Norris Road Nightmare!
Talladega Frights returns this year bigger (and sicker!) than before - opening Oct. 2
Above: Talladega Frights' prescribes...AMPUTATION!
By Dana Martin, Bakotopia.com contributor
Photos by Aaron Ruth, Studio 13 Photography
What’s the difference between a haunted house and a house of worship?
Well, a lot, actually. But in October, guests of Talladega Frights in Bakersfield might just invoke the name of their creator in a desperate attempt to escape with their lives.
“Last year, we had two girls stop in our room, crouch down and start praying: ‘Lord, please help us get out of here safely!’” laughed Adam Stubbs, who plays the role of Bart Heywood, a maniacal chainsaw wielding hillbilly from somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains.
Taking a break from what has evolved into an almost 12-month job creating the haunt, Mike Wilbur, 34, Adam “Bart” Stubbs, 31, Jesse “Lester” Gutierrez, 26, and Keith Jensen, 46, sat down to describe what makes Talladega Frights, located at 6221 Norris Road, even more of an uncommonly all-consuming frightful experience than last year’s show.
Above from left: Talladega Frights' creators - Adam Stubbs, Mike Wilbur, Jesse Gutierrez, Keith Jensen.
“It’s more in your face,” explained Gutierrez, grinning at the other three men as they sat in the kitchen of “Hillbilly Hell,” one of four new areas in this season’s Talladega Frights, which opens Oct. 2.
“Last year we went after phobias: people who were afraid of clowns, of slasher movie characters, werewolves, corpses-whatever it may be,” said Jensen. “Last year it was whatever baggage you brought with you, your fear and your phobias … and you got to experience it.”
But this year, the haunt is 100 percent authentic Talladega Frights, and the scares and characters that guests encounter will make their experience horrifyingly interactive.
Above: A lil taste o' this year's Talladega Frights!
In other words, you get to participate in adrenaline pumping terror scenes and experience them for yourself because new this year are the “back stories” posted on the haunt’s Web site, TalladegaFrights.com.
The back stories will make guests feel like they’re part of the show.
“If you were watching a scary movie, you’d be watching (the horrors) take place. That’s one thing. But now, you’re not only able to know the “movie,” but you’re actually taking part in it, too,” said Wilbur. “When you walk into one of our themed areas, you have the history, and you’re walking into part of the storyline.
Horrible hillbillies await your partyin' presence at Talladega Frights!
“You’ll get to know the Heywoods, and you won’t want to walk through their house.”
A quick Google search reveals that many of the large, long-established haunted attractions across the nation provide these types of stories to describe fictional past events that made their attraction “haunted” to begin with.
Wilbur agrees with that philosophy.
“For those who want to maximize their experience, you need to read the stories,” he said.
In addition to Wilbur’s claim that his back stories will enhance guest experiences, the stories helped the crew during the building process, too.
“The mine was our bastard child,” laughed Gutierrez. “In the yard where we were building, it just sat there. The whole time we were building, we ignored the mine.”
“It took on a life the night the story was read to us,” remembered Stubbs.
“Now it’s my favorite,” grinned Wilbur as if he’d just admitted to loving one of his kids more than the others. “They’re all my favorite!” he clarified, laughing.
Wilbur had the basic ideas for each of the four themed areas and provided creepy details to incorporate into the stories.
Above: Mike Wilbur as a maniac miner.
“But I never mentioned blue cheese dressing!” (They all laugh-gross!-at the blue cheese element in the asylum story.)
In addition to the cannibalistic Heywood hillbilly house and Black Sally (the abandoned mine), the Green River Asylum and the Drakemore Hotel combine to create 23,000 square feet of unapologetic freakish fear at every turn.
It takes 65 actors to pull off a show this size, and the rooms ooze realism so the actors can do their thing.
When asked to describe what they mean by realism, the room erupts in laughter.
Above: Mason Folger as a whacked out doc!
“ … She asks, as she’s surrounded by skulls and skins,” teased Wilbur, sitting amongst the many horrifying props.
“Look at the pig head next to your note pad!” pointed out Gutierrez. (More laughter.)
“Every chance we get, we hit Adam on the head with a hammer to get more blood on the walls,” laughed Wilbur. “That’s realism.”
"We have improved the floors and ceilings. You’re walking on carpet or linoleum instead of dirt or asphalt,” added Jensen.
Wilbur explains that realism is making the sets look like the real thing.
“Back in their Appalachian swampland, we think - what would the Heywoods’ house look like? What would their kitchen look like? Then, we go looking for old antique furniture,” said Wilbur. “I drove down to Los Angeles to dig up a 1950s oven.
“We’re taking you back to 1950. We want you to experience the hotel that has been boarded up for years, the elevator, the bedrooms; we want to take you there. I will spend more money to make it authentic than anything else. I want you to feel like you’re in a real house, or an asylum-whatever.”
While the crew plans to change the haunt every year, they also hope to keep what works and build on it.
“The point is that we don’t want to be the same, we want to get better and add stories as we want to. This year, you will see two floors of the Drakemore Hotel. Next year, you will go to different areas of the hotel you couldn’t go in this year - maybe the elevator wasn’t properly working and you couldn’t go to all the floors. Next year, it will go to the floors you couldn’t go to this year,” said Wilbur.
This year’s haunt swallows up half of an acre, but the crew loves teasing Wilbur about his habit of downplaying the size of Talladega Frights and the length of time it will take guests to walk (or run) though the attraction.
“The bet is $50. I say it’s over 20 minutes; Mike says under 20 minutes,” announced Stubbs.
“I want in on that!” Gutierrez sits straighter and grows serious (money is involved now!). “I honestly think it will take over 30 minutes.”
Stubbs thinks for a moment, then agrees.
“There’s so much stuff to look at. You get scared so many times that you’ll take four steps backward for every five steps you take forward.”
-Haunting The Neighborhood (2008)
-Talladega Frights VS The Chamber (2008)
Talladega Frights is located at:
6221 Norris Rd. at Fruitvale-Norris Park
Follow them on Twitter.com/TFrights and join them on Facebook.
(Click on cover below to read classic digital issue!)
Also printed in Bakotopia Magazine, issue 64, 10-1-09