What do biokinesiology research and building haunted houses have in common? They happen to be the two passions and occupations of Dr. Todd Schroeder, an assistant professor at USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. This weekend, Schroeder will test the results of his latest experiment, The Theatre of Terror in downtown Pasadena.
Schroeder moved to South Pasadena with his family in 2004 and was blown away by the number of trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood on Halloween. In fact, it is the same neighborhood where the 1978 film Halloween was filmed, as well as the 2004 Rob Zombie remake. Schroeder, who has always had a passion for horror and Halloween (his ringtone is the theme from The Exorcist), decided to embrace the spirit of the neighborhood by turning his home into an elaborate, free haunted house every Oct. 31.
After a few years, the quality of Schroeder’s haunted houses became the stuff of local legend. Neighborhood kids and Hollywood set designers alike admired Schroeder’s handiwork. In fact, over the past few years, Schroeder has helped design creepy “graveyard type stuff” for the TV shows Up All Night and Supernatural. By Halloween last year, during which Schroeder hosted more than 2,000 visitors, it became clear that his legend and popularity had outgrown his home.
Together with his neighbor, Scott Peterson, who happened to be born on Halloween, Schroeder formed Evil Twins Studios, with the intention of creating an annual haunted house charity on a much larger scale. The two found a dream location in South Pasadena’s Fremont Center Theatre, and Schroeder is quick to point out that “people say it’s actually haunted.” Just to be safe, Schroeder and his all-volunteer staff have spent the entire month of October making sure that’s the case.
Schroeder and his collaborators have developed an elaborate narrative for the Theatre of Terror, which will wind its way through the bowels of the former mortuary. A deranged director by the name of Max Wyczek is said to have been burned to death in the theatre in October 1963 because of a fire he started. Fifty years later, residents of South Pasadena have reason to believe that Max has returned.
Schroeder won’t elaborate much further, but he does reveal that Wyczek is also said to have “slaughtered his cast, killed his daughter [and] caused his wife to hang herself.”
Schroeder is personally financing the haunted house, but does not intend to make any money off of the project. The whole experience is a charitable venture, with all revenue being donated to the South Pasadena Arts Council, which supports the arts at South Pasadena schools.
In spite of the charitable nature of the Theatre of Terror, its production and publicity could hardly be described as amateur. A glance at Evil Twin Studios’ website gives one a taste of the quality of the company’s craftsmanship. Jennifer Bandich, one of Schroeder’s co-workers at the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, acts as the studio’s marketing director. A number of local radio stations and newspapers have also publicized the Theatre of Terror.
Bandich is confident there’s a significant market for the Theatre of Terror.
“We know Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm are really pricey, but this is something fun that high school and college kids can afford,” Bandich said.
In spite of the company’s preparedness, Schroeder takes the risk of producing his haunted house in stride.
“It’s a gamble. Notoriously, haunted houses lose money for the first few years,” Schroeder said.
Even if Evil Twin Studios doesn’t work out (which seems unlikely), Schroeder will always have his teaching and research at USC to go back to. So far, he has managed to keep his work at USC and his new company completely separate.
Interestingly enough, many of his neighbors think he’s a professional set designer. Schroeder’s reputation in his neighborhood should boost attendance at the Theatre of Terror. His house, which is only two blocks away from the theater, will not be haunted this year. Schroeder, however, will likely give out discount tickets to the theater to disappointed neighbors on Halloween.
Bandich will be out front selling tickets and taking care of the business side of things. Schroeder, however, will be inside the theater as one of the performers.
“If you see a large werewolf, that’s probably me,” Schroeder said.
Though South Pasadena might sound distant from USC, it is easy to get there via Metro. From campus, take the Expo Line to 7th Street Station, and then transfer to the Gold line and disembark at South Pasadena Station. The Theatre of Terror is only a couple of blocks away. The haunted house will debut this Saturday night and will be open every night from Thursday to Saturday for the next two weekends.