The first time you try to find Reign of Terror (ROT), you may think your GPS has led you astray. Parking next to CVS and walking into Janss Marketplace is indeed a strange experience for someone seeking horror. A cheery open air shopping mall with palm trees and pink painted walls seems about the most unlikely place for guts and gore. Located on the corner of Moorpark Road and Hillcrest Drive in the pretty city of Thousand Oaks, the space above Gold’s Gym hides a terrifying secret. That’s where you’ll find ROT, one of the best Halloween attractions in the LA area.
ROT now features six distinct themed mazes, but the unique flow means there is only one line and guests walk through all of them at once. Since the haunted house is in place year round, they are able to keep adding to it year after year and have a level of detail that challenges even the most expensive theme park haunts. This fully immersive house has elaborate sets that create realistic and intense frights. This year the themes are The Haunted House, Quarantine, The Asylum, Blood Manor, Miner’s Revenge, and the 2015 debut of Fun House.
At a special media preview, I took a tour through one third of the newly designed haunt and stopped to talk to Bruce Stanton, owner and creator of ROT.
Q: What inspired you to start building your own haunted house?
A: ROT started as a home haunt. This is probably a cookie cutter answer because I think a lot of us feel the same way, but I grew up in the late seventies so… Michael Meyers. Halloween. 1978. That was a huge impression on me. I grew up in Culver City, so the smallest thing that was outside the normal Halloween decorations, I just thought was so cool. When I was about fifteen, I started doing something at my parents’ house. In 2000, when I bought a house here in Thousand Oaks, I just went crazy. The last year I did it at my house, the haunted house was physically bigger than my whole house! I built rooms on the side yard, the backyard, and the front yard. I mean it was OVER the top, but that just had to end (laughs), because it was like living in a tomb.
I did it out of my house for eight years. The first year, I had about forty kids come through and strictly through word of mouth, the eighth year we had forty-four hundred. That year we did four nights because it was just too big to do only one night. Then, we paired up with the city of Thousand Oaks in 2008 and Janss Marketplace in 2009.
I never imagined in my wildest dreams that it would be what it is. It’s the partnership of the Janss Marketplace, the city, and the charity and giving we do that makes it all possible. This is a non-profit. Proceeds from the haunted house go to the Teen Center and Theater Group of Thousand Oaks. The Theater Group has some special needs projects solely funded by ROT.
It’s extremely hard for a haunted house to exist in Southern California without that kind of support. At a dollar to two dollars per square foot, our rent would be sixty thousand dollars a month. We are here permanently and that’s seven hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year. So, we would never be able to survive without the community. The three way partnership is why it works.
The Janss Marketplace will donate profits from the Reign of Terror Haunted
House ticket sales to the Conejo Recreation and Parks District. Last
year, Janss Marketplace donated $30,000 to the Conejo Recreation and Parks
District from the 2014 Reign of Terror ticket sales.
Q: How do you keep it fresh?
A: We try to change a majority of the haunted house every season. The beauty of what we have here is that we are in a 30,000 square foot space and the haunted house is only 15,000. So we have been growing. Every year we add. We have a major remodel on two of the themes and then add another one. We want to make sure that anyone who comes through, who has come through it one year or six years, feels like they got their money’s worth. We are constantly changing actor positions and the flow, just to keep you guessing.
Q: How much new space did you add to the house this year?
A: We added about 3,000 square feet. Which means we added fifteen new rooms. We went from sixty-five rooms to eighty-two rooms. It’s hard to say how long it takes to go through because there’s running speed to consider, but we like to say that it takes between fifteen to twenty minutes. You would have to take a lot of theme park mazes and string them together to equal the space and length of what we have here. It is one walk through, just because we don’t have the space for six different queue lines.
Q: The rooms we walked through today seemed to be in a different order…
A: Yes, The Asylum, which you saw today at the beginning, used to be at the very end. So, it has been changed to give you a different design flow. Now, the new Fun House which you saw the entrance for is the next part of the house and is very very actor-driven. The whole concept of that one is that people are afraid of clowns, so it is very clown-heavy.
There are six themes and each one is designed to target a different type of fear. So, dark and claustrophobic is what you went through in the beginning. Then creepy elements like clowns. Blood Manor is more blood and gore which is an element you didn’t see today. Quarantine is more light and sound driven. Everything that someone could be scared of, we are trying to hit each one of those. So, no matter who you are, there’s something that you will see when you go through and say, “Man I wasn’t scared until… Bam!”
Q: I felt least comfortable in the dark spaces because I had to really feel my way through.
A: I’m glad to hear you say that because that’s what we are going for, that fear of the dark. But, we still want to have the ROT huge level of detail. We are never going to put you in a completely black room because heck, I could have done that in my garage. We want to make sure that even when you’re in a dark room, you feel like you’re in a cave and it looks and feels like one.
We want realism. I want you to come into a kitchen, and for a second think to yourself, “Am I actually in a kitchen?” to forget that you are upstairs above Gold’s Gym and think, “I just came into a house, there’s a fan spinning, it’s got carpet, there’s outlets on the wall, and a couch”. Because as soon as we can put you in an environment and you think in your mind that you’re there, now we have completely set you up to be scared.
Q: For the new Fun House, can you tell us a little about what to expect inside?
A: The Fun House is going to be very disorienting. There’s a pillow wall and a lot of traditional elements. The most important element is the actors. At ROT, actors are coming from the left, from the right, from above, from below… but, no one will touch you. We are a traditional walk through haunted house, so we are not going into the “extreme haunt” space. We love the traditional walk through and that is what we will stay. The level of scares here are similar to what you will find at all the major theme parks in the area, but for only fifteen bucks!
Q: Do you ever work the maze in costume?
I do. Later in the season, I get out there as much as I possibly can (laughing) because I love it. I absolutely love it. I’m a fan of the ones that are multiple scares. Some of our actor roles have three different positions and they’re covering a lot of ground. Of course, some roles I’m just too old to do. I’m not getting into a bed.
Q: When do you start planning new elements?
A: There is a team of about four or five of us and since we are permanently set up, it’s something we work on year round. We start planning in January-February. We will start building in March-April-May. As you can see, we are not quite a hundred percent finished right now. This is a huge labor of love for all of us, so it’s never really done. I always say that the day the haunted house is done, is the day we don’t want to do it anymore. Of course, we are a long way away from that because we already know what we want to do next year!
Most important, we want to give the best to the audience, so my wife and I tour a lot of the biggest and best haunted houses in the off season. I have no problem looking at what someone else did and then trying to put our own ROT spin on it. I hope, in turn, we also inspire others by unique things we do here.
Q: What do you hope new visitors say when they leave your haunted house?
A: That they could not believe what is hidden up here. My thought is that when someone comes up here, they kind of have no idea what they are going to be up against… and when they come out those doors, I want them to say, “I cannot believe what I just went through”. I want someone to be floored that something like this exists. You walk into a mall and walk out thinking, “What the heck is this?”, you paid good money for a ticket and you walked out and just thought… “WOW”.
General admission $17, Front of Line VIP $25
Opening Night – Saturday, October 3rd from 7-11 p.m.
Friday, October 9th from 7-10 p.m.
Saturday, October 10th from 7-11 p.m.
Friday, October 16th from 7-10 p.m.
Saturday, October 17th from 7-11 p.m.
Friday, October 23rd from 7-10 p.m.
Saturday, October 24th from 7-11 p.m.
Sunday, October 25th from 7-10 p.m.
Thursday, October 29th from 7-10 p.m.
Friday, October 30th from 7-10 p.m.
Saturday, October 31st from 7-11 p.m.
For tickets and information, please visit rothauntedhouse.com