How I executed a 4-stage extermination process

Concept

After The Grotto, the structure had been left standing over the winter. However, when I went back in to clear up, I found something unexpected. Something had taken over. Something sinister. I needed to get help, so Pest Control had been called in to handle the case.

Pest Control, a secretive and powerful organisation, administered a 4-stage extermination process – 4 methods to ensure that nothing survives.

// Stage 1 | Fogging | Aerosolic Method

Plumes of airborne toxins fill the space to cause total asphyxiation.

// Stage 2 | Zapping | Electrical Method

Continuous pulses of germicidal UVC rays stun and disrupt the DNA base pairing.

// Stage 3 | Parasitizing | Biological Method

Blasts of air propel pathogenic viruses that harbour and attack.

// Stage 4 | Poisoning | Chemical Method

Sprays of pesticide poisons cause disintegration.

Most people expected the attraction to be about bugs and ‘creepy crawlies’, however it wasn’t. Guests exited the attraction realising it was actually about the Pest Control organisation and the experience of being exterminated by them, making them feel like the pests themselves.

Guests entering the attraction suddenly find themselves in the middle of the quarantine zone, with a sense that they’re not supposed to be there as signage and voice announcements exclaim the area is for access to authorised personnel only, and that the area is filled with toxic substances that pose a ‘serious hazard to humans’.

I wanted to make sure I took a step up from The Grotto, and I definitely did. As the scale of the project expanded so did the budget, with the overall money spent going up by 58% in comparison. I almost got in danger of taking on more than I could manage, but I had the opportunity to work with some talented people including a fellow graphic designer Josh Shaw who designed the signs for the Wall of Warnings theming piece.

I took a different approach to the way guests navigated the attraction. The Grotto saw everyone gathered around the entrance outside, whereas this one saw my living room used as a themed ‘holding area’ for everyone to wait and nervously cling on to their drinks, before being moved out into the garden and through the hazard tape queue line and entering the garage in groups of two. Not only did this manage the flow of people better, it added more theming to the overall attraction and I was able to split the experience into 3 separate stages.

Planning

I got to work on creating the brand for the attraction. The organisation’s identity was led by a bright green and pink colour palette, stamped by the triangle that encases the logo, accompanied by an array of organised and intimidating geometric symbols speaking in code for the certain elements of their extermination process. I wanted the vibe to feel a little less dark and rooted in classic horror, and have a more fantasy-military-esque influence.

Next I developed the layout. I laid out the floorplan by separating the space into 4 sections, one for each stage of the extermination process and strategically placing the two scare actors in areas designed for jumping out and scaring whoever scurries by, pest or guest.

Invited guests were sent a teaser video to introduce them to the attraction.

Props

Pest Control staff utilised props as part of their job. An air blaster did the parasitising (spraying peoples hair and the back of their necks with blasts of pressurised air), and water sprayers for the poisoning (seeing people get a spray of water to the face), each of which I decorated appropriately to match the theming and fantasy vibe.

The Space

Holding Room

The ground floor of my property was converted into a holding room, filled with smoke, dark lighting, the soundtrack with screen visuals and Pest Control staff standing around the room in a robotic manner, not moving or reacting to guests nervously question and assess them.

Outdoor Queue Line

Suddenly pushed back out into the bright daylight, this is where guests are surrounded by various elements of theming – branded tapestries nailed to the fence, a toxic waste bin overflowing with smoke, hazard warning signs and teasers for the 4 stages down the queue as it approaches their turn to enter.

The original concept for the garden was a huge dividing wall, separating the queuers from the exiters, making the experience feel more personal and without seeing everyone else’s reactions first. After attempting to put up this wall however, it quickly became obvious that it was not going to stand up without a supporting structure in place, especially when attempting to hang large-scale signage from it. This was out of my budget at this point and I ran out of time so I re-envisioned the garden. In the end the final layout worked better as people in the queue were able to absorb the theming more whilst being in the queue.

I also created a themed delay announcement that could be played through a speaker in case a problem happened inside. Luckily it was never needed (although I was tempted to stage a small delay just as an excuse to play it!)

The Maze

Upon entering you find yourself in a blocked off area decorated by hanging sheets draped in the now-familiar symbols, then standing on 2 UV X’s on the floor with a screen instructing you to wait. As the ambient music begins to be overtaken by a whirling siren, everything goes dark and silent for a couple of seconds before the pre-show begins. A brief video explaining the 4 stage extermination process that you are about to undergo is watched before instructing you to proceed to the right. As you navigate the corridors, firstly through an area of thick smoke (the fogging), secondly through a dazzling strobe-lit corner (the zapping), before turning the corner to where staff #1 sprays you with compressed air (parasitizing), you run through a partition before making the final turn where staff #2 squirts you with water (poisoning) and chases you out of the garage and back in to the bright outdoors.

After everyone had gone through and calmed down, the two Pest Control actors came out of the maze and everyone flocked around them to take selfies and they really did become the stars of the show. The Grotto shined with its ambient creepiness, whereas this one shined with the actors. This made me realise the significance of having a point of interest (be it actors, an effigy etc.), something ‘instagramable’, that makes guests want to take photos of it and with it, allowing the attraction to almost publicise itself on social media.

Staff

The original staff setup saw 2 actors hidden away inside the garage, myself as the host/operator and my partner as the photographer/videographer. However after I had a launch night cancellation from one of the actors I had to re-assess the placements. I decided to juggle both host and photographer roles. Whilst trying to do both at the same time wasn’t ideal, I actually found that all of the guests captured so much content, sharing it on their social media, that the guests themselves became my photographers for me.

Each member of staff was dressed in a boiler suit splashed with the familiar green and pink paint, with the two staff inside the maze wearing gas masks with matching coloured splashes.

As this is the first time having actors I wanted to make sure they really stood out, so I ended up dedicating 40.2% of my total costs on the actors along with their costumes in order to make them look official and sinister as I knew they would be the face of the attraction. The remaining expenditure went on the indoor and outdoor theming (56.9%). I had ideas to make t-shirts and other merch but due to time and money (or lack of) I spent just 2.9% of the cost on merchandise, which was, of course, on fridge magnets. I do have ideas to create a line of merch for Pest Control, The Grotto, and other future attractions, would you be interested in buying something?

Pest Control was a success, the buzz was infectious and operations were smooth. The finished results won’t always match one’s initial vision as obstacles and unforeseen circumstances force you to adapt and refine your ideas (I will talk about this more in an upcoming blog post on how to make a homemade horror maze!), but i’ve learned a lot from this experience and I’m already working on making the next one more deliciously horrific, sensationally horrendous and hauntingly unforgettable.

See Pest Control