John Schwarz Jr. Q&A

by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"

Comment

 

Fear is one of the strongest emotions in a human being. It was only going to be a matter of time before someone would find the perfect venue for people to express that and have fun at the same time. In 1915, far off in the UK, there was the first recorded Haunted Attraction called the Orton and Spooner Ghost House. No one could've even predicted or forecasted that the Haunted House Attraction would ever become a booming industry! But alas, it would be a century later.

 

John Schwarz Jr. from Two Rivers, Wisconsin grew up with entertainment and creativity in his bloodstream! It was ingrained in his DNA! He would be part of a very elite, select group of people who are more dedicated to Halloween, horror cinema, and anything related. He would then find his way to working for a Haunted House, and would do so for many years until into his adulthood he would take that extra step in creating his own Haunted Attraction using a family owned marina as the perfect setting, and calling it Scare USA!

 

Having seen the birth and evolution of this unique Haunted Attraction myself, I would come to realize the full extent of John's passion for what he was creating and LITERALLY putting his blood, sweat, and tears into! What I find particularly exciting about Scare USA is how he utilizes the production value of everything that has already been in that building to the advantage of the Haunt! The atmosphere, the smells, the sights, the sounds! The other factor that makes it unique is how all of the sense are used to drive fear and fun into the victims, I MEAN, ahem, customers, that go through that 20 stroll of terror.

 

John and all the loyal volunteers who work at Scare USA take great delight in jangling and wreaking havoc with your nerves that can and Has already caused people to lose all sorts of bodily functions! When you walk out of that building you will be shaking as well as laughing, knowing you were not only terrified but also survive such a fun scary ride!

 

DCP:

Can you give us a brief origin story on about how you got involved and interested in working in the field of haunted houses?

 

JS:

What got me interested in haunted houses was just a loved for Halloween. I was actually inspired when I was a kid. My first horror movie was the first A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was lying on the living room floor, my dad let us "camp out" that night and we had a little sheet set up as a tent and I'd be peeking out watching the whole thing. And that was when I was really, really young. Probably about 5 years old, but that was when I started getting into the whole horror stuff. And after that it was really fun dressing up. I use to make paths in the yard with the leaves and we use to stuff dummies. We had an apple tree too on our property, and of course the apples that fell I'd be the kid that would stab evil faces on them and put them on the deck just for decoration for October. But that's what actually got me started in it because I like to design stuff like mazes with the leaves. I found a person who had a local haunted house who my mom was good friends with and she use to cut my hair. So that's what got me into the industry. And from there it just kind of grew into this huge thing, it's a business. But yeah it started when I was a kid, camping out on the floor, watching Freddy Kruger.

 

DCP:

You now run your own haunt, Scare USA. And have for 4 years now. At what point in your life did you begin thinking about starting up your own Haunted Attraction?

 

JS:

The day I started raking leaves, because we were grateful to have a big back yard, and I've always had connections with people. And I thought it would be cool to have like a haunted woods at the age of 8. That was before haunted house are what they are today. So I was already, in my mind, thinking of things like that an early age. But I really started taking it seriously at about 12 years ago, from like a business standpoint. It wasn't all just "We're here to scare, we're here to entertain." I love the business side of it. I have a blast doing the horror aspect of it but, the haunted house is blossoming into a haunt too. We dabble in films, we make costumes, so it's an all year thing. I think that's what started the whole haunted house thing, when I was a kid it started right then and there.

 

DCP:

What sets Scare USA apart from other Haunted Houses?

 

JS:

It's hard to compare us to other haunts. If you start getting compared to other haunts you're not doing your job. If other haunts start getting compared to you, then you're doing your job. And we've noticed that a lot of people are comparing other haunts to us. What separates us is just the way we interact with costumers. We want to understand what costumers want, so through out every year we try to enhance and perfect the weak areas, as does I'm sure every haunt, but we always set our bars really high. For only being open for 4 years, I mean I've been in the industry for a long time so, some people expect it to be this big massive show. And it's really not. In this Haunted House in particular we're lucky to be in the building we are, it's an old marina. So we incorporate that style, like the machines and what not. The stuff that use to make the marina go, that's all embedded within the Haunted House and in some of our sets. So that's what's unique about this Haunted House. And like I said we interact with costumers, we understand social media. We'll try and link all the things we do to social media so everybody can share and connect together. Because we really want to see your experience, and how you're enjoying it. I like to connect with people that way. 75% of our costumes are custom made. A lot of Haunted Houses do make up, we do a lot of masks. And we'll eventually get into the make up next year. But, we are also very fortunate enough to have talent here that can help create some of these custom costumes. And they are sick, they really are seriously amazing costumes. You'll never see them anywhere else. The costumers don't want to see the same thing in every Haunted House, they'll come to Scare USA because it's different. I mean it's hard to pin point what differences there are because we are classified as a new Haunt. But every year there's so much change, and people really notice that. And we listen to the costumers. But I would point to the detail, the costumes, and to our interaction with costumers. It's more than the average Haunt and we're going to keep building on that, growing bigger and better.

 

DCP:

Every year you bring in people to volunteer and work at the Haunt - What kind of criteria do you look for in the people you bring aboard?

 

JS:

Well one thing is we're not at the stage where we can hire people, we have to rely on volunteers. But I look for people who are dedicated, who have a passion for Halloween and horror, and anything kind of related. One of things I've observed this past season is that a lot of the people that volunteer here, a lot of us are introverts. But when we're here, we're in our element. And typically when an introvert is comfortable in their zone, they let loose and you don't realize that they can be closed off like that. I just notice a lot of us have that in common. And that's good because that's our outlet to express ourselves. I look for people who want to create things, who have this like hidden fire burning desire to just open up. A lot of people like to create costumes, or some people like to act. Some people just want to be involved. We have a couple of programs we're affiliated with, so maybe that's what they want to help with, so there's a lot of different outlets as far as if a volunteer wants to be a part of Scare USA. Backstage we got our ticketing system, our marketing, there's so many different ways people can help out. But what it really comes down to is that you have to have a fun personality, you got to be willing to just give it your all. If you're going to sit here and do 50% of something, you're not going to last very long. You just got to give your 100%, otherwise there's no point in doing anything. So if that's the kind of person you are, then that's the kind of people we want here. Not all the roles and responsibilities here are excessive and we're not trying to exercise you to the complete max, we do what you're comfortable with and we try to pull the best out of you. And if you're willing to learn some stuff, you're going to learn a lot here if you're open to that. And not just about Halloween and scary stuff, just in general, you can take some life lessons away from here. So it helps us, it helps you. It's a win, win.

 

DCP:

In the 4 years your Haunt has been up and running, what's the craziest or most memorable thing that has happened or that you've experienced?

 

JS:

I've had some pretty crazy experiences over the course of 18 years. In the last 4 years at Scare USA, I would just say the ups and downs with the city. That was a pretty dramatic experience. Not necessarily good or bad. It was just a, like I said, a pretty dramatic experience. I focus a lot of my attention on making sure costumers are happy, that they're satisfied. That volunteers are comfortable. So I guess a lot of times I don't pay attention to certain experiences. A lot of the actors, a lot of the staff here, they have their own stories. Last year we had, and this has never happened, this story floats around out there too; one of our actors scared a costumer so bad she severed her tampon in her crotch and half of it fell out. I found it in a hallway, and I couldn't find the other half. So I mean that a pretty interesting story. I never heard that happening before. This past weekend we had a busy line outside and I just felt like dressing up, and I get in those moods too. I wasn't meaning to come out and scare anybody at the time. So some guy was ready to come into the Haunted House, his group about ready to go in, and he saw my wig from my costume and be bolted outside, and so I thought "Well, what the hell." So I chased him. And what he failed to realize is that if you start running I'm going to chase you. And so he decided to corner himself right in front of the whole entire audience outside, in a spot where he couldn't escape. So I had him pinned for about 15 minutes, he couldn't go anywhere. It costs $15 a ticket and I gave him his $15 show right in front of everybody. I mean he didn't even have to go inside for that. So that was kind of fun. There's a lot of little memories that pop up, but majority of the memories happen in the off-season because everything leading up to opening night there's always a lot to do and I love to build, I love to create stuff. The preparation is what really gets me excited, and I remember most of my stuff, pre-show.

 

DCP:

What has been the overall response to Scare USA from customers, especially this year so far?

 

JS:

It's been different. Different from any of the Haunted Houses I've been hired on to work for. This is my brand of what I think horror should be. Scare USA this year, we listened to the customers from the past years, and we're really trying to enhance on true fears. And I'm not just talking about your typical phobias.  I'll sit down on the off-season with a lot of the volunteers and we'll study elements that legitimately scare people. And we do everything we can to incorporate that into the Haunted House. Some of the things that are coming out this year, like customer comments, I always felt like we had a really high standard to begin with. So we have to meet that standard. We get a lot of hype, especially online, which is great. And we execute when it comes to showtime. People are surprised at how good this Haunted House actually is. From the moment they walk in, the Haunted House is like an assault on your senses. And I say assault because it's not like this pampered up bullshit. Like the top 10 phobias, we go deeper than that. I mean there's so much detail in this Haunted House that is hard to pin point one little thing. You'd have to go through this thing at least 3 or 4 times just to see everything. Yeah we want them to pee their pants, but last week we someone puke, and if we can get that type of emotion out of somebody, it's a grand slam.

 

DCP:

Do you have any hopes for the future of Scare USA? And what can people, volunteers and customers alike, expect when they walk into your Haunt?

 

JS:

Obviously we'll keep on dabbling with the Haunted House industry, it's a great industry to be a part of. We're a little bit of national exposure, but we're just gonna keep on working our way up. We're not here to compete, we're not here to replaces any other Haunted Houses. We really just want to keep working on improving ourselves, we'll work with other Haunted Houses and Halloween events in the future. The future though for Scare USA and scareusa.com, there's so much potential. The brand of Scare USA, we got a lot to work with there. We've done some small independent films, we've done set decorations. There's potential there to keep working with films, and I'm not just talking about set design. We have a lot of actors here, we have a lot of people here that are truly talented. And it's unfortunate that the area we are in is not in a big city because if this was in a big city, most likely some of the people here would already be in some sort of a horror film. We're limiting ourselves here because of the size of the community. But, I always feel like you can do anything you want, wherever you want, you don't have to go to a larger city. Scare USA can stay located here in Wisconsin and still blossom. The goals, the next step would be headed towards the horror industry, and more less towards films. So maybe some day you'll see a film presented by or featured with Scare USA. That's just the direction that I would like the Scare USA brand to go. As far as what people can expect; I can't speak for the people that walk through here, because you never know what you have until the people tell you. You just hope for the best, you do your best. But they can expect a great show! Every night, the way the actors execute their scares, their performances are always top notch. You either come here because you're convinced it's good, or you come here because you've already had a previously good experience. We want to make sure that when you're here, your experience is good everytime. And if it's your first time, we want to make sure that, like I said, it's a grand slam. Because we want you to come back! What I love to do is to stay old school, stay original. Because you don't see that stuff enough. You can go to some of the biggest Haunted Houses, and they might have heavy detail, but I guarantee you're never gonna see a Haunted House like what we have here at Scare USA.

Phillip's interview with John Schwarz Jr.

For inquiries or scoops please contact us.

Dark Comedy Productions, LLC   ©2015  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED