All visitors get candy. And maybe even a visit from a clown.
The family behind the Heritage Haunted House in Saanich is not letting the attention seekers behind the “scary clown” phenomenon ruin their annual event.
Despite the public outcry at the distasteful misuse of clown costumes, done purely for the benefit of social media, Halloween in Saanich will still have scary clowns. Just not as many as usual.
Not only will the 10th running of the Heritage Haunted House, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at 3808 Heritage Lane on Halloween have clowns, they’ll have clowns of the “creepy faced” variety. But they will only be dolls.
Instead, most of the creepier clown dolls will remain in storage this year, while a few of the favourites will pop up in a carefully controlled environment.
“We have hired security on site, just in case, and this year we felt it right to scale back on the clowns,” said Carly Burbank. “We’ll have two live clowns on site, and they’ll have happy faces. I’m hoping the whole creepy clown thing will blow over and we can return to having them on site next year.”
Burbank, her husband Terry, and daughters Emily, 14, and Ireland, 8, are in full work mode this week. A visit to their century-old home off Burnside West is a visit to a Victorian house perfectly situated atop a hill. It’s a dead architect’s dream.
What was once the home of a Vancouver Island tycoon and his Japanese bride is now Saanich’s contemporary version of the Castle of Otranto (the 1700s story which scholars credit for the birth of the haunted house genre, for us clowns who didn’t already know).
The graveyard, er, backyard, is well and truly haunted, with dozens of tombstones and weeds crawling up the base of artificial trees (think Sleepy Hollow). The spooky plastic trees, which were planted last year, flow so well with the landscape of the backyard you’d swear they’ve taken root. And maybe they have.
Severed heads dangle from branches and serenade guests with moans from the afterlife. Those who question the house’s scare-level need to know it goes from “manageable” in an outside environment to up front and intimate, and in a hurry.
“Once people get in these close spaces it gets serious,” Burbank said. “We get screams, laughs, and more screams.”
It starts with a walk up Heritage Lane, which is closed to traffic on Halloween night. There should be a couple of clowns at the top of the lane, don’t look for them, they’ll find you, and they’ll probably recommend a donation to Help Fill A Dream (you know them, the organization that brings aid to those suffering life’s true horrors). Trust the clowns, they’re the nicest people you’re going to meat, er, meet, all night.
Then, it’s a donation of sanctity.
Enter the almost storm-proof military-grade tent that blew down in last year’s winds, with clowns inside. Take your time. There might be a surprise in there. But we won’t give it away here.
There will be a few bloody displays, some which will really speak to you. Never mind them, settle yourself for a brisk photo-op in the graveyard. Find a zombie, they’re easy going, they love photos, and they are generous with their time. Struggling with your phone? They’ll wait an eternity.
Then, enter the basement of the house through the mad scientist’s lab. Someone may be mid-operation. Don’t listen to them. They’re not crying. They’re just whiners.
Carry on to the bathroom. Don’t look in the shower.
When you come out, there’s 60 dolls looking at you. Or through you. They tend to stare. Some of them even have an eye. There’s more. But you’ll have to witness the rest of it yourself.
“I can say for certain that we’ll have a storefront with organs for sale, and body parts,” said Burbank. “There will be a few [live] jumping haunts but what we don’t want, and what we’re trying to design for, is not to have jumping [guests].”
Make no bones about it, the family has a good time, and it’s no joke. The musclemen of a moving company will do less work this weekend, as the amount of effort the family is putting in is nothing short of gruelling.
There will be live haunts, and the idea is to scare guests, so while all are invited, it comes with a warning.
“We recommend the bravest member of the couple or family who is attending do a walk through first, and then judge if their partner, friend and/or children are up for it,” Burbank said.
In case it’s not clear, it’s all hands on deck in the Burbank house. For example, last year was Emily’s haunted arrival as a Halloween character. At just seven years old, she lay in the grass for hours, soaking in the stormy Halloween rain, made up as a zombie victim. There was no mercy from father Terry as he ate her guts.
Parking, one of life’s horrors, can be avoided by using neighbouring streets or by storing your hearse a short walk away at Spectrum Community School and Marigold elementary.
All visitors get candy. Scaredy-cats are encouraged to visit before the sun goes down.