Homer Wells is part artist, part machinist, part magician. He beams, "I love to see old things find new life!"
So he's turning a lot of scrap yard junk into a creature he's dubbed "Project X." It's an animatronic jack-o'-lantern whose robot legs make him climb to nearly twenty feet tall. It'll spook visitors to The Haunted Forest at Williston's Catamount Family Center later this month.
Gloves with metal circuit connectors in the fingers work as puppet strings, making the lanky body move. The prop even can talk when an actor speaks into a computer microphone.
Building this took collaboration between theater designers and engineers. They've worked for months. Engineer John Cohn says, "The nice thing about computers and embedded processors and mechanics is anything's possible. It really is. That's the cool thing about engineering."
This is obviously going to be a little bit frightening for children. But The Haunted Forest has a kid-friendly matinee. They're promising to keep Project X in check for that show.
Jana Beagley of The Haunted Forest explains, "Part of the purpose of the matinee is to give children a chance to feel powerful around some of the stuff at Halloween they normally would be frightened about. So we want them to be able to look at the creature, see it, take their picture in front of it, so it's really something they can handle."
Project X isn't done yet. His creators still have to make a body covering and work out some kinks to make sure the machine doesn't freeze up outside in the woods on The Haunted Forest's opening night October 23rd. Homer Wells says, "We're praying that's not the case for us!"
So to Homer Wells' resume as artist, machinist, and magician, add "modern-day Dr. Frankenstein." Because his monster? It's alive!
The Haunted Forest shows in Williston run October 23rd through the 26th, and again on the 30th and 31st. Tickets are $12.50, $8.50 for the family matinee. You can get passes at the Alpine Shop on Williston Road in South Burlington, on The Haunted Forest's website, or by calling the "haunted hotline" at (802) 879-9160 from 9:00 to 5:00 weekdays.