It gets us all. For some, it’s tarantulas. For others, pythons. Maybe spirits and witches haunt your dreams. But what if you could master your fear, finally get beyond it, with the help of a few haunted attractions this year? Will Halloween 2014 be your year to face your fear?
“People are scared to death of clowns,” Tony Cooke, proprietor of The Haunted Pyramids, says. Even though for one price guests can tour all four unique haunted houses at The Haunted Pyramids, many are happy to skip that one. “There are people who don’t want to go through the clown house,” Cooke says, “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
From the set of Cinemax’s hit series Banshee (filming in Charlotte), Cooke takes a break from his special effects work to chat with Capital At Play. “I’ve been working on movies for 20 years, so I have lots of movie props we use, like from Children of The Corn II,” Cooke says, “We’ve got the sign from Hell Raiser III lit on fire.”
Because Cooke has a pyrotechnics license for his special effects work on movies, he’s able to use flame and fire. “The fire is outdoors, of course,” Cooke explains, “but you can see it from inside and feel the heat.” Cooke hires 50 ‘scarers’ to interact with guests. “They love their work,” Cooke says.
The Haunted Pyramids is located on Cooke’s farmland in Lawndale, North Carolina. Whether you’re in a couple or with a party of five, your group gets to guide itself through each house, although Cooke admits the staff helps steer guests in the right direction. The biggest of the four houses is The Haunted Pyramid. There are two houses that are 3-D, meaning guests wear 3-D glasses inside: Monster Manor and the infamous Clown Town, which includes a spinning tunnel. The newest attraction is The Asylum.
There is a gift store where cautious little ones can wait with a parent and food is available for purchase. Cooke has allowed some parents to bring small kids before dark and look around. There is no restriction on age, and the staff is ready to rescue anyone who is freaking out.
Cooke also hires a policeman for safety, but these precautions don’t prevent people from getting scared to death. “People who get real scared won’t even come back,” Cooke says, “Typically someone does hyperventilate; we’ve had ambulances come pick people up.”
As far as whether facing fears at haunted houses helps people, Cooke says, “I don’t know if it helps them or not, I think it’s more of something to cross off your bucket list.”
If your bucket list includes facing down clowns, the Haunted Pyramids is here to help.
“This is the Bible belt, so we try not to offend anybody,” Cooke says, “but we will scare the crap out of you.”
The Haunted Pyramids
hauntedpyramids.com | 2745 Toney Road, Lawndale, NC (Near Burns High School)
Tickets: $22/person admission for all four haunted houses
Open every Friday & Saturday through November 1st from dusk until around midnight.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN
“A lot of people my age watched Children of The Corn and won’t go in there,” David Tucker, proprietor of The New River Corn Maze admits.
Children of The Corn, was a short story penned by Stephen King that was adapted into a feature film in 1984. King obviously touched upon an instinctual fear with his creepy cornfield, and the film spawned a horror movie franchise. The latest version, Children of The Corn: Genesis, was released in 2011.
The five-acre field located near Boone, North Carolina, is jam-packed with cornstalks ten to eleven feet tall. “When you get in there you can’t see out,” Tucker says. “It’s just corn everywhere and the sky.” The maze winds through the stalks with over a mile of twists, turns, dead ends, and switchbacks. “Even the sound of corn rustling is scary,” Tucker says.
[quote float=”right”] “Some people never came out,” Tucker jokes. “We find bones.”[/quote]The farm also has a four-acre pumpkin patch where visitors can select the perfect pumpkin for carving or eating. They also have gargantuan 150-pound pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns, and pumpkin ‘oddities.’ New this year is a passenger train to take guests on a ride around the farm.
Although the sun is still above the horizon, inside the maze’s wall of corn, it gets dark much earlier. “You can hear people screaming in there towards dark,” Tucker says. Those unable to find their way out of the maze have to come back the way they came in.
In past years they kept the maze open after sunset, but Tucker admits he’s getting too old to be out there until midnight, plus he says it wasn’t very kid-friendly and they had some accidents. “Some people never came out,” Tucker jokes. “We find bones.”
The New River Corn Maze
newrivercornmaze.com | Located just outside of Boone, NC, on Hwy 421 along the banks of the New River.
Maze Tickets: adults $7, students/kids $5, kids under 5 free | Train rides: $5 | Combo train & maze tickets: adults $10, students/kids $8
School groups Friday only: teachers free, students $3
The chug of metal wheels approaches. A long low whistle blows. Gates clang as they lower at a desolate crossing. The train roars past. But then, unexpectedly it careens off track, catapulting passengers out the windows as it screeches into a twisted mass of smoking metal.
This could be the Great Train Wreck of 1914, the theme for this year’s Ghost Train at The Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock.
“This is an imagined wreck that happened 100 years ago,” Chris Robbins, president of Tweetsie, Inc. says. “Passengers on the Ghost Train will see live scenes of the wreck, some of which may be jolting.”
To be clear, passengers will not be in a train wreck; they will be observing a train wreck as they pass by safely aboard the Ghost Train. This is in line with the general atmosphere at Tweetsie Railroad: safe, scary fun for the entire family. “You can be six, fourteen, or forty-six years old and have a great time here,” Robbins says. Part of that balance is accomplished by giving attractions a humorous edge.
On Ghost Train nights, the park closes at 6pm so they can change out the locomotive from the Wild West themed daytime train to the spooky red-eyed Ghost Train locomotive that resembles a skeleton’s head.
Once the park reopens at 7:30pm, the party on Main Street never stops, with music, dancing, and live characters to interact with guests. Kids can trick-or-treat at stations throughout the park. Attractions include The Haunted House and Freaky Forest.
New this year is the Warp Tunnel, a walk-through attraction sure to be a disorienting sensory experience. Like guest favorite, The Black Hole, it’s an optical illusion. There’s also a live performance at the Black Light Theater show. This year’s Master of Ceremonies will be Darkus Night.
Most attractions are suitable for all ages, but it is not recommended that children under eight go through the Haunted House, Freaky Forest, or ride the Ghost Train.
“There are lots of Halloween attractions that do edgy, gross and bloody stuff, but we don’t do gross-out here,” Robbins says, “It’s designed to be scary but not over-the-top.”
The Ghost Train at The Tweetsie Railroad
tweetsie.com | 300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane, Blowing Rock, NC
Tickets: adults $39, children $26 (includes all attractions)
Open every Friday & Saturday night through November 1st from 7:30-11:30pm.
Acrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of heights, rare among the population. But most of us feel a little shaky when looking down from a high building, or over the edge of a cliff, especially when there is no safety rail.
The crew at the Beanstalk Journey, a zip line attraction in Morganton, North Carolina, is all too familiar with facing the fear of heights. Their Halloween-inspired event, The Haunted Zip Line, ups the fear factor; not only are you zipping above the treetops, it’s Halloween and it’s dark.
According to Otter Browning, manager at the Beanstalk Journey, he’s guided his share of frightened guests. “When you’re lucky enough to guide a trip, you’ll see them terrified at the beginning, but then you see them grow within themselves,” Browning says.
One thing that makes the Beanstalk Journey’s zip line different is that you stay up in the tree houses, zipping between them, as opposed to coming down between zips.
[quote float=”right”]“They’re not just defeating their fear of heights,” Browning says, “when they can overcome a barrier they thought they could not break through, it builds confidence in many areas. We don’t realize what we can do.”[/quote]For the Haunted Zip each tree house will be decorated with a theme, such as the Bat House and the Ghost House. There’s a spooky candle-lit cemetery to zip over, and the course is decorated with spider webs.
“Halfway through, kids get candy and ‘blood’ to drink, and we tell ghost stories,” Browning says. The guides wear headlamps, but otherwise it’s dark. And Browning promises there will be a few surprises.
They take a maximum of eight people out at a time, but the course has two starting points, so multiple groups can go at once. The course takes one and a half to two hours to complete.
Browning feels facing fears pays off tenfold. “They’re not just defeating their fear of heights,” Browning says, “when they can overcome a barrier they thought they could not break through, it builds confidence in many areas. We don’t realize what we can do.”
The Beanstalk Journey’s Haunted Zip Line Tour
thebeanstalkjourney.com | Located within Catawba Meadows Park, 701 Sanford Drive, Morganton, NC
Tickets: $39 per person, a bargain for facing several fears at once (45% off the normal price of $69).
The Halloween Zip Line Tour is given October 24th through Halloween night.
“We have a high scare factor,” Scott Sexton, proprietor of The Nightmare Dungeon in Greenville, says, “we’re not just jumping out from behind a door to scare you.”
Nightmare Dungeon is actually two separate two-story haunted houses, and attracts enthusiasts from across the states. It boasts realistic sets, interactions with professional actors, and high tech special effects. “We’ve got ceilings that fall down on you,” Sexton says.
Sexton started Nightmare Dungeon with his father. “He didn’t think it was a good idea at first,” Sexton says, “but he saw we could have fun with it and make some money.”
This year visitors will be exposed to the Toxic Waste Room, The Claustrophobia Room, and the Terror Pit. There’s also a viral outbreak leading to a Zombie Apocalypse, a Madhouse full of tortured mentally ill patients, and a truly Southern terror: The Redneck Rampage.
After sixteen years putting on The Nightmare Dungeon, Sexton says he’s seen behind the scenes too much to get scared anymore, but that wasn’t always true. “I remember before I started doing haunted houses, I was scared to death of them,” Sexton admits. “I acted like I wasn’t scared in front of my friends. But inside I was thinking, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’”
That’s probably what visitors at Nightmare Dungeon are thinking right before a real car careens toward them, stopping just inches from their knees. “I’ve got a couple things in there that’ll bring down a big guy,” Sexton says. Behind the scenes, the crew can see who is in the haunted house and make the experience more intense for those who have a high tolerance for fear. This also enables them to get anyone out quickly who is in over their head. “There are exits all around,” Sexton says.
Safety is Sexton’s first consideration. They must pass muster with the fire department and building codes, but Sexton says they go overboard on safety. “Last year Channel Four came here for a segment on safety in haunted houses,” Sexton recalls, “they said they would trust their own kids coming through here.”
One way the Nightmare Dungeon crew manages to handle whatever arises is by limiting the number of people going through to ten at a time.
Sexton feels getting past fear is important. “A lot of people hide their fears and it will hurt you in the long run,” Sexton says. “People’s fear holds them back, but when they see it’s not so bad, they can get past it.”
Nightmare Dungeon opens on September 26th and is one of the few Halloween attractions that remain open every day through November 2nd. The festivities begin at dark and go on until around midnight. Kids 12 and under must be accompanied by a parent.
nightmaredungeon.com | 645 Old Anderson Road in Greenville, SC
Tickets: start at $20 for adults, $15 for kids 12 and under
One thing these proprietors have observed is that one’s fear factor is not necessarily a factor of age. At Beanstalk Journeys Haunted Zip kids as young as four years old can zip line.
Robbins has been with Tweetsie Railroad since 1996. “I’ve seen eight year olds come out of the haunted house giggling and adults leave scared to death,” Robbins says.
“Lots of people get intimidated surrounded by eleven-foot corn,” Tucker says. But he admits an individual’s imagination plays a role in the scare factor at The New River Corn Maze. “College kids go in there and scare themselves most of the time,” Tucker says.
At The Nightmare Dungeon, Sexton promises to scare people of any age. “This is not a normal haunted house,” Sexton warns, “it was built for adults, but some kids can handle it.”
Over Cooke’s seventeen years running The Haunted Pyramids, he has observed little correlation between fear and age. “Some six, seven, or eight year old kids handle it better than grown ups,” Cooke says. “It just depends on the way you are.”