you into the haunted house, but you're being entertained by doing it, so we're able to achieve two things. You're still in this environment, you're never leaving this post-war, because this military guy's yelling at me, but yet we're still controlling that flow, unlike someone that shows up with the flashlight says, "Nope, stop here, wait." And now all of a sudden, you're no longer in a haunted house, you're in an old Marshalls.

So, in 2019 we started doing a Christmas event, because, we said, "you know what? I mean, people love Halloween. How about doing a Christmas event?" That was extremely successful, and it's a very short-lived type of event that we do. Now, The Reign Of Terror now is a year-long thing. We're doing a halfway event, or a specialty event that was in March or April, we would plan in January, we go to the trade show, we start building in May, June, we run our seasonal event. We then run a Christmas event and now we're starting over. So, I mean it's just a full circle year-round event that we're doing. 

So, mid-year 2019 I get an e-mail from Newmark Merrill, who's the owner of the Janss Marketplace, and anytime I get emails from them, it's not good. It's like getting an e-mail from the IRS. They're never good. They never want to tell you that your lawn looks so beautiful. So, I get an e-mail from them that says the Gold's Gym is looking to expand, and we're going to need you to leave that space. So, we've been there for 10 years. Now, we're like rats up there. I mean, we have built rooms, we've shot foam, we've got crown molding, we've got chair rails, we've drywall mud, our seams on our walls. Now, it's all designed to be taken apart, and we have taken sections apart to keep it fresh and move things around and expand in the space, but it was never really designed to leave.

So, they said, "look, we can share the space, " I knew that was never going to work, that we could never cohabitate that space. But they had a space that was an old Marshalls that was downstairs, and they were going to let us move into that. So, we said, "OK, we love doing, we're doing, we've got a great team behind us, a great solid crew and we're going to move." So, when we finished January 2019, our Christmas event, it was literally, I think, the next day we started moving. Now, Mary brought a crew in, a bunch of our actors, and we took each room and we put it all in boxes, took down all of our wall panels, and we started stacking things up. A lot of the electrical, computer lines, and cables we rolled them up, but we knew we would kind of get rid of them. 

It took about a month to tear the whole thing down. So, now we're up in the space. So, we got about a month up in the space, and then I hired a professional moving crew. That was the best money ever spent because I think the actors were all for putting it in boxes, but they didn't necessarily want to move the boxes, and I didn't blame them. I mean, we three pianos, we have a coke machine, these are things that you don't want to move down a flight of stairs. So, we had a professional crew that moved down in February, and then in March we started bolting the walls up. Now, the benefit of us moving is, that anything that we ever didn't like upstairs, now is our opportunity. We were able to completely revamp the flow. Originally, the Haunted House was an old mining town that you came into, and you went into our cave. Now you came into a prison, and we were able to change the flow.

So, if you have been to the haunted house, we always want to do enough changes, no matter how many times you've been, you're substantially seeing changes that make it a fun experience. They're not all in one spot, it's not like, "oh, did you see the five new rooms we did that are all in one spot?" It's peppered throughout the whole haunted house. So, March, we start setting things up now. Does anybody recall what happened in March of 2020? So, if you think about it, "holy crap, what have I got myself into?" We've now signed a new lease, we're paying a substantial amount of money for this space, and we've got a global pandemic. Now, I thought this is going to last three or four months, but it didn't. 

The thing was, it really kind of turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because to tear down at that point about a 26,000-square-foot haunted house, remove all the LED lighting, all the audio, all the computer lines, all your camera lines, and reset that up was going to be an incredible feat. Although the plan was to open in 2020, and we moved to open in 2020, I don't know that we could have had the quality event that we have today. So, it really was kind of a blessing in disguise. I'm trying to spin a positive out of a terrible negative, but also the timing, had it happened in July, had it happened in October, it would have been a world of difference for us.

So, we were able to set up our core group of people. The core group of people for our haunted House is only about six people. That's who develops, builds, and does everything for the haunted house. The reality of it is if I have ten people there working, I have five people working and I have five people watching. So, for those of you who do haunted houses that hits home.

So, anyway, with the core group, I mean it's such a dedicated team and now we were all working from home, we all had additional time. So, it allowed us to build an event, now, that I feel is so state-of-the-art and everything, and as it has been all along. Everything we do at the haunted house has a purpose. Every actor is in a specific spot for a purpose. Every prop, every animation is all designed so people who are going through are entertained, they're having a good time, they're laughing, they're getting scared, and they're getting the unexpected. So, we pride ourselves on the fact that after 135 rooms, you still have no idea where it's coming from. It's coming, and you know it's coming, but you just don't know where. That's something that we pride ourselves on and we continue to this day.

I said to the crew, "as soon as we can open, we're going to open the event." That turned out to be April 27th, 2021. That was the first time. We tried to do it in October, we went through all kinds of different means, there was no way that the city, the county, the state, was going to let us open up a haunted house. I mean, they have a hard enough time with haunted houses, let alone in a pandemic.

So, we opened up for kind of our Halfway to Halloween event, we had a huge pent-up demand, and it was a great success. It allowed us to try different things, see how the season was going to work, we made a lot of changes, some things work great on paper didn't work in reality, but we had the ability to change. So, season 2021 was the best season we had ever had. I chalk a little bit up to the fact that they're in Los Angeles, we were shut down. There were people looking to do things, but I think it also the reputation of the haunted house has gotten big enough, people know to come, they know what they're going to expect, and we're delivering.

So, being on the ground floor, though, has just opened up huge opportunities, because we're not limited now to a space that's that big by 80 inches tall. We've got a roll-up door so our animations, our sets can get larger, we've got higher ceilings, so there's just new and incredible opportunities. 

So, the great thing for us, and I remember saying this early on, the day when you kind of look at the haunted house and you just say, "man, this is as good as it's going to get. I don't know how we're going to top this." Those are the telltale signs that you're kind of done. The life, the cycle of the haunted house has reached its tail end, and we're just not there. We're proud of what we're doing, we always are second-guessing, we always see something and think about how we could do it better, and we're always seeing different opportunities. So, we show that every year. You're going to see that in 2022 with all the additions and the changes and stuff that we had.

Our mission statement that I had initially was always to provide a great, fun, incredible haunted house, whether you want to get scared or whether you want to have a great time. The Reign Of Terror, I think, is for everybody. But when thinking about this, I started looking back at the landscape of Los Angeles and I started thinking about the different haunted houses when I started. So, here it is 2022, I'm 23 years into the haunted house, and I started counting how many independent haunted houses don't exist. I got to 17, and you think about Spooky House, Old Town Pasadena, Sinister Point, Jeff, a great guy, some of our great stuff is from him. But haunted houses are extremely difficult, especially in the Los Angeles market. You have a lot of things going against you, and number one is the cost. But I think it's the product that we've provided, and our mission statement of the fact that we're always doing this for the right reason, is why we exist, and why we're still here when so many others, they weren't.

Now, there are a lot of different reasons, and most of them are just cost. But there's a lot of people to get in it, they think, "Oh my God, I'm going to make a bunch of money." They advertise they have some fancy video, you go, and it's just garbage. Those just boil my blood, because I'm always a firm believer on the fact that if you go to a good haunted house when you leave, you're going to want to go to another haunted house. Haunted houses are good competition. In Southern California you can go to the beach, you might be able to go skiing, you can go to everything. So, our competition is not haunted houses, it's the million other things that Los Angeles in Southern California has to offer. But bad haunted houses are, they're just tough for everybody.

Also, I just think about if we ever had to tear it down, like what would it take? I remember I had my semi-truck trailer, and we calculated now that we would need about 18 trucks to move what we have. So, in the haunted house, we have 1,350 wall panels, most of them being 4 feet by 10 feet tall. So, there are miles of speaker wire, we have miles of camera wire, we have 1,000s LED lighting. It is just an incredible feat and I'm proud of what we've created and what we continue to create.

 

Bruce Stanton Profile Photo

Bruce Stanton

Owner of Reign of Terror

Starting over 20 years ago as a home haunter, Bruce runs Reign of Terror in California.