Friday, October 4, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: An Interview with Marrow from the House of Marrow

Today, Specters, I am very proud to present an interview with one of the most talented up-and-coming haunters of this age: Marrow, of the House of Marrow. At only 15 years old, Marrow has taken paper mache prop making to a new level. Based out of New Zealand, Marrow has done three haunts to date, each housed in a store front window. The first was very traditional, featuring a witch and zombies; the second revised the previous with a new Black Death overlay, and 2012's "Geisterbahn" created a boardwalk spookhouse in the store front in astonishing detail.

But enough of my blather, I'll let the man himself do the talking.

Q: What exactly was it that got you hooked on Halloween?­­
A: I couldn’t answer that question for the life of me (hope we’re not off to a bad start!). My parents tell me I was three years old, it was Halloween, the neighborhood kids were out trick-or-treating and I was absolutely taken with it – this is all I know. It all started there - from that point, Halloween, horror, and things that go bump in the night have been a lifelong obsession for me.

Q: How did you get started in Home Haunting?
A: It was around January 2009 – I was eleven years old and perusing magic-trick videos on Youtube. One of the suggestions was titled ‘How to Make a Halloween Corpse’. I pulled an old plastic skull out of the attic and set to work. I wanted to build a body for my nasty head, and it didn’t take long for me to find my way to SpookyBlue’s site. Scrolling down through the endless tutorial list, it dawned on me that this was the hobby I’d be waiting for my entire life. I vividly recall one day when I, six years old, decided to turn my room into a torture chamber. I made stuffed dummies and posed them around the room and hung cardboard limbs from paperclip chains. That same year I wound up spending Wednesday afternoons with a psychologist – but that’s another story altogether. The point is, it was really quite a relevatory moment. I can say pretty confidently that it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

Q: Your first haunt was wonderful, and really spooky in an old-school way, really harkening back to traditional Halloween imagery. The following year, titled The Second Great Plague, was more overtly grotesque and creepy. Finally, 2012’s Geisterbahn was a jaw-dropping effort that really took things to a whole new level. Which of these haunts is ultimately your favorite? Which was the hardest to construct?  
A: The hardest to construct was absolutely Geisterbahn (German for Ghost Train. No real relevance - I just liked the word.). I found out early last year that I wouldn’t be able to do my haunt in the shop window from 2013 onwards, and decided to go off with a bang. I pretty much dedicated all my time, money and energy to making it as good as it could be and became absolutely obsessed with getting every detail perfect, from water damage on the giant wall panels to seatbelts on the cart.
It’s hard to say what my overall favorite is. I really like the way 2011’s haunt turned out, but Geisterbahn is my blood, sweat and tears. I’ll have to give that one a few more years to provide a balanced answer.

Q: Every April, you construct a haunt called “The Backs”. Care to tell us all more about it?
A: ‘The Backs’ was born in winter 2010. I was bored on a gloomy afternoon and took it upon myself to create a miniature haunt in the back garden using nothing but things from the shed and the ground around me. I made ‘blair witch totems’ and hung them from the tree, crude zombie hands from rotting gloves and spent hours ‘planting’ tiny dead shrubbery around the edges of the trail.

The next year I expanded the trail and decided to make it an annual tradition. I set up ‘The Backs’ every year on the 30th of April – precisely halfway between one Halloween and the next. Since April here is in Autumn (and October in Spring!), I decided to embrace the season and stick to the stripped-back, rustic theme. It feels almost like a second, private, Halloween. I’m not going to be able to do my window display on Halloween for the next few years – so I’ll be focusing a lot more on expanding ‘The Backs’ instead.

Q: Any future haunt concepts you care to share with us?
A: I’d really love to do a proper yard haunt. The garden in front of my house is cramped and awkward and not at all fit for a haunt. My ultimate haunt would probably involve a creepy, abandoned house. These places already have a reputation among neighborhood kids. On Halloween, I’d set up dozens of gruesome props – rotting corpses of trick-or-treaters tied to posts, posed on furniture, hanging from the house. Cracked masks and rotting pumpkins over their heads. Crude decorations and jack o’lanterns everywhere. And signs reading CANDY THIS WAY that point to the open door of the house. It’d look like the work of an exceptionally disturbed (and creative) serial killer. I guess that’s what I’ve tried to achieve, albeit on a smaller scale, with The Backs.

Q: You have a real passion for Ghost Trains (known in the US as Dark Rides). How did this interest come about? What is it about them you find so interesting?
A: I’d just like to put it out before I say any more – I have never been on a ghost train. My favorite book when I was little was ‘Come For A Ride On The Ghost Train’, in which the reader is literally taken for a ride on a Ghost Train. That was really all it took for me. There’s something about Ghost Trains that I find so fascinating – many things, actually. The gaudy neon signs, the tacky props, the flashing green lights and looping sound effects… not knowing what’s going to be around the next bend in the track. Perhaps my idea of a Ghost Train is vastly different from the real thing – completely fabricated and untainted.

Q: Apparently, you have a fondness for RL Stine’s Goosebumps books, and have created a Tumblr account showing your own pseudo-Goosebumps covers. Care to tell us more?
A: The Goosebumps books were a real inspiration for me as a crazy, horror-loving five-year-old. They were my proper introduction to horror, and I’d say I’m not the only person that feels this way. Goosebumps was already on its way out when I started reading them, so every book was a torn, stained, ancient tome, some of them with ghosts and monsters doodled onto the pages. I’m a huge nostalgia geek and am aiming to collect the whole series. When we finally got a copy of Adobe Photoshop I decided to turn my favorite horror movies into Goosebumps books. They turned out much better than I had expected (the key to their authenticity is a very carefully constructed template and the font ‘Futura’). I figured this is the sort of stuff the internet loves, and set up a Tumblr blog to showcase them ( And I was right – the blog has really taken off. I get requests from other users and each post has around 100-300 notes. It’s been pretty awesome.

Q: You’ve recently taken to directing short films, including a wonderful piece called “Skeletons”, and a tribute to The Evil Dead called “The Woods Themselves”. What was it like to be directing? Do you have any ambitions to join the film industry?
A: Making Skeletons was a blast. It was long and sometimes pretty frustrating but so rewarding. I’d say one of the best things about it was recording the music. I was terrified because I’d never done anything even remote musical but it turned out to be a lot of fun. The entire score is piano – sometimes reversed, sometimes slowed down, almost always drenched in reverb. ‘The Woods Themselves’ was quite different. I think it took about a week from start to finish, prop-making included, whereas Skeletons was the culmination of months of work. I’d love to get into the film industry – even just doing stupid jobs around the set. I had the awesome experience of acting in a proper short film when I was 10, and was completely fascinated by the whole thing.

Q: You seem to be a big fan of horror films. What would you say are some of your favorite horror flicks?
A: Huge fan. Always have been. And I’m constantly ranking and re-ranking my favorites – picking them apart to figure out which is better. At the moment my favorite would have to be The Shining. It’s such a consistently incredible film. I particularly love retro horror movies - that is, modern horror in the style of old horror (The House of the Devil, Beyond The Black Rainbow and Berberian Sound Studio) - and the recent slew of awesome French horror movies (especially Martyrs and Livide). So much of whether I like a movie of not is determined by its ‘look and feel’.  For me, music, visuals, colors and cinematography are so much more important than plot, characters or actual scariness. I’m easy to please in that regard – give me a foggy graveyard or a surreal dream sequence and I couldn’t be happier.

Q: What is your favorite Halloween memory?
A: That’s a tough one seeing as most of my Halloween-related memories didn’t take place on Halloween at all (which has always been a somewhat anti-climactic affair over here). I’ve got one that stands out from 2009. It was Halloween and also the day of my ex-primary-school’s fair. Not long after arriving with my friends, I spotted an attraction that hadn’t been there before – The Haunted Shed. At this point I was already into prop-making and perfectly familiar with haunts of every size, though I’d never actually seen one in the flesh. The makers (some fantastically enthusiastic parents) were applying the final touches before opening, and I kept sneaking glances into the converted PE shed. I was the first customer, and can report that it was all I had hoped for. Mutilated dolls nailed to walls of black plastic sheeting, sound-effect laden organ music, blacklights and fog machines... I went in for a second round immediately and then spent the rest of the day working in there myself, scaring the life out of unsuspecting students and concerned parents. In short, it was amazing.

Q: What do you do when you’re not working on something Haunt or Halloween related?
A: I watch an awful  lot of horror movies. I’ve been writing short reviews of every film I’ve watch since this time last year – I’m filling up a converted Goosebumps book (appropriately titled ‘You Can’t Scare Me!’). I listen to a lot of music too, mostly from Iceland. I find it hard to believe there’s so much incredible music coming from a country with the same population as the city of Wellington - Sigur Rós, Jónsi, Sin Fang, Pascal Pinon, Of Monsters And Men, Sóley… but I may be getting off topic now. This year’s been kinda weird because I’ve been completely unable to find the time or energy to do nearly any form of prop-making. But I can’t figure out what I’ve been doing instead. Probably sitting in my room, listening intently to ‘Valtari’, putting off homework and wallowing in teenage angst… or something along those lines.

Q: I know that you have said you won’t be doing an October haunt for the next few years; what do you think you’ll be doing to fill up that time and how do you think you’ll mark the day?
A: Not really sure at this point. As I’ve said earlier, I’ll definitely be doing ‘The Backs’ in April each year,  and what I post on Halloween may vary from year to year. To be honest, as of writing this interview (late August), I’ve only just figured out what I’m doing this year. And to clarify – it’s not going to be anything big. At all. But it felt wrong not to mark the day with and offering for the blog. It might even be posted by the time you’re reading this.

Q: What is it like to be a Haunter at such a young age? Are people surprised when they learn how old you are?
A: I guess so. I think it’s pretty much common knowledge for people who read and comment on my blog, so it’s more the folks on Hauntforum that are taken aback. I’d say a better question would be ‘are people surprised when they walk into your bedroom for the first time?’. I’ve become pretty secretive about my hobby over the past couple of years. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge horror fan and love all things spooky, but I tend to keep the whole paper-mache-corpses thing to myself. It’s only when new friends set foot in my bedroom that they truly realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Q: Every haunter has their influences, ranging from other haunters, to horror films and video games, sometimes even their own dreams. What are the things that inspire you the most?
A: I’m a huge fan of the work of Pumpkinrot and Stephen Gammell (who illustrated the ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ series). They’re almost one and the same to me – their works both share a very creepy organic element that I really love, and an almost melancholy feel. I’ve definitely stolen ideas from movies too, and not even good ones. More than anything, I like to draw on things that I loved from my childhood – Goosebumps, ghost trains, zombies… I feel like I’m constantly creating stuff that I’d wanted to as a crazy six-year-old but didn’t have the knowledge or skill to at the time. 2012’s Geisterbahn haunt seemed to have been swimming around in my head for ten years, so it was pretty cool to have that vision finally realized.

Q: I understand that there’s not much of a Halloween culture in New Zealand. Do you have plans of one day coming to the United States for Halloween?
A: No real plans, but I’d absolutely love to. Halloween in New Zealand is a bit sad - I think a lot of people here see it as an unnecessarily commercial and distasteful occasion, or as an American ‘invasion’. There’ve even been petitions to ban Halloween (and Guy Fawkes Day, which is also celebrated over here), as it’s not ‘culturally relevant’. I’d like to come over one day and get the full Halloween experience; burning leaves, picking pumpkins, eating actual candy corn... I’d probably stay for Christmas too.

Q: Finally, any advice to any aspiring Haunters or Artists who may read this interview?
A: Just go for it, really. Try new things. Sign up to one of the forums - it’s full of amazing experts and absolute beginners and generally awesome people. Set up a blog too -  it’s lots of fun and a great way to show your work to the world. And don’t be afraid to slow down for a while if you think you’ve worn yourself out.

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