Local Haunts available this Halloween season

Bill Thomas, Assistant News Editor

Every autumn, the leaves change color, the wind adopts a chilling bite and unassuming locales everywhere are transformed into dreadful domiciles for the undead and insane. Then, when Halloween passes, the ghouls go back to their day jobs and the body parts get boxed up into storage until next year. Seemingly overnight, the haunted houses vanish, as ephemeral as the ghosts they purport to lodge.

While the retail giants busy themselves replacing their tricks ‘n’ treats with Christmas ornaments and singing stuffed Santa’s, the macabre minds behind spooky seasonal attractions like Gravestone Manor and Carnival of Souls are already toying with ideas for next year’s nightmares.

It’s something that seems to be in their very blood.

“I think I was born this way,” Rick Markham said. “I built my first haunted house and charged admission to the public when I was 8 years old. It was in my parent’s basement and I charged kids a nickel to go through.”

Now, at age 46, Markham is one of the head organizers of Gravestone Manor in Plains. It’s a position he’s held right from the attraction’s start on throughout its thirteen seasons. According to Markham, the key to the longevity of Gravestone Manor is its unique approach, wherein the traditional Halloween attraction is merged with live theater.

“We started as a reaction to a lot of haunted houses where it’s just dark with people jumping out at you with chainsaws,” Markham explained. “What we wanted to do is actually present a ghostly story, an interactive mystery with a plot and a resolution that people could follow and be a part of.”

This year’s story, a sequel to 2005’s show, is a twisted tale entitled “Killjoy’s Revenge.” Patrons find themselves cast into the role of prospective buyers of an abandoned mansion. As the “realtors” lead their “clients” on a tour of the foreboding abode, spine-tingling shocks are dealt out by a killer clown with a bone to pick: yours.

More horrible harlequins lurk at the pitch-black heart of another NEPA haunt this year. Far from the seasoned staple that is Gravestone Manor, the upstart Tru Fear Productions unleashes Carnival of Souls in Mountain Top. Making its deadly debut, Carnival of Souls is Tru Fear’s second offering, being preceded only by a free, small-scale “test” haunt that was well-received by locals in 2010.

Despite being the newest monster on the block, Tru Fear founder Karl Buzak is confident that, by utilizing high-tech special effects and taking inspiration from other haunts across the nation as opposed to those down the street, Carnival of Souls can provide area audiences with newer, fresher frights.

“Even though it’s our first year, I feel like we’re doing a lot of things other haunted houses aren’t,” Buzak said. “I like to think we’re many, many levels above people in costumes hiding around corners.”

Gravestone Manor is located at 1095 Highway 315, Plains. It is open from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29, and from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30. A performance by local band Pop Rox will kick off the Oct. 30 date. Admission is $10 and all proceeds go the United Way of Wyoming Valley. For more information, visit www.gravestonemanor.org.

Carnival of Souls is located at 1550 Henry Drive, Mountain Top. It is open from dusk. to 11 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29, and from dusk to 10 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30 and on Monday, Oct. 31. Admission is $10. For more information, visit www.trufearproductions.com.