By Dixie Pettit
Word is spreading about the haunted house in Ramona that is “too terrifying” for some but “the perfect scare” for one in search of the ultimate shock.
The Freeman house, the location of “Peggy’s Daycare,” will again open its creepy abyss to the public for Halloween. John Freeman with friend and special effects artist Travis Weikel have been inventing scare rooms for nearly a decade, but this is only the fourth year the business partners have opened it to the general public.
“I just wanted to decorate a room for Halloween to make it fun for the kids and my mom,” said Freeman.
His mother, Peggy of Peggy’s Daycare, laughed, saying, “He did so well, and the kids liked it so much, I kept buying more (props) and he kept making it bigger.”
What began with a single butler scene on the front porch has grown into a backyard adventure. The family of frightmasters push the limits of imagination in an attempt to play on the fears of the general public.
Room after room sports the remnants of rodents and bones. Scenes reminiscent of common nightmares dare guests who decide to go through the doors and into the unknown.
“We had a football player come in last year,” said Freeman. “He ran out the back, screaming louder than the girl he was with.”
Decorating the elaborate scenes takes weeks of preparation. Family and friends begin as early as August to have it ready by Halloween. It takes so long because a lot of the props are constructed, not purchased, explained Freeman. This year, even most of the masks have been sculpted by Weikel and Freeman.
The duo has been working tirelessly, blending the grotesque with realistic masks of latex. Weikel is a professional special effects artist, and Freeman is “working on it.” The friends have gotten so good at what they do, friends and family began buying the props constructed in the Ramona workshop.
“Everybody wants to buy the hands,” said Freeman. “It’s funny. To us, it seems so simple, but they love it.”
The front yard is set up for the gentlest exposure for the young trick-or-treaters. Blow-up decorations adorn the yard with a glimpse of a not-so-scary graveyard for the little ones to enjoy.
“The haunted house is set up for the older kids and adults to enjoy,” said Freeman, “It really is too scary for the little kids, but every year we get parents who insist on taking their kids through the maze. It’s crazy.”
Each room had a specific theme of its own and is carefully designed and put together in a twist of reality-bending that only a lover of mayhem and horror could conceive — or a special effects artist. Pirates, cobwebs, spiders and clowns prey on the inner fears of each unsuspecting guest.
The friends seem to think everyone has something that will trigger a fear response and focus on creating effects to touch on as many of those as possible.
When the scare zone morphed into several different rooms, Freeman was originally doing all the running around. In a crazy race of costume changing and wall banging, it was an exhausting evening for the solo frightmaster. Now, actors come in as extras interspersed throughout the rooms.
“With real characters now, you don’t know who is real or not,” said Freeman.
His mother, laughing, recounted last year. “It was so funny because there weren’t a lot of people helping John. He was jumping over bushes, trying to get from room to room to scare people. It was so great. He had a good time, but you should have seen how tired he was!”
The family already has been getting phone calls from people all over San Diego County.
So many people are expected to come this year that the family had to set up a different day for friends and relatives to visit without the crowd expected to come on Halloween.
“We are expecting more than 100 people just from the people we know,” said Freeman. “We have them come separate now because so many people have started coming during Halloween that it is hard to get the family through.”
“The area for the little kids in the front of the house is free, of course,” said Freeman, adding that he hopes parents will allow the young ones to explore the area outside of the frightening abyss beyond the gates. “We have it set up so there is a lot for them to look at while the older kids or parents take turns going through the scariest zone.”
For seekers of the macabre and grotesque, search out the home at the end of the dark street.
Go to Rancho Bullard Lane — just make sure you can run faster than the person you are with and remember to wear tennis shoes. Heels don’t work when running from the Ripper.