Cal Thiesing, 12, lives for Oct. 31.
So do friends and neighbors who come to the Thiesing (rhymes with sneezing) family’s annual Halloween party to see what horrors Cal has created inside the garage. I’m told that last year there was a long line outside the family’s Minneapolis garage.
According to Cal’s proud grandmother, Judy Saumer, of Eau Claire, Wis.: “His actual first haunted house was a cardboard box that he described to his mother before falling asleep [one night when he was 5]. She helped him find it, paint it, cut out doors and windows, finally, adding lighting and sound.”
Cal’s 2015 haunted house is a long way from a cardboard box.
Now, there are animatronics in the garage, which Cal partitioned off to create a creepy labyrinth.
“The animatronics go on their own,” said Allison Thiesing, mother of the Anthony Middle School seventh-grader. “He has some friends who are actors who will scare you. They have rehearsals. He feeds them and gives them breaks. It’s pretty funny. When he blows the whistle, it’s free time. When he blows the whistle again, it’s time to get back to work. He lives for this. He dog-sits to raise money, walks dogs. He saves all his birthday money, asks for Halloween stuff for Christmas. His whole year is all about Halloween.”
Last year’s Halloween theme was creepy clowns. This year the garage, which has been expanded to accommodate the haunting project, has been transformed into what’s being called “Cal’s Zombie Horror House.” It’s spectacular. You wouldn’t imagine this was the work of a 12-year-old. But Cal is poised and intelligent beyond his years.
“I like it because I like to make the layout and electrical work and train the actors and paint the stuff or bloodying up old props that don’t look as cool [until] after I spray-paint them,” said Cal. “ I just like scary stuff.”
Cal’s mom must have told him that I said a) I don’t do haunted houses unless it’s work-related and b) clowns do not scare me, but I find zombies disturbing. I suspect that’s why Cal got the biggest smile on his face when he opened the garage door (the area is kept under lock and key this time of year) to lead me into an entry adorned with enormous arachnid figures.
Cal’s a pretty cool customer, but I got even with him for that smile with my first question. Focus on his eyes in my startribune.com/video, which also features an unexplained apparition in a devil hood, which you should do your best to ignore.
A: [He flinched, then laughed.]
Q: I thought you were Mr. Halloween? You can’t flinch. That wasn’t too mean, was it?
Q: What’s the last thing that really scared you, before I said Boo?
A: One time we were having an actors’ meeting and I was walking through and one of the actors jumped out a different way and that got me good.
Q: Do you spend a lot of time hanging around cemeteries?
Q: Have you ever been so scared you wet your pants?
A: Ahhh. I …
Q: Are you pleading the Fifth here?
A: [Laugh] I don’t think so.
Q: What is the most complicated element of this year’s setup for Halloween?
A: Probably, before we start, getting everything out of the garage. Getting all of our stuff into our neighbor’s garage.
Q: It is true that for Christmas you want Halloween stuff?
Q: Where’d this come from, Cal?
A: It all kind of started after I went the State Fair Haunted House. My dad [Tim Thiesing] was kind of joking, When are you going to do your haunted house? That’s kind of when I started this. The first couple of years it was pretty bad, but now I think it’s gotten a lot better.
Q: It was a box the first year, from what I’ve heard. Did Grandma give me bad information?
A: That was a Halloween costume. That wasn’t the start of this!
Q: You were not a kid who had nightmares?
A: Not really.
Q: Did he have nightmares when he was little, Grandmother?
A: [From Grandma] I think he did, but I can’t remember what they were about.
Q: How do you sleep these days?
A: Well, after Halloween is over I bring some of my Halloween stuff in my room. I have a life-size clown sitting in a chair next to my bed. And I’ve got clown heads hanging in the window. Most of Mac’s, my little brother’s, friends are scared to go in our room. [Mac’s side of the room is devoted to sports stuff; Cal’s side is heavy on the clowns, I’m told.]
Q: That works well; you probably don’t want Mac’s friend in there?
Q: Would you like to incorporate this into a career?
A: I like moviemaking, so I sometimes I take these props and make horror movies with them. I think it would be fun to, on my free time, do a haunted house when I’m older.
Q: My ex-husband used to like to scare me. He’d [hide] in the closet, in the shower. I finally had to say, “This has got to stop.” Are there rules about you scaring people around your house?
A: Me and my sister [Katarina] get into some pretty intense competitions throughout the year. There’s this corner in our kitchen where, if I hear her coming, I’ll just quick hide around it. One time she had a towel or whatever — she always expects me to be there — so she took it and she whipped it around the corner and she whipped me.
Q: Alfred Hitchcock or “The Goonies?”
A: I haven’t seen any Hitchcock movies.
Q: You know who he is, right?
A: Yeah. Probably “The Goonies.”
Q: How old were you when you saw your first scary movie?
A: We were at my friend’s sleepover and we stayed up real late watching a ton of scary movies. Then I hated horror movies. I was totally freaked out. That was 10. I forgot. I’m sure it was around 10. Now I love watching horror movies.
Q: What is your favorite scary movie?
A: I think “The Shining” is pretty good, and I recently watched the new “Poltergeist“ movie and I thought that was pretty cool.
Q: None of your actor friends have slugged you yet for telling them to get back to work by blowing a whistle? How are you getting away with this?
Q: How do you get away with this, just [by being] charming?
Q: Have you ever danced the “Monster Mash?”
A: No. [And then we remedied that gap in Cal’s résumé of horrors.]
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch FOX 9’s “Jason Show” and the “Buzz.”