Episode 107- Haunted House Designer Leonard Pickel

Isolating in place and self-quarantining has been difficult, but necessary, for everyone. But there’s one affected group that comes to mind particularly as we get closer to Halloween — ghosts that haunt houses. Think of it. Generally, haunted houses get a break from their current homeowners at some point during the week, whether it’s when the living are off at work, at a restaurant, going to a movie, or visiting a local swinger’s club. But with responsible people staying home, the ghosts have to deal with Bob and Susie Homeowner ALL THE TIME. Now when Susie runs into a Civil War surgeon on her staircase, is she like, “What is with this guy?” And does Surgeon Sideburns stand at the top of the aforementioned staircase thinking, “How many times can one couple watch Jurassic Park on TNT?”

Clearly, things are different in the world of haunted houses in 2020. But our listeners will be happy to know that there is still someone out there working to scare the bejesus out of them through the haunted attractions he designs. For this week’s episode we spoke with Leonard Pickel, an accomplished creator of epic scares.

Leonard knows exactly what scares people and how to accomplish it. The seeds were planted for his career, as so many of them are, by a disappointing church youth group trip to a haunted house. Passing dozens of people going up and down the same stairs to enter rooms filled with “gut” spaghetti doesn’t exactly instill fear. Unless, of course, you think of all the fire codes being ignored with that clogged staircase. That’s the scenario Freddy Krueger tortures fire marshals with in their dreams.

Leonard graduated from college ready to be an architect, but fate had other plans. Tune in to hear about how his college and post-college experiences led to the world of freelance haunted house-ing. It’s also very clear that his background in architecture has influenced not only his attraction designs, but also the analytical way he approaches each job.

Seriously, if you think all that goes into staging a haunted house is decorating a room and hiring some randoms to jump out at people, you are going to the wrong haunted houses. We mean we hope you’re going to haunted houses on purpose, as fun attractions you pay for — and not going to that old Queen Anne mansion at the end of the street. Something bad went down there a long time ago involving an interrupted wedding and a killer on the loose…

From blueprints, to staging, to crowd flow, our talk with Leonard revealed all sorts of aspects to haunted attractions that go far beyond simple jump scares. And he should know what works and what doesn’t — he’s been in the business for decades and has created some really popular attractions. Have you ever been to Universal Studios for Halloween? Then you might have seen some of Leonard’s work. Or do you remember that graveyard you walked through on the tennis court of the Playboy Mansion? That was Leonard, too. And we think we saw you at that party. (We won’t tell anyone what you did in the grotto.)

Listen to find out Leonard’s formulas for success, and why he’s happy to share them. We learned about who can be the hardest to scare in a haunted house, why people might like to be scared, and why zombies aren’t an economical choice for a haunted attraction on a budget. Plus, we found out why Victorian houses truly are the most haunting.

If you’d like to learn more about Leonard and the world of haunted attraction design, check out his website at hauntrepreneurs.com. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a meeting with some paranormal investigators at that Queen Anne mansion. We need to get to the bottom of why it’s haunted by the ghost of someone calling out, “Scott? Scott!” at crucial moments whenever a wedding is held there. And if you need more of a backstory than that, this week’s episode is waiting at the end of a dark hallway, possibly behind a closet door, waiting to jump out and terrify unsuspecting 21-year old hot shots.


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