MARBLE FALLS — Planning a haunted house and writing a horror movie or book share an underlying issue: It’s just darn hard work to get it right.
“Anybody can jump out and scare somebody,” said Jon Clark, Marble Falls High School theater teacher. “But does that last? Are they still scared after they leave? After a few hours?”
It’s the same with the horror genre, a writer can go for the over-the-top slashing and killing, but when the audience walks out of the theater, what’s left? Clark and his students found themselves in a similar crossroads when they tackled the annual haunted house that kicks off Oct. 23 during Moonlight Madness.
Clark admitted he wasn’t a big haunted house aficionado (“I don’t think I’ve every been one”), and he prefers the classic horror films to the more modern takes on the genre. Still, he and the students dug in, did some research and came up with their haunted house, Fright Night Theatre.
“We tried to create scenes and characters that were unsettling and disturbing,” Clark said. “It’s easy to go for the gross or gory scene, but think about that creepy barbershop that you can’t get out of your head. I want to leave a disturbing picture in people’s heads.”
That way, when they’re back at home feeling safe, a simple rattling of the door or the rustling of branches outside gets their heart beating a bit faster as they wonder if that creepy looking doll from Fright Night Theatre followed them home.
Fright Night Theatre is Oct. 23, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 in the basement at Salem’s Center, 518 U.S. 281 in Marble Falls. Tickets are $7 each. The shows are 6-10 p.m. for ages 12 and older. A less intense production for kids 8 and up is 5-6 p.m.
“I’ve had a bunch of adults ask me if they can go at that showing,” Clark said.
When Clark and the students signed on to produce the haunted house, it seemed like a great way to promote their upcoming fall play, “Paganini,” which is the story of a 18th and 19th century Italian violinist, sometimes considered the worlds first big “rock” star. The story features some darker parts, so it seemed like a nice compliment. But as the students and Clark began working on the haunted house, they realized that, though a nice jumping off point, Paganini’s story just wasn’t a complete fit for scaring people.
“For one thing, ‘Paganini’ is more of a comedy, a dark comedy, but it would be hard to really take it to a level for what we’re trying to accomplish with the haunted house, which is to scare people,” Clark said.
So the students and Clark took some creative liberties with “Paganini” and worked up Fright Night Theatre. Now, Paganini probably makes an appearance, but he’s only one of a much more macabre cadre of players during the three-night production.
Clark and the students were already putting in three days a week after school preparing for the Nov. 13 and Nov. 15-16 production of “Paganini,” but the planning, designing and production of Fright Night Theatre tacked on an additional two days a week just for it — plus a few Saturdays.
“The kids have worked so hard,” Clark said. “They’ve been incredible. And a lot of what we’ve done comes from their ideas. I think every day I ask at least one student, ‘What do you think about this?’ or ‘How can we do this?’ It’s been incredible.”
The first time the students and Clark visited the Salem Center basement, they knew it was the perfect place for a haunted house. The underground setting already felt creepy.
“And we’ve used just about every available inch of space,” Clark said.
While the haunted house production is new for the program (proceeds benefit the high school’s theater department), the kids and Clark already know how much fun it is to give a good scare.
“Every time we’re working on (the haunted house), we’re always trying to scare somebody,” Clark said. “I just love scaring the students. And I think when the first night wraps up and the kids get together and start sharing some of the stories about scaring people, they’ll want to keep on going Friday, Saturday, Sunday… it’s that much fun.”
As for now, Fright Night Theatre takes over the Salem’s Center basement for three nights.
People will go through the haunted house in groups of five or fewer (make sure you get an accurate count going in because organizers would hate for you to leave somebody behind.) Clark estimates it will take eight to 10 minutes to get through (if you can make it all the way.)
But if all goes well (or in this case, bad), those minutes will keep haunting you for nights to come.