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Raycliff Manor An Elegant Haunt

  • October 9, 2011 2:41 pm
Raycliff Manor

Raycliff Manor still possesses a presence, even in full sunlight

Raycliff Manor front door

The entrance to Raycliff Manor is overgrown with ivy

Raycliff Sign

Raycliff Manor is an attraction with bite

Raycliff Manor

4706 Gateway Drive, Joplin MO 

The rustling of overgrown weeds and ivy were the only sounds I could hear when I approached Raycliff Manor. This was in the middle of the day, with no other souls around. I wanted to see the haunted house attraction without the crowds and ghouls who would come alive at 7 p.m on the grounds of this Joplin area haunt.

I felt drawn to the gothic building, and I had heard that while it promotes its share of typical spook house staples, (an evil clown, a chainsaw wielding psycho) visitors would also interact with Victorian-inspired actors who would invite you into their parlor of terror.

Gothic elegance mixed with horror was the vibe I felt while waiting in line with other guests on Oct. 8.  A grave but cordial butler invited us in, and while waiting, we were treated to a group of lenticular portraits of victims whose fears were trapped by Dr. Raycliff himself.

A Victorian lady describes some of her family members until you are whisked away into the mansion’s many rooms filled with new disturbances. I don’t want to ruin the surprises around each corner, so I’ll just mention a couple of my favorite areas.

The kitchen/dining rooms were disgusting and realistic. Gobs of brown goo seemed to drip off countertops and dishes stacked in filthy water, while a stream of “blood” ran from the faucet. A morbid buffet was served, along with a severed head on a silver platter. Another favorite room was Dr. Raycliff’s library, which was outfitted with musty tomes and a frightful character.

The actors will not touch you, but they are excellent at coming just close enough to invade your personal space. I even felt the hot breath from one gust into my face as he popped out from an unseen opening in the wall!

This October evening seemed to offer perfect conditions for exploring. The moon was shining down on visitors lined up to enter the mansion and Carriage House. Some traditional songs played during the waits like Thriller and Monster Mash, as well as some songs from Midnight Syndicate, a purveyor of Halloween and horror music. I did hear some people complain about pop music being played in with these songs, which seemed to diminish the haunting effect.

I prefer the manor over the carriage house, but it’s worth seeing if it’s your first visit. A real spider outlined in light from a red bulb dangled from the eves of the carriage house beams, which created a gruesome effect.

Once inside the carriage house, Professor Walter Widget shows you a machine that measures fear and is meant to extract some of your own. Rooms are like a black maze, so guests are given a glow stick as their one defense.

Raycliff Manor has a solid storyline going. It will be interesting to see how new tales unfold in years to come.


Nightmares Haunted House

  • June 27, 2011 2:33 pm


Nightmares haunted house

Nightmares Haunted House is open for scares Oct. 9, 15-16, 22-23 and 29-31. Ticket office opens at 7 p.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $7 for children ages 12 and under. Tickets may also be purchased online. The haunt is located across from Lowe's in Bentonville off of U.S. 71 behind Kozy Heat, 13080 N. U.S. 71. The Web site is


Story & Photos by Marla Hinkle
The Halloween Hunt

Two hearses, the Mobile Excution Unit and Ghoul Bus are parked and waiting to drive visitors into a spooky state. And the house looms in the distance. Nightmares Haunted House in Bentonville, Ark., has been scaring guests for 23 years, and operators have learned a few new tricks to add to their arsenal of eerie effects.

The bus is painted a flat black and a beastly head is mounted to its top. It was used in the Rogers School District and later sold at an auction for $1,100. This terror on wheels had a few transformations that revamped the vehicle from schoolyard to ghoulyard.

The seats are turned backward for guests to view horror movies on their drive down to the house. Other vehicles include a limo and two hearses. The hearse has something on it you don’t usually see. Skulls, images from horror movies and more decorate the car’s surface with an otherworldly green glow. The graphics and wrap were designed by The Sign Factory in Fayetteville. Several special touches like this are donated from companies.

Another vehicle attraction is the Mobile Execution Unit. Organizer Sean Collins said the first time he tried the “electric chair” it made him sit up in his seat.

“If it can scare me it can scare anyone.”

“It’s all about the atmosphere,” said Erick Tangness, one of the organizers. “After the first week we tweak things to see what scares people most.”

The goal is to incorporate a lot of different ideas instead of attempting an overall theme for the haunted house. Horror elements are interspersed throughout to produce a wider range of effects . For example, there’s a creepy clown, horror movies like Zombieland playing onscreen and actors who appear out of the darkness. Collins said they try to play on as many of people’s fears as possible.

Tangness said he and other staff traveled to a haunt convention in St. Louis this year to gather more ideas for their project.

“We try to bring back some of the premiere effects to Northwest Arkansas and still operate on a nonprofit budget.”

Nightmares Haunted House raises money for the Bentonville/Bella Vista Lion Club charities. Ron Guadian has served as a president of this club and also owns Kozy Heat. The attraction is set up behind his business. He said the organizers’ love of Halloween and money raised for the charities are motivators for the amount of work it takes to set up an event of this size.

The crew began preparing for this year’s event at the end of April. Several new features have been added, including an area sure to fill claustrophobic people with dread. A new special effect really does require vistors to stay on their toes. Organizers said they prefer the exact name of this illusion be kept out of the article, but I tried it and it is disorienting. That’s all I’ll say. You’ll have to come out and experience it for yourself.

Both Collins and Tangness said they try to build the props themselves rather than buying premade items. The house itself is constructed out of 150-year old barn wood. A bench in the front yard appears to be sinking down into the lawn. A gothic streetlamp sheds some light on the yard and a water fountain with an arrangment of dead flowers sets the stage for visitors waiting to enter the house.

Several twists and turns await once you’re inside. A few rooms include a kitchen with an assortment of gruesome specimens, living room, library, bathroom and a bedroom with a corpselike bride. The chills don’t stop once you exit the house. You must make it through a maze lined with dead branches before coming to the graveyard.

Tangness and Collins not only plan the illusions, but they participate in the actual haunting of the house. The masks are from a Hollywood company that outfits some of the cadavers on CSI, Collins said. They are extremely realistic and made of silicone. The fiendish masks move as they talk and appear to be part of the actors’ faces.

They are so life-like that one can see the fine spider veins on the side of a monster face and freckles on the neck area.

It’s super-scary in the light and even more so in the dark.

evil masks

Sean and Erick wear their realistic horror masks



After 23 years of stuyding the psychology of fear, the organizers feel that they have a good fix on what scares their visitors.

“The overall atmosphere serves to heighten awareness,” Tangness said.


Nightmares Haunted House


two hearses

Sean Collins, left, and Erick Tangness talk about hearse designs


hearse face

A skull face emerges from the hearse hood



ghoul bus

The Ghoul Bus is ready to scare passengers


ghost reader

This library patron displays one of his favorite reads


red skeleton

A red skeleton flies on the ceiling


toilet face

What's that in the toilet watching me?



The final resting place at Nightmares Haunted House


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Haunted Castle

  • June 27, 2011 2:31 pm

A Halloween banner welcomes visitors to the Haunted Castle

A Halloween banner welcomes visitors to the Haunted Castle

If you want to visit a Halloween town, then spend a weekend in October exploring the streets of The Castle of Muskogee, Okla., during its annual Halloween Festival. Spooktacular revelry awaits around every bend.  The Haunted Castle is settled on 60 acres. It’s free for visitors to roam around and take in the sites of staff dressed in their Halloween best, but there is an admission price ranging from $2 to $9.95 to enter one of the nine events.

Here’s a breakdown of the “not-so-scary” events, “medium-scary,” and “scare-your-pants-off” from the 2009 Halloween Festival

  • Halloween Land for children 8 years old and younger: “A carnival of delight with no scares — games, prizes and more.”
  • Enchanted Boardwalk: “Enjoy the magic of more than 200 Halloween inflatables from 3 to 12 feet tall.”
  • Torture Chamber: “See what really happened in medieval times in the depths of the dungeons.”
  • Haunted Hayride: “This hayride will keep you on your toes as you ride through the Haunted Castle grounds.”
  • Pirate Ship Stage: “Live entertainment for the whole family. Comedy, drama, juggling and laughs galore. Includes Willie’s Wenches and Jester Rejects.”
  • Ultimate Maze: “Dare to walk the many pathways of this haunted maze.”
  • Casa Morte: “A labyrinth through the 12th century castle, with doom and mystery around every corner.”
  • Domus Horrificus: “Takes you into the areas where your favorite horror monsters dwell.”
  • Trail of Blood: “Take a walk through the woods if you dare. The lost souls of those who have gone before you will guide you.”
Staff and visitors dance to "Time Warp" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

Staff and visitors dance to "Time Warp" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

Casa Morte was the ultimate spookhouse experience for me. Although the wait was about 30 minutes in line, it was worth it. Staff members danced in a semicircle to Halloween favorites like “Monster Mash” and “Time Warp.” Actors aren’t allowed to touch you, and you aren’t supposed to touch them, but it is still jarring to enter each room and try to distinguish the actors from the life-sized props.

A huge spider-monster creature locked behind bars scared some children and adults back into the corner. Strobe light effects and sound make it look like the creature’s claws were reaching right through its prison for us.

My favorite rooms in the castle were the witch and her grotesque buffet of huge calamari and bone piles next to a bubbling cauldron.

What's for dinner?

What's for dinner?

Another room featured a vampire waking up from his sleep and emerging from a coffin. Outside of Casa Morte, visitors had a chance to sit in a real coffin and “try one on for size.”

Dracula prepares to rise from his coffin

Dracula prepares to rise from his coffin

I thought the Ultimate Maze would be a snap, but I guess my eyes were not adjusted after all of the strobes in Casa Morte. After going the same way twice, we were finally assisted by a white-faced actor with pigtails and a creepy, high-pitched voice, urging us to take this way … this way.

The skull entrance to the Ultimate Maze

The skull entrance to the Ultimate Maze

Ghostly Host

Ghostly Host

The Enchanted Boardwalk was a welcome sight and a chance to slow down and see the delight through a child’s eyes. Characters like Garfield and Winne the Pooh were interspersed with traditional October treats like ghosts, witches, pumpkins and skeletons.

Ghosts and goblins populate The Enchanted Boardwalk

Ghosts and goblins populate The Enchanted Boardwalk

Mean and green

Mean and green

The Ghostmobile

The Ghostmobile

My favorite inflatables were the kind you don’t see in a typical neighborhood yard. A couple of the more unusual pieces were a mini skeleton and a set of eyeballs.

Eye see you

Eye see you

Mini scare

Mini scare

Part of the Halloween Festival’s allure is the transformation of the castle grounds into a Halloween town. Other festivals are held there throughout the year, including the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival, Boare’s Heade Feast and Christmas Kingdom. The grounds retain a medieval ambiance, with the restrooms being labeled Privy.

Several food choices are available. Rat on a Stick, turkey legs, bratwurst with sauerkraut and onions and bags of kettlecorn satisfy revelers as they wait for the events to open.

Streets are lined with opportunities to transform into a favorite Halloween character. Face painting, a perfumery , and a candle making shop keep guests entertained.

Visitors make their own candle magic

Visitors make their own candle magic

A shop with 50 percent off costumes and Halloween props offers a good chance to snag some animatronics and other lighted decorations at a steal. One 5-foot tall witch with a bubbling cauldron was around $45. I’ve seen similar ones for $120 to $250 in retail stores.

With all the ghostly characters roaming the streets, it would be advisable to get your own “vampire protection kit.” Luckily, there was a shop open that sold items from Garlic Festival Foods based in Hollister, Calif.

Garlic samples are offered to keep vampires at bay

Garlic samples are offered to keep vampires at bay

I purchased a Garli Garni, all-purpose shake-on. I don’t know about vampires, but I’m sure I kept several people at bay with garlic breath.

Night lights

Night lights

Perhaps the most magical part of the evening was sharing it with other Halloween enthusiasts beneath an October sky. A moon made milky by feathery clouds lit the night, along with orange lights strewn throughout the grounds. An inflatable ghost wavered in the wind, as if to say goodbye, see you again next year.

Guests walk the Halloween streets

Guests walk the Halloween streets

Face painting is part of the ultimate Halloween experience

Face painting is part of the ultimate Halloween experience