A woman in an orange jumpsuit paces outside the old Arroyo Grande post office, exuding the nervous energy of a particularly helpful mental patient.
“Have you met my friends?” Vanessa Rosa asks eagerly.
Without waiting for an answer, she reaches into her pockets and pulls out two rubber rats. “This is Proctor and this is Gamble.”
Welcome to Mid State Scare’s “Descent into Terror,” the Central Coast’s newest haunt.
Created and staffed by a small army of volunteers, “Descent into Terror” is a state-of-the-art spookfest, complete with computer-controlled animatronics and custom-built lighting and sound systems. It runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday, through Halloween.
“Most of us dream of doing Disneyland sometime in our life,” Arroyo Grande architect Randy Russom said. This, he added, is the next best thing.
Russom and his wife, Monique, a video editor, got the idea for “Descent into Terror” about a year ago, inspired by their son’s love of robotics.
They teamed up with two haunted house veterans, Cuesta College math teacher Greg Lewis and Robyn Burns, who works at Audio Video City in San Luis Obispo.
Lewis has been creating home haunts for about 30 years, first in Southern California and later at his Arroyo Grande home. After decades of outdoor thrills, “I wanted a roof over my head,” he said.
The Arroyo Grande post office, which served as a warehouse for nearby Mullahey Ford after closing its doors in 2006, was a fittingly frightful location.
“Everybody thinks it’s haunted anyway,” Lewis joked.
Organizers signed a two-year lease with Mullahey Ford and started construction in early August. “Descent into Terror” opened to the public on Oct. 1.
Unlike traditional haunted houses, which might feature a few skeletons jumping out from behind black sheets, “Descent into Terror” is “more like an interactive theatrical event,” Russom said.
Visitors experience a terrifying trip to the bowels of the post office, where they encounter crazed mail carriers, mad scientists and scientific experiments gone terribly awry. Talking skeletons and swinging spiders add to the atmosphere of horror.
Running the haunted house requires about 50 volunteers ranging from high school drama students to seasoned professionals. Most of them heard about “Descent into Terror” via an ad on Craigslist.
San Luis Obispo resident Anthony Bolin and his girlfriend, Monique Grajeda, signed up to help.
“This is the most fun I can have without getting arrested,” joked Bolin, who wore a Dickies jumpsuit smeared with grime. “Everybody here is real cool. We’re having so much fun.”
He’s been known to remove his artificial foot for special effect or sport a mask like the one worn by Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs.”
“If I can get under somebody’s skin, I’ll just follow them around,” he said.
Roles rotate, so volunteers might be monsters one night and helpless victims the next.
They gather a few hours before the haunted house opens in a hot, humid warren of passageways and prep areas. There, amid signs warning “Beware of bloodspills” and “Please take body parts home at end of shift,” actors put the finishing touches on costumes or practice their best blood-curdling shrieks.
Miranda Pechon of Paso Robles described the “Descent into Terror” aesthetic as “steampunk meets monster meets postal service.” She spent three weeks crafting more than 50 costumes, including her own “corpse beast” getup.
According to Russom, the haunted house has “evolved every month, every minute.”
“It’s a significant investment to make this operation happen,” the architect said, putting expenses in the tens of thousands. “This is not cheap entertainment.”
So far, “Descent into Terror” seems to be serving its purpose.
“We’ve had nothing but positive reactions from people,” said Russom, who’s already gearing up for next year.
Charlayne Horton of Grover Beach emerged from the haunted house frightened, but elated.
“I was getting goosebumps. The hair was going up on my arms,” Horton said with a delighted shiver. “They did a great job.”