I’ve said this over and over lately – the line between home haunt and pro haunt has become increasingly blurred over the past several years, as folks become more savvy and technology becomes more easily accessible to the general public when it comes to Halloween. Such is the case with The Backwoods Maze, a home haunt of epic proportions in a quiet neighborhood in Burbank, California.
Theme Park Adventure has been covering The Backwoods Maze for the past several years. Each season, we have been amazed at the way this family of haunters (literally – it’s a family) tweaks and expands this production in a space that really, has no more room – their backyard.
While most “traditional” home haunts – even the biggies – take place in their front yards or driveways, The Backwoods Maze utilizes the entire backyard of the home belonging to horror fan/collector Jeff Gustafson. That’s right – the backyard. Guests queue along the sidewalk of the home at 1912 North Pepper Street in Burbank, the line often stretching down the block, filled with Halloween fans eager to see what the Gustafsons have done each season. As they wait their turn, guests are treated to a really impressive display of horror movie figures and props that Jeff has collected over the years, and brings out of storage to put out for the duration of the haunt; it’s neat and is something you don’t see at many haunted attractions. Visitors love it, and a sophisticated security system in place helps ensure that no one tampers with the front or backyard of the haunt during the day or night.
Groups entering The Backwoods Maze are kept to small numbers, even couples at a time. The maze itself is fairly large, but its walkways are at times very narrow and claustrophobic. The feeling of being cut off from everyone is part of the appeal of Backwoods, and the monsters use the maze’s tight pathways to their full advantage, reaching for and grabbing at guests from adjacent scenes in all directions. And speaking of all directions, The Backwoods Maze has grown vertically in the past couple of years, allowing its often 20+ monsters to attack from overhead as well, using second level walkways and perches; it’s brilliant and freaking insane!
The theme of The Backwoods Maze varies from year to year, but does have a common thread: Almost all of the scenes and components of the maze are inspired by the family’s love and admiration of various attractions at Knott’s Scary Farm from over the years. The Gustafsons wholeheartedly admit that there is always a ton of influence from Knott’s that shows up in their own haunt each season, and they make no apologies for that. In fact, while some Haunt fans may notice, most visitors likely don’t make that connection unless it’s pointed out. Theme Park Adventure has always thought it was neat that Halloween Haunt has made and continues to make such a lasting impression on this group. We do however, love when they let their creativity loose and really explore new themes and features that they come up with. Jeff and his son Taylor are incredibly talented – they make props, masks and sets together as a hobby, and those pieces fill The Backwoods. Not only are their homemade products cool, they are seriously legit, and take their maze to that blurry, hazy place between “home haunt” and “pro haunt”. Take a look at some of our Backwoods flow-through videos from years past, and you will see how this special haunt has grown each season.
The team is all volunteer for The Backwoods Maze, and for the most part, these folks absolutely rock it each year. They’re taken care of for a few hours each night by the Gustafsons with pizza and refreshments, and in all the time we have spent behind the scenes with them, everyone is truly happy and excited to be part of such a badass haunt.
TPA would love to see The Backwoods Maze move elsewhere in Burbank or close by and go pro. We’ve told Jeff this for years now, and know that he could do it. However, taking a haunt from home to pro is a huge undertaking – one that not everyone succeeds at or is happy with when all is said and done. There is something nice about having a home haunt that gives a holiday kick to a neighborhood, where folks can come out and donate, and show their community support for. Running a pro haunt comes with a whole slew of business headaches and worries that can almost instantly kill the enthusiasm, so we get it completely. Whatever Jeff and Taylor decide to do in 2014, TPA will be right there to support and cover them all the way, because we love this group; they are fantastic and absolute gems in the Southern California haunter community!
While The Backwoods Maze isn’t necessarily too gory or nightmarishly intense, it’s probably not suitable for most small children; leave them at home and put Backwoods on your Must See list for 2014. Burbank offers several very impressive home haunts each Halloween; make a night of it and haunt hop – you’ll be floored by the amount of creativity and spooky goodness that abounds there!
Did you attend The Backwoods Maze in 2013? What did you think of it? We’d love to know and discuss with you below; TPAers, sound off!
– Rick West