There were no elves, snowmen or even a Santa Claus, frightening or otherwise. The only signs of the holiday season were a group of small Christmas trees and a few unfinished gingerbread houses. “A Very Scary Xmas” haunt didn’t appear very scary at all.
Instead of bloodcurdling screams, one heard the sound of bats hitting baseballs on a recent day at Play Like a Pro in Hauppauge, where the second annual Christmas-themed haunted house will be held tonight and Saturday, as well as Dec. 18 and 19. Owner Matt Guiliano wondered how everything will be set up in time.
“I stress out about it a lot,” Guiliano says. “Every day I’m calling, ‘There’s still a lot of work to be done back there, you sure it’s going to be ready?’”
Marty Arominski is Guiliano’s partner at Chamber of Horrors NY, which stages the haunted house. A crew of seven will work up until the haunt opens on Friday, when a group of 30 actors and various animatronics spread out across 35 rooms will frighten customers as they walk through the facility.
Set designer Oscar Gonzalez, whom Arominski brought in earlier this year, is in charge of setting the scene. Gonzalez says the key to a Christmas haunt, as opposed to a Halloween haunt, is to contrast the happier emotions elicited by Christmas with the scarier ones elicited by a typical haunted house.
“We keep it whimsical. When you get happy and very, very warm and comfortable, it’s easier,” Gonzalez says of scaring haunted house-goers. “We try to play with your mind.”
Makeup artist Stephanie Sabo, in her second year with Chamber of Horrors NY, agrees that it’s a more lighthearted show.
“You don’t want to be exactly same as Halloween where it’s more bloody and gory. It’s horror, but you have to have more fun with it,” Sabo says.
Arominski has no worries about getting ready in time because he believes in his staff. He says he felt validated in bringing Gonzalez on after hearing the reaction from customers at their Halloween haunt earlier this year. When Arominski asked people to compare last year’s show with this year’s, many noted the improved sets.
“We knew how to scare people, we could always make people jump. He came in and ... blew it out of the water,” Arominski said of Gonzalez’s impact.
Likewise, Guiliano says he’ll send pictures of makeup designs to Sabo to give her inspiration, and she’ll come back with her own version that looks even better than the photo.
“ will send her pictures of stuff. And you’ll see these pictures and think, ‘Oh God, that really looks good,’” Arominski says. “Then you see when she’s done it and he says, ‘Boy that picture really sucked,’ because she’s unreal. I learned to leave people like her and Oscar alone.”
So that’s what Arominski will do: Allow people like Gonzalez and Sabo to bring their imaginations to life on the walls of each room and the faces of each actor. They might have to work right up until the show begins, but they won’t mind.
“It caught me, now I’m trapped in here,” Gonzalez says of his work on haunted houses. “It’s like ‘Hotel California,’ you can never leave.”