“Sinister” producer Jason Blum discusses the difficulties of transferring cinematic horror to a live Halloween event.
Halloween haunted house attractions are no longer much concerned with childhood memories of dilapidated old mansions rumored to be inhabited by ghoulies and ghosties. Today, Halloween haunts are increasingly influenced by movies; this year, for example, Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween Haunt and Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights feature walk-through mazes based on such franchises as THE EVIL DEAD, CARRIE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and THE WALKING DEAD.
Add a new name to this list of Halloween horrors inspired by the silver screen. One of the most anticipated haunted house events in Los Angeles this October is the Blumhouse of Horrors, a new live attraction from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, INSIDIOUS, and SINISTER (which opens nationwide on Friday). These films eschew the modern torture porn approach to the horror genre in favor of supernatural shivers. Some of that subtly is on view inside the Blumhouse of Horrors, although gore fans will find a drop or two of their favorite grue as well.
The Blumhouse of Horrors shares some elements with Delusion: The Blood Rite, another L.A. haunt that mixes drama with scares. Set within a real location (the old Variety Arts Theatre in downtown Los Angeles), the half-hour Blumhouse tour attempts to present a story – in this case, of a magician whose final performance ended with his mysterious disappearance from the stage, along with another man’s wife. Blumhouse of Horrors is not as heavily scripted as Delusion: there are a few dramatic vignettes, but not all of them relate directly to the main story; the characters we see represent the souls of all who died within the premises, whether or not they have anything to do with the magician and his lover. Still, producer Jason Blum believes there may be potential to spin the haunt’s back story into its own feature film.
Whether or not the appeal of Blumhouse of Horrors is strong enough to generate a feature film – remains to be seen. Blum himself says he won’t know until the box office results are tallied at the end of October. In our video interview, conducted on a press-preview night, while the kinks were still being worked out of the ghostly chains rattling in dark hallways, Blum talks about the transition from cinematic horror to the live variety and the challenge of attracting timid audiences to visit something really scary – downtown L.A.
Below, you will find a partial transcript of the interview – which is to say, our rambling questions have been shortened, while Mr. Blum’s answers remain intact.
Question: How did you make the transition from producing horror movies to producing a live Halloween event?
Jason Blum: We make almost all of our movies in Los Angeles. We use the same crew from movie to movie. A couple of years ago, we were on the set at launch, and we were talking about, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do all these scares that we do in our movies – to try and do them live. That conversation resulted in where we are today. It was a long road to get here, but we finally made it.
What are the lessons you learned from horror films that you can apply in Blumhouse of Horrors?
Jason Blum: You scare people in the same way, whether it’s a movie, a tv show, or a live event – which is, you distract them over here, and come at them with a jump scare [from another direction]. Secondly, we rely in our movies very much on narrative. I think the story is really important. I think scares are scarier if the audience is involved with a story, so with the haunted house, we tried to come up with a story first and build the scares around it. Hopefully, people will experience it that way.
Are there certain kinds of scares that work better in a live situation, when the audience is not separated from them by a movie screen?
Jason Blum: There are good and bad things about live. The bad thing is when you mess up, you don’t get another try. In a movie or a tv show, you can either re-edit it or shoot it again. But the good things are that the scares are three-dimensional, and we can do them and watch people’s reaction, and change our story or change our scares a little bit, and keep going. That’s very gratifying as someone who is a scare-maker.
What was it like for you to talk through the Blumhouse of Horrors the first time? Did some thing work better than expected, or not as well?
Jason Blum: There are surprises in both directions. That’s a really fun thing about this: there are certain things that do work way better than you expect. And certain things that when we were describing it – “Oh this is going to be the best thing!” – don’t work at all. That’s been a fun kind of discovery process.
So, will this be a work in progress – tinkering all month long?
Jason Blum: Yes, it will. I hope that we’ll do more of certain things and less of others, and learn from the people who go through. Hopefully people will come back and see something they didn’t see before or experience something new.
Chicken and the egg question: Which came first, the story or the location?
Jason Blum: The idea to do a haunted house came first; building came second; story came third. But the story came from looking at the building and working a story in that would work in this location.
Did you develop the story on your own or work with others?
Jason Blum: I didn’t come up with anything in here on my own. Our company provides a framework for people who are more creative than me, who are great at what they do, and we let them do it and encourage them to do it. Jennifer Spence and Tom Spence, are a production designer and an art director who have worked on many movies for us, and they were the creative forces behind this.
With INSIDIOUS, SINISTER, and now Blumhouse of Horrors, what lessons have you tried to carry through from the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY?
Jason Blum: What I learned from the first Paranormal Activity, and what we’ve tried to recreate in Insidious, Sinister, and now this haunted house, is how important story-telling is to horror. Most people think horror is about scares; most people put scares first and story second. We really put story first and scares second.
Is there a concern that you have set yourself a high hurdle to clear? Some people are afraid to make a special trip downtown, so perhaps “good” won’t be good enough to draw an audience?
Jason Blum: I think we have to be great to get people to come here. I didn’t want to lose money doing this, but profit was not the main reason we did this. We did this to develop a muscle in a different medium for the company. I think it’s a challenge. We have a guess how many people we hope to get in here, and if you ask me in a month I’ll tell you if we hit it or not.
Are you planning to resurrect Blumhouse of Horrors next year?
Jason Blum: I can’t think that far ahead. I’m just trying to make it to November 3rd right now!
If the Blumhouse of Horrors keeps improving, it could rank among the best Halloween attractions in Los Angeles. Currently, its strength lies in the wonderful location, whose authentic atmosphere lends an aura of conviction to the action. However, the story-telling at Blumhouse of Horrors falls short of Delusion, and the ending (at least on preview night) was strangely anti-climactic. Here’s hoping the witch’s brew is fully double-boiled, toiled and troubled by the time Halloween rolls around.
The Blumhouse of Horrors is set in the Variety Arts Theatre, 940 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017. Performances dates are October 4-6, 11-13, 18-20, 25-27, 29,31, November 1-3. Hours are 6pm to midnight. Tickets are available at the official website: $29 for general admission; $55 for VIP (front of the line).