Scaring People is All About Timing | An Interview with Reign of Terror Creator Bruce Stanton

The Reign of Terror (ROT) Haunted House has existed in one form or another since 2000. Originally a Halloween tradition at the Thousand Oaks home of Bruce Stanton, in its 20-plus year history it has grown to become one of the area’s largest and most famous seasonal attractions. The sets are as elaborate as anything you might find at, say, Universal Studios . . . and possibly more frightening. Thousands flock to its location at the Janss Marketplace in Thousand Oaks every weekend in October to walk through its complex of over 100 rooms covering thousands of square feet, getting terrified out of their wits with every step. Because for some, life is no fun without a good scare.

This is a busy time of year for the haunted house master builder, but Stanton was gracious enough to answer some questions for the Ventura County Reporter via email, and share a little bit about ROT and the art of scaring.

VCR: ARE YOU FROM VENTURA COUNTY ORIGINALLY?

Bruce Stanton: No. I was born in Culver City, raised in Danville, California. Currently I live in Moorpark after living in Thousand Oaks for 20 years.

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS AREA?

I moved to Ventura County in 1997. I loved the community: All the benefits of Los Angeles with a slower pace of living.

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND? HOW DID YOU LEARN TO DO ALL OF THOSE AMAZING THINGS THAT WE SEE AT REIGN OF TERROR?

I am a sales rep in the dental implant business; that has been my career for 25 years. The haunted house is just a passion. That is why we are a nonprofit, raising money for the teen center and the theater group of the Conejo Recreation and Park District.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST START CREATING HAUNTED ATTRACTIONS? 

Reign of Terror started at my house in 2000.

WHAT WERE THE EARLY ATTRACTIONS LIKE?

Quality and detail has been the goal from day one. Although it used to be smaller, the quality and the detail were the same. While we don’t use much of it, there are still some items and walls that we used at my house 20 years ago.

HOW DID YOUR ART FORM DEVELOP INTO REIGN OF TERROR? HOW DID IT GROW AND EVOLVE?

The big difference is our budget. We have gone from $5,000 a year in the early years to well over $50,000 now.

WHEN DID YOU MOVE TO THE JANSS MARKETPLACE?

We moved to the Janss in 2009, into a 4,000-square-foot shoe store. The next year we moved to the 31,000-square-foot space above Gold’s Gym. We were there for 10 years, and in 2020 we moved to the old Marshalls space, which is where we are now (about the same size).

Our new space is on the ground floor and there are great advantages to that. Most importantly, we can utilize larger props because we have better access to the space. When we were upstairs, everything had to fit through a standard single door of 36 inches.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE CREW THAT HELPS YOU BUILD REIGN OF TERROR. HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED?

There are six people that create the Reign of Terror. All people just like myself that love to be creative and love Halloween.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO PUT THIS TOGETHER?

The haunted house never stops; it is a year round operation. From planning to building and construction, it can take up to a year.

 DO YOU LIKE HAUNTED ATTRACTIONS YOURSELF? WHAT DRIVES YOU TO MAKE SOMETHING SO SCARY?

We are all big fans of haunted houses and we travel the country to see the best. We love to see what other people are doing. It is not to be scarier, but to be overall better.

 DO YOU WATCH A LOT OF HORROR FILMS? WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITES?

I love the classic horror: Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street.

When you’re designing a haunted attraction, what kinds of challenges do you face? What are the biggest problems, and how do you solve them?

For years we just kept building because we had so much space. Now the challenge is removing the old and creating the new. We always want to up our game and make things more impressive and memorable. Again, being on the ground floor, we have better opportunities to make this happen.

HAVE YOU EVER CREATED SOME ASPECT OF REIGN OF TERROR THAT DIDN’T GO OVER WELL? MAYBE SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE FOUND COMICAL OR GOOFY RATHER THAN SCARY? OR SOMETHING SO FRIGHTENING OR UPSETTING THAT YOU THOUGHT, “HMM . . . THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A MISTAKE”?

Fortunately NO. And I give thanks to the team and our research. Scaring people is all about timing, and timing in the real world can be a challenge. Because we have grown, some nights are a lot busier than others, so those scares might not be as effective.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST MEMORABLE REACTIONS YOU’VE HAD TO REIGN OF TERROR? 

When people fall to the ground. It never gets old.

How different is the Reign of Terror from year to year? 

We make sure that we change and add enough that the super fan will be happy. That is our goal. The haunted house is so huge that a person could go through three times and see new things every time. Half the people who attend the haunted house have never been before.

DO YOU HAVE A WAY TO GAUGE WHAT IS AND ISN’T SCARY OR DISTURBING (IN GENERAL) FOR PEOPLE WHO WALK THROUGH THE REIGN OF TERROR? WHAT DO YOU FIND THAT ATTENDEES RESPOND TO THE MOST?

We always laugh about how some of the easiest things are the most memorable. The black room with the dots on the walls scares more people than our most elaborate $5,000 sets.

WHERE DO YOU GET THE INSPIRATION FOR NEW DESIGNS AND SETUPS? 

We have 10 unique themes and we try to add new themes so the options are endless.

WHAT’S NEW FOR REIGN OF TERROR ATTENDEES THIS YEAR? 

The new attraction in Unhallowed Ground.

LEVEL WITH ME: JUST HOW SCARY IS THIS? 

That is an impossible question. We don’t build the haunted house to just be scary. We want everyone to have a great time. And if that is you getting scared, that is great. If that makes you laugh at the detail and the sets, then we are happy with that as well.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT BUILDING THE REIGN OF TERROR ATTRACTION? 

Seeing our ideas come to life. I can honestly say that every time we finish a new set of a new room, it always looks better than I first imagined.

WHAT ARE SOME THINGS ABOUT REIGN OF TERROR THAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS THAT WE HAVEN’T TOUCHED ON HERE? 

Our biggest goal is to make sure that  everyone has a great time. If that is scaring them, making them laugh or amazing them with our detail and creativity, that is our goal.

SOMEONE WHO DOES THIS FOR A LIVING MUST BE REALLY HARD TO SCARE. WHAT, IF ANYTHING, FRIGHTENS YOU?

That is not true at all. The cheapest scare is the air cannon that blasts air at your ankles; gets me all the time. Scaring people is all about building up anticipation. The more your anticipation builds, the easier it is to scare someone. It is all about timing.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT? 

Figuring out what we will do next and getting ready for our super popular Ho Ho Ho Horror Christmas event. Halloween is becoming way more year round than ever before.

From vcreporter.com. Click here to read the full article.

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