Julie Ball, co-owner of Circus of Screams Haunted House, decides one of her characters needs another hole in the head. - Jamie Lusch

Are we scared yet?

Robin Downward says he suffers from two of the worst creative maladies in the world, neither of which is an asset in turning imagined nightmares into actual haunted houses.

"I have the Peter Pan syndrome, which is I won't grow up, and then I have the Disney syndrome, which is I can't think small," says Downward, managing artistic director of the Randall Theatre in Medford, which will host the Titans of Terror Nightmare Chamber this Halloween season.

Downward isn't alone in needing to manage the symptoms. They are endured by numerous haunted-attraction makers every Halloween season. So how do these creators of horrific — and fun — haunted houses, circuses, graveyards and carnivals across the Rogue Valley balance inspiration with reality?

Simple, they say: with meticulous planning, patience and focus. Like Rome — or Castle Dracula, if you like — they aren't built in a day.

"We already have our floor plan all designed out by the end of February," says Julie Ball, one of the co-creators of the Circus of Screams in Eagle Point. "And we start building in June."

It has to be that way, says Tim Reuwsaat, director of Darkwing Manor in Phoenix. Reuwsaat says the attraction is taking a break this year because of health reasons, but in years past, building efforts usually started right after Labor Day.

"And then every weekend after that we're preparing our scenes," he says. "Building to, adding, maintaining."

The full-time jobs and lives of volunteers, whether they build sets or act in the frightening scenes, also have to be factored in. At the 2012 Darkwing Manor, Reuwsaat calculates a force of 107 volunteers helped bring the terror to life.

"That's actors as well as support staff," he says. "A lot of detail goes into this."

Nabbing the right props gets easier over the years, creators say. They become part of the ghoulish supply chest.

"The great thing is that we have resources here at the theater that make building what we come up with easier," Downward says. "Plus, I have a stockpile of Halloween-based props and things from many, many years."

Ball says the Circus of Screams stockpile started with supplies for a haunted house she and her partner, Ron Savage, purchased on eBay. It was shipped to them in two 40-foot containers. The trove of horrifying imagery gets added to every year, either by purchase or donation.

"Cost is a big factor. Whether we can make it ourselves is a big factor," Ball says.

Mitch Schlosser, creator of the Rogue Valley Mall-hosted Carnival Nightmare, is in a different league this year. He built houses at his Medford home for many years but took a break after a back injury, donating the props he'd amassed.

But on his first year back, he's up to the challenge.

"Nothing more fun for me than to go in the garage or come here and take something that wasn't made to be 'that' and use it for 'that,'" Schlosser says. "Re-purposing things to me, it's just, I don't know, it's the way my brain works. I love it."

Building sets and having actors rehearse is one thing, but actually making the haunted attraction scary is quite another.

"There are definite tricks that you can do that are always going to bring a scare," Downward says. "It really has to do with the same idea as magic. It's all misdirection. If somebody's looking this way, you scare them from the side. If somebody's looking up, you scare them from down below. That's about planning where things are placed so that people's eyes are going in one direction so the scares can come from another."

Some of the motivations for haunted house builders vary. Several of the operations donate some of their proceeds to charities such as ACCESS Inc. One or two get a sense of nostalgia in putting their events together.

"I don't want to give up on the holiday, on Halloween," Schlosser says. "This is my way of getting the community together."

Many of these nightmare weavers who build the attractions year after year share one universal trait: They're scream junkies, they say. Hearing shrieks of fright and laughter echo in the dark on nights they're open is the ultimate payoff.

"Every year, I go, 'Why am I doing this?'" Reuwsaat says. "But once you start hearing the screams, you say, 'Oh, that's why.' We love to scare people, I guess."

Ball agrees.

"Come here one night when we're open and listen to those screams," she says. "That tells you what I keep coming back for. Just hearing those screams in there and people running up to the ticket booth and telling me they peed their pants, you've got to keep coming back for that, you know?"

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at

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