On day 33 of our 61-day Hauntathon we discuss with Blake Bushong how it’s been a wild few years for him and his team. After steadily growing their home haunt over years, the team was ready to open in a commercial location for the first time in 2020. Well, it didn’t work out as planned, but now their haunt is open and ready to scare, Deadwater State Penitentiary is now open weekends through October at Launch Point in Lake Elsinore, California.
What Is Deadwater State Penitentiary?
Blake: We are here at this resort; it’s called Launch Point in Lake Elsinore. It’s a brand-new resort that they just put in a couple of years back. A big push for the city right now is to bring back special events, and as far as special events at this new location too, because they are here in this brand-new resort. It’s actually an RV park, so you could sit here, and you could book out for the weekend, or during the week, with your RV, kind of as a big old campground. Actually, the camping right now is completely sold out for the whole month of October for this event.
There’s basically a huge boat ramp, too, on the lake. So, they got a huge parking lot here, you’re going to come on in, park, walk down the ramp, and then we’re going to have the events going on as far as the food vendors out here serving up food, we’ll have the queue line. This is the first year we’ve actually done a Prison Penitentiary theme. We wanted to go something out of the ordinary, something that you don’t see all the time.
Every night at seven o’clock we’re going to have an opening ceremony. It’s going to be our breakout scene, is what we’re calling it. So, basically, the prisoners overthrow the guards, break out of the prison, but as far as once you actually get inside the prison, the customers coming in are the prisoners that are going to be booked. Everyone coming in is also the new prisoners that just committed a crime, or they’re coming in to be part of the prison now; they’re the prisoners.
So, basically you come in to the first row and we have our intake room. So, they’re going to line up against the wall, they’re going to get their mugshot taken, and then they turn to the ride, they get their side profile picture taken. So, it gives them the scene and the illusion that they’re already inside the prison, they’re being booked right now for their sentence, as well we’re telling them. Then, they come into the processing. Basically, we’re going to pat them down. This is where they would come into the prison, the guards take charge from this point on. “Your prisoners now, so you listen to whatever the guards have to tell you,” and that’s basically where we go from there.
After that, they go into the housing department, and then all hell breaks loose from that point on because they take the elevator down to the 15th floor basement, and they get into the housing department, and they continue on through all the different cell blocks from that point.
It is a continuous walkthrough, it’s about a 15 to 20-minute walkthrough, completely start to finish, once you enter. That’s not encountering the scare zone at the end, and then the line in the front too. So, overall, 15 to 20 minute walk through is what we’re planning on.
Philip: If someone was driving, they could drive out there, and they could get some food, and they could go through the haunt, and hang out a little bit afterwards.
Blake: It’s not just the haunted house, we want to tie the whole experience, we got the food out here, we got vendors and stuff aligned, and the opening ceremony. So if you’re here at seven o’clock for the opening ceremony, that’s where it’s really going to get you cool, too.
The History of Blake Bushong in the Haunt Industry
Blake: This will be my 10th year in the haunt industry, started back in school, we did as a little fundraiser for my school, and then I fell in love with it. Then, I took it on after that, I’m like, “you know what? This is fine. I’m going to start it on my own.” It did start out as a home haunt, we’ve been doing it for six years at a home haunt, and then I did it for three years in school, and this is the 10th year.
We’re going to the biggest scale now, so obviously professional event, city involvement, the city is backing us a hundred percent, which is so awesome. They’re wanting us to be here, and they’re wanting it to be an annual event, now, at this location. Which is very nice, because we have somewhere we can call home for the next however many years. But, they’re already talking about it being an annual event and the support with them and everything has been exceptional.
The Pivot for 2020
Blake: 2020 was a rough year for everybody, even us, but we still went with our next best option. We actually built the haunted house at a professional location in the city, at this abandoned military school on the lake of Lake Elsinore. So literally two miles from where we are right now. So, we built at the Lake Elsinor Naval Academy, and we had the maze 90% done, all the walls, all the painting, everything was up and ready to go. We had to add some props and some lights, and we were opening.
We called out for inspection, and everyone from Lake Elsinore was onboard, they wanted it to happen,” this is awesome. We want to bring the tourism back to Lake Elsinore.” However, Riverside County stepped in and said, ” special events are not a really a good idea right now.” So, we brought it back to the house for one final year; a big learning curve. The biggest thing about it was we had to take down the haunted house, move the haunted house, and then rebuild the haunted house.
So, that was a big stress for us last year, but we still pulled it off, and we were able to have three weekends of the haunt still in October, which is unheard of. We took the haunted house down in two days, and rebuilt the whole thing in six days, and then put the lights in and cameras and props, and we still opened up on time for a year that most people didn’t have a haunted house. Honestly, it was one of our biggest years yet, because with everything else being closed, we had people coming from all over the place.
Philip: Sounds also crazy too, you had to block off the cul-de-sac and get outhouses, and turn into a little “block party” in the neighborhood. You had over 2,500 people that went through, that’s a lot for that kind of attraction. You’re like, “we built this professional haunt. We are ready to go.” You were building something to handle a lot of people, you’ve got a lot of people, but you had to change to a location that was really not made for that many people.
Blake: Exactly, so it was tough doing it there. But like I said, we went with our next best option, which was that, and like you said, we had over 2,500 people at a home haunt. Technically, the production that we were running was not a home haunt, it’s a professional haunt at a home haunt.
How Is the Company All Hallows Eve INC Going to Grow?
Blake: We have no clue, honestly. We’re starting from scratch. We’re taking the biggest jump we’ve ever taken. So, after this year is when we’ll really take a step back and say, “wow, we were able to pull this off. Now, what can we do to expand this? What can we build off this?” We have talks and plans possibly in 2022, a second haunted house, possibly expanding into a more family-oriented event, to having a pumpkin patch on site. What’s better than having two haunted houses at one location?
So, they’re going to come in, they’re going to park, they’re going to do their thing, and then come down pumpkin patch for the kids. So, the parents don’t have to worry about it, their teenage kids can go in the haunted house, have a fun time, but their three- or four-year-old, five-year-old can go on to the pumpkin patch and ride all the little bouncers and stuff like that too. Make it more of a full family event, like a carnival kind of thing, versus just one haunted house. So, we are planning to expand and who knows if that will be all next year, maybe one year at a time; add a pumpkin patch, next year we add a second haunted house, or if we take the whole thing and do them both, that’s something that we were talking about.
Philip: It’s so typical haunter to be like already planning like next year.
Blake: The haunt industry, for me and the company, is a year-round thing. We basically worked from November all the way to November next year. So, the motto and the logo that they have here in Lake Elsinore is, “dream extreme.” So, they really stick by that logo and that motto that they have as being dreamed extreme, like people will have the wildest dreams. But, part of what separates Lake Elsinore from other cities is because they want these things to happen. It seems crazy having a haunted house here, but part of that is to make it happen. So, that’s what the city is backing us for, is because they want to bring that back and they want to keep their promise.
Philip: Seems like you guys also want to make it extreme too.
Blake: Exactly, so that’s why working together with them, it has been the best thing for this year and we’re moving forward full steam ahead, and there’s no stopping us and no limiting what we can do in the future.