This 16-year-old preys on your worst fears. We should know—we were there.
Timur Bootzin was 13 years old when he experienced real fear for the first time. As he was falling asleep, his TV suddenly flickered on and started playing a ghost documentary. He ran into his parent’s room, petrified out of his mind.
Growing up, Bootzin was easily shaken, and even refused to go into his elementary school’s haunted house. But now, at 16, he’s built a business based solely on scaring others.
Bootzin built his first haunted house when he was just 12 years old—having worked in one before, he was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes production. He’s now grown his donation-based haunted maze to become the go-to spot for a good scare in Los Angeles, choosing new themes each year.
“I like what goes into the haunted houses. The art direction, the way we do the lighting,” he said. You won’t see people in “Scream” masks or Freddie Krueger costumes waltzing around Bootzin’s maze, because he loves to be completely original, using his own fears—like the TV scare—to build the maze.
When you walk into this year’s Apocalyptic Wasteland-themed maze, you’re enveloped in fog. Suddenly you’re trapped in a small space as people in biohazard suits and gas masks surround you. When you’re least expecting it, zombie-like creatures emerge from the mist, as if the world really is ending.
“It takes you into another world…you don’t know where you are,” Bootzin said. In fact, Bootzin’s apocalyptic theme reflects what he’s most afraid of: natural disaster.
“People are scared of tight spaces and they don’t like being in spaces where you can’t see anything,” Bootzin said. “I wanted to incorporate [those fears] into the haunted house because I’m scared of that stuff, too. So I wanted to incorporate my fears with other people’s fears.”
Production for the maze begins as early as May, as it takes months of working with his artist friends to bring his ideas to life. Above everything, Bootzin believes what scares people the most is the unknown, getting dropped in a world they’re not familiar with.
Perhaps the maze’s most realistic feature is the decrepit fallout shelter toward the end. Bootzin worked with artists to create a realistic aesthetic similar to a fallout shelter he visited in Germany.
“They had these weird animations that stayed on the walls to settle people, and I wanted to include them in my haunted house to scare people,” he said. “I had an artist come out and she did some drawings on the wall.”
To get out of Bootzin’s fallout shelter, you pass through a pitch-black tunnel, red sirens wailing around you. “For people going through it, their eyes don’t adjust well to the darkness, and then we have an actor jumping out to scare them,” he said.
Bootzin recognizes people have an innate desire to be scared, and that’s how his haunted maze has become so popular.
“Halloween is once a year and [people] go out seeking adrenaline rushes,” Bootzin said. “Just how people want to watch horror films in groups with all their friends—it’s really fun because you get to talk about it, like, ‘Oh, this really scared me.’ So I think people like to rally up a group of their friends and say, ‘Oh, let’s go to this haunted house together,’ and when they go through, they all have screams and laughs and memories.”
You can visit his haunted maze at 4302 Ambrose Ave. in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. Entry is free, though donations are accepted. If you’re not in LA or the very thought of stepping inside freaks you out, watch our live stream below for second-hand spooks.