Scaring the piss out of you
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The sound of an axe beating against the battered walls mirrors the sound of each individual’s heart slamming against his or her chest. Cackles, screams and the faint revving of a chainsaw can be heard ahead. Lunatics with murder and insanity in their eyes stare at children through the darkness.
Each person’s fears are realized and manipulated. Some even wet their pants. That’s a normal night within FrightWorld.
FrightWorld – which opened in 2002 – is located on Sheridan Drive and was featured as one of the country’s scariest Halloween attractions during a Travel Channel special in 2010. Now, FrightWorld hosts five separate and unique attractions: Grind House, Raven Hill Asylum, Wicked Woods, Death Trap and Phobiaz.
FrightWorld is not just a screampark because of the variety it offers, according to Stephen Szortyka, the general manager. It’s an experience – one that is meant to instill fear from the moment customers walk through the doors until they exit.
Many do so wishing they brought an extra pair of pants.
“Once a week we have somebody that wets themselves,” Szortyka said. “At least once a week, I usually get a text message, ‘Hey we got a pisser.’”
For Szortyka, these extreme reactions let him know FrightWorld is doing its job and doing it well.
“We’ve had people hyperventilate; we’ve had people faint,” Szortyka said. “We have had people throw up; we’ve had people go number two in their pants … We’ve had people cower in the corner until somebody came and got them.”
Each individual haunt within FrightWorld has it’s own theme and is set to be scary to a wide variety of customers. Grind House is home to serial killers in a bayou setting and Raven Hill Asylum is an old, decrepit institution that consists of insanity and torture. These two houses always get the most compliments from patrons because of the chainsaws, Szortyka believes.
Raven Hill Asylum does not just scare customers, according to Szortyka. Within the attraction, there is one specific corner that even gets the actors and workers “a little queasy,” even when the lights are on and FrightWorld is closed.
“You just get that weird feeling like somebody’s standing there watching you,” Szortyka said.
One of the builders once believed Szortyka was working in the corner with him, and believed they had an entire conversation. But when he turned around, there was no one there. He was talking to himself.
A worn-out cabin and a tree house with decrepit vegetation and sporadic air blasters that attempt to envelop the customers in Wicked Woods brings the outside world inside, Szortyka said.
Death Trap plays on the terror of being buried underground, according to Szortyka. The walking dead surrounds customers, and a cemetery with tombstones and dirt hangs above customers’ heads.
If it’s a fear of spiders, a fear of the dark, a fear of small spaces, a fear of electricity or a fear of fire, Phobiaz is the house that brings them all to fruition. Phobiaz uses Plexiglas to attack the sensation of falling by pushing against the customer, giving them no option but to plummet.
Szortyka has worked at FrightWorld for three years since the screampark merged with his previous company – another haunted attraction named Dark Raven Manor.
Szortyka started as an actor before becoming the general manager. To scare others is “an adrenaline rush that you won’t get from anything else.”
“Acting at FrightWorld is fun,” Szortyka said. “It allows you to be somebody that you can’t really go out on the streets and be.”
Although no longer an actor, Szortyka still loves working there. Szortyka spends a lot of time building and designing each attraction, and he always feels a rush of adrenaline when the doors open. Customers scream, laugh and sometimes even fall on the floor. Szortyka feels accomplished when he sees the customers having a great time.
While Szortyka spends most of his time scaring others – he always makes sure to put a fog machine and strobe lights on his front porch for Halloween – being scared is not something he enjoys. Scary movies “scare the crap” out of him, as do dark basements.
His friends always ask why he won’t see movies with them when he spends each year building houses to scare others. The only time he’ll suffer through a horror movie is when he works with the crew to find new ideas.
The most important thing to Szortyka is to continually “wow” his customers. The crew works full-time, all-year round to design amusement parks overseas and across the country to continually find new concepts to add to FrightWorld.
One idea involved black light reflectors and invisible paint. The crew painted a checkered room, so that when the light switch flips, the black and white colors on the wall reverse so that “the tiles are jumping and moving all over the place,” Szortyka said.
FrightWorld also puts a lot of effort into making sure its actors prepared for the season by putting them through “scream school” before the haunted attraction opens each year. They discuss character creation, prop utilization and how to become a different person (or dead person).
FrightWorld is very stern when it comes to company policy, Szortyka said.
“Never once do these actors break character,” Szortyka said. “Even if they’re leaving a house to go on break, they’re still in that character.”
Even when actors are attacked, they stay in character. People have natural reactions when they go through FrightWorld. Some jump, some spit, others kick and take swings. Szortyka, as an actor, has gotten punched in the chest, kicked in the legs and even punched in the face. It all comes with the territory of working at a haunted attraction.