First Person Singular: Dean Grasso, 44, Fairfax, Haunted Hallow character


Haunted Hallow’s Dean Grasso: “Everything has purpose for a haunted house. Like a basic clamp light — I see that and think, ‘That would make a perfect head piece on an electric chair.’ ” (Joseph Victor Stefanchik/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
October 24, 2012

I’ve always loved Halloween.
There was this one house in our neighborhood where the guy had set up curtains on both sides of his door, so when you walked up for candy, you never knew what was behind those curtains or who — or what — was going to jump out at you. That’s when I knew. I knew that I wanted to be on that side of the curtain instead of the trick-or-treating side. My friend and I started our haunted house that next year — we were 13 — and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Two years ago, I’m driving down 29 and see the sign for Haunted Hollow [in Warrenton]. I called up Jeff [the owner]. It was the first time I’d met someone as obsessed as I am. In online forums, you can find people talking about the latest ways to scare people — videos, sound effects, CGI and building props — but here was the guy who loved it as much as I do, and he had this beautiful, scary farm.

Everything I see, anywhere I go, I look at it and think, What is its Halloween purpose? Normal, everyday things — fabric, lights, equipment — everything has purpose for a haunted house. Like a basic clamp light — I see that and think, That would make a perfect head piece on an electric chair.

There is nothing like the power of a costume. You can be whomever you want behind that mask. But you have to be somebody. You have to have created a character in order to “get into character.” When I’m creating a new character, I think about the way he talks, how he moves, his mannerisms, his quirks. Is he a nervous, twitchy, creepy guy? Or slow and lumbering? You gotta have a back story. How did he become what he is? Why does he act this way? You can’t just put on a mask and yell at people. You have to believe you’re scary, or nobody else will.

Look, if you’re coming here, we’re going to scare you. If you don’t want to be scared, you’re in the wrong place. You can’t back out, or everyone is going to be disappointed. And you never know who can take it. I’ve seen 4-year-olds go through laughing the whole time. The best part for me is seeing someone who was scared to go through this, face all those fears and then come out at the end with this big smile on her face, knowing she’s conquered something and made it through.

People come for an adrenaline rush. It’s a fantasy. It’s the same as watching a scary movie, except here, you get to be a part of the movie. Ultimately, you know you’re safe, but you get to let go for a while.

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