Nightmares Haunted House
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.
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.
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