Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Haunted in A-113

This time of year always makes me think of Cal Arts' Halloween parties.  They were the wildest, most bizarre galas only a school of artists could conjure.  The parties were exclusive to students and alumni, who could bring two outside guests.   Locals were always trying to crash the party, keeping the old men in yellow who were CalArts Security running all night.

In October of 1985, the Character Animation Dept. had its own 'haunted house' tour in the now trivially-famous room A-113.  They created a maze of horrors through which I found myself getting totally lost, even though I had been in this room hundreds of times as a student.

Sue Nichols, center, as a gypsy woman, Juliet Duncan, right as a dead woman, and Dave Cutler wearing a voodoo mask, behind.   Halloween, 1986.   
Sue Nichols was one of the student masterminds behind the haunted house.  She told FLIP:

"We did those Haunted Houses for ...what...3-4 years...? (Yah, I was around after graduation to see the tradition carried on.) Best room ever was the year we ended the maze with Jim Reardon in a small dark room with a baseball bat and bullhorn. People would rise up out of the maze into a seemingly safe room.  Jim would blow the rrrrrreally loud horn as Rich Moore flashed a light on him and opened the door.  The scared people fell out into the hall ... right into the middle of the line of people waiting to go in.  Screaming people falling over themselves to rush out of the haunted house put the waiting virgins into a state of panic!  They were in the right state of freak before they even entered the maze.  Anything we did would make them scream after that.  Awesome idea!  And of course the screaming people had to save face and never admitted that they jumped at the sound of a horn.  They made the house sound scarier than it was to the line of waiting guests.  Egos make great PR.

Dale McBeath and I made a graveyard on top of desks and made people crawl into a grave and through a maze underground.  As you climbed down into the grave, Juliet Duncan (dressed as a dead woman) sat up in her coffin and screamed right into your face.  She also played a dead bride with Dave Cutler as her butler one year.  They made you crawl under the wedding cake table into a room of mirrors."

My own most vivid memory was crawling through a tunnel (think Bruce Willis in Die Hard) toward a 90 degree corner around which a strobe light was flashing.  Dan Jeup was ahead of me, crawling along, laughing at how cool everything was.  Ten feet from the corner, an evil gremlin stepped out from around the corner and stood in the strobe.  

"What the hell is that?" Dan laughed.  

The creature had long pointy ears and a head full of wild hair.  It had a square body and tiny little legs with long, pointy nails on its feet.  "What the hell IS that?"  I said.  It appeared to be real - not a mannequin or prop.  Was it a chimp in a costume?  

"What the hell is that?"  Dan and I said in unison.

Then the thing began to run toward us!  "Oh shit!" Dan shouted, putting it in reverse.  He slammed into me, and I slammed into someone behind me and we were all freaked out for a second until someone shouted "It's Broose!  It's Broose!"  

Broose Johnson was a student with prosthetic legs.  He had simply removed them and was walking on his hands in costume.  It was very effective.  He ran right up to Dan's face, paused, then casually walked back around the corner, leaving us in a dark tunnel that now smelled like farts.  

Sue recalled Broose's antics:

"Broose loved taking off his legs for this haunt and played a monster running around several times. I think he was a broken statue one year too." 

Brenda Chapman played the Bride of Frankenstein with Alan Smart as the mad doctor.  She recalled the tunnel:

"They brought in live bugs and cockroaches and put them in large clear plastic boxes the you had to crawl over to get away from Broose. Really creepy! If the fire marshal had found us out, we would have been shut down. Once you were in the maze, there was no other way out but forward."

Sue Nichols elaborated:

"We also had a room devoted to bugs one year. Spiders, I believe. Filled the floor with packing popcorn and draped spiders on cobwebs everywhere. Under a strobe, the room crawled!!! Simple yet effective effect. Loads of fun, fond memories."

To truly appreciate these productions, just consider the talent pool involved; Sue, Brenda, Broose and the whole gang herein mentioned have all had very prolific careers in animation.  It's true "ya hadda be there", and I'm glad I was. 


Read about the CalArts party in "THE Halloween Party" from the original FLIP.  


  1. I loved teaching at Cal Arts; such a creative and inventive place. And such an extraordinary breeding ground for talent....

  2. I remmeber the Haunted Houses from about 86-89, I suppose-_ Always so much fun, and so well-realized..

    Pity so many people had to come and get them stopped for a while (well, there was Mardi-Gras, wasn't there?

    But still, not really the same thing, is it?

  3. Great memories! I played a mad ghoul one year, but mostly just worked behind the scenes setting up the houses. It was great to put so much work into our second favorite holiday. The best part was watching our "house guests" scream, laugh and enjoy the lunacy.

    Rest in Power, Sue!!