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One Last Scare Student-organized haunted house tradition comes to a close

By Emily Xia and Tabitha Mendez

Complete darkness. Blood-curdling screams. Maniacally-laughing clowns. On any other day, these would be unwarranted and frightening. However, it was Oct. 31, and rather than running away and hiding, a long line of students eagerly waited for their turn to enter the neighborhood haunted house.

Since seventh grade, seniors Gaurav Datta, Andrew Fung, Akshay Gopalkrishnan, Chetan Mokkapati, Sahas Munamala, Vishnu Palaniappan and Pramodh Srihari have planned and hosted a haunted house in Palaniappan’s garage. According to Munamala, they started opening the haunted house to the public because they grew bored of trick-or-treating every year.

This was the sixth and final year that the group of MVHS students prepared for what was their annual Halloween tradition.

“The idea sort of came spontaneously,” Munamala said. “I think [Mokkapati] was the one who came up with the idea, and we didn’t really believe him first, but we got together and it just happened. In the beginning, we had no idea what we were doing and we figured things out as we went. As the years went by we started figuring out what works and what doesn’t.”

Then comes the part they anticipated for weeks: the scares. The time and work spent setting up the house comes to life in a minute-long tour as visitors navigate their way through a dark maze, jumpscared several times along the way.

“Most people will say ‘Oh my God, it’s so cool,’” Munamala said. “Some won’t be scared and will just say, ‘Hi, I see you,’ which gets annoying sometimes, but for the most part it's really exciting. Sometimes it's hard to stand in the same costume and do the same thing, but seeing all the reactions is really fun.”

Although the general design of the haunted house is similar each year, an extensive amount of planning is required to have the event run smoothly. According to Palaniappan, the group meets up every Sunday for three weeks until the week of Halloween.

“Everyone in the group knows to save a little time over the weekends once it’s October for set up, and everybody likes it,” Palaniappan said. “We have little notes, and a Google Drawing where we put the plan [together] and people can add and take things they want.”

Planning for the event generally takes three or four hours, but the majority of the time is usually spent on setting up the garage, which can take more than six hours.

They set it up on Sunday, the weekend before Halloween and then close the garage until it’s the night of Halloween.

“We have all the ropes and everything set up and when we open up the garage on the day of [Halloween], we put the lines towards the garage. Set up takes about three hours on the Sunday before, and two hours on the day of, with about an hour to clip things around, and put things into practice,” Palaniappan said.

Despite their prior experience with making a haunted house, the set-up usually takes longer than anticipated. Although they spent about eight hours preparing this year, they were still much faster than previous years.

“We usually are barely finished by the time people start showing up on Halloween evening,” Datta said. “We are just finishing up so there is always a bit of a time crunch. This year I think we went a little bit quicker because we’ve done it so many times before.”

As their night comes to a close, the exhausted group is able to look back on their memories. Hosting their yearly tradition has not only brought excitement to their neighborhood, but has also allowed the group to bond and become closer friends.

“Usually by the end we’re too tired to do anything because we’ve been standing for four or five hours straight,” Munamala said. “But during clean up, we usually reflect on what happened, what went well, what didn't and it’s just sort of something you do with friends.”

Left to right: Akshay Gopalkrishnan, Chetan Mokkapati, Vishnu Palaniappan, Pramodh Srihari, Andrew Fung, Sahas Munamala and Gaurav Datta. Photo provided by Vishnu Palaniappan.

As seniors, this was the group’s final year, and working their final haunted house was a time for them to reminisce on memories.

“Having it be my last year was definitely something,” Datta said. “When one of the last people went through, it hit us like ‘Wow, we’re never going to do that again,’ so I guess we were all more motivated to make this last one count.”

For Palaniappan, the only way to describe his emotions after their last haunted house is “bittersweet.” Although he is disappointed that he will never get to experience the fun again, he’s thankful to have added something special to their community's celebration of Halloween.

“There’s a lot of fun and a lot of good memories that I'll always remember,” Palaniappan said. “It's also nice, in that we brought the community together and a lot of people were able to enjoy their Halloween, and we all had a good time.”

Decorations and highlights of the haunted house.

All photos taken by Emily Xia

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Emily Xia
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