Halloween Haunted House

Ashley Kang and Esha Radhakrishnan

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While interviewing people who had just exited the Halloween-themed open house, The Prospector’s staff was abruptly interrupted by a concerned parent.

“Excuse me, but exactly how scary was the house?” she asked.

Having just finished running through the maze screaming, we hesitantly assured that her children would be able to tolerate the insanely detailed props and well-timed jump scares awaiting them.

“No, my kids already went through it,” she replied. “I’m just worried if I’ll be able to handle it myself!”

Decked in cobwebs, illuminated by mysterious video projections, and covered in homemade gravestones, the house on 19992 Rodriguez Avenue in Cupertino, Calif. continues its annual tradition of welcoming halloween-enthusiasts of all ages into its terrifyingly decorated, theme-coordinated scare zone. This year, the hosts transformed their living room and garage into an eerie DNA-hybrid laboratory, an interesting theme compared their previous ones: Ghostbusters, Indiana Bones, Wizard of Oz, Alice in Boneland, Aliens, It’s a Bug’s Life, Once Upon a Time, Circus, a Bank of Horror with a Subprime Torture Chamber.

To set up their popular attraction, homeowners Phyllis and Mike Schmit start their elaborate preparations early in the year.

“In the summer, we sit around and think of a theme we want to do. Then we start designing by planning the big attraction in the garage. We also try to have a lot of different little attractions that relate to our theme too,” said Phyllis Schmit. “This year’s theme was inspired by a picture I saw of a cat-woman hybrid. I really like cats so we just went with it.”

“We’re also including DNA-modified and artificial intelligence organisms,” added Mike Schmit, before being promptly hushed by Phyllis, who didn’t want to ruin the surprise. “Before you leave, we’ll give you an AI implant. It’ll make you smarter!” he said.

Their Halloween attraction has humble origins. “It all started when our daughter was in fourth grade. She wanted to do something scary for Halloween, so Mike built her a coffin. Every year, it just became bigger and bigger. Now we get over eleven to twelve hundred people per year,” said Phyllis.

Each year, the couple attempts to make all decorations using recycled or low-cost materials. “We avoid store-bought decorations and modify old props to go with the year’s theme. For example, we made dungeon doors out of styrofoam from our jacuzzi pool covers. Another time we used our broken dishwasher, cut a hole in it, put a skeleton on the top, and made it spray  glow-in-the-dark liquid,” Mike laughed.

While they use online or community resources to build the larger props for the house, the couple is also well-versed in handcrafting smaller accessories and detailed costumes.

As a software engineer and robotics mentor at Archbishop Mitty High School, Mike has a deep-set technical background. “Besides my workstation in the house, I go to the Tech Shop, a commercial place in San Jose. They have a whole bunch of tools and bandsaws, drills and routers that I can use to make stuff. For example, I milled engravings on styrofoam with the milling machines to make tombstones. The first ones we had were handmade with styrofoam and a soldering iron and it took a while to get it looking realistic,” said Mike. “But Phyllis is the real artist here.”

“I do all of the painting, designing, decorating and costuming around here,” beamed Phyllis. “I sew for youth theaters; in fact, last year I made well over a hundred costumes.”

Since starting the attraction in 1999, the couple say their favorite part of making the open house is giving back to the community. “We had a guy one time who moved away to Israel and happened to be here on Halloween for business and stopped by. He actually remembered our house years later, and it’s these things that make everything so much cooler. We’ve had kids who grew up here, moved away, came back, went through the house and told us how fun it was,” said Phyllis.

Current Lawson Middle School students Sophia and Jeongmin, who have attended years of Halloween festivities at the house, share their experiences.

“My favorite part is the very beginning where there’s this white wolf that follows you around. And the parts where creatures randomly moved, that was scary too. My brother told me that at the very beginning, the house used to be really scary, but as the years passed, it sort of downgraded in terms of scariness” said Sophia.

“But there are still a lot of jump-scares,” whispered Jeongmin.

Wren Turkal, who went through the house with her wife and child, speaks on the improvements made to the house, “There were wolves, people cutting things up and guts, it was all pretty cool. It was a little scary and longer compared to last year. It was also more interactive, I could grab guts and stuff, that was my favorite part. Also protecting myself from the wolves, that was fun too.”

For first timers like Anshuman, the experience was unforgettable. “It’s cool how a normal house can be transformed into something scary. The jump scares, lights, fog machine and the haunting sound effects were really wild; I’m gonna come back next year for sure!”

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