Halloween is a big deal in Southern California. There are immersive Halloween theater experiences, spooky pop-up eateries, horror movie festivals, and hundreds of amateur and professional haunted houses scattered across the region; theme parks like Disneyland and Six Flags put on huge Halloween events. In the weeks leading up to October 31, it would be completely possible for a person to do multiple Halloween activities per day and never run out of options—and indeed, some people do.
In 2020, due to restrictions on in-person gatherings and official recommendations against trick-or-treating, the majority of the region’s spooky offerings were either scaled back, or canceled altogether. “COVID really restricted what was available to see last year,” said Daniel Nix, who works in the animation industry in Los Angeles. “There wasn’t a lot to do other than drive up and see yard displays.”
This year, for the most part, Halloween is back—and superfans like Nix are trying to soak up as much of it as possible. “My entire weekends are spent running around, checking out as many things as I can,” said Nix, who estimates he’ll have visited around 100 Halloween events and attractions by the end of the season. “When I get out of work, I run out and see if there’s anything close by that I can make it to in time.”
A scare actor gets into costume backstage at the 17th Door haunted house in Fullerton, California.
In addition to visiting Halloween attractions, many enthusiasts build elaborate haunts at their homes, with custom-built structures, scare actors in prosthetics, and homemade animatronics. Some haunt builders I spoke to told me they were putting in hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars; others said they had spent months studying robotics on YouTube to improve their haunts.
Drew Rausch, a comic book artist building a haunt called The House of Heebie Jeebies in his Pasadena, California front yard, told me he’s taken time off from his job to concentrate on his setup. “I took all of October off from any work stuff,” he said. “It’s not a pop-up thing. It’s a time suck from everything.”
Some fans also work in the industry of Halloween-related stores, attractions, and events that crop up during the month of October. “Literally since I was a child, [Halloween has] been my one fascination,” said Gloria Haro, who spends the season working as a professional scare actor.
Halloween enthusiast Nate Collins works on his home haunt, Haunt 223, in Monrovia, California. Collins estimates he puts hundreds of hours into building the haunt. “Sometimes my friends come over and help,” he said. “But it’s hard for me to project what I want to do to other people. So I usually build this whole thing pretty much by myself.”
Haro has been working the annual Halloween event at the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park for 19 years. This year, she’s performing as a ghostly bride who jumps out to scare visitors in the park’s old West-themed area. “I love that feeling of power,” she said. “I love feeling as though I’m immersing somebody into a situation that you would think would never happen.”
Halloween fans Soledad and Louis Spooner got married after meeting at a haunt they both worked at in Texas about a decade ago. Since 2015, they’ve been traveling to Fullerton, California once a year to work as scare actors at an “extreme haunt” called the 17th door. Unlike other haunts, the 17th door subjects visitors to things like electric shocks, submersion in water, and live cockroaches.
“What sets [the 17th Door apart from other haunted houses] is it’s not a conga line-type maze,” said Soledad. “[Visitors] have peed themself, they’ve shit their pants, they’ve had full-on panic attacks,” added Louis. “They think the waiver thay have to sign is a scare tactic. Absolutely not.”
Actors get their makeup applied at the 17th Door.
Scare actor Gloria Haro at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.
Stephen Taylor works on his home haunt, Ghostwood Manor, in Pasadena, California.
Steve Biodrowski, who runs the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy blog Hollywood Gothique, takes a photo at the Icons of Darkness exhibition in Hollywood. “We do stuff all year round, but Halloween is definitely the busiest time of year,” said Biodrowski, who thinks he’ll visit “around three dozen” Halloween attractions over the season.
A scare actor at Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park, California.
A scare actor chats on the phone during a break at the 17th Door.
A helper paints a spooky roof panel at the House of Heebie Jeebies home haunt in Pasadena, California. “It’s Halloween 365 [days a year] out here,” said the haunt’s creator, Drew Rausch. “We have tombstones in [our] hallway, caskets in the living room.”
Kirk Higgins positions an animatronic witch in his front yard in West Covina, California. He has been building elaborate home haunts since the late 80s.
A scare actor backstage at Knott’s Scary Farm.
A wardrobe manager helps scare actor Joe Filippone into his “elevator gimp” costume at the 17th Door.
A storage crate backstage at the Haunted Hayride in Los Angeles.
Keith Kaminski works on a display in his front yard in Burbank, California.
An animatronic mummy at the Haunted Hayride.
A homemade mask in the workshop of Kirk Higgins.
Props backstage at the 17th Door.
Lilly Hall, a historical residence in Toluca Lake, California adorned with hundreds of pumpkins.
A 3.3 million gallon storage tank painted to look like a jack-o’-lantern at the Philips 66 oil refinery in Wilmington, California.