SJ Chamber of Commerce hosts its very first haunted maze
■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
The debut of the San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce’s highly anticipated “Casa Loca: mental hospital haunt” is finally upon us, and the minds behind it are eager to frighten even the most fearless of souls in the valley. Horror fanatics will delight in the frights and scares that rival such haunted mazes as Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, but at a fraction of the price.
Director Rick Baker of Troupe of Lost Souls Entertainment designed this year’s first ever rated PG-13 “haunted house” attraction. This year’s theme: insane asylum.
“Originally, we weren’t going to do the scary one,” explained Baker, who, along with his team were hired to create a kid-friendly maze for the Chamber’s annual “Candy Corner,” a free trick-or-treat event where members of the Chamber of Commerce hand out candy to costumed kiddos to promote their businesses and get to know local families. But when the Chamber surprisingly inquired about a scary haunt this year, Baker’s response was none other than, “absolutely.”
Baker, a self-proclaimed lifelong artist, was introduced to the haunt industry in 1987, where he worked for the Nebraska Special Olympics as the chairman of their signs and decorating committee. That’s where his colleagues first introduced him to the world of the macabre.
“Because I’m kind of a crazy guy, they asked me if I would come down and play in a haunted house,” said Baker, who thought it sounded like fun. “So I went down and started playing.” Once there, Baker realized that he was not impressed with the makeup skills he witnessed on set, so he tried his own hand at it. “Then I got hooked on makeup,” he said. “That’s what brought me to California.”
Baker relocated to California to study makeup and acting in Los Angeles, which he would later go on to teach. Today, he and his team of professional entertainers manage and produce independent short films and haunts, like this year’s Casa Loca. Previously, he’s managed a similar haunt in Woodland Hills, and another at the Historic Hemet Theatre two years ago.
After several days of auditioning and recruiting, the troupe has gathered more than 30 volunteers to act and/or help with makeup, tech, set and costume design.
“We have some really enthusiastic people, so we’re going to put on a show that’s going to end all,” Baker said maniacally.
The set, located in the vacant Main Events Sports Bar building at Farmer’s Corner in San Jacinto, consists of 11 “rooms,” broken up into three areas. Each area is designated an area leader, who oversees all operations within their area, and is responsible for creating an atmosphere of unhinged mental patients, dismembered doctors and hospital orderlies, deranged wait staff, and absolute mayhem.
“It’s something for the older kids in the community,” said Chamber President Heather Martinez. “We give the bikes away to the younger kids, but there’s teenagers here too that have nothing to do but terrorize the town. I think [Casa Loca] is constructive because it gives them the opportunity to be thrilled.”
“Not only does it give older kids the chance to let out energy, but it also gives them an opportunity if they want, to come and play and scare people,” added Baker. “Plus, we offer makeup workshops, so we can teach them an art. We also have acting workshops so we can teach them how to act.”
The rest of Baker’s troupe includes his girlfriend and Chief Financial Officer, Blanca Biller; Chief Creative Officer Heather Fix; Chief Legal Officer Jasmine Woolley; Chief Technical Officer Jason Gullo, and Chief Operating Officer Josh Keel. Collectively, they have more than 80 years of professional experience in all mediums of the industry.
Baker freely encourages his actors to create their own characters, as long as they relate to the story, be it insane asylum or something friendlier. On Friday, Oct. 27, for two and a half hours, Baker’s team will completely redecorate the Casa Loca set and erect a kid-friendly “Land of Fantasy” maze for the children as a part of the Chamber’s Candy Corner event, which will be held next door in the same plaza, in Farmer’s Corner.
Along with handfuls of candy, the safe Halloween alternative will be giving away more than 60 free bikes to the children, while the Green Coalition are donating helmets.
Casa Loca began Wednesday, Oct. 25, and will continue every night from 7-10 p.m. through Oct. 31 at Farmer’s Corner Shopping Center, 2575 S. San Jacinto Ave. $10 cost of regular admission, $8 with two non-perishable food donations. For more information, visit troupeoflostsouls.com.