For Halloween, the people behind Ranch of Horror sent chills down spines. Now, they're aiming to warm hearts and support a worthy cause.
Ranch of Horror has become Ranch of Holidays to put on a Christmas Extravaganza at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock. Proceeds from the production, from Dec. 14-23, will go toward presenting Don't Be a Monster anti-bullying assemblies at area schools, organizers said.
Don't Be a Monster is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works with members of The Haunted Attraction Association to "to educate and empower youth (fourth- through 10th-graders) to be leaders around diversity, inclusiveness, and show them how to stand up for their friends and peers."
Ranch of Horror's effort comes at a time when bullying is getting a burst of attention in news reports. A 13-year-old Los Angeles girl and a 15-year-old Massachusetts boy were driven to suicide by bullying, their families say. An Elk Grove mother took to Facebook to write an open letter to her son's bully. A video of a boy sharing the pain of being bullied went viral, leading scores of celebrities to voice their support for him.
"We've been looking at this Don't Be a Monster program for a while and thought it would be really good to bring to our community," said Ranch of Horror's Travis Regalo, an Atwater resident. He and others started the Ranch of Horror Halloween haunt in Merced County three years ago, but relocated to the Turlock fairgrounds this year.
This being the first year in a new location, it seemed like the right time, he said. Ranch of Horror is going "completely nonprofit" with the Christmas Extravaganza, Regalo said, and proceeds will go to, "for lack of better words, 'purchasing' the (Don't Be a Monster) program to bring it here. They teach you how to implement it and properly present it."
The assemblies have been a big success on the East Coast, he said, but haven't been brought west yet, and "they want to make sure it stays successful."
Though the Ranch of Holidays Christmas Extravaganza comes from the producers of the Ranch of Horror, it's no frightful/festive mashup in the vein of "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
"We thought about going scary," Regalo said, "but we wanted to do something more family-friendly." Even Ranch of Horror, he noted, wasn't all about the scary. It had family features including a climbing wall, laser tag and paintball.
And the Extravaganza, he said, is meant to help families create memories and traditions. The event has two components: the Hot Cocoa Hayride and Santa's Village. Both take place in the barn area of the fairgrounds.
The tractor-pulled hayride includes singing carols and enjoying hot chocolate while touring a show of nearly 85,000 lights. Santa's Village is an interactive walk-through that begins when visitors enter a "portal" to the North Pole.
Once inside, they will go through Santa's den, where he's reviewing the naughty-or-nice list, Mrs. Claus' cookie kitchen, a candy shop and the mine run by elves Ember and Char, who dig for the coal that goes into the stockings of the naughty.
Background stories were written for several elf characters, including miners Ember and Char. "Char's been doing it a lot longer, so he's kind of more 'bah humbug' about it," Regalo said. "Ember still has a little bit of a spark within her … hope for the younger kids."
Regalo himself will play half of the elf duo Bolt and Jolt, who keep the electricity running and the lights burning at the North Pole.
The extravaganza also will include vendors and a midway with bounce houses, a slide and a climbing wall, he said.
The attractions are open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 for the hayride, $15 for Santa's Village, or $20 for both. To purchase, go to ranchofhorror.com/christmas-extravaganza-tickets.