With Halloween just around the corner, people are out and about looking for ways to get a thrill and what better way to do it than go to a haunted house?
We had the opportunity to talk to John Gullidge, one of the brains behind one of Malaysia’s biggest haunted house—Sunway Lagoon‘s Lynton V. Harris’ Scream Park and Nights Of Fright 6.
John has always had an interest in horror films and actually published a horror film magazine in the UK for 13 years. He got his inspiration to work at a haunted house after his first trip to the states in 1988 where he visited an attraction in Orlando called Terror On Church Street.
“It was basically a huge haunted house with a lot of horror movie characters in it and then was when I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he said.
A Haunted Beginning
“After that I worked at a number of haunted houses in the States every October including The Gallery Of Horror in Gainesville, Florida and The Asylum and The 13th Floor in Denver, Colorado and also organised my own event in my home town of Exeter,” John added.
Through working in the Denver haunted houses, he learned about an attraction at Warwick Castle in England that was auditioning for actors and that was how his journey began with his current company—Sudden Impact! Entertainment Company.
“I got the job back in 2004 and worked there for five years prior to coming to Malaysia to manage Lynton V. Harris’ Scream Park, initially just as cover while the manager was away but fell in love with the place and I’m still here now,” John said.
Sudden Impact specialises in live scary attractions like Sunway Lagoon’s Scream Park, often linked to licensed brands, like Ghostbusters Adventure Live. For this year’s Nights Of Fright they have the “Ghost Face Live in UV3D” which is the masked character from the “Scream” movies.
Adding A Local Twist
Although John has seen success with his projects overseas, some of his strategies had to be adapted when he brought them over to Malaysia.
“There are numerous challenges we face such as the climate which is very different to the West of course and making sure the attractions are also relevant to a local audience. With Scream Park we have always tried to give it a local flavour.”
A number of years ago they had Rumah Hantu in 3D as one of the attractions and currently during the day they show a short film entitled Pontianak V Pocong, which was shot at Sunway Lagoon.
“That said it’s also a case of mixing it up as it is an international theme park, so for example one of our most popular attractions has been Zombie Apocalypse which has been running for a number of years and which we have just converted to Zombie Zoo.”
“I think our biggest achievement here—apart from the fact that we have employed hundreds of young Malaysians over the years as ‘scare actors’—has been the creation of Nights Of Fright which in its six years has established itself as the biggest Halloween event in Malaysia.”
John is very proud of it as his love for Halloween was what got him into the business and to be able to see how Halloween is now starting to be a big business in Malaysia almost compensates for the fact that he has to spend every Halloween away from home.
“Still one of my favourite things to do at Nights Of Fright is to walk around the park after the guests have left admiring the pumpkins and scarecrows that decorate it, that to me is quintessential Halloween,” he added.
Horror Director In The Day, Photographer At Night
Nights Of Fright 6 is such a huge event that they actually have a team of directors working together with each person responsible for their own section. With John being in charge of Slaughterhouse 13 and Zombie Zoo which is perfect for him as he loves gory attractions.
The best part for John is the “shopping” that they do before the event starts.
John added, “A lot of our stuff comes from the States and I had great fun sourcing some really cool scarecrow masks as well as some realistic horror movie dolls. In the run up to opening the work is very intense and time consuming. This year my assistant and I went three weeks without a day off, finishing late at night but it pays off in the end.”
Other than that, John’s hobby and passion is photography and he loves taking pictures of the event. He even has a small studio and does a lot of studio photography in his spare time. You might even have seen some of his shots on billboards and buntings as the marketing department of Sunway Lagoon has used it to promote NOF6.
“During the month I’m hoping to take similar shots of a lot of the characters in the event. I’ve always been fascinated by photographs of movie characters that have been shot specifically in a studio with just plain background as opposed to on-set, so this is a great chance to do that kind of thing,” John said.
He also does quite a bit of cosplay photography, mainly at events, but he prefers shooting in the studio environment where the emphasis is on the cosplayer and the costume rather than any themed background.
John has been here for ten years already but he has still not adjusted to the tastebuds of Malaysians as he is a fussy eater and hates anything that is remotely spicy.
He is also a big Chelsea football fan and can’t live without his Astro sports package as yet again it’s much cheaper here than the UK.
“Now if I could just find a wife I’d happily settle here!”
If you would like to get your fair share of horror, you can find John either snapping photos or taking care of operations at Sunway Lagoon’s Nights Of Fright 6.