Halloween is just around the corner, and parks are preparing for the new season. The Spanish scream park Horrorland, awarded “Best Scream Park Event in Europe” by ScareCon Scare Awards, is hosting auditions to find new people to incarnate into the monsters that will inhabit their haunted houses.
This week, we visited the park to check the auditions for their fourth season and chat with directors David and Cristina about the pandemic, their creative process, the scare attractions industry and more!
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Alex: This year, guests will be able to experience the same 6 houses as last year, some of them with a 2.0 version. Despite that, the park will have a new “haunted game”, a new after party, new shows and entertainment. It’ll be the first year after Covid, so no social distancing and no masks. What’s the thing you’re most excited about to restart after all those years?
Cristina: This year it will be like going back to 2019. No masks, no restrictions, people will be able to go on the experiences with their party as they wish without social bubbles, so we’re going back to normal. Last year we built the park on this new location in record time, and this season we have the park we wanted. I think this year is going to be a very good year.
David: Also, this year we’ve been able to bring new animatronics. We have a new ride, the “haunted game” which we haven’t revealed yet, and I think it will give people plenty to talk about. This year will be special, only for the fact of seeing the expressions and faces of the scare actors, and that people will be able to roam around freely without surgical masks, I think that’ll bring this extra point of fun. Lots of people ask “Why do you have the same houses as last year?”, and that’s because a many people were not able to experience them due to limited capacity last year.
C: In fact, the public will see almost brand-new houses, because the actors won’t wear surgical masks. Imagine the inmates in our prison screaming at you, it won’t be the same!
A: And even the scare actors will be able to see the reaction of the guests, which I guess will provide positive feedback for them.
C: They’re so excited about that!
A: We will have fewer masks and more make-up then?
C: Using masks was not a thing about covid, there are a lot of scare actors that wear a mask. But imagine wearing their monster mask on top of a surgical mask. This year we’ll have a team of make-up artists, so we’ll definitely be able to step up our game now that we won’t have to wear surgical masks.
A: Recently I saw a tweet from Rob Yeo and I loved how he summarizes the meaning of a haunted house. He says the following:
What do you think about that?
D: After all, we’re not only giving a job to our actors, but to all the sectors involved. People who have never been an actor can try being a scare actor, which is somehow easier, but also dancers, technicians, carpenters, electricians, all the construction team, people who work with props and latex…
C: One thing I really like about what he says, is that terror has always been trivialized a little bit. We’re used to cheap masks and cheap fabrics for the costumes. So I love that Rob has made this description of what a horror experience comprises. Of course, he’s talking about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, which is an impressive event and an inspiration for us. I won’t have a small event as a model, I’ll have the biggest one. We always say that we try to make Disney and Universal with the budget we have, but our model always has to be very on top. I think that we achieve, within our budget, all of those elements Rob talks about, and we try to carry them out and create something truly worthwhile. I think dignity is something we try to give to terror.
D: The point in our favor to all that is that when we went to the ScareCon Awards ceremony in the UK, people were wearing our t-shirts and hoodies. Imagine that, Halloween is their tradition and they chose you, when our local tradition for celebrating All Saints’ Eve is an old lady who sells chestnuts!
C: We felt very respected and loved because sometimes you feel like you’re invading their tradition and bringing it to your country. But the truth is that every year, more people come from abroad and they love the experience. That makes you feel so realized.
D: It’s beautiful because you feel that people adore your work and respect and admire you, and they let you know. I feel there’s a lot of sportsmanship there, they’ve been doing that for more than 30 years. So when they see that a group of Spaniards who have no idea of Halloween are capable of creating something like Horrorland, they are amazed by that. They come here and visit us just like we visit them and we learn from one another. But it’s the same with theme parks, you might go to a small park that manages to move you more than bigger parks, because they have that something. With so little, they managed to make me feel things I would never have expected. So it’s up to us, with our inventiveness and limited budget, to make an interesting product.
We put so much effort into making our guests enjoy, trying to give what we would like to find.David Moreno
A: In my opinion, you feel respected by them but because you are tremendously respectful to them and what they’ve been doing. It’s mutual.
D: The thing is that this is our life. Cristina and I don’t have children, Horrorland is our child. Everything leads to Horrorland. A businessman can create a Halloween event, then a Christmas one and then an Easter one, and they start with a budget and they give the same value to each one.
C: We start asking ourselves “What do we want to do?”, and then we see if we can manage to do it. I think Horrorland has a soul.
D: People need to know where they’re coming to. We are like an old lady that opens the doors of her kitchen and says “Look, we cooked this for you and I hope you enjoy it”, because our goal is to make people enjoy, and that’s the success of Horrorland. We put so much effort into making our guests enjoy, trying to give what we would like to find. We treat our staff well, we’re like a family.
A: You’ve won the “Best Scream Park Event – Europe” at the Scare Awards over events with more budget like Traumatica, and “Best Entertainment” over referent events such as Tulley’s Shocktoberfest. What would you say the strength of Horrorland is?
C: We always say that Horrorland can be done thanks to the team we have. We are making this edition possible thanks to the support we have from them. Our team is family, and the soul of the park. That’s the most beautiful thing about all this.
D: We think of Horrorland as the Christmas dinner where you gather all your family together. Even on each haunted house, you can see that they found this bond on something such as being a terror fan. People so different have found something in common. They found friends and even a partner here. It’s like a healthy cult. We feel so supported, a that’s why this project holds up. We have so many people beside us. Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder, has this beautiful book titled Creativity, Inc., where he says his company is like a giant pyramid, but upside down. He’s holding the tip of the pyramid so that everything above doesn’t collapse. You must constantly do juggling acts so that everyone is comfortable, and clear it of bad things happening so people are on a nice, healthy, creative work environment. That’s the most important thing for us.
A: How does the creative process of a haunted house works at Horrorland, from the first idea to the final execution?
D: I think inspiration comes from working. Travelling a lot, looking at things other people do, and from there you realize how good things are.
C: Sometimes a simple wardrobe can give you an idea for an experience.
D: Yeah, if I mix this wardrobe with this other thing and then that other thing… Then you put that in common, and someone tries to add something else. “What a great idea!” you think. But then you feel that whole thing is useless, you throw that into the bin and you end up with something else.
C: I think that the creation of all this starts with explaining it to our closest people because you see the reaction from them. We love hearing feedback. We’re not an artwork and engineering guys, we go all out. David and I usually do the creative work, then we have our technical team that have to execute it. Or at least discuss how we can manage to do it.
A: That’s the difficult part, to bring into reality all of those ideas!
D: Our technical director is amazing. We share what we want to do with him and he always figures out how to do it! Logically we get inspiration from other parks, movies, video games and tons of other stuff. We don’t hide that, we have references from all around.
C: But inspiration is not about grabbing something and changing it, it’s about creating your own idea from a little thing. There are so many things that can lead you to inspiration! We don’t like copying other things that already exist.
A: And I think your guests can feel that, you exit Horrorland having experienced things you’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s not your usual theme park haunted house.
C: Yeah, a regular haunted house our public might have experienced is normally comprised of different non-related scenes that might be different movie scenes, like The Exorcist, Frankenstein, zombies… What we do here is that each haunted house tells a story.
A: That’s what I like about them, you can say that they have an introduction, body and ending.
C: I think that’s important. If you only have one haunted house you might want to include as many things as possible, that’s a thing Pasaje del Terror did. But as we have different haunted houses, we’re able to play with that.
We feel very respected and loved because sometimes you feel like you’re invading their tradition and bringing it to your country. But the truth is that every year, more people come from abroad and they love the experience. That makes you feel so realized.Cristina Raya
A: It’s interesting to see the evolution of Horrorland, because the pandemic was a hard time for you…
C: Yes, our third season, the 2020 one, was 100% ready to open with the corresponding investment in pandemic requirements such as masks, cleaning, hand hygiene… But due to new restrictions, one week before opening we were forced not to celebrate the event. It was a tough year, the death of Horrorland really.
A: But then, the next year, in 2021, you moved to a new location and build 6 new haunted houses and a park from the ground up!
C: Yes, we had 4 months to build everything from scratch. The opportunity came up and we had to decide between killing the project or fight one last time to bring it back to life. And thanks to our people, we were able to make it. We dedicated ourselves to the project. I’m so proud of it but, when I think about last year, it gives me anxiety. We’ve been able to rise the park from the dead, and now we have to take care of it as much as we can because we own it to the people who made that effort with us.
A: One last question, what’s your favorite detail or easter egg nobody has seen but you know about it?
C: I think this year we’ve been able to do something last year couldn’t and that’s Cannibal, our exterior haunted house. I got injured while working on its construction and I couldn’t finish it. This year, people will see Cannibal finished. I think people will enjoy it a lot this year.
I would like to thank Didac for inviting us and Cristina and David for having a moment to chat with us. See you at the park real soon!