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The never-ending nightmare begins tonight

Where there’s Halloween scares, cult horror fan Robin Downward is not far behind.

“Haunted houses used to scare the crap out of me when I was a little kid,” he says. “I’d hide in a blanket whenever my siblings and I watched creature features on TV. Now what I remember most is how much fun we had seeing them.”

Downward’s older brothers would present a small haunted house at their elementary school, and, later, his sister and her husband organized a haunted house for March of Dimes in an old Safeway building in Santa Rosa, California.

“It was huge, and a lot community service organizations would contribute,” says Downward, executive director of Randall Theatre. “Once I got hands-on experience helping with the painting and setup of haunted houses, I wasn’t frightened by scary things anymore. I enjoyed the work that went into scaring other people and figuring out how to put things together to get the maximum scare factor.”

Haunted houses “run in his blood,” if you will.

Randall Theatre’s 10th annual haunt, The Nightmare Chamber Haunted House, opens at 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 18-21, Friday through Wednesday, Oct. 26-31, and Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3, at Randall’s warehouse theater, 10 E. Third St., Medford. Tickets are $12 and are available at randalltheatre.com, by calling 541-632-3258, or at the door. Tickets discounted $2 can be purchased at all Magic Man Fun Shops in Medford and Grants Pass. Fast passes are $15 and allow visitors to skip wait time. Regular tickets can be upgraded to fast passes for $5 at the door. The haunt is not recommended for ages 9 and younger.

“Just know that if you come on the weekends, especially closer to Halloween, and have general admission that your wait time will be longer. If you don’t like to wait, there are faster options available,” Downward says in a press release.

The Nightmare Chamber Haunted House runs in conjunction with Randall Theatre’s production of “Evil Dead: the Musical,” showing through Sunday, Oct. 28, at the company’s new venue at 20 S. Fir St. in downtown Medford. Combo tickets for the musical and the haunt are available.

This year’s Nightmare Chamber theme is inspired by 1981 horror film “Evil Dead,” the story of five college students that enter an abandoned cabin and unwittingly unleash an evil force that turns them into demented spirits. Written and directed by Sam Raimi and produced by Bruce Campbell, who also starred in the film, sequels were released in 1987, “Evil Dead II,” and in 1992, “Army of Darkness.”

Fans of the movie franchise will recognize iconic scenes such as the exterior of the haunted cabin, the trap door and the basement, along with the work shed. Characters, including Ash, the housewares clerk turned demon-killing hero, and the Deadites, will roam the haunt, offering scares to most who enter.

In the past, Randall’s haunted house has seen the ghouls of popular video games “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill.” Horror icons Leatherface, Michael Meyers, Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kruger joined forces one year to terrorize Rogue Valley denizens with “Night Terrors.”

John Carpenter’s 1978 “Halloween” gave Downward the idea that scary doesn’t mean wild action so much as situation, he says.

“Sitting in a corner and rocking can be very scary.”

Downward’s eyes were opened further into the world of the haunt industry when he joined the International Association of Haunted Attractions.

“It made me realize just how large the industry is,” he says. “It includes a gamut that runs from hobbyists to professionals.”

The network of haunted house attractions, vendors, artists and enthusiasts runs as far as those involved in Hollywood Horror Nights at Universal Studios’ theme parks in Florida, California, Singapore and Japan, and Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park, California.

“What’s cool is I have access to a lot of inside information about what goes into a haunted house,” Downward says. “It’s more than just setting up some black walls and having characters pop out at visitors, and if i need a specialized prop, I can email thousands of people around the world and get responses.

“There’s a whole psychology behind haunts,” he says. “If you really want to scare someone, as with any theatrical production or any character development, the audience has to believe what you’re selling.

“Because there aren’t a lot of big haunted houses in Southern Oregon, some folks who live here may have different expectations of what a good haunt is. It’s one thing to open a haunted house, and it’s a completely different thing to open a haunted house that really scares people.

“It takes months of preparation, months of building and planning, and it takes a lot of money,” he laughs. “To scare people.”

Ever a thespian, Downward aspires each year to create a haunt with entertainment value for everyone who visits.

“For a couple of years we had two people who worked with special effects at Universal Studios help open Randall’s haunt,” he says. “The told me that if I were to pick up this haunted house and sit it in L.A., it would be as popular as any other in Southern California. It was quite a compliment.

“First and foremost, we want our event to be safe for everyone,” he says. “It’s got to be safe, and it’s got to be scary.”

Laurie Heuston is an editor and writer at the Mail Tribune. Contact her at lheuston@rosebudmedia.com.

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