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13 Question Marks of Horror with The Crew of The Queen Mary Dark Harbor

One of my absolute "Do Not Miss" attractions every year is "The Queen Mary- Dark Harbor". Living in Los Angeles, there is always plenty of creepy around, but its always a milar kind of Creep. The Queen Mary gives you something more. There are truly scary mazes within the ship (including the real life haunted Pool area) as well as the all new Dead Rise! My personal favorite is The Village of the Damned, which is a sort of Hills have Eyes Village- scares the hell out of me! But that's not all you get. There are live bands that rock and great food to help you survive the night. It truly is a Halloween Party with an ever expanding family.

I sat down with the team behind the horrors to see what they do and why they do it. We sat down for... 13 Question Marks of Horror! (Queue spooky muc)...

Steve Sheldon – Queen Mary, Director of Entertainment Events

David Wally – Queen Mary, Talent Director JJ Wickham – Queen Mary, Production Degner & Art Director

13 Question Marks of Horror:

1. The Queen Mary’s annual Halloween event is a leading force in fright every season. What brought you to the decion to start a yearly fright fest?

SS: The Queen Mary is not just a destination, but an event venue as well, hosting dozens of events each year. Coupled with its haunted history and being cited as one of the most haunted places in the world, it really seemed like a perfect fit for a Halloween event.

2. What is it that you love about doing the event every year?


Casting, directing and managing the talent for “Dark Harbor” is a deliciously complex and challenging endeavor.

It is such a rewarding creative experience to work in collaboration with the uber-talented heads of the other departments such as Production, Technical, Costume and Make-Up Degn.

Additionally, everybody who works for the Queen Mary are thoroughly profesonal and exceedingly helpful in mounting this masve annual event.

Mostly for me, though, it is personally rewarding to go into “battle” each night with my devoted support staff and the 225 Monsters who have become such good friends.JJW:

As the Creative Manager of this event, I LOVE exploring and finding all of the different ways to terrify people ung theming, blood, and story telling!

Every year we get to reimagine ways to realize people’s greatest fears and I certainly don’t do it alone.

We have an incredibly talented group of creative minds working on this event - we bounce ideas off of each other, laugh about our own fears, and in the end come up with some of the most imaginative ideas in the industry.

This year is particularly rewarding because we are bringing The Queen Mary to life in a whole new way.

It has been a fascinating researching the past of this great ship.

We certainly have a lot of stories to work with given the historical life of this ship.

I am so excited for everyone to see what we’ve been brewing.

Keep your eyes open – sneak peaks into 2012 Dark Harbor are going to start appearing!

3. You can definitely see the level of detail that goes into the event. How long is the degn/set-up process? Do you start prepping for the following year as soon as the final night ends (as in Nightmare Before Christmas)?


So many of us have grown so close as friends and collaborators that we tend to stay in touch year-round.

And there are periodic long-lead conversations about certain aspects of the next event.

But the real focus seems to start mmering in May and June before picking up steam in July and August before we are racing through September to get ready for Opening Night.


Wally is absolutely right.

This event never really does seem to shut down for us; we keep coming up with ideas year round.

But “officially” we had our first walk thru meeting this year back in February.

The bulk of the degn work, for our new characters and theming happened this year starting in late May.

We started a small crew to start setting up the mazes at the end of June and we’ve been growing our crew ever nce.

We will be full steam ahead from now until October 5th!

So in the end we are talking about a good 5 to 6 month process.

4. Halloween Terror Fest, Shipwreck Halloween, and now Dark Harbor; how do you come up with these amazing themes?


My first year working on the Queen Mary’s Halloween event was in 2010, the first year of “Dark Harbor”.

Clearly, our effort that year was to create a completely new concept that year.

Tom Cluff came up with the original concept for the overall event and degned “The Cage” maze inde the Dome; Jeff Schiefelbein degned the other mazes.

Then, in 2011, JJ Wickham came in and did an incredible job of expanding upon the previous year and putting her own creative stamp on the original concept.

And now, in 2012, JJ has expanded and overhauled almost every aspect of “Dark Harbor” in the most exciting fashion.

While “Dark Harbor” will always dazzle the uninitiated, those who venture back for a repeat vit are in for a whole host of thrilling new experiences!

5. Do the degners of the events come from a horror background or is it more diverse?


We come from several different walks of life.

My background is stage degn for theater.

From that background I worked in many different venues from themed events, film, corporate degn, and live muc.

Many of the other degners share my background in theater degn and we do have a small group of folks that come specifically from the horror genre background.

We all have one thing in common though – we love horror and we love this event.

6. I absolutely LOVE Village of the Damned. Are there certain attractions that prove a stand out every year? How do you keep fans of those attractions coming back?


We have found that EVERY maze is somebody’s favorite.

“The Village of the Damned” is long and twisted and has a great sense of humor to it.

So it is no surprise that you love this wonderful maze.

But for others, “Submerged” might be their favorite; for some, “Hellfire”; or “Containment”: or “The Cage”; and then some people prefer the Monsters and Sliders on “The Street”.

And, of course, you cannot manage or meet each individual guests personal expectations.


Goal number one for us is to provide the best guest experience we can in EVERY aspect of “Dark Harbor” and come up with new ideas each year that will both satisfy and surprise every guest, whether they are attending for the first or twentieth time.


Well, in that case, I am certainly excited for you to vit The Village of the Damned this year!

That’s all I’ll say about that J

I still haven’t been able to pick out my favorite maze.

I love how different they all are from each other.

I think that is what is important to make each maze stand out . . . make them special and unique ung production degn, unique effects and scares, and intriguing themes.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this year to keep the existing attractions fresh and fans coming back, we have reimagined the way guests will experience these different attractions.

Everything you love about the Village will be waiting to greet you, but I assure you, it is NOT the same maze you remember from last year!

7. With the ship being so large, are there plans to incorporate other areas into the mix?

SS: Each year, we work to expand the Dark Harbor event to be sure it continues to be exciting and frightful whether it’s a guest’s first or 10th time at Dark Harbor. For example, this year we have expanded, and are introducing a new maze, Deadrise, and new characters inspired by the real-life hauntings on the ship.

8. The atmosphere of each event feels like the Ultimate Halloween party and muc is such a big part of that. How do you choose the bands that perform?

SS: We do everything posble to ensure a great time for all our guests and the choice of performers is part of that experience.

Like our event, we look for unique, creative entertainment that fits the feel of the event and gives guests another reason to linger and have a great time.

9. The bands featured are mostly independent bands. Would you be open to any big names like Rob Zombie or The Misfits joining the event on occaon?

SS: We’re definitely open to any new partnerships or performers who appeal to our vitors and enhance the experience.


Are there any specific horror films or styles that directly influence the mazes?


We are horror film fans, so we are certainly influenced by many of our favorites.

I especially love to nod to the style of Dario Argento.

For the lighting and mood of Containment, we are trying to channel the lighting and mood of 1977’s Susperia.

We are constantly making all sorts of movie references as we work in the mazes.


Turning attractions into films is common place now, with the setting and stories from each maze so ripe for the big screen.

Is that something you would conder?


I completely agree with you, any one of our mazes would make for a scary movie!

Here’s some news hot off the press, and I don’t want to reveal too much, but I particularly think the story of our new maze and characters on the big screen might just make my favorite horror film of all time. Yep, that’s right we are getting a new maze! J


Places like Dark Harbor and Haunted Hayride seem to be so much more in touch with the spirit of the season, creating a truly memorable Halloween experience. What do you think gives you an advantage over the large theme parks?


Halloween is such a popular season and the Greater Los Angeles area is so heavily populated that there is room for many diverse Haunt experiences and I think each of the major and minor players all do a wonderful job.

Clearly the one huge difference between “Dark Harbor” and other Halloween events is the location – You cannot beat the Queen Mary in terms of a setting for such an event.

Additionally, the footprint for “Dark Harbor” is really well-conceived so there is virtually nowhere for the guest to wander without feeling fully-immersed in our “world”.JJW:

Wally is right on here!

How lucky are we to set this terrifying event aboard one of the most haunted attractions in the world!

The Queen Mary is truly what makes this event so special!

Can’t beat it!


How has the event changed over the years in terms of what you’ve wanted to accomplish, and what’s next on the agenda?


My biggest mandate each year has been to improve the quality and quantity of the Monsters and to compel the producers to continue adding more programming.

Fortunately, we have all been on the same page in knowing that our loyal fans dere both constency and freshness in our programming.

This year, JJ’s team has created exciting new experiences all throughout the event.

And this year, we added 30% new Monsters and had – by far – the biggest turnout to auditions yet.

The level of talent involved this year is mply extraordinary.

Our guests are in for an amazing event in 2012.


Coming into this year, I really wanted three things - to explore how we could use the haunted stories of The Queen Mary, to add a new maze, and to change up the existing mazes for returning scare seekers.

I think these scare seekers are going to be pleasantly terrified!

Next on the agenda?

I have to plead the 5th here . . . starting this week, we have some special surprises that will be unveiled, keep your eyes and ears peeled for what’s next tome come!

Awesome. Now you know what you should be doing this weekend! Get over to The Queen Mary-Dark Harbor! Have a great time, party hard, and get scared to death. Don't mind that nking feeling that will take you's just your soul on its way down...
sinful Celluloid Friday 10/12/2012 at 03:09 PM | 97004