How do I introduce the Willard’s Annual Haunted House team? They are equal parts demented, crazy, and scary, plus a whole lot of wonderful! I was lucky enough to spend a little time with them, hoping to understand what makes them tick and what keeps them going. I don’t know if I fully comprehend the depths of their fondest for the world of horror, but I definitely admire their sense of humor and the passion they have for what they do. Four family members make up this highly creative team;
- Wes – He constructs the entire haunted house, pulls all the ideas together and adds the finishing touches.
- Susan – Wes’ mom is the brains behind all the scary parts of the haunted house.
- Jerrie – Wes’ wife and co-creator, with Susan, of all the things that scare you.
- Holly – Wes’ aunt/Susan’s sister and the lead actress who plays her part convincingly scary.
Willard’s Haunted House has a long history in Woodland, beginning with Wes when he was just eight years old. Now, in his early 30’s, he’s still at it and constantly looking to make each year more scary than the last. The theme of this year’s haunted house says it all – Maniac Manor! They are fairly tight-lipped about what to expect but after spending only 30 minutes with them, I can assure you, you WILL BE SCARED!
As a side note, Willard’s is looking for volunteer actors, security staff, make up artists and staff help. If you are interested, contact them through their Facebook page.
Let’s go back in time, when was your first haunted house?
Wes: I think I had it out for the neighbor boy, when I was eight years old, who had a really good Halloween display. I would always try to one-up him, every year. If I remember correctly, my first creation was a coffin. My dad was a carpenter, so I stole scraps, nails, and tools from him. We would have displays and that happened until 2001, I believe. Then we stopped because we didn’t have the space for it, but the last four years my interest has sparked. Susan: He started out with just a couple of coffins. He was in the Davis Enterprise for it too.
Are you all lovers of scary things, movies, etc?
Holly: It all really began when Susan was young. Our dad would take her to haunted houses around Northern California. The scare factor has always been in our family. It’s because of Wes and Susan’s imagination; they are always wondering, “how much bigger can we go?” Susan: When I was a little girl there was a haunted house at the Gibson Mansion. I was actually in it, I played a role! As a little girl, I really enjoyed it and now I love that we provide it to the community. Holly: This is really a family affair. Susan and I have a brother and sister that have participated and help us out.
Who plans out the haunted house?
Wes: I use to, but now mom (Susan) and Jerrie do it now. Susan: We are the scene setters. I basically think about this all year! I come up with ideas and scenes. We research it, we watch youtube, and we go to different events to get ideas. I usually have a pretty good vision of what I want. We run it by each other and then Wes builds it. We have some heated arguments about our ideas and what works best. Holly: I think a lot of it comes from learning what people liked and didn’t like. Wes and Susan get the feedback so they can make changes for the next year.
Will a scene change from today to the day you open?
Wes: Yes, we have blueprints of what we’re building but sometimes it doesn’t develop into what we really want. So, changes happen all the way to the end. Jerrie: We usually are changing things up until the day of open. Susan: I think of the scenes and we map out the flow of the scenes. But Wes is a master at coming up with twists and turns, secret doorways, lighting, and sound. He really brings it all together.
Where is the haunted house located this year?
Wes: We are located at the County Fair Fashion Mall this year. It’s a great location with an outside entrance. We’ll be just south of Walmart, you’ll see our sign and lots of activity. You can’t miss it.
Why have you relocated to the mall?
Wes: Last year was almost disastrous. It didn’t rain all October, then on Halloween it rained on all of our stuff. We were running around until the last minute; thank goodness people still came. We were covering everything and weren’t sure if the event was going to happen. We had just spent 12 days constructing it! That really bothered me, so the mall means we won’t have those issues. Plus, we can now be open for four nights, instead of the usual one (on Halloween).
What can you tell me about this year’s haunted house?
Wes: This one will the scariest one yet and the scariest in town! The theme is Maniac Manor. It’s going to be a house full of maniacs, people you never want to encounter. We will also have food, music and a scary movie playing for those waiting to get in. Holly: It’s not for the faint of heart. Susan: This year it’s “anything goes”. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason this year, it’s just scary. We recommend ages 8 and up, but there are younger kids that really enjoy it. We never touch, we “try” to keep the actors still; we keep it scary of course, we never try to cross the line.
So, there is no chasing…right?
Susan: Well, I can’t promise that (said with a smirk!)…
Tell me your funniest stories from past haunted houses.
Jerrie: Last year a dad had his legs wrapped around his 10-year-old son, scared to death! Susan: One time I had a lady fall down right in front of me and she wet her pants! Meanwhile, her husband left her right there, running out screaming. I just didn’t know what to do at that point. Everyone scares in different ways. We don’t always know the reaction someone will have to a scene.
What do you want Woodland to know?
Wes: Save your money and don’t go to Cal Expo. Support your community and stay local. Come and see us! Plus we give back to the community. In the past, we asked for donations and would give back to Douglass Middle School. Susan: This year we are charging a small entry fee and if all goes well, we have a few charities in mind that we’d like to give to. It’s important to us to be able to do that. We want this to be something that the community looks forward to every year.