Empty Grave, one of Orange County’s top haunted mazes, amazed guests with animatronics, original costume designs and scenery, and its signature scare tactic–stalking.
“It was really scary!” commented guest Emily Haider.
Located at the Anaheim Grove, Empty Grave tells the story of a groundskeeper, who in a fit of insanity, went on a 13-day killing spree. Afterwards, overwhelmed by his conscience, the groundskeeper kills himself. Now, every time people enter the maze his spirit reawakens, unleashing this evil committed.
The real story behind the attraction began when Mike Talarico, Empty Grave’s founder, and friend started a neighborhood tradition of hosting a haunted house. After his mom eventually forbade another haunted house on her lawn, Talarico opened up one at the Block at Orange and then, three years later, moved Empty Grave to the Anaheim Grove.
The set-up is a six month process. Each year a whole new set is created by a volunteer based staff.
A key reason why Empty Grave is so popular: stalking. Instead of simply startling people, Empty Grave’s scare actors would lurk from behind or stand ahead of the guest, then follow them.
“It builds the tension,” said Talarico.
Empty Grave only lets small groups go in at a time. Unlike the amusement parks, this prevents guests from knowing where the scares will take place.
“I was so freaking scared,” said Emily Haider. “It was so unpredictable.”
Animatronics also differentiated Empty Grave from the normal Halloween event. Each robot is powered by compressed air and springs, which determine the robot’s movement. In addition, animatronics can also be a part of an actor’s costume.
“My favorite part was the costumes,” said Dillon Felkel, a guest to Empty Grave.
The costumes are at the scare actors’ discretion. Some, like Nick Diaz, get their masks professionally made. Others, as Talarico mentions, make the costumes themselves. Creativity ranges from tearing up old clothes to cutting different types of masks out, as Matthew Kopstein has done.
The actors, like the rest of the staff, are volunteers. They audition and once accepted, create their own costumes and styles of scare. The best part; the free food joked cast members Matthew Kopstein (5 year veteran) and Nick Diaz (7 year veteran).
Compiled of volunteers, cast members normally stay between seven and nine years . Talarico, Kopstein, and Diaz all believe it is because “it’s a family.”
But Talarico said the there is one main reason they are so successful. “It’s really all in the love and spirit of Halloween.”
Empty Grave runs Wednesday through Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. each night. Tickets: $13 per person, $20 per couple.