Editor’s Note: Currently this event has been cancelled or at least postponed indefinitely.
The Gentle Barn is the epitome of wholesome, family entertainment. It aims to help us restore our connection to animals, to nature, and most of all, to ourselves. And this year, the creative team behind The Gentle Barn is helping us restore our connection to the Halloween Season with The Haunted Barnyard, a drive-thru, covid-safe experience for all. With a Funhouse, a zombie-infested graveyard, an insane asylum, haunted woods, and a ghostly maze, this experience promises to be one of the best this year. They promise to immerse audiences in their experience not just through scares, but through their narrative and innovative scenes; and they even recruited some of the best set-designers and scare actors from Knott’s Scary Farm, Fright Fest, and Halloween Horror Nights.
Haunting sat down with co-creator of The Haunted Barn Jay Weiner to learn more about The Gentle Barn’s The Haunted Barnyard Drive-Thru Haunt.
The Gentle Barn espouses kindness and compassion to animals, people, and our planet. How is it being transformed into what is now The Haunted Barnyard?
Every year at The Gentle Barn we host visitors from all over California to come experience our family friendly Halloween event. But this year, because of so many restrictions and limitations, we’ve been restricted to only be able to do a drive-thru event. Also, each year I have put together a Halloween party at night for my children and family friends. As someone who is an absolute Halloween enthusiast, we had to come up with something creative to address our needs but also the needs of the community who is reaching out saying that all of the scary haunted experiences were going to be closed due to COVID-19. This year, I decided to combine both the daytime driving event and the nighttime scarier Halloween party into a fundraiser called The Haunted Barnyard: Land of Nightmares.
Can you speak to the talented team behind The Haunted Barnyard? What is your history with haunted houses?
My haunted background started back in the day watching horror movies with my big brother such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shinning, The Exorcist, and Amityville Horror. It’s still amazing to me how incredibly real they were back then and how amazing it is to watch them today. I also used to attend the local haunted houses in my community and then got involved with doing some scaring and setting up the haunted houses. The thing though that I really bring to the table is an eye and timing for what’s scary and the ability to bring people together to create an exhilarating experience. I was fortunate enough to connect with an amazing guy name Jim Hewitt whose wife is a big supporter of The Gentle Barn and now he is as well. Jim is a set architect and designer and has worked heavily on the Universal Horror Nights and has done set design for films like The Hunger Games, Life of Pi and The Mandalorian. We also have some other amazing set builders and dressers, designers, special effects and makeup artists and scarers who currently work at or have worked at Knott’s Scary Farm, Universal Horror Nights, Magic Mountain Fright Fest and Calhaunts. I am so excited to be working with all of these professionals to create an experience that we can all be proud of and that the community will enjoy.
What inspired your team to create this Drive-Thru Haunted House? Are there any specific films, novels, comics or other classic stories that influenced the design?
The Haunted Barnyard: Land of Nightmares was born out of my twisted memories of a multitude of films and experiences. The reason it’s called “Land of Nightmares” is because it’s a concoction of nightmares coming to life of a twisted young girl who just can’t seem to escape the new reality of the things she had in her mind. For example, we have a Funhouse which is a blend of movies like IT, The Joker, Poltergeist and mazes as well as my own personal experience and love of the fear of clowns. Spoiler alert: one of the things I love the most about scaring is the art of making a character appear far away and then teleport to be directly in front of you for the scare, faster than it seemed. The other is the anticipated scare where you know that a character is waiting because you see their legs or part of their body, but you have to go there anyway. It seems to always build the adrenaline. Many of the other films that I mentioned previously are inspirational to this event.
With a surge of Drive-Thru haunted houses this year, participants are a little unclear as to what they will experience during these haunts. What is the format of this experience? Will there be jump scares? Will vehicles move down a long track or be parked for the duration of the experience?
I think the formatting of this event is turning out to be the most exciting part of it. The one thing that I was determined NOT to do was create a straight line for people to drive-thru or just sit there and watch a scene take place. I wanted the experience to be immersive. Typically, in a maze, the timing was based on an individual’s own walking through or setting their own pace. Now, the pace is completely set by the producers so that jump scarers, lighting, scenery, and what’s coming up around the bend is all perfectly timed and created by the team. The more than half-mile winding and twisting path that the cars will follow will be dimly lit. One of the things that we’ve had to do was to create the appropriate timing and spacing so that one vehicle doesn’t have the ability to collide with another vehicle in front of them due to a scare.
Your website hints at a zombie-infested graveyard, funhouse, haunted woods, and a Ghostly Maze. Are these all connected narratively? How will audio be used to tell this story?
The audio files that will be downloaded prior to arrival and played throughout the event will be telling a demented story that will guide the participants or “victims” through this already terrifying experience. The truth is, the experience without the audio will be terrifying enough, but we weren’t willing to just stop there. I think the audio files provide something that potentially has never been done before in these haunted experiences because when walking through a maze or haunted house for example, you can’t directly engage with the “victims” from start to finish. You have to generally communicate with either music, sound effects or jump scares. In this situation, things are opened up even wider to be able to create an even scarier experience because we can speak directly to the “victims”.
As most haunted houses are more focused on the theming and jump scares, how has your experience incorporated narrative to build dread and engage participants? Are there any unique elements to your narrative that will surprise audiences?
That’s such a fantastic question because that is what this entire experience was built from. I wasn’t willing to just have a drive-thru experience that would disappoint and leave the person feeling like they had the complete safety of their vehicle and weren’t completely immersed into the experience. The event was either going to cross the line into making the “victim” feel like they were part of the experience or we weren’t going to do it at all. There are certain scenes which you’ll have to come experience yourself that cross the line between reality and fiction. There are areas you could have just sworn you saw something, there are situations that will be presented in a way that make you wonder whether or not what’s happening is real and there will be enough jump scarers and creepy experiences to truly scare you.
Locations often become characters in their story and your location is sure to be one of the best. What can you tell us about your location? Why was it selected and what makes it stand out from other Drive Thru Experiences?
First and foremost, I want to say that this experience is the exact opposite of The Gentle Barn’s belief system and program which is why we can truly make an experience that’s advanced in psychology and fear tactics. I do want to say that this entire event is meant to be in fun and is intended to embody the spirit of Halloween and is not to poke fun or diminish anyone’s personal experiences surrounding mental health or different kinds of phobias. With that said, the idea here is to let loose, embrace the holiday and provide an experience for our Southern California community and beyond who has so graciously supported our work. My experience thus far of the other Drive-Thru events that are available nearby is that they are very family oriented and do not have the same level of fear factor that we do. All I can say is that this will be well worth it to come out and experience this first time ever terrifying drive-thru experience from the COVID safety of your vehicle.
While the pandemic has sadly resulted in numerous in-person, non-car haunted houses to close for this season, this has also led to a large amount of talent with no haunt home this year. How has closures at Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights led to an elevation of your experience this year?
The ability to take in and bring to you the level of professionals scarers that we have is so exciting. We have pro clown scarers, witches, zombies, and other characters that will truly get the opportunity to do their work. The thing I commonly hear from all of them is how grateful they are to be able to be a part of an event that not only allows them to do the annual scaring that they do but also support a cause such as The Gentle Barn while doing it.
Can you speak to the safety precautions you and your team are implementing to ensure this experience is as safe as possible? How are you protecting audiences from the pandemic? How are you protecting your actors from motorists?
First of all, all of the cast members will be screened, checked for temperatures, wearing masks (many of which will be incorporated into their costumes) and will be socially distanced. It’s been really cool that many of our scarers are actually in the same household providing us the ability to place them in zones together therefore creating less risk. The people who will interact with the vehicles will all be wearing KN95 masks and people who are attending will be required to wear their mask anytime there is any interaction or if they have to stop to use the restroom. The safety of our cast members and the public is of our utmost concern and care and is why we have elected to create this event the way that we have.
What do you want people to walk away from your experiences with? What do you want them to feel at the end?
Halloween haunted experiences are all about the adrenaline rush. I want them to walk away feeling excited, invigorated and feel as if they just gone through someone’s nightmare and the only thing they can think about is returning to do it again, and again and again. I think that one of the things I’m most excited about is the final scene and exit of the event which will not disappoint.
Find out more information on The Haunted Barnyard at their website and on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Check out our Event Guide for more immersive and interactive events throughout the year.
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