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Webseries: Behind the Scenes of Horror House Builders

October 14, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

Terrence Flamm

Like most building contractors, John Laflamboy has a lot on his plate. It’s a never-ending struggle to stay within his budget, pass inspections, meet deadlines, and make sure the flesh-eating zombies are giving 110%. It could be a situation straight from the HGTV cable channel, if those letters stood for Horror, Gore, Terror, and Violence. Actually, Laflamboy is the co-creator, along with Jayme Joyce, of Days Of The Living Dead, a weekly haunted house series which has just unearthed its second season on the Internet.

Days of the Living Dead

Laflamboy, a professional actor with a background in movies and theater, heads an unusual operation called Zombie Army Productions. He and his crew operate The Fear and Statesville haunted houses at Navy Pier and in suburban Cresthill respectively, throughout the Halloween season. Both locations are recommended for adults, and brave adults at that. As if those venues weren’t scary enough, Zombie Army travels in an ominously painted school bus equipped with hydraulic special effects and track lights. There’s also a bar on board in case any of the ghouls work up a thirst after scaring the pants off the customers.

The five-minute long episodes of Days Of The Living Dead take viewers behind the scenes to watch how a haunted house is constructed and meet the workers who build and perform in it. Occasionally, there are quarrels, like on this season’s opener, when Laflamboy complained that his plan to let his crew take on more responsibility has wreaked havoc on the production schedule. Given Laflamboy’s naturally comic persona, some viewers might suspect that Days Of The Living Dead is a put on; satirizing the format of HGTV shows or ABC TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Jessica Christopher, who came in as director for this season’s shows, insists that’s not the case.

“The behind-the-scenes tension is very real,” Christopher maintains. “Zombie Army Productions is going through some very big changes that are going to literally change the face of their company. I’m not familiar with HGTV but I do think it’s pretty hilarious that a blood and guts group is [being] compared with home and garden stuff.”

Christopher describes Days Of Living Dead as docu-reality show since it’s not scripted. She, Laflamboy, and Joyce do have a general concept based on calendar events like casting, construction, and parties, but otherwise, it’s up to the crew to give Days into its consistently compelling ambience. The pulsating hard rock soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.

The latest episode captures the excitement and tension of the haunted house’s opening night of the season. One of the crew declares that creating a character to frighten peoples is like heaven, while another admits she’s so nervous she might throw up. Laflamboy, dressed in an intimidating black warrior costume with metal spikes, matter-of-factly runs down a checklist of all the technical aspects that must work perfectly in order for the evening to succeed. The make-up, masks, and props put to use are highly professional and terrifying.

The episode ends with Laflamboy addressing his assembled Zombie Army moments before the haunted house’s doors open. It’s a General Patton like speech that calls for the crew to give their all, and to look out for each other. (In a few rare cases, customers have actually attacked the workers.) With the tension and excitement mounting, viewers are primed to catch the next episode of Days Of The Living Dead, to see how it all turns out.

“I wanted to show that these are amazing, creative and talented people creating these ‘worlds’ of haunted houses,” Christopher explained. “And that they are just like anyone else…they just have a really cool job.”

Admission for Statesville, which is located in Cresthill, is $30 a person. (http://www.statesville.org/index.php) Admission for The Fear, which is located at Navy Pier, is $20 a person. (http://www.thefearhauntedhouse.com/) VIP and Group rates are available at both locations. Statesville and The Fear are open Thursday-Sunday, reservations are not necessary.

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