The making of the the first horror attraction by The Joy Sequence that put everyone on the naughty list.

The birth of The Grotto

I’ve always been fascinated by theme parks and the themed attractions industry. How they can take people to a temporary place, thrill them, scare them, but have them come out laughing at the other end and buy jumpers and fridge magnets of the very thing that terrified them seconds earlier.

Bringing my own vision for attractions into reality, I knew I could frighten people to hysterics and then make them buy the fridge magnet. I’ve just never had the place or the means to do it beyond turning the light off in my old bedroom and throwing confetti at my little sister whilst shouting boo.

This year I moved into my own house, with a garden, a garage – an empty garage much bigger than that old bedroom. It just so happened that I was having all of my family visiting over Christmas for a jolly and wholesome festive gathering, I saw my first opportunity, and The Grotto was born. Poor them.

Creation

Bearing in mind that the garage space is relatively small by common attraction standards standards, I needed to get absolutely everything out of every square inch of the room to maximise the experience. Places seem a lot bigger when you’re scared and can’t see them properly, so I used this to my advantage. Storytelling is an important aspect in bringing an attraction to life for me, so I needed to give this story, depth, and not just have a dark garage to throw confetti at my now-not-so-little-sister and shout boo.

To start, I began by analysing the space, coming up with a simple walkthrough layout that maximised the room, before stitching about 72 bin bags together to make walls and walkways. In the meantime I made sure everyone knew that something was coming, without letting them knowing too much. The attraction was not advertised as “EXPERIENCE THE SCARIEST EXPERIENCE YOU WILL EVER EXPERIENCE ETC.’, but more of a subtle little, “8 days to go” video with some sleigh bells and a haunting jingle accompanying the unsettlingly foreboding font of The Grotto logo.

I signposted that it is an ambient attraction that does not use jump scares. I didn’t want guests to expect a jump scare and experience an anticlimactic ending when there wasn’t one. This allowed people to get that out of their mind and pay attention to what was actually happening.

layout and special effects placement

The Theme

I wanted it to be Christmas themed to keep it relevant to the gathering (and to keep people interested in going in to whatever horror I was going to make it become). After some exploring into themes I decided to base it on the Krampus, a story of real folklore (Google it for more understanding and some lovely pictures). It’s basically this half-goat half-demon creature that punishes those at Christmas who have been bad (and gives everyone a cracking excuse to get drunk in Germany where it’s apparently prominently celebrated (again, Google it)).

The Experience

Dressed in our Grotto t-shirts, myself and my partner played the part of the hosts, leading everyone inside in their chosen pairs and closed the door firmly shut behind them as their experience began. We wouldn’t see them again until they found their way out, laughing, shocked, and that’s just the reaction I had intended to craft. Everyone next in line wanting to know what’s in there, and everyone coming out wanting to keep it secret.

The experience starts by entering the first corner of the garage (ahem, Grotto) where you’re told to sit down. Each and every guest that entered exclaimed “Sit down?! What do you mean sit down?!”. The nervous laughter began. 

After waiting alone for a handful of seconds with nothing but suspense and creepy christmas jingles to keep you company in the dark, the pre-show introduces itself. You’re told through a menacing voiceover and slightly disturbing child-like drawings that the Krampus visits those who have been bad. He explains he punishes the misbehaved, brings hell to the unworthy, and it’s your time to find out what you deserve.

An arrow on the screen instructs you to begin your journey through the maze by walking through the first partition. You enter a misty corridor where the silhouette of the Krampus head stares at you from the back wall, back-lit with a looming red light, and its details becoming more and more clear as you approach it through the haze. 

Around the corner, things start to get a bit dramatic. Music begins to intensify, fans blow at you, streamers hanging from the ceiling attack you in the wind as you navigate the next few narrow winding corridors. Blinding strobe lights illuminate nothing but the thick fog in front of you for a useless fraction of a second. 

As you approach the final corridor, you’re greeted by a full life-sized skeleton and a lowered ceiling that you have to fight past in order to break out through the exit.

To wrap up The Grotto experience, I gifted everyone with… can you guess it? A fridge magnet. They also got a photo booklet of them outside the attraction with some ‘Did You Know’ facts.

Reflection

From different brands of bin bags not matching up, a painted Krampus head prop that wouldn’t stick to the wall until I tried milk bottles and Gorilla tape, mother nature kindly deciding to blow gale force winds on the night before the soft launch bringing my gazebo entrance plummeting to the ground, pre-production was no breeze (no pun intended).

The Grotto gazebo in pieces

I last-minute fashioned a new Grotto entrance by sticking the wind-dismantled poles of the gazebo into the ground and forming a queue line lined with fairy lights, finished by hanging the tarpaulin as an entrance wall which guests must walk through. And it looked so much better that way.

The Grotto final gazebo

The launch night was a huge success. More than I had hoped for. The atmosphere was buzzing. The creepy jingling outside coming from a speaker I’d hidden. The strangely non-cold December nigh. The lights. The smoke seeping from the Grotto. The genuine anticipation in the air from all my family that had no doubt that I had most probably created something that would terrify them. They had no idea what the were queueing up for, with the only hints being the two teaser videos I released, some information signs, and The Grotto logo staring them in the face as they waited their turn.

And that’s how I got all of my friends and family on the 2018 Naughty List.

See The Grotto