Monday, June 18, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 15

Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on October 25th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 33

Scare tactics

Sun writers explore some local haunted houses and live to tell about it


For little ones, Halloween is all about the candy, but for many adults it’s about blood, guts, gore, and having a good time. There’s nothing quite like a good scare—a goose-bump raising, adrenaline-inducing frightfest. That’s why the Sun decided to feature some of the Central Coast’s most intriguing and bone-chilling haunted houses. So sit back, try to relax, and enjoy the scare ... if you can.

Welcome to the ranch 

A Ghost Ranch is taking over Solvang Festival Theater (pictured, and below), home to Solvang Parks and Recreation Department’s annual haunted house.

Just as he’s done for the past 22 years, Solvang Parks and Recreation Director Fred Lageman is working tirelessly to scare the living daylights out of locals this Halloween.

His department’s annual haunted house has grown to become a staple in the Santa Ynez Valley, featuring a unique theme every year. Last year, they paid homage to the city’s 100th anniversary with “Centennial Cemetery.” Before that was “Haunted Holidays,” with ghastly Easter egg hunters, elves, and leprechauns. Since 2003, the outdoor Solvang Festival Theater, home of PCPA, has served as the backdrop for the production.

“For our tiny community, we get 2,500 people coming through it,” Lageman explained. “So it’s the highlight of the community’s Halloween for certain.”

Preparation for the nightmare starts early. The Parks and Rec staff picks the theme a full year in advance, and begins collecting props from various thrift stores. Lageman envisions the design and creates sketches, and staff members add their own ideas. Blueprints are made up over the summer, and offsite construction—including pneumatics and animatronics—starts months before All Hallows’ Eve.

Two weeks prior to the big unveiling, the materials are trucked to the theater, and the on-site building begins, during which time Lageman and his team labor day and night to ready the production.

“You’re very, very tired even the day you open,” Lageman explained. “But after an hour, the high school kids start roaming in and it gets dark and people start getting into it; you quickly remember why you did it. Then, when it’s all over, you’re like, ‘I can’t wait for next year.’”

This Halloween’s theme is “Ghost Ranch.” Picture a typical Santa Ynez Valley homestead, but with a twist; the ranch’s owners don’t realize that in the late 1800s, a gang of killers used to bring their victims into the barn to hang.

To create the experience, Lageman and his crew have built a freestanding ranch house and a 10,000-square-foot barn. The production requires a monumental effort, and it’s all done through the help of volunteer workers, actors (about 35 monsters this year), and a host of guides.

Lageman said he’s been hooked on making haunted houses since the first one he built for a kids’ club in 1990. His personal favorites are the “Swamp of Screams,” where he constructed a water-filled swamp complete with walking bridges and dry ice fog; an Old West-themed “Skull Valley;” and “Lost Vegas,” where he re-created a 1940s-era Las Vegas Strip.

He calls his creations “atypical.” For one, they’re massive—Ghost Ranch covers about 30,000 square feet and will take an estimated 22 minutes to walk through. Also, there’s a strict no-blood, no-gore policy. But while it may be kid-friendly, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to scream about.

 “We get quite a few people every year who exit the haunted house the moment they enter,” Lageman said. “We’ve had scores of people over the years just decide to turn around and say, ‘I changed my mind, I’m not walking through this.’”

Ghost Ranch is open for just two days, Oct. 30 and 31. If you go, expect to be spooked by ghostly farmers and cowboys, a creepy corn maze, and haunted horse stalls. In terms of scope, it may be Solvang’s biggest scare yet.

 “I think even our regulars will be shocked by how long it is this year,” Lageman said.

—Jeremy Thomas

Purgatorium (pictured above and below) at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building invites visitors to brave horrific scenes put together by the NorthStar Guilds.
Stuck in ‘Purgatorium

Not-so-scary alternatives
While haunted houses abound, not everyone appreciates a good scare. Some people—especially those of the pint-sized, candy-munching variety—might want to focus more on fun than fright this Halloween. Luckily, there are plenty of options on the Central Coast. Here are a few suggestions for people who like a sweeter Halloween.

Don’t run from the dead; honor them

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) might sound like a horror movie, but it’s actually a colorful and celebratory cultural event. It’s a time to honor loved ones who have passed away by setting up altars and bringing “gifts” of food and beverages and other treasured items of the departed. Several events incorporating this tradition will be held this year.

The 18th annual Dia de los Muertos event will come to the Santa Maria Town Center mall from Oct. 29 to Nov. 5, and is dedicated to people who have lost their lives to bullying. There will be a special presentation by Joelyn Lutz of the WonHeart organization on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. For more information, call 720-3139.

A Day of the Dead event will also run in Nipomo from 1 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Dana Adobe. There will be children’s crafts, sugar skull painting, altar making, a scavenger hunt, and a piñata. For more information, call 929-5679.

The Dia de los Muertos Cultural Festival runs from noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the Veterans Memorial Community Center, 313 W. Tunnell St., in Santa Maria. This free event offers visual and musical entertainment, a children’s parade, youth activities, and displays. Get more information about this city-sponsored event at 925-0951, Ext. 260.

Have a glass of wine with your candy

The Central Coast is known for its world-class wine and plenty of chefs who prepare gourmet meals to pair with them. This Halloween, pick your favorite candy from your kids’ haul and sit down with the right wine blend for a perfect sweet grown-up celebration. Riverbench Vineyard and Winery can teach you the best wines to pair with candy corn, Milky Way bars, or those scrumptious little Mary Janes.

Check out the winery’s candy-centric menu Oct. 26 through 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 937-8340. See a spooky play

The Lompoc Civic Theatre will present the scary yet humorous Count Dracula at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, and Saturday, Oct. 27, as well as a 2 p.m. showing on Oct. 28. There will be a special Halloween performance at 7 p.m. on Oct. 31. Tickets cost $12, or $10 presale. For more information, call 735-2281.

Head to the beach Get suited up—in your costume, not wetsuit—and take your little monsters to Pumpkins on the Pier. The event is a free Halloween celebration that features the ninth annual Trick or Treat Extravaganza, a costume contest, a bounce house, face painting, small carnival games, and pumpkin decorating from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Pismo Beach Pier. For more information, call 773-7063. Go to a ball

Looking for treats that are a little more refined than that Snickers bar squashed at the bottom of your child’s trick-or-treat bag? Head over to the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum for some fun that doesn’t require begging for candy. The Bippity Boppity Boo Ball gala and fundraiser will run from 7 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Discovery Museum, 705 S. McClelland St. Dinner-by-the-bite will be provided by Trattoria Uliveto. There will also be specialty cocktails, dancing, and a live auction by celebrity auctioneer Sean Kelly. Tickets are $50 per person and semi-formal attire or costumes are encouraged. For more information, call 928-8414.

—Shelly Cone

The haunted house at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building is unique not only for the spine-tingling treasures lurking inside its walls, but for the unusual cast of characters putting it together. Bawdy pirates, futuristic Victorians, and Elizabethan lords and ladies—these are the members of NorthStar Guilds, a local organization whose motto is “helping the community and having fun doing it!”

“We’re a bunch of people who like to dress up. It’s Halloween all the time for us,” guild leader Rob Hall said. “We didn’t have a haunted house in Lompoc last year, so I brought the idea [of holding one] to my members, and they thought it was a good fit.”

The haunted house is called “Purgatorium” and features a mix of comedy and horror, with recreations of scenes from Halloween favorites such as Beetlejuice, The Exorcist, and The Devil’s Rejects.

“It’s going to get scarier and grosser as you go [through the house],” Hall said. “It’s not just the same thing over and over again.”

Local businesses will set up booths in the courtyard of the veterans building and sell popcorn, hot cocoa, and refreshments for victims—er, patrons—to enjoy while waiting in line.

Once inside, people will walk through a sequence of specially constructed rooms, including a mad scientist’s lab, a room packed with creepy stuffed animals, a spider cave, a vampire bar where there’s nothing but blood on tap, and something called the lollipop chainsaw room, which Hall said features “a bunch of school girls who have gone insane and start cutting people into bits.”

However, the haunted house is more than just a good scare: The event is also a fundraiser for the Catholic Charities Food Pantry. Hall said 10 percent of the proceeds will go to that group.

The haunted house is open from 6 to 11 p.m. on Oct. 26, 27, and 31. On Oct. 27, there will be a zombie food drive at Fresh and Easy in Lompoc, followed by “Lompocalpyse,” a zombie march from Alfie’s Fish & Chips down H Street to the veterans memorial building at 100 E. Locust Ave. People can show up at 3 p.m. to get their makeup done. The march starts at 5 p.m.

The Party Shop, Veterans of Foreign Wars No. 570, the GI Forum Education Foundation, The Boys and Girls Club, and mayor John Linn helped sponsor the event.

—Amy Asman

Mid State Scare

Randy and Luke Russom put together a zombie apocalypse for the Mid State Scare (pictured above and below), which includes gory actors and a pitch-black room to venture through.

They must be close—you can hear every guttural breath, every raspy groan. There are zombies everywhere and there is only one thing you can do: Run!

With lots of blood, gore, and an army of zombies lurking around every corner, you will want to run—not walk—through this haunted house.

The Mid State Scare, at 1106 E. Grand Ave. in Arroyo Grande, is the Central Coast’s only long-term haunted house and home to a pitch-dark haunted house event.

The house features 10 elaborately constructed and detailed spaces, including an operating room, a cemetery, and a room of total blackness where guests are suddenly surrounded by glowing zombie faces.

Father-son team Randy and Luke Russom, who put together the scares, joined the project four years ago. Randy said the theme of their haunted houses change every year. For 2012, they focused on zombies, a popular monster on television and in the news.

Randy, who has lived on the Central Coast for 20 years and owns his own architectural firm, said they started planning this year’s event in May. With a crew of about six construction volunteers, Randy, Luke, and their team added layer upon layer of detail in each of the 10 rooms to maximize the fear factor.

“This was a lot of creativity and collaboration from people who don’t like to sleep,” Randy said with a laugh.

The Mid State Scare team puts its engineering skills to work by using electronics, animatronics, video effects, and motion triggers to give the house a life-like feel.

The walkthrough, which takes about 10 minutes to complete, begins with guests being greeted by a stern army officer in fatigues.

“The sequence is designed to go from infection to total mayhem,” Randy said.

With a high ratio of actors to visitors—one actor for every two guests— Randy said customers will be overwhelmed by all the people attempting to scare them.

The actors, a crew of 45 volunteers who come from Lompoc to as far north as Paso, are trained in safety and procedure. According to Randy, actors aren’t allowed to touch guests and will escort people out if they are too frightened to finish.

As for the acting, Randy said they encourage the actors to explore their position and have fun with it, collaborating with the rest of the crew to find out which tactics are working and which ones aren’t.

With all the blood and gore in scary movies today, Randy said, people are more immune to “scariness,” and that scaring people takes a lot more than hiding behind a curtain.

Actors are decked out in full zombie gore, showing up two to three hours before the show. Randy said there’s a volunteer makeup crew that gets actors ready.

Running through Oct. 31, Mid State Scare sees 300 to 400 guests a night. Despite this high flow of people, Randy said, they don’t turn much of a profit—but that’s not why they do what they do.

“I’ve got to meet a lot of cool people from ages 13 to 60,” he said. “It brings out a different side to people.”

Despite the hard work and lack of sleep, this father-son team has created a unique scare experience for locals.

“People do this because it’s an adrenaline rush,” Randy said. “We get to create our own environment and manipulate emotions.”

He said the people who let go of reality and choose to experience the moment will most enjoy the fantasy being created.

Visit for show times and ticket information.

—Kristina Sewell

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at

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