May the Force Scream with You!

Culbertson Mansion’s Holly Crisler talks about the 30th season of “Literally, a Haunted House” and her small part in making Kenner’s “Star Wars” toys a reality in 1977!

A long time ago in a shopping mall not far away, little 7 year old Holly Crisler got to play with the first prototypes in Kenner’sStar Wars” action figure line months before the rest of us when she was selected to take part in an exclusive test marketing event right here in the Ville! Today she’s still putting her imagination to work as Chairman and Creative Director for Literally, a Haunted House at the historic Culbertson Mansion in New Albany, IN.

Take a hyperspace journey with us back to the summer of 1977 and stick around for a preview of what to expect at Literally, a Haunted House for Halloween 2014.

“I was seven years old, and ‘Star Wars’ had probably only been in theaters for about two weeks when my parents took me to the old Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road to see it,” remembers Crisler.

“When we were leaving the theater,” she recalls, “a woman with a clipboard approached us and asked me if I liked the movie.”

“Of course, I liked the movie! I have no idea why she picked me out of the crowd, but she asked me if I’d like to participate in a survey related to the movie next weekend. Of course, I wanted to take the survey!”

“My mom got serious,” she continues. “She went out and bought copies of TIME magazine, PEOPLE magazine; every magazine on the shelves that had ‘Star Wars’ on the cover. She said, ‘You’re going to do your research,’!”

“The next weekend my parents took me to the old Raceland Mall where there was a table set up,” says Crisler, “and there sat the same lady with the clipboard. She took me back to a room where they played two early Kenner toy commercials on a TV screen. The first one showed kids my age playing with the little action figures from the movie. The second one, which blew me away, showed the big Millennium Falcon toy where you could open up the compartments and put the figures inside.”

Keep in mind that none of these toys had been produced or sold in stores yet. The inestimable impact that “Star Wars” almost immediately had on movies, toys and popular culture had caught marketing honchos and toy companies completely by surprise. An action figure and toy line based on a movie is something that had never really been done before. Kenner Toys’ R & D department was scrambling to determine whether or not kids would be interested in toys based on this strange new science-fiction film.

“That’s when they brought out the figures,” Crisler relates with a sense of 7 year old wonder. “They had several different characters with them and they asked me a lot of questions about them. ‘Who is this?’ and ‘Is he good or bad?’ they asked.”

“Then they let me sit at the table and play with the figures for a few minutes before asking me whether or not I’d want to get some of these toys for Christmas if they made them.”

YES,” Crisler shouted. The rest is toy history.

As a lifelong “Star Wars” fan, I’m shocked that I’d never heard about this Kenner toy survey here in town before. It’s a bombshell to discover that Kenner brought “Star Wars” action figure prototypes here to the Ville in 1977 before any kid in the world got to see them, and that Holly Crisler got to actually play with them. I can’t imagine the fortune those prototypes would bring on the collector’s market if Holly were actually allowed to keep any of them!

Okay, Chewbacca, punch the hyperdrive and take us forward to Halloween 2014 where Crisler and her motley crew are planning an edgier, scarier haunt this season to celebrate 30 years of scaring the public.

Opening for the first time during the Halloween season of 1985, Culbertson Mansion’s haunt was originally part of the old Jaycee’s Spook Run. “The first year, the event took place inside the mansion itself,” says Crisler. “It really just involved a storyteller reading passages from Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. It wasn’t really a haunted house at all. The next year, we moved the haunt to the carriage house out back and we’ve been there ever since.”

Crisler describes this year’s theme as sort of a “Greatest Hits” of all the best and most loved scenes and gags from their 30 year history, but don’t expect to know exactly what’s coming. Crisler and her crew have completely reworked the maze inside the carriage house so that passageways move in completely different directions, and those overly familiar with the usual route will likely find themselves disoriented this year.

Longtime visitors to Literally, a Haunted House might also want to buckle up for some ghastlier scenes this year.

“We didn’t have any gore at all last year,” Crisler admits when discussing their homage to classic monsters of literature and the silver screen. “This year, we’re going to deliver something gorier, more shocking and, hopefully, something folks won’t soon forget.”

“There will be a Satanic Mass in the front yard in place of the usual zombies/vampires and there will be touching this year. There will be some light contact, and the last room will be quite grisly,” she promises.

Crisler also informed us about a New Albany Zombie Run scheduled for the last week of September that will end at the Culbertson Mansion where a Zombie Ball with bands, Tarot card readers and carnival games will take place. We’ll provide further information about that event on the Louisville Halloween website when details become available.

We’ll see you at Literally, a Haunted House for the 2014 Halloween season when you can all give in to the Dark Side of the Force.

The Phantom of The Ville

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