On Halloween night, Macarthy Whyzel stood still in a darkened room.
Whyzel, 23, was dressed in a clown suit. His zombie mask featured red hair and protruding green eyeballs. He watched as a pair of 40-year-old men entered the haunted house holding beers. They made their way from room to room, scanning the walls and crevasses for a hint of someone hiding, someone who might jump out at them.
They didn’t know it, but they were looking for Whyzel.
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As more than 14,000 people made their way into his childhood home last fall, Whyzel was hoping for one big scare.
Whyzel did not move a muscle. From behind the zombie mask he tracked the two men. He waited.
When the men entered his room, they walked up to Whyzel, who was standing in plain sight. One man poked Whyzel in the eye, thinking he was fake. The other man lifted his hand to touch his mask.
As the man’s hand approached Whyzel’s face, he jumped.
“Boo!” he yelled.
Both men dropped their beers, one of which hit Whyzel in the face.
“It was probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Whyzel said. “It hurt, but the moment it happened, it was nothing but laughter.”
The scare illustrated everything Whyzel hoped to accomplish — a celebration of fright and laughter — when he started making a haunted house in Coquitlam six years ago.
In recent years, though, he has come to view the haunted house as much more than a home filled with goblins and ghouls.
A love to scare
Halloween has always been Whyzel’s favourite holiday.
Growing up in Coquitlam, he loved to trick-or-treat with friends and attend Fright Nights at the PNE.
“It was a time of year that brought so many things together,” Whyzel said. “The whole idea of [Halloween] is that it’s whimsical and magical and you dress up. It’s an excuse for people to get together to do something and have a good laugh.”
He loved gory costumes — the Scream mask that oozed with blood — but his parents banned him from wearing anything that was too vulgar when he was a teenager.
As he grew up, he developed a passion for community service. Whyzel, who is currently working towards a criminology degree at Douglas College, dreamed of building a haunted house that also raised money for local charities.
He launched the first house in 2017.
“It was literally just a few lights and this one little prop I got from Home Depot,” he said.
But word of mouth quickly spread through the neighbourhood.
Hundreds more people showed up the next year and, by 2021, he started accumulating thousands of dollars in donations.
“The money became more than just a few hundred dollars,” Whyzel said, adding that the house attracted more than 14,000 people in the month of October — roughly 5,000 on Halloween alone — and raised just under $2,000 for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.
“The idea of food insecurity has always spoken to me,” Whyzel said. “It’s something that is quite troubling for a lot of people in our own neighbourhoods and backyards.”
Building the house
Throughout the year, Whyzel scours the internet, looking for cheap deals on props he could include in the house.
But the house is not cheap.
In total, Whyzel estimates that he’s spent somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000 of his own money on building the haunted house throughout the years.
“It’s just been my mission for forever,” he said. “It all comes from me, but at the same time, I have been quite resourceful.”
Specifically, to build the haunted house rooms, he sourced free pallets from stores that were looking to get rid of their wooden structures.
Whyzel will start building this year’s haunted house on Sunday.
Last year, he said, the house had six rooms that each had a different theme.
This year’s house will look different, Whyzel said, adding that he bought new props and electronics to give a “farm feel” to a new section of the house.
“It’ll be something sort of corn maze-esque, without revealing too much more,” he said.
Whyzel is hoping to attract over 15,000 people to the haunted house, which opens on Oct. 1 at 2986 Forestridge Place and runs until Halloween.
He is also looking to raise more than $3,000 to Backpack Buddies, a Vancouver-based charity that delivers food to kids within School District 43 who are battling food insecurity.
“They provide food to kids who are in our backyard,” he said. “They do work that, unfortunately in this day and age, is only becoming more and more of a demand.”
Ultimately, Christmas has long been associated with the time of giving, Whyzel said. Halloween, on the other hand, is well known for frightful costumes and parties.
Although his haunted house will likely provide many scares, Whyzel said he believes Halloween can be a time for giving too — and not just fear.
“It’s a different celebration, the unknown, the weird, the quirky,” he said.
“I think it’s completely cool to associate that with community giving and bringing people together.”