DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - A narrow staircase leads to the underground dressing rooms of an 88-year-old Downtown theater. In a tiny room, with a small vanity table under an old mirror, a woman relives her death again and again.
A little further down is a hallway with a red and white diamond pattern. It doubles as a magician’s vanishing box, where decades ago a woman entered but never came back.
The only way out is through a dark opening. There, the blackness is enveloping, mentally and physically. Only after fighting through does one emerge at a ghostly bone-yard, where more horror awaits.
This is the Blumhouse of Horrors, and at this point visitors are not even halfway through a 40-minute maze of ghosts, demons and dark magic. It’s an extensive and impressive set-up at the Variety Arts Center from Jason Blum, the producer of horror films including Paranormal Activity, Insidious and the upcoming Sinister.
“I want people to be surprised,” Blum said of his goals for the Downtown venture. “I think people bring different expectations to a haunted house and I want to surpass those expectations and have them be surprised at how good it is, and tell their friends.”
The haunted house opens Thursday, Oct. 4, and runs through Nov. 3. Blum said he chose Downtown Los Angeles because he wanted to do it in a part of the city that has some history.
“Things are scarier when they have a past,” he said.
The 1,100-seat theater debuted in 1924 at 940 S. Figueroa St. It was built to generate revenue for the Friday Morning Club, a social group for women. It also hosted live radio shows.
In recent decades it was home to concerts and dance nights, with everything from hip-hop to the costumed gore band Gwar. The building was purchased this year by a company called Robhana Management Inc.
While the six-floor edifice has frequently served as a film location, Crystal Ogle, the property manager, thinks Blum’s take is a logical choice.
“It definitely fits in naturally as a haunted house,” said Ogle. “The building has so much character and so much to offer.”
Blum said he wanted to create a haunted house because it is another way to tell a scary story. He accomplished the task with a crew of about 30 people who have been working for four weeks to take five floors of the building back to the 1920s and ’30s and the heyday of vaudeville.
The theater is decorated in Victorian furniture and tricked out with swords, skulls, a circus wagon, old baby furniture, a “goat-boy” and dead animals. A cast of more than 40 actors will portray apparitions re-enacting their deaths and roaming the dressing rooms, basement, the stage and more.
The more than $70,000 worth of props came from the private collection of Thomas Edward Spence, who is the director and writer of the story that drives the haunted house. His wife helped design some of the sets.
“I want people to be running out of the rooms,” said Spence, who worked as Blum’s co-art director on Insidious.
For the Downtown haunted house, Spence penned a story in which the theater is the former home of a demented magician who often called on Satan. One night, the wife of the theater owner, Victor Butterfield, decides she wants to be part of the magician’s act. She climbs into his vanishing box and never reappears.
The theater was immediately shut down and remained that way for more than 80 years, until a crew arrives to build a haunted house.
The theater owner, still grieving the loss of his wife, returns and learns that the show is still going on.
Visitors who pay $29 will be taken through the theater in groups of 15, starting in the lobby. There they’ll see Victor Butterfield at more than 100 years of age still lamenting the loss of his wife. There’s an encounter with a dead stage manager, several ghosts and the vanishing box.
There are a number of surprises. There is also what Spence terms “the claustrophobic tunnel.”
“I don’t even know how to describe it. You just have to go through it,” he warns.
Going through is no simple matter. The walls are lined with a dark material that seems to be inflated with air, similar to the floor of a child’s bounce house. It creates a tight squeeze that visitors literally have to push through.
After that, things really get scary.
The Blumhouse of Horrors runs Oct. 4-Nov. 3 at 940 S. Figueroa St., blumhouseofhorrors.com.
Contact Richard Guzmán at email@example.com.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.