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The Dent Schoolhouse

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We’re chatting with The Dent Schoolhouse co-owner Bud Stross about the terrifying Cincinnati, Ohio haunt!
www.frightsite.com

TrunkSpace: Can you start by giving us a little bit of history about your location? When did it begin? How has it grown over the years?
Stross: Well, The Dent Schoolhouse was actually a schoolhouse that opened up in 1894 and shut down in the 1950s. Legend has it that it is due to a murderous janitor named Charlie McFree. It later became a machine shop. After that, the Boy Scouts used it as a charity haunted house. Now comes our ownership… we took it over from the Boy Scouts 12 years ago and have never looked back. The schoolhouse used to be your typical black-walled haunt with movie monsters and basic detail. BUT – when we took it over, we wanted to make something unique and original. We brought the legend to life and made everything based around the story of Charlie the Janitor. We detailed the sets like you were in a movie and keep adding more and more technology to bring the “Ohh-Ahhs” to our customers.

TrunkSpace: The Halloween-related industry seems to grow year after year. Where have those changes impacted your business most? Is it it in consumer tastes? Advancements in technology?
Stross: The industry does have trends and always evolves. Each year more and more technology gets added into the mix of the attractions and things sold. Hollywood and pop culture effects our industry as well. Big example was “The Walking Dead.” For the longest time we had to have zombie haunts or infected in our haunts, but then the clown craze came along. This is the year of clowns since “It” did so well. To give the crowd what they want, we have to watch these trends and add them to our attractions.

TrunkSpace: What is it about your particular haunted attraction that you feel helps it stand out compared to other seasonal locations targeting the same audience? What makes it unique?
Stross: We are known as one of the most detailed and tightly-themed attractions in America. We have rules that we have to follow. We also change around 1/3 of the haunt every year, which helps keep the attraction fresh for our returning guests.

TrunkSpace: What is the inspiration behind your themes? Do you draw from pop culture?
Stross: Hollywood always helps. We always say The Dent Schoolhouse is like reliving a horror movie. We also tour haunts from all over the nation to help get ideas and to keep our show fresh.

TrunkSpace: Have you added any new elements this year?
Stross: TOO MANY! We added a preschool playroom from hell, full of oversized killer toys. A catacomb with over 4,000 handmade skulls. A sewer that is flooding. The school’s gym is taken over by local clowns for the PTA Fun Festival. And then guests get to go through a boiler that has melted down.

TrunkSpace: What do you feel is the best feature and the most talked about part of your attraction heading into 2017?
Stross: Hmmm… probably the clown room. People hate clowns. This room has a great buffet of clowns… 8-feet-tall alien clowns, clowns with their faces ripped off, cartoon clowns, and more. Something for everyone.

TrunkSpace: Why do guests come to your location? Are they looking to be scared? Are they looking to be entertained? What is the goal from your standpoint in terms of giving them a particular type of experience?
Stross: We are Cincinnati’s scariest, so they come to get scared and be entertained! We want our guests to have the best experience possible. We listen to EVERY single review that comes through about us and use those to make the show better.

TrunkSpace: How many guests are you anticipating scaring up throughout the 2017 season?
Stross: 30,000 to 40,000.

TrunkSpace: Looking back over the years, are there any memorable guest reactions that have become the story of legend for everyone who works there?
Stross: After just one year of haunting you can come up with some doozies. My favorite would have to have been when I woke someone up in their car, dressed as a clown. I still do some acting from time to time (one of the only owners in the nation to probably still act for his haunt), so a guest was too scared to walk through and she let her group go through as she decided to take a nap. Her group loved her so much that they wanted me to bring the haunt to her. I hovered over the open sunroof and decided to scare her awake as she screamed and crawled throughout the car in absolute fear. It was a good night.

TrunkSpace: How many actors/scarentainers will you have on hand throughout the 2017 season and what type of preparation goes into getting everyone ready for opening night?
Stross: We employee over 150 but on a given night we have around 65 to 75 actors. We go into heavy training and make sure that even our newest actors come out scaring like a pro!

TrunkSpace: For those horror junkies who travel far and wide to be scared each Halloween, why should they put miles on their car or jump on a plane to visit your location?
Stross: The beautiful sets and theming. We always get so much praise and love for our movie-like sets.

 

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Erebus Haunted Attraction

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We’re chatting with Erebus Haunted Attraction co-founder Ed Terebus about the long-running Pontiac, Michigan haunt!
www.hauntedpontiac.com

TrunkSpace: Can you start by giving us a little bit of history about your location?
Terebus: Our current location was an empty shell of a building with no running water, gas, and limited electric. Prior to our purchasing the building it had been used as an indoor junkyard, so when we purchased it we inherited some interesting items including several Cadillacs from the 1930s – 1960s.

When did it begin? Our adventure began in 1981 when my brother Jim got laid off from Ford Motor Co. and decided to open a haunted house. That was the Haunted Gallery, a 1200 square foot pre-fab haunt that cost $1.50 admission.

How has it grown over the years? In 1982 we converted to four trailers, which increased the size to 2800 square feet, and in 1984, we added a fifth trailer to further increase the size to 3400 square feet. We eventually sold the original trailers to a church, for a whopping $1.00. We then moved into bigger, longer trailers (14 feet wide and 70 feet long), we put 10 trailers together to create a 9,800 square foot haunted house. We ran that for seven years. In 1998 we purchased the building we’re now in, and in 2000 Erebus was born!!!!

Both Jim and I made sacrifices to make our dream a reality – Jim remortgaged his house and I sold mine to make the deal work! With hard work and dedication, in August of 2005 we took the Guinness Book of World Records away from a haunt in Japan. We held the record for five seasons until 2009, as the world’s largest walk-through haunted house.

TrunkSpace: The Halloween-related industry seems to grow year after year. Where have those changes impacted your business most? Is it in consumer tastes? Advancements in technology?
Terebus: Yes and yes! Everyone wants more. With all the new technology out there and what everyone sees in the movies, consumers want more. In a well-designed haunt you need to see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, and hope it doesn’t bite! (Laughter) With the advancements in technology, we are able to control more now than ever! Plus, add the human or inhuman element to it and you have a masterpiece of scary proportions.

TrunkSpace: What is it about your particular haunted attraction that you feel helps it stand out compared to other seasonal locations targeting the same audience? What makes it unique?
Terebus: In any given year we have from 50 to 100 haunts within a 50 mile radius of us. Because of that fact, we have to be different and it forces us to innovate. You will see things at Erebus you will not see anywhere else. We have things that will grab you, bite you, land on top of you, and then we will bury you alive. (How long can you hold your breath?) We created The Swamp, The Bottomless Pit, The Spiked Spindle, The Jaws of Death, Buried Alive, and many more.

TrunkSpace: What is the inspiration behind your themes? Do you draw from pop culture?
Terebus: Erebus is the result of Dr. Colber who worked for the government to build a time machine. After leaving the government, he worked on the time machine on his own. Dr. Colber was successful at sending people back in time, with only one glitch – the time period looked at the people like a virus and wiped them out. Determined to overcome this glitch, he sent in group after group of his own personnel. Unsuccessful, he ended up broke and lacking the proper personnel to run his machine. Dr. Colber came up with a brilliant idea to disguise his time machine as a haunted house and have the general public help fund his project and use the people going through as human guinea pigs.

TrunkSpace: Have you added any new elements this year?
Terebus: Yes, we change about 20 percent each year. This year, the doctors are dead and the doors are open – Psych Ward! We also intensified areas by adding a giant spider that tries to spin you into his web, and another area where a six foot vampire bat flies over your head.

TrunkSpace: What do you feel is the best feature and the most talked about part of your attraction heading into 2017?
Terebus: The three most talked about displays in Erebus are Buried Alive, The Swamp, and Blown Away! Those are classics that were invented at Erebus.

TrunkSpace: Why do guests come to your location? Are they looking to be scared? Are they looking to be entertained? What is the goal from your standpoint in terms of giving them a particular type of experience?
Terebus: I think it’s the whole package – the story, the characters, the scares, the entertainment, the high tech, the displays, and the cool special effects. You can’t scare everyone, but you can show everyone a good time. Halloween is a special holiday, you get to dress up and be whoever you want to be and nobody will judge you. Once you graduate from trick or treating, the next step is haunted houses!

TrunkSpace: How many guests are you anticipating scaring up throughout the 2017 season?
Terebus: Every year is different, but tens of thousands will pass through the gates.

TrunkSpace: Looking back over the years, are there any memorable guest reactions that have become the story of legend for everyone who works there?
Terebus: Back in the day, I would say we showed no mercy! I would even tell the actors, “If I yell ‘don’t scare them,’ I want you to come out and get them good!” One night, we had a very large woman pass out. I panicked and called 911. When she came to, she refused to go backwards through the haunt to the nearest fire exit, so we went forward. I yelled out, “Don’t scare her!” not thinking about what I had instructed the actors to do, so they kept popping out and scaring the yell out of her and she kept passing out! Also as I mentioned, she was a big woman, and holding her up was not an option. We eventually got her outside, but about every five feet or so, she would pass out again for no reason. Finally, she got in her car and was about to drive away when I grabbed her car keys from the ignition, thinking she could pass out while driving. She grabbed my arm like it was a juicy chicken leg and just sunk her teeth into me like she hadn’t eaten in years! Now I’m screaming, she’s screaming, and that’s when EMS shows up. They held me and tended to me longer than they tended to her. A human bite can be easily infected!

TrunkSpace: How many actors/scarentainers will you have on hand throughout the 2017 season and what type of preparation goes into getting everyone ready for opening night?
Terebus: We hire about 250 actors and have about 100 of those work each night. We also have make-up people and managers. Everyone gets checked in, assigned to a spot, and then gets into costume and make-up, ready to scare the masses.

TrunkSpace: For those horror junkies who travel far and wide to be scared each Halloween, why should they put miles on their car or jump on a plane to visit your location?
Terebus: We have 38 years of experience in scaring people. Erebus is one of the largest haunted attractions in the world – it’s over seven football fields long, including the end zones! We have things in here you will not see at any other haunted attraction. Beaumont Hospital doctors did a study here on fear and concluded that going through Erebus was like an aerobic work out for your heart.

While they are here they can also check out Erebus Escape – “Your Premium Escape Room Destination!” Some fun without the fear! Located just six blocks north of Erebus Haunted Attraction in downtown Pontiac, MI. www.erebusescape.com #funwithoutfear

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