MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
How do you build a floor plan for fear? Florida-based building designer Leonard Pickel has been designing haunted houses for more than four decades. He's designed fright sites for clients all over - from New York to Australia - and he joins us now from Panama City, where he's about to open his latest build. Mr. Pickel, thanks for coming on the show.
LEONARD PICKEL: Oh, thanks for having me. Happy Halloween.
BLOCK: Yeah, same to you. And why don't you start by taking us inside the haunted house you're working on there in Panama City. How scary is it?
PICKEL: It's as scary as we can make it. One of the things that we try to do is use psychological fear. And, you know, we don't want to mess you up for life. We just want to...
BLOCK: (Laughter) That's nice.
PICKEL: ...Give you some startles and then entertain you.
BLOCK: Do you hang out in your haunted houses to see whether they're working, which parts are really scaring people and which are just falling flat?
PICKEL: Oh, sure. Always.
PICKEL: You're always looking for the next best gag. And there are some years that I don't really come up with anything cool or new. But this year, I've actually several different room designs that I've come up with. And I get my stuff from all kinds of stuff. I was watching a TV commercial one time and got a room design. So there's all kinds of different areas that inspire me to come up with the crazy ideas that I come up with. And some of them are total accidents.
BLOCK: What was the thing that you got from watching a TV commercial?
PICKEL: There was a commercial where this guy walks into a kitchen in his underwear, I guess and opens up the refrigerator to look inside. Well, there was no light in the room. And then when he opens up the refrigerator, the light in the refrigerator blinds him, so he really can't see anything. And I said, man, if a monster came over the top of that refrigerator door when he did that, it would scare the heck out of him. So when people come through. They'll look in the refrigerator because they'll think the actors are going to be in there and pop out to scare them. And then when they open it, they're going to see this partially eaten pizza been sitting around for days. And then when they look in and say, oh, that's cool, the guy will come over the top of the refrigerator.
BLOCK: Oh. So it's misdirection. Like, they're looking at one thing, and they're not noticing the scary thing right above them, right?
PICKEL: Absolutely, yes. When they walk into the rooms, you can show them what they think is going to scare them and then come from a completely different direction - is the best scare you're going to get.
BLOCK: That's Leonard Pickel. His company is Hauntrepreneurs. Mr. Pickel, thanks so much. And Happy Halloween.
PICKEL: Thanks for having me. Everybody have a great October 31.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BLOCK: Tomorrow, a man who makes scary music on an instrument he calls the apprehension engine. And our own spooky theme music was written by B.J. Leiderman.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.