The Haunted Kinetic Lab of Horrors
By Bernard Bass | Photos by H.R. LoBue
It is just before noon on a quiet Sunday morning at the end of a loosely paved road in Arcata. Changing leaves skirt across the street in a breeze that smells of the fresh, brisk beginnings of a Lost Coast autumn.
Wrapped in a pale-blue, overcast sky, the hazy sun hangs low over a Northern California, Humboldt town. There is, however, something different hidden amongst these side streets of town that makes this trip to Arcata different from all of the rest. It’s a strange sort of feeling, like something odd and discontent is lurking, hanging, poised behind the next corner.
Upon reaching the end of 8th street it becomes immediately evident where this feeling of unease is coming from – The Kinetic Lab. It is at once recognized that in no way is this an ordinary lab. Inside the doorway to a large garage, a strange and dreamy array of embellished oddities hang about the ceiling; surrounded in all directions by dozens of oversized creations birthed from the minds of the sane and unstable. Oversized bloodshot eyes peak from under hanging bundles of femurs, arms and spines. Skeletons encaged and goop-spattered brains. Unnerving items of the occult dangle face level over sharp metal dragonheads that seem to spawn from nowhere else but the dark and disturbed underbelly of a twisted sci-fi nightmare. This Kinetic Lab, it’s where the weird come to roost and the dead become strange.
In 1969 in Ferndale, CA, artist Jack Mays, upon seeing local sculptor Hobart Brown’s “improvements” on his son’s tricycle, would challenge Brown to a race and hence the concept of kinetic sculpture racing was born. The race would mature over the years and, toward the end of the 1980’s, gained sponsorship from companies such as Calistoga and Yakima that would enable them to open the Kinetic Lab in Arcata. As the economy worsened in the upcoming decades, Yakima would sell and leave the area and Calistoga discontinued their sponsorship creating uncertainty for the financial future of the race. In 2007, after a number of attempts at various fundraisers proved to be not as substantial as they would have hoped, the Kinetic Lab created The Haunted Kinetic Lab of Horrors.
Halloween is a distinct and special time of year in which many spend months on putting together the right costume and planning the perfect scare. In so many ways we abandon the safety of our inhibitions and become children again. The Kinetic Lab is like this all year round. Hobart Brown himself has said that the race is about, “adults having fun so children will want to grow older.” With its eerie vibe, curious oddities and monstrous abnormalities, the lab harbors a multitude of creepy undertones that scream Halloween. And this is just during the day.
For Four nights at the end of October, The Kinetic Lab will be opening its doors for the 7th annual Haunted Kinetic Lab of Horrors and it is not your ordinary haunted house. Separate groups of six people are given an interactive 25 minute guided freak show tour through a pitch-black, panic-inducing maze of astonishingly dark secrets and surprise. With all six people holding onto one rope (one jumps, everyone jumps), the scared and hesitant members of the tour are subjected to unimaginable terror while being strung toward a creepy revolving door. At this point there is no turning back and what lies behind this door will no doubt result in some sort of incontrollable reaction that barrels much further passed what one’s comfort level will permit. In fact, this tour is not recommended for anyone under 13 years of age.
Ken Beidleman has been working with the race for thirty years and he and his wife, June helped to create its haunted fundraiser. He’s almost guarded with the tour’s information, like he’s holding onto to a load of juicy secrets. A wry, mischievous grin takes over his face and he says, “We’re pretty sophisticated in terms of scares. We’re more about the theatrical part of the whole thing; the special effects, the lighting and the mind trips.” He says that it’s all about timing and that, “each tour through the Haunted Lab is never the same. Just like the race and the weather around here, you never know what to expect.”
Scott Cocking, owner of Side Show Design, has been part of building kinetic machines for four different races. His excitement is genuine and contagious and, having to this point helped with three different haunted labs, Cocking says, “I pretty much build whatever needs to be built, dial in the details and help to make sure everything is not so janky.” Beidleman looks upward at the large, eerie constructs hanging from the ceiling, waves an arm through the air and says, “There’s a certain quality that we like to uphold.”
The atmosphere of the Kinetic Lab is one of shared conspiracy, like a big, communal practical joke is being orchestrated for an unforgettable Halloween. The Grand Championship is the largest single event in Humboldt County and, aside from being a fundraiser that keeps the race alive, it is a chance to live kinetic more than once a year. The folks who bring you The Haunted Kinetic Lab of Horrors love what they do and, this October, what they want to do more than anything is scare you to death.
The Kinetic Lab is located on the corner of 8th and N Streets in Arcata, California. The event will take place on the nights of October 26th, 27th, 28th and 31st (Halloween night) from 7 pm to Midnight. Tickets are $10 at the door. For more information visit their website at http://kineticsculpturelab.com or call the lab at 707-822-4805.