One of the most unique and complicated haunted attractions that Theme Park Adventure visited during the 2013 season was a professional haunt by Scareventures, called Evil Willy’s Candy Factory. Based on the classic Roald Dahl tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as well as all of the adaptations that have come since, it seemed to us that Evil Willy’s would be a really exciting experience and definitely a twist on the traditional haunted attraction themes that we see each year. Creating such an attraction wouldn’t be very sugar-coated, as the Scareventures team would find out…
Scareventures is a San Diego-based company that specializes in many things themed design, not just haunted attractions. Take a look at their website and you’ll see; for the sake of brevity, I’ll keep focused only on their haunt effort.
Kris Golojuch is the man at the helm of Scareventures and even appeared as Evil Willy himself in the maze last season. He joined creative forces with We Will Haunt You and devised Evil Willy’s Candy Factory. The story and theme were totally solid – a sinister spin on the world’s most famous candy maker; done. Seemed like a home run in the making when TPA first heard about it, and we were totally enthusiastic for this effort.
The location of Evil Willy’s Candy Factory was fairly perplexing: smack in the middle of the business park in south Orange County known as the “Irvine Spectrum”. While the Irvine Spectrum is mostly known for high-end business buildings (yeah, there is a large mall there – but I’m talking about the non-descript buildings nearby), it is home to a children’s museum called Pretend City. And due to previous business dealings outside of the haunt with Pretend City, that is where Scareventures opted to place Evil Willy’s Candy Factory.
Unfortunately, along with the use of Pretend City, came a laundry list of conditions that would have sent most potential partners/haunters running. Kris and his team opted to weather it out and go for it. It would turn out to be a critical mistake.
To me, the biggest problem of all was that Evil Willy’s was set up in the Irvine Spectrum. While there are successful haunts that are located in business parks (I’m looking at you, Sinister Pointe), this really isn’t the ideal location without super heavy marketing and publicity. After business hours, no one hangs out or goes through these areas, so traffic is next to non-existent. We saw this last year at Haunt S.B. in Santa Barbara, and we have also witnessed it on occasion at Sinister Pointe, although for them it is a bit easier, since they’ve been at their location for a while now. But for a new haunted attraction with little in the way of marketing – a really rough type of location to be successful in. Had Evil Willy’s been in an empty store location at the Irvine Spectrum mall, that would have been a different story completely.
On top of having a location that was void of casual foot and vehicle traffic, perhaps the most heinous conditions that Scareventures agreed to was that the haunt would be taken down and hidden completely during daytime operating hours at the museum, which meant that Kris and his team had to not only work the haunt each night, they had to set it up and tear it down as well; absolutely mind-boggling, and honestly I’d never heard of such a thing until this instance. It seems absolutely crazy to me personally, and I’d have balked for sure. Again, Kris and his team felt it was doable, and so they proceeded into an agreement with Pretend City. I commend them for that, and truly feel sorry that they got such a raw deal in this mess.
On top of this (like it needed to be worse), Pretend City opted not to help market, endorse or sponsor the haunt when all was said and done. In a nutshell, what began as a friendly prospect, ended in a really ugly quagmire of problems that ultimately, plagued Evil Willy’s to the breaking point.
So why all the back story here? Why does it matter whether Scareventures entered a really bad deal, only to have it result in a mess at the end of the whole experience? It matters because Kris and his team are really talented and creative designers/haunters that paid the ultimate price for a bad business decision. There was nothing wrong with the haunt itself, except that it was fairly sparse in set decoration and design in areas due to Pretend City’s crazy conditions placed on their operation.
I cannot help but reflect on Halloween 2012, when The Chamber, a well-established haunt from Bakersfield, California, pulled up stakes and moved to the State Line/Primm resort on the way to Las Vegas. It was a disastrous move, and with little traffic each night, proved to be devastating to that haunt and its team – all of whom were really cool people, fantastic haunters, and the attraction itself was totally legit. As we witnessed what was happening to Evil Willy’s and its crew, we couldn’t help but compare the two experiences. It painfully spotlights the importance of having a totally solid business plan, location and strong relationship with your property owners if you are going to open a pro haunt somewhere. Otherwise, all of your hard work and legit effort is going to hit a wall. We’ve seen it first-hand twice in as many years now, and we hate it. This is such a real and present danger, that I honestly think there should be a workshop/class of sorts at ScareLA 2014 that takes a look at this issue and opens up dialogue between haunters that have been in this type of situation and new haunters trying to figure out how to go pro. I can’t and won’t promise anything at this point (as of this writing, ScareLA 2014 is in its infant planning/programming stages and I need to discuss this with the three other producers of the event), but I think it’s a big enough deal that haunters can absolutely learn about this and understand the red flag warnings better if it’s presented as a group and talked about. We sure as hell don’t want to see this happen to anyone else – especially TPAers we know and care about! That’s the worst.
So, what’s done is done. Location and production challenges aside, we thought that Evil Willy’s Candy Factory was heart-felt, well-planned and unique as a haunted attraction. Hell, the team even put together an awesome theme song for it, which is played throughout the POV video clips we put together for you. The music is a blatant parody of the Willy Wonka theme by Danny Elfman for Tim Burton’s 2005 version of the classic tale. The lyrics are freakin’ hilarious and the overall production of the track is beautiful; I knew the minute I heard it that it would be the backbone of our flow-through video! Enjoy it, and huge props to everyone that contributed! We love original soundtracks at haunts, and Evil Willy’s took the cake for me in 2013!
The talent throughout Evil Willy’s was decent – they obviously had taken a beating from low traffic and non-stop problems with Pretend City. Still, they kept their spirits high and were really excited that TPA was there to shoot. While there could have been a few more monsters lurking, the group that was present the night we visited was fine, and they jumped, interacted and lurked just as we’d expect at any haunt. My heart goes out to them – Theme Park Adventure isn’t in the business of giving out A’s for effort; we personally know most of this team, and we know that they are enthusiastic about being haunters. They earn major props in this case for putting up with what they had to and still giving us a good show. Kudos to you all.
The first portion of the Evil Willy’s experience took guests on a scavenger hunt throughout the main play area of Pretend City, which was fogged and lit as monsters lurked in shadows. Each group of guests had to actually locate a Golden Ticket before they could be admitted to the candy factory itself; a really fun idea that brought a great level of interaction and group participation to the event!
Once guests found the Golden Ticket, they presented it to the entrance of the candy factory – in our case, to a melancholy little girl, who stayed in character perfectly (we usually really don’t dig children in haunts – but she pulled it off and was creepy), granting us entry.
The haunt itself was filled with props fabricated by Scareventures, and we wound through the space as monsters jumped and interacted with us – giant lollipops and even a pie stand (a loving nod to Knott’s Berry Farm) lined the path, which we thought was great! And at the end, we came face-to-face with Evil Willy himself, wielding a chainsaw – a typical, classic way to end a walk-through haunted house!
I’m impressed by the tenacity of this group of haunters. I am. And I am frankly, amazed that they stuck it out to the end, given the constant uphill battle they had to endure with Pretend City all but crushing their production. Needless to say, Scareventures won’t be returning to the Irvine Spectrum any time soon with a new haunt. My personal recommendation to them is to stay near home base, which is in San Diego. For a city that size, there are relatively few haunts for people to visit – I think they could do very well there as long as it was a strong business decision and plan. Theme Park Adventure certainly hopes this team rallies and returns bigger and better somewhere in 2014, because we know their hearts are in the right place and they’re simply too talented not to continue.
Huge love to the Evil Willy’s crew – the heartbreak story of Halloween 2013, but a situation that can be turned around and used to not only strengthen Scareventures, but to perhaps keep new haunters from the same pitfalls of bad business in the future by way of example and relevant dialogue throughout the community.
Did you visit Evil Willy’s Candy Factory in 2013? What did you think? We want to hear your opinions and have TPAers discuss them below!
– Rick West