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October 24, 2012

Halloween fans dish on prime haunted real estate

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

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Halloween fans dish on prime haunted real estate
Huntington Woods residents Alyssa Hooper and Kyle Boyer enter the second segment of the haunted barn at Blake’s in Armada. Die-hard enthusiasts say layout, scene variety, staffing levels and prop quality are key factors when it comes to a good haunted house.

Francine Moore knows exactly what she’s looking for in a house.

It has to have plenty of long, dark passageways, without being excessively labyrinthine. It’s preferable if the décor draws inspiration from classic films. Multiple levels are a plus.

Oh, and there should be monsters. Lots of monsters.

The Halloween fanatic is house hunting, but she’s not in the market for her own abode; she’s seeking haunted houses worth plonking down her hard-earned cash to experience.

For Moore, the hobby can add up. Each year, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, she attempts to visit one haunted house per weekend — at least.

The best, she gushed, is riding the rush by hitting up two houses in a single night.

“You get all that adrenaline and you just want to go to another one,” laughed Moore, who decorates her work cubicle at the Farmington Hills Police Department for Halloween, faithfully dons a costume and has held a party annually for three decades. “I like to be scared for fun. I just like the creepiness, the goriness, the scariness.”

Thanks to treks through countless haunted houses, Moore knows what makes one great, and what causes it to fall short.

Décor is critical. “Buy big,” said Moore — don’t cheap out.

Mimicking famous slasher film scenes is encouraged. “When people construct a room from a horror movie, to make it look like you’re in that horror movie, that’s good,” she said.

Or even beyond that; just creating a generally creepy setting that’s strikingly realistic is good, Moore added, recalling a house in Pontiac with a cave scene that boasted stalagmites, stalactites, running water and fog.

Amanda Sayers of New Baltimore, who maps out routes for canvassing several haunted houses each fall with her sister and friends, said a good haunted house opts for timeless over tired.

“I think the biggest mishap for haunted houses are the same old things: the psycho wielding a chainsaw, the butcher with the head on the table and the very annoying ‘bride left at the altar,’” mused Sayers, an actress with Sterling Civic Theatre. “I love the classics: Being followed down a dark corridor by a black figure who is impossibly quiet — until you hear him breathing in your ear — and, of course, the creepy clown.”

Other considerations include square footage. At Blake’s Big Apple in Armada, a traditional barn has been renovated into a multi-level haunted barn, with a hay loft converted into a third story and an addition tacked on to house a black hole.

Staff-to-space ratio is critical; bigger is not always better if the rooms are empty and dull, noted Moore.

“The best ones are the long ones, and the fact that you have a lot of people working that scare you,” she said. “That’s what makes it.”

Richard and Holly Barron, owners of The Fear Factory at Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens, agree that the human factor can make or break a haunted house.

In that way, Richard said, their frightful facility is the “actual, old-school scary, in-your-face” type.

“There’s actually live bodies that are confronting you in the haunted house; it’s not animatronics,” he said. “It’s not a museum.”

Variety also is a key component. Richard insists the best haunted houses have repeating 3- to 5-minute shows, all with different themes, occurring in each room. 

Thrill-seekers in the market for a haunted house also might consider the surrounding grounds. For instance, at Blake’s, the barn is just the beginning. Also on the property are numerous ancillary attractions: haunted hayrides, movies playing on a big screen, a DJ, bonfires, a 2,400-square-foot 3-D maze and a new zombie safari paintball hayride, during which patrons can shoot the lumbering undead with glow-in-the-dark paintballs.

“It’s more than just a haunted house — it’s kind of an evening out, if you will,” said Paul Blake, co-owner of Blake’s. “It’s a pretty major event.”

Blake’s Big Apple is located at North Avenue and 33 Mile in Armada. For more information, call (586) 784-9710 or visit www.hauntedblakes.com.

The Fear Factory is located at Gibraltar Trade Center, 237 N. River Road in Mount Clemens.

For more information, call (586) 216-2291 or visit www.thefearfactory.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.