In three years’ time, Jack and Jill’s Haunted Hill has become a staple of my Halloween season. The small DIY haunt is inspirational to me and to anyone who ever went trick or treating as a child and lit up when they saw that someone had created a haunted house in their driveway. With some creativity and some dedication, what seems like a realm only open to commercial enterprises can be yours. This is why I visit Jack and Jill’s every year, and why I had to know more about the masterminds behind it all.
This year, the haunt inhabits what would most accurately be described as a temporary location – a long-shut down Blockbuster video. It was a place I frequented as a youth, but now, once you walk in it’s unrecognizable. The labyrinthine maze of the Jack and Jill’s torture mine completely throws off your sense of geography. Even walking through it with the lights on and going through the secret doors doesn’t ruin the illusion.
This interview took place in the actor’s lounge, among throngs of young volunteers clothed in torn, bloody garments and sporting nasty head wounds.
Jon: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did all this start out?
Jack: We had a big Halloween house party every year, and we just went way overboard with it. To get into the party one year, we built a mine shaft entrance, and we just did real simple gags. Like we had a bleeding head, that was the first one. And every year we’d just add stupid little gags to it. Flying ghosts, or whatever. And then you’d come into our house, and the house was very elaborate. There’d be no furniture in the house, it was all in tents in the backyard. The neighborhood kids, on Halloween, always wanted to see what was going on with the mine entrance, so we started letting them through. The next year, we moved into a house on top of a hill, and turned the whole place into a haunted house. First it was open two weekends, then three weekends…..
Jon: So the decision to turn it from a party into an attraction kind of happened gradually?
Jack: Yeah, it wasn’t really on purpose. It was mainly people telling us they loved it, so we just tried to outdo ourselves every year.
Jon: Sounds remarkably similar to what I’ve been doing the last few years.
Jack: Which is…?
Jon: Just throwing a big Halloween party, trying to top it every single time.
Jack: Right. That’s exactly how we started out. It was just one walkway.
Jack: Three years ago. We started with a five dollar donation, then the next year, another five dollar donation…. last year was a ten dollar donation. But this is the first year we’ll be like, legally “charging” for it, hahaha.
Jon: I was gonna ask about that actually. Before last year, did you ever run into any legal issues with doing this kind of thing?
Jack: No, we never even had a complaint. We never had any issues at all. I mean we’d have a couple drunks who would do stupid shit every now and then but, other than that, no, we haven’t had any problems.
Jon: That’s amazing. I always wondered about those horror movie compilations you had playing out front….
Jack: Yeah, that would never go over here. They’d charge us for that.
At this point an actor in bloody, torn clothing walks in and asks for everyone’s attention.
Actor: Hey, any of you who smoke, make sure you put it out all the way because a fire just started in the back.
Jon: I guess they took care of it already, hahaha.
Jon: Anyway, going back to the beginning, how did you fund this thing when you started out?
Jack: Well, I had a buddy with a credit card and a $5000 limit, so we made about $5500 bucks that first year, just enough to pay it back basically. And then the next year, we used the same five grand and made ten, so we stopped using the credit card on the third year. We’d just use whatever profits we made on the next year. This year, I put about seven grand plus my tax return into it and the guy who owned the old property, he owns an energy drink company called TrueFuel, they’re our official sponsor. And he put about 17 grand into it. Everything else is just, “Can you do this and I’ll pay you in October?”
Jon: So basically volunteer-run?
Jack: Oh yeah. Everyone here is a volunteer. It’s a hobby. Someday, maybe it’ll be a career, but right now it’s a hobby.
Jon: For love of the game?
Jack: Well, right now, it’s kind of a career. It feels like a career.
Jon: Yeah, about that, you must have a full time job…..
Jack: I usually have a full time job. The haunted house is my full time job right now, but normally I’m a massage therapist, and I’ve been in sales forever so… I’ll be able to find something. Every year I quit in like, July or August, and I find something else in November.
Jon: It seems like that would be nerve-racking.
Jack: Especially to have a wife and two kids….
Jon: Is she here tonight?
Jack: No, tonight she’s at home taking care of the kids. She’ll be here tomorrow.
Jon: I imagine, to do something like this, you guys must have always been pretty into Halloween right?
Jack: Yeah. I mean, I always had Halloween parties every year when I was a kid. And I’d go to them as an adult and always be disappointed that they weren’t…. like mine were, you know? They were always just some music and a couple decorations, and it just kind of bummed me out, ya know? But yeah, we’re all into Halloween, into horror movies.
Jon: Seen anything good lately?
Jack: Since July I haven’t really had a life besides the haunted house, so it’s just been whatever’s on TV, you know? I love to watch really BAD horror movies.
Another actor with a sizable gash in his forehead overhears us.
Actor: And you know the best thing about B-movies? No matter what, whether they’re laughable or scary, they always entertain. It always achieves that goal.
Jon: Or just boobs. They show lots of boobs.
Jack: Yeah totally. And we try to have as much cleavage as possible in our haunt.
Everyone instinctively turns towards a female actor in a low-cut, torn, bloody prom dress. She gives us a little curtsy.
Jack: All of our actors are all volunteers, they saw our sign on the side of the street, came in, said they wanted to do it.
Jon: So what are the plans for next year?
Jack: Well, it’s not an option for us to be here next year. The dream is to find a building and get a three year lease, with tall ceilings so we can do the hill again. And we would like to be open all year. Like do “My bloody valentine”, “Leprechaun’s revenge”, uh…. “Uncle Sam killer”, any holiday we want to open up and let people come in, have a story around that. We’d even like to have an indie movie theater there… play some horror movies.
Jon: That would be amazing.
Jack: We want to open a Jack and Jill’s store…. maybe an online store with just a few items that you can’t get at a Halloween store. But basically, we want to have a place we can be year around so we don’t have to pack it up and move it every year. We want to expand the rooms we already have and upgrade our audio/video. That’s a big part of the haunt. Once we have all that upgraded, we just want to try and pull in a little profit for once – be able to not spend too much on the haunt itself but put it into marketing, maybe a few upgrades. Hopefully, we can be real competitors to some of these bigger haunts. Let them see that it’s not just the size of the haunt it’s the story, the feel, and the…..
Jon: The creativity.
Jack: The creativity, yeah. So, that’s the plan.