The two families that started the Dunbar Haunted House were still taking down their elaborate sets in the middle of December last year. A short time later, they started building their disturbing displays for 2013, the final year for the Vancouver Halloween institution.
“We’ve basically become old farts,” said 47-year-old teacher Brad Leith who started the attraction with stylist, painter and filmmaker Gideon Flitt, nurse Annamaria Spanier and dentist Sakura Iwagami.
Leith can’t believe the haunted house that swelled from 100 visitors in 2005 to more than 15,000 in 2010 lasted in deepest Dunbar as long as it did, until it moved to a Marpole warehouse in 2011.
When Leith and friends bought their Dunbar home near West 48th Avenue, he figured it was time to be a responsible adult, which meant shovelling snow, planting a garden and entertaining children at Halloween.
He was disappointed with what he discovered.
“Halloween had kind of gotten cutesy,” said Leith. “We grew up, you made your own costumes and the point of Halloween was to scare.”
In 2006, Leith and his housemates spent several weeks decorating the front of their house with scrap materials, Halloween props, masks and costumes and at least three live spooks. They noticed that of the up to 600 people crowding their yard, few were children. Instead, it was mainly visitors aged 30 to 60.
“As you get older and older it gets harder and harder to be emotionally spontaneous,” Leith said. “Part of being responsible is having your emotions in check. You can’t be freaking out and acting in distress all the time… So it’s really fun for adults to put themselves in a position where they’ll actually scream. They’re screaming at paint and latex… or they’re startled, something comes out, they know something’s going to come out, but they still end up screaming.”
One of their visitors in 2006 suggested they establish a donation box and they easily collected $3,000 for the firefighters Burn Fund.
Last year, they raised $63,000 for three charities. Visitors this year will tour the Terror of History. “When we started out, we would just do, like, werewolves, vampires, zombies and there’d be no rhyme or reason,” Leith said.
This year’s haunted house progresses from horrific scenes in the ancient past to the future. Sets include an Egyptian necropolis, a Greek tragedy, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, sorcery, the Plague, piracy, a monster’s ball, an asylum and the Apocalypse.
The monster’s ball has been a hit.
“There are werewolves and vampires dressed up in regal Mozart-style clothing and they all have masquerade masks on,” Leith said. “They’re sitting around with glasses of blood and chatting.”
The haunted house includes dummies mingled with live actors who play hide and seek with nighttime visitors. Weekend daytimes are actor-free to make the attraction more child-friendly. Leith is proud to have organized a low-priced, community-minded event for 10 years. He recalls more fundraising events hosted by regular people when he was younger, but says permits, regulations and expenses related to heightened safety concerns make planning such affairs unwieldy now.
Leith remembers one woman thanked them for having a place in her neighbourhood where she could “burn two hours” with her kids for pocket change when the Haunted House ran by donation in Dunbar.
“Now if you want to go to the Pumpkin Patch, Aquarium, it doesn’t really matter where you go, nothing’s free anymore, nothing’s really relatively inexpensive,” Leith said.
For more information, see dunbarhauntedhouse.com.