During build season at Terror on the Fox, my friend Kyle introduced me to the wonderful world of 80’s Horror B-Movies like Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and Dead Alive. Inspired both by these movies and the set construction work I was doing at Terror on the Fox, I decided to use the basement of my house to construct a miniature haunted house that came to be known as “Dad’s Cabin”. I based the project on the set design and characters of The Evil Dead 2.
This was a massive project, representing a tremendous amount of time, money, sweat, and blood. I started construction on November 1, 2015 and wrapped up shortly before Memorial Day, 2016. Since this was such a big project, I’m not going to go over every single detail. I’ve already discussed building corpses here and Necronomicons here. Rather, I’ll just take you on a tour of some of the highlights of Dad’s Cabin.
Several obstacles cropped up throughout construction, and on any other project of this size and scope, I might have given up. But I had a few things going for me. First – I genuinely enjoyed the work. Second – this project represented opportunities to grow as a professional in the haunt entertainment industry. I could get more practice and experience, expand my portfolio, and get my feet wet in virtually every niche of the industry.
Overall Floor Plan
The usable area of my basement consisted of less than 600 square feet , broken up in several spots by walls and the staircase. The only room I wanted but couldn’t make space for was a bathroom. Otherwise, the general layout consisted of a living room, bedroom/office, a kitchen, and an adjoining tool shed. A maintenance corridor ran along next to the staircase and provided me with access to the furnace room and my workshop.
I had already painted most of the walls black for other purposes. After painting the remaining walls and dyeing the carpet black, I proceeded to build thirteen wall panels. Each panel was painted, erected, and secured to the basement walls and ceiling for stability.
The Dad Shack
The Dad Shack was nothing more than a maintenance corridor that provided me access to my workshop. But the corridor was painted and black-lit to resemble the Dad Shack (a break area for actors) that we built at Terror on the Fox.
I’ll take this opportunity to explain the Dad Shack. “Dad” was a tradition that Kyle brought up with him from haunt jobs he worked down in Florida. I won’t pretend to know the origin or full backstory of the tradition. But here, it was employed as a means for haunt builders and actors to find each other (think Marco Polo) through the labyrinth of the haunt.
As I imagine would happen with any group of twisted and macabre fucks such as us, we attributed certain connotations to “Dad”, hinting at physical and sexual abuse, and insinuating incest.
Exterior Façade for Dad’s Cabin
The trees in my yard provide me with a bountiful supply of downed branches each winter. I took the larger pieces and sprayed them white to optimize their reaction with the black lights. The exterior features three separate doors – one that leads to the Dad Shack, another to the Tool Shed, and the third to the main cabin. I ripped and stained several plywood boards to resemble siding, and created dummy windows with black acrylic sheets.
The Tool Shed
I would have given anything to have been able to replicate Linda’s headless corpse flailing around with the chainsaw. But I have not yet reached the level of requisite expertise to produce such an animatronic.
Instead, this room featured Ash’s famous chainsaw and shotgun. I was able to get models that were very close to the ones used in production. For safety purposes, I had the firing pin of the shotgun removed. The room also features Linda’s severed head in a vice, suspended rusty chains, Easter eggs referencing both Evil Dead films, Ghostbusters, Terror on the Fox, and my old Texas Haunt ‘Em Halloween poker parties.
Due to size restrictions, the kitchen provided little more than a place to store a few more Easter eggs and sharp objects. I stocked the shelves with a lot of non-perishable foods, and those will be donated to a food pantry later. The scene contains references to Lilith and her safe word, Hamburger Helper, and monster cereals.
I should point out that I did not abide by any safety regulations since this was not a haunt for commercial use. The tools and utensils found in the kitchen and tool shed were all very real and some of them were quite dangerous.
The Bedroom / Office & Liam
To consolidate space, I set up Professor Knowby’s tape recorder and desk in the bedroom. This room was full of Easter eggs:
- A film-replica Necronomicon, including hidden messages referencing actors and inside jokes from Terror on the Fox.
- A notepad containing a transcription of the incantations Professor Knowby reads aloud in the first two Evil Dead movies.
- A reel-to-reel tape recorder programmed to play audio of the incantations.
- A desecrated Christian Bible containing various Satanic graffiti and other pop culture references.
- A replica of the Ca’andarian Dagger made from real chicken bones.
- “Two gays in a pig” – a reference to a character made by LGBT Voice members while playing with Story Forge cards.
- Liam – a corpse meant to represent a butt-fucked and murdered Ash, and a sexual counterpart to Lilith.
The Living Room
The living room featured a lot of core elements from the Evil Dead movies. Among these were Henrietta’s corpse and the cellar door, Henrietta’s rocking chair, Ash’s severed hand and “Farewell to Arms”, the laughing deer mount, Linda’s magnifying glass necklace, the pendulum clock, the haunted mirror, and the fireplace. Of course it wouldn’t be complete with even more blueberry-flavored references to Lilith and Terror on the Fox. Finally, the room features portraits of my favorite Deadites: Evil Ash, Evil Ed, Henrietta, and Laughing Linda; plus a portrait of Ash’s famous Delta 88.
Lighting, Sound, and Special Effects
Lighting primarily consisted of black lights on the exterior and in the Dad Shack, a few desk lamps, the fireplace, an artificial thunderstorm system, and a few dozen strategically-placed LED spotlights from Fright Props.
Apart from the thunderstorm system, I fed the remaining audio soundtrack through the ham radio and Knowby’s tape recorder. The soundtrack included…
- segments of Professor Knowby reciting passages from the Necronomicon,
- footsteps and slamming door sound effects,
- Chopin’s Prelude Op 28 No 7 (which I’ve always found particularly haunting),
- the “Evil Dead” POV roaring sound, and
- Westminster chimes.
There were only two movement effects. The rocking chair periodically moved on its own via a motorized lever arm. A pneumatic air compression system created a knocking and banging effect on the fruit cellar door.
I ran all of the show controls and programming via a PicoBoo MAX from Fright Ideas on the other side of the Dad Shack, in my workshop.