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Feb. 16, 2023

Vampyres: TransylMania! at The Haunt in Atascadero, CA

Vampyres: TransylMania! at The Haunt in Atascadero, CA

Atascadero is about midway between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Despite being in this isolated market, has been growing steadily. Opening for Valentines' is a tradition for the haunt, and they’re up to...

Atascadero is about midway between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Despite being in this isolated market, The Haunt in Atascadero has been growing steadily. Opening for Valentines' is a tradition for the haunt, and they’re up to 5 show nights plus a lights-on tour, which is the longest-running valentine's show among haunts in California. I stopped by on Valentine’s Day to hear about this year’s from the owner. Support for this episode comes from Gantom Lighting and Controls. See what you’re missing with a free demo. Subscribe to the HAN here.


Chris Towers: My name is Chris Towers, and I am the owner of the haunt in Atascadero. We started doing a little home haunt, and then about nine years ago we started going commercial. Some of the volunteers have been with me from the very beginning, and they're just amazing. It's like your family, we come together on the weekends, we build, we have fun, and then we get to put on a great haunt. The community loves us. I get stopped all the time in the grocery store and people tell me about their experience here, and I wouldn't trade that for anything. We always tell them whatever path you take will dictate your adventure tonight.

Philip Hernandez: And roughly, what's the square footage?

Chris Towers: This building's 3,200 square feet. So, we've rapidly outgrown it, but with real estate being what it is in California, we're kind of at our limit, fingers crossed, someday.

Philip Hernandez: And we are talking in February because you opened for Valentine's Day. It wasn't just a reopening of the standard haunt, there's a Valentine's storyline, there's Valentine's characters, tell us about that.

Chris Towers: We used to do a complete retheming where we would rebuild everything from October to Valentine's Day, and it just got too much as we grew. So, now we try and take the same base from October, and then we'll add touches here and there to try and give it a Valentine's theme. Then when we do our pre-show speeches with our audience, we really try and engage them as couples and not as victims as much. So, that way it's a little bit more intimate and a little more of the romantic side of Valentine's Day.

Philip Hernandez: Can you walk us through the rough storyline for Valentine's?

Chris Towers: Basically, we start off with you going into a cemetery, then in the cemetery you enter into a crypt, then the crypt keeper will open a secret passageway, if you will, to the elevator, which drops you down into an underground layer for the vampires. So, every room you go through is in some way related to that underground layer where the vampires rule, and humans are well, one could say guests, but more arguably food, and all the vampires come at them from every room. Personally, I like it because at the end when people come out half the time you always hear people going, "how did we get back upstairs?" Every time you hear that you know you immersed them in that experience you provided for them.

Philip Hernandez: There's an improv actor in there as well, right? So, they really get to spend time with the characters.

Chris Towers: That's the one thing that I love. People always tell us that we should put more people through here and turn it into more of the traditional conga line. That's just not what we like doing here. Whenever you come with your group, we try and limit you to five or less, that's your group to enter, and we try and do about a minute and 1/2 spacing. So, inevitably groups will run into each other. but at least for the first half of the haunt, it's just you, just your group, just you guys getting scared, and that's what our audience loves.

Philip Hernandez: Why do you think it's important to open for Valentine's Day? I mean it seems like it's been a tradition for you, but why do you keep doing it?

Chris Towers: I would have to go with we get really bored. We just can't wait for October to come every year. It's like, OK, everyone's excited, everyone's ready, we want to scare people. Now that it's become a tradition people come here all the time and tell us, like we had a group last weekend that said they planned their vacation around us now. So, they come to see us every February because they're busy with their respective haunt, and they can never get away in October. So, they come here to the coast every time for February and they wanted us to be part of their lives, it's great.

Philip Hernandez: I came last year. I did a story and last year's podcast. It seems like there were at least twice as many people, maybe that's anecdotal, but it seems like it was a fierce crowd out there tonight.

Chris Towers: It was a pretty good crowd. It's always so hit or miss. So, sometimes we have huge crowds, and sometimes we don't. Valentine's Day is always an interesting one, but our marketing person, they really turned it up this year, they are amazing, and they're bringing the crowds in now. So, now that it's becoming known, it grows every year, just like the October show.

Philip Hernandez: What do you think is the biggest challenge going forward? Inflation and the recession potential, whatnot, but then you guys are in a unique position, you're in a market that is kind of isolated, there's no competition, but there's also not a lot of support system for you guys.

Chris Towers: It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I don't see a whole lot changing. We're basically the same price as a movie if you think about it respectively. So, if your choice is to go to a movie, you're going to sit for two hours. Yes, you're going to be entertained, or you're going to come here for probably 20 minutes or so, as you go through, but you're going to get that experience where you're actually interactive, you're in that movie. It's a totally different thing. With the inflation I see people pinching down, but I don't know that they're going to back down, at least I hope they don't.

Philip Hernandez: So, you're seeing demand continue strong, if Valentine's is any indicator?

Chris Towers: I would. I mean, I never would have dreamed in a million years that we would be getting people to drive from hundreds of miles away to come see us. But the last couple of years, people have been driving from. LA, which for us is about a 2 1/2, 3 hour drive, all the way up to the north. We had people from the Bay Area and I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that would have happened. I thought we would have been limited to, you know, maybe 1/2 hour from us, and it's just not that anymore. People want that entertainment. 

Chris Towers: The only other thing that I can really say is that we are an all-volunteer organization, and I think it's amazing. The group of people that come here is phenomenal. You're new this year, and we love having you here. It's every year we get new people that bring so much energy, and I'm excited because you're going to be designing sets, you just don't know it yet. 

Crew Member: I didn't know that till now.

Surprise! But it's just fun, everyone gets involved, everyone gets engaged, and it's just a good, good group of people. I couldn't ask for better friends.


Chris Towers

Owner of The Haunt In Atascadero