Randall Theatre gears up its gore factor for this year's scare fest inside its 10,000-square-foot warehouse.
Each Halloween season, the theater company turns the building into a maze of diabolical din with animatronics, motion sensors and virtual reality — then goes for maximum shock value with new themes, this one being "The Family," based on a tribe of hungry cannibalistic mutants.
Due to the event's frightful themes, Randall's Nightmare Chamber Haunted House is not recommended for ages 10 or younger. Horror fans who dare can step inside from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday through Tuesday, Oct. 27-31, at 10 Third St., Medford. Admission is $12. Fast passes skip the general admission line and are $15. Tickets discounted $2 can be purchased at Magic Man Fun Shops in Medford and Grants Pass. Call 541-632-3258 for information.
Robin Downward, artistic director at Randall Theatre, likes to bring his flair for the macabre to the haunted house and believes he has come up with a winning idea for this year's theme.
"We combined a couple of popular horror movies to create it," he says in a press release. "The first, 'The Hills Have Eyes,' is about mutants trapping lost campers. The second is 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' which is about a family of cannibals."
Put the two together and you have a family of mutant cannibals who survive by devious hunting skills. They lure wayward travelers into their home and trap them inside. Beneath their rural homestead is an underground labyrinth of tunnels they use to let victims try to escape before heading after them safari-style.
"We work year-round brainstorming and dreaming up truly horrific creatures and set designs to take people out of everyday life and into a world that is terrifying and exciting,” Downward says. “When you walk into our haunted house, your every movement is detected and technology programmed to the millisecond responds with sound effects and monsters swooping down at just the right moment. It all adds to an out-of-body experience we want everyone to have.”
High-tech electronics make for better scares and lead the way in the evolution of attractions, he says. Hollywood-style productions ramp up the fear factor.
"Gone are the days when pig heads from slaughterhouses, plastic skeletons, spaghetti used for brains and grapes for eyeballs were used as props. Today's Hollywood-style sets at haunted houses impress not only thrill-seekers but tech-savvy guests as well."
It takes more and more to rattle those with high tolerances to fear. A look at what advanced technology can do at similar attractions across the country is just a mouse-click away.
Randall Theatre mixes electronics to animate puppets or other figures with live actors — as many as 20 a night — along with creative imagineering and designs.
"As far as the quality of haunt, I can tell you about a good friend of mine who worked at Universal Studios for several years," Downward says. "She did makeup for the TV series "The Walking Dead," worked on many special-effects films and assisted with the studio's Hollywood Horror Nights. After she visited our haunt, she said, 'Robin, if you were to pick this haunted house up just as it is and place it in L.A., it would be the most popular in Southern California.'
"So we hang our hat on the fact that a Universal Studios special-effects artist is impressed by what we're able to do in Medford," he says.
Technical experts Downward, Sean Petree and Tanner Graham build the haunt's animatronics and pneumatics. Graham also molds inanimate objects — such as dead bodies — from foam latex and other materials. Downward's sister, Toni Holley, is scenic designer and properties manager. Animatronics can be purchased from manufacturers, but that's not the way Randall rolls, Downward says.
"Even if an animatronic is purchased, it's usually altered drastically," he says. "We rebuild it so it fits perfectly into the environment we want to create. Haunted attractions that truly frighten the heck out of people happen when artistry and progressive engineering are combined. It is truly an art form, and we absolutely love it.”