My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Halloween Haunt 2014:
the terror gets intimate

"We do tests," explains Danusia Rogacki, "People try it out and we ask, 'Is this scary?' It's been very positive as in very negative, 'I don't want to do this again.' Which is just what we were going for."

Rogacki's official title is Area Manager - Technical and Event Services for Canada's Wonderland but she is also the inhouse art director and evil mastermind behind Wonderland's annual Halloween Haunt. In a previous interview, Rogacki admitted to getting a twisted pleasure out of making people scream in terror, but she also bemoaned her inability to get guests alone and helpless so that the scares could be ramped right up to the psychologically damaging.

This is the year it happens.

With every Fright Lane priority access pass, comes a new nasty little accessory: a Skeleton Key. "For five attractions it gets you into a special room," says Rogacki. "We get so many guests, there were 30,000 on one busy night, that they only get a two-second interaction with a performer and don't have the chance to be tactile, stop and touch things. And we don't get to put people in total blackness. We had to figure out what to do to deliver a total scare. With the skeleton key you'll be separated from your group." And the interaction will last agonizing, terrifying seconds, that may feel like hours of horror, longer.

"We're using special effects we've never done before," says Rogacki. "The skeleton key rooms play with your senses. We had the general manager try it out and they asked, 'Was that moving?' I designed it so I'm removed. And nothing really scares me any more. It scared me. It was very upsetting in a very good way."

For the record the five mazes with the skeleton key feature are Louisiana Scream, Streets of the Undead, Clowns at Midnight, Terror of London and Blood Shed. "We retired Mother Noose," says Rogacki, "and are bringing back Blood Shed. It's a barn feel maze. Instead of walking through zombies the decor guides you, rather than a wall it's a bale of hay or a fence. There's the smell of old wood and barrels. It's a nice maze to set up, it's real gory." 

The Clowns at Midnight, a personal favourite, has received more than just a fresh coat of greasepaint. "It's still UV light but a whole new layout," says Rogacki. "We have some new set pieces and new techniques. It's a bit easy, clowns are an archetypal fear like bugs or snakes but it's not really dark horror like Streets of the Undead. They're hiding, they jump out at you, but there's a playfulness."
Also notably new this year is the action inside the mountain just past the fountains of blood. "We've done a facelift on The Ruins and the Wonder Mountain's Guardian ride has an interactive zombie element. Instead of fleeing dragons you're fleeing a zombie apocalypse, it's very fun. The animation is extraordinary, it's like being inside a video game." Rogacki is excited to add a roller coaster element to a maze to create a dark ride. "I know where all the surprises are but it still makes me jump." 

Rogacki is deservedly proudest of the black and white - it has to be experienced to be believed - Sci-Fi House. "It's a passion project. It's more of a funhouse, a goofy 19501s Leave It To Beaver house with cheesy movie monsters. The detail is incredible, there's a cigarette pack of Lucky Strikes on a table, all the labels on the soup cans are set in the right era, we did custom wallpaper paint. I love showing that one off. Mom's in the kitchen but she's dazed and glazed because there's a brain slug sticking out of her head. I just think it's so funny."

Rogacki has high praise for her team, "We have great performers who have been with us for a long time. I say to them, 'I can create a really good environment but if they're not understanding it doesn't work for the guests.' In Terror of London they talk, vampires don't talk, in Clowns at Midnight they just have to be clowny. In Louisiana Scream there are springy boards. You don't really notice but it affects you. What do you put on the floor? Barn Shed has crunches like you're walking on insects. What smells do you incorporate? What do we need to add to take it to the next level? Just a bit of a change to transport you to another time or location." A time and location where the more frightened you are, the louder you scream, the happier the Halloween Haunt team is.

Halloween Haunt runs Fri, Oct 3 to Fri, Oct 31 at Canada's Wonderland, 9580 Jane St, Vaughan.