In an era of mega-budget Halloween attractions, a Los Feliz neighborhood has discovered the ultimate fright: a 16-year-old's imagination.
Timur Bootzin and his teenage crew have mastered the art of low-budget horror, encircling Timur's home with a haunted maze, now back for its fifth year.
"You have your evil clowns, your zombies, but you don't hear much about an apocalyptic wasteland," said Timur, describing this year's theme.
Timur and 20 friends stage the backyard maze the last three weekends in October, and on Halloween night when it can draw up to 150 guests.
At age 12, he launched his donation-based attraction with a tent built from garbage bags and strung with body parts. The enterprise steadily grew, fueled by his tenacity and guided by his parents, Dan and Beth.
"He runs this like a business," Dan Bootzin said. "He makes his actors sign contracts."
"Here's our first scare spot," said Timur, leading a daylight tour through a skeleton network of PVC pipe draped with black plastic scrawled with blood-red graffiti. At night, the labyrinth's seven fog machines cloud the air, sliced with strobe lights.
Within this wretched warren, Timur's ghouls stage scenes of dread and despair. Actors in bloodied hazmat suits sporting mutant heads or gas masks spring from hidden nooks. A forlorn girl clutches a large stuffed bunny as demented nursery rhymes cut with copter blades stream through speakers.
"The sounds are meant to make you feel lost and lonely -- disoriented," said Timur, who custom-layers his tracks. Requisite screams, deafening bangs and rattled, screw-filled cans are critical to his craft.
"I totally lost my husband in there; I looked behind, and there was a guy with a hatchet following me!" said Sima Namiri, 30, who lives in downtown Los Angeles. "My heart was racing, it did not seem amateur at all."
Adult supervision has been key to navigating such horrors.
"We help him identify potential safety issues -- it's a constant push and pull of keeping it scary and keeping it safe," Dan Bootzin said. Helpers with flashlights guide visitors over steps; uneven walkways are covered with plywood; and a friendly security guard is stationed out front.
Rules are posted (guests must not touch actors or props) and obstacles that visitors may stumble over are taped and well lighted. Timur, who attends Zoo Magnet High School, employs five walkie-talkies to coordinate his cast.
Props, costumes and supplies are sourced from yard sales, thrift stores, neighbors' discards and "lots of trips to Home Depot," Timur's father said. "He's always bargain shopping."
Donations total about $100 a night, which fund post-event pizza, soda and Popsicles for the hungry crew.
The teens attract a grassroots crowd by biking and skateboarding through the neighborhood, knocking on doors, posting signs and distributing fliers and business cards.
Timur begins constructing the maze from blueprints as early as May, leaving his parents' backyard -- a palmy, Spanish-tiled retreat -- with not much of an off-season.
"He's taught us about persistence," Beth Bootzin said.
Six of his crew members have been with Timur from the start. They have bonded through problem-solving and the shared rush of "just scaring little kids," said Carson Cox, 16, who has played "a clown, a zombie, a gorilla, a little girl and a conehead."
"The bigger and scarier this gets, the more responsibility we have," said Timur, who admits to being "pretty hard on my actors. But I've learned to take criticism and advice."
But he can also be relentless.
"Every year he asks us for chainsaws," Dan Bootzin said. "And every year we say no. We tell him he has to make do with a power drill."
A power drill with the bit removed, his father added.
Info: Entry is free, though donations are accepted. 4302 Ambrose Ave., Los Feliz; Friday and Saturday nights, 7-9 p.m. A less scary version for smaller children is held from 6-7 p.m. those nights. On Halloween, hours will be 6-10 p.m., with less scary version from 5-6 p.m.; www.ambrosehauntedmaze.com