Update: The House of Torment has reached an agreement to stay at its Highland Mall location for a ninth year. "We couldn't be more excited to share what we've created this year with Austin fear fans," says House of Torment president and founder Daniel McCullough in a press release. "We really went above and beyond in terms of both production and design, and we hope you'll come scream with us."
Original story (Oct. 24, 2012): To encourage trick-or-treating in his neighborhood, every year Halloween-lover Dan McCullough would build a haunted house in his backyard in South Austin.
His plan worked – and soon the house’s popularity grew until one year it got out of hand. Over a hundred people showed up to the house and police were called to direct traffic. McCullough’s operation had to end – in that form at least.
McCullough decided to turn professional. The haunted house that originated in McCullough’s backyard is now the House of Torment.
Jon Love visited the House of Torment in its inaugural space 10 years ago. Now he’s the vice president of Harbinger Events, the organization that puts on the haunted house.
Love says the House has never lost its Austin touch. “Designing the House of Torment is a departure from the way haunted houses are traditionally designed and run,” Love says. Where most haunted houses simply paint walls out of the visitor’s line of sight black, Love and McCullough pay more attention to detail. They’ve attended set design classes and sculpted every surface of the House.
They strive to go above and beyond what other houses’ performances, too. “A big part of that for us is maintaining control,” Love says. Other haunted houses use step pads and infrared light to trigger automated monsters. “If you figure it out, you have control as a guest,” Love says. “You can press the step pad over and over and over again.” Instead, Love and McCullough use a control room, full of screens and buttons, where staff sits and waits for unsuspecting visitors.
Monitoring visitors also allows the staff to sculpt each visit. “It’s interesting to work in here,” Love says. “You begin to understand how people are going to react depending on what happened at the front of the haunted house. You can gauge the type of group they are. And we can radio that to our performers further down the line in the haunted house.” After a few nights, Love says the control room and the performers can anticipate how the other will behave. “They start to understand each other,” Love says, “and they play off each other.”
The House of Torment is under reconstruction all year. The gang begins planning and brainstorming in late October. But there's a bit of a hold up this year. Highland Mall, the home of the House of Torment, was sold to Austin Community College, so Love, McCullough and company will have to find another space next year.
“The House of Torment, no matter what, will always be in Austin. We’re native Austinites, born here, raised here. We’ll always be producing the House of Torment, and it’ll always be in Austin,” Love says. “We don’t have a deal that’s done for the new home of the House of Torment, but we are at the table, talking with about four different groups right now.”
Photographer Filipa Rodrigues took the following photos from of the House of Torment. Take a look – if you dare.