Oct 31, 2023

Behind the scenes of Casa Loma’s Legends of Horror

Megan Penney, Production Manager of Design and Décor shares the inspiration and team effort behind the haunted production

A photograph from a set at Casa Loma's Legends of Horror

Image courtesy of Liberty Entertainment Group

You’re a brave Torontonian if you’ve ever dared to step foot on Casa Loma’s grounds in October - and not necessarily because the castle is allegedly haunted. Every October, Casa Loma transforms into Legends of Horror, an immersive, promenade theatrical experience.  Guests are greeted by actors in the form of nightmarish creatures as they travel a 2 km trail through the castle’s lower gardens and underground tunnels. 

A stand-out venue amongst Toronto’s haunted house scene, Legends of Horror takes advantage of Casa Loma’s spookier architectural elements to keep guests on their toes, such as its underground tunnel. 

“Incorporating elements that are built into the castle has given us a unique opportunity for Legends of Horror,” explained Corynn Goncalves, Marketing Manager for Liberty Entertainment Group, the managing company of Casa Loma. “Casa Loma was built with an 800 ft underground tunnel that, regardless of the season, can be regarded as dark and dreary. Incorporating this feature has been a key aspect over the years. The [tunnel] sets a tone of fear and gives us winding corridors to create sets that truly add to the fear factors of the production.” 

An image of Castle Loma with skulls projected on it

Image courtesy of Liberty Entertainment Group

Continuing to build on this spooky atmosphere, Legends of Horror uses projectors to transform Casa Loma’s grand architecture into a screen for a frightening story of a bat-filled castle set on fire, as well as 3D renderings of the castle’s map. 

Now in its eighth year of production, it’s safe to say Casa Loma’s Legends of Horror has become a Toronto Halloween staple. To get a taste of the ideas and effort behind the haunted attraction keeping Torontonian’s screaming all October, Foyer sat down with Megan Penney, Legends of Horror Production Manager of Design and Décor, who spoke about how she got her start in horror set design and this year’s inspiration for Legends of Horror. 

An image of Megan Penney

Megan Penney, Legends of Horror Production Manager of Design and Décor

Foyer: Tell us about your role in designing the set and décor of Casa Loma’s Legends of Horror and how you first got involved in set designing and managing the décor of haunted houses. 

Penney: I come from the dynamic world of television and film and have nearly ten years of experience working in various departments like lighting/electric, scenic painting, and carpeting — I was even a set medic at one point, but my passion was in the art department and that’s where I have been ever since. In the film industry, I worked on a few horror films, so I had previous experience, but my experience mainly goes back to watching many horror films and having a mild obsession with the horror genre as a whole. 

Foyer: What is the main theme for this year’s Legends of Horror, and how did you translate it into the set design and décor? From conception to production, how long does it take to design and assemble the set for Legends of Horror? 

Penney: The main theme for this year was inspired by classic horror films and phobias, like the Blair Witch Project, Insidious, and IT with a sprinkle of the TV show Stranger Things. As for phobias, we tried to hit all the big-ticket fears like arachnophobia, clowns (coulrophobia), and so on. All of the ideas that made up Legends of Horror this year were put together over the last year. Some of the rooms are recurring from previous years with a bit of my personal twist added. The team had been working on Legends for most of 2023. 

A photograph of a vampire at Legends of Horror

Image courtesy of Liberty Entertainment Group

Foyer: Legends of Horror is a large and immersive theatrical experience. Building off the previous question, how many people and teams are involved in creating this production? On your own team, how many people do you work with and how do you lead them to create the expansive set design at Casa Loma?  

Penney: There are several departments that come together to create Legends of Horror, including AV/ tech, maintenance, carpentry, transporters, and wardrobe/ costumes to just name a few. If I had to guess the people power [behind Legends of Horror], it would be well over 50 individuals. My Design & Decor Team consists of seven people, all with very distinct artistic strengths. Every single one of them has a skill that is pertinent to the production, from designers, master prop builders, painters, decorators and the list goes on. 

Foyer: Where do you personally get inspiration from when designing a horror/haunted production?

Penney: As a kid, my siblings and I were not allowed to watch or read anything horror-related, so naturally that’s what we loved to do together when our parents went to bed. I have always loved horror films of all types and definitely took inspiration from my favourites.  

A photograph from Casa Loma's Legends of Horror

Image courtesy of Liberty Entertainment Group

Foyer: What is it like to incorporate Castle Loma’s historic architecture and grounds into the set design for Legends of Horror? Are there any advantages and challenges that come with working with the castle?  

Penney: The Castle is a very special place to work at. It is absolutely gorgeous and has so much history and legend has it, I hear that it is also haunted… 

I love being amongst the history, architecture and story that is the Castle. 

An image from Casa Loma's Legends of Horror

Image courtesy of Liberty Entertainment Group

Foyer: Casa Loma’s Legends of Horror has become a Toronto Halloween staple. What’s your favourite part about working on this production? 

Penney: It’s hard to say what my favourite part about working on this production was because it was so much fun to do! My favourite part of my job is honestly just knowing that people are loving our work! I get a great deal of satisfaction from hearing the guests' screams and shrieks, and I can’t wait till next year when we will push harder to make it bigger and scarier!  

See Penney’s set design first-hand at Casa Loma’s Legends of Horror, which concludes on Halloween. Grab tickets here.  

Read Foyer

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