October, and more specifically Halloween, is all about fright – and just like any month, different people celebrate it in different ways. Some take their kids trick-or-treating, or watch horror movies in an effort to get in the spirit of the season. But for a more immersive scary experience, many people will travel to haunted houses, where actors and set designers come together for the sole purpose of scaring them half to death. These attractions are quite common in Florida, especially due to Universal Studios putting on Halloween Horror Nights close by- and Warehouse 31 is one of them.
According to owners Tommy Outley and Greg Lord, Warehouse 31 (or Warehouse 31: “Unleashed”, to differentiate it from the other locations around the country) was originally founded from a warehouse located in St. Augustine, but in recent years has moved locations to Jacksonville- where it has received much attention and praise. As one of the largest haunted houses in northeast Florida, it employs over 100 people every night, and brings in even more as customers. The attraction features four unique ‘haunts’, or settings, for its guests to venture through, each crawling with monsters of all kinds.
As a person intrigued by horror, I was eager to see who was in charge of the project and question them about the behind-the-scenes aspects of running a seasonal attraction like Warehouse 31. It was this intrigue that led me to ask to speak with The Toymaker.
Jeremy Spicer, known as ‘The Toymaker’ during work, is in charge of several of the operations of Warehouse 31. While he is not the lead in charge of set construction (that would be Shane Kent, who I was unable to talk with), Spicer does maintain the performers and basic functions of Warehouse 31 as its ‘master of ceremonies’. In the off-season, he is an artist using the same character, where he keeps Halloween alive all year as Germ Spider Designs (where he repurposes toys into sinister art pieces). Underneath the makeup, however, was a man who was kind enough to talk to me about life behind the masks and make up.
Spicer is a firm believer in performance art- that is to say, working with Warehouse 31 is a good jumping off point for those who are ‘bitten by the acting bug’. “It’s a way to see if you really do like the idea of performing and expressing yourself in front of others,” says Spicer, “and being able to test it out here is a great opportunity for people looking to pursue acting. A good performer can instill fear without touching you, just through body language and speech.”. Perhaps the most interesting aspect when looking at a performer, according to Spicer, is their ability to adapt to a person’s fears and learning to read the crowd: he went on to state that “It takes a skilled performer to read a person. If you can’t make them scream, then you try to go for another reaction without going too far- what works on one person may not work on another, and so you keep adjusting your performance to match those who come through. People love getting reactions in particular, whatever they are.”.
Of course, it’s one thing to report on the haunted house without seeing both sides of the story- the worker, and the customer. So after my interview with the Toymaker himself, I decided to buy a ticket and explore the depths of Warehouse 31 in an attempt to get the entire scoop.
When I was traveling through the mazes in Warehouse 31, I was in the company of two couples who were lumped together to make a complete party. They had each been through the haunted house twice already, and told the man in front of Mr. Tasty’s Meat Factory (probably the most terrifying area in my opinion) that this was my first visit, he insisted that I go into the maze first. The moment I stepped through, he slammed the door shut. Going through the maze alone offered an entirely new layer of fear in the isolation, and I highly recommend doing a solo run if you can, or at least slowing down a bit in order to experience everything.
The ideas and performances of those creatures haunting Warehouse 31 are ones that have been in planning for a while: sets are built and ideas are brainstormed many months in advance. Spicer admits that “immediately after we tear it down for the year, we’re working on the plans for next year.” And it shows: the designs of many of the locations are well-done, and the cramped and sometimes disturbingly confusing situations do very well at masking the hidden dangers.
I found myself careful at all times, constantly checking everything around me to make sure nothing was going to jump out at me. Personally I really enjoyed the design of Dark Waters- a bayou infested with Voodoo cultists, overgrown swamp monsters, and filled with mist. It was fun to walk through each of the lovingly-designed locations, and the performers were exceptional and very into their roles. The stark contrast to those I met before the show and their behavior during the event is impressive to watch.
Warehouse 31 is a chilling experience that manages to be horrific and unnerving without resorting to the ‘extreme’ tendencies we see from some haunted houses- and it is one I highly recommend. The heart and passion behind the project are immense, and I hope to see it grow in the future.
by Brendan Rodenberg
for MOVEMENT Magazine
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Web Site: http://warehouse31unleashed.com/
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