5 Haunts to Get Your Halloween Scare On
Dark shadows lurking behind every corner, unexplained bumps in the night, floorboards creaking without a soul in sight. Cobwebs, spiders and ghosts galore… Are you scared, or do you want to scream some more?
These are just a few of the many frights trick-or-treaters will find in America’s scariest haunted homes during Halloween. Eschewing conventional decorations like jack-o-lanterns and plastic cauldrons for lifelike zombies and blood-soaked chainsaws, Halloween aficionados like Matt Champneys of Spanish Fork, Utah, relish the opportunity to turn their homes into terrifying haunts.
“There’s nothing better than having a neighbor come up to me and sincerely thank me for making Halloween so much fun in our neighborhood,” says Champneys, who for the past 12 years has transformed his home into the family-friendly Haunted Halloween Lair.
From the orthodontist in Florida who electrocutes dummies and imprisons zombies and maniacs alike on his property — to the Halloween-obsessed couple in Oregon who transform their front yard into a graveyard — and the horror film cineaste who packs his haunted home with iconic horror characters and tons of gore, we explore some of the madness behind the haunted homes:
Mansion of Macabre — Palm Harbor, FL
What started as a scary lark has blossomed into a full-blown obsession for Dr. Paul Duryea. When he’s not spending his days working as an orthodontist, Duryea uses the Halloween season as an excuse to turn his front yard into an elaborate nightmare for any trick-or-treater.
His spooktacular set up features flesh-eating gargoyles and an animatronic demon so lifelike that it never fails to frighten his guests.
“I can’t believe I just saw that!” is something Duryea says he often hears from scared patrons.
One of his favorite exhibits is a stone fountain that features a rather sassy skeleton. “As far as the most interesting animatronic that I have built, it’s probably the fountain,” says Duryea. “The skeleton head hurls insults and says things like, ‘Did your parents have any kids that lived?’”
Duryea scares people for a good cause. Each year he uses his home to raise money for the Suncoast Hospice, a not-for-profit organization committed to serving those living with chronic and terminal illnesses.
Davis Graveyard — Milwaukie, OR
Why spend hundreds of dollars and months of time for a house that’s only open for Halloween? The answer is simple for Jeff Davis, creator of Davis Graveyard. His passion for everything Halloween led him to create an elaborate haunted house featuring more than 80 tombstones and over-the-top animatronics, including flying witches and giant spiders that lurk high in the trees.
Guests of the Davis Graveyard are greeted at its entrance by two 8-foot-tall grim reapers. As visitors wander further into the darkness, they’re often startled at the sight of crypts covered in cobwebs and by the sudden appearance of real zombies — or at least, performers dressed as the undead.
You could say Davis and his wife Chris are putting their yard to good use. “From the moment we laid eyes on the yard, we knew its destiny was that of the ultimate Halloween cemetery,” says Davis.
Haunted Halloween Lair — Spanish Fork, UT
In 2003, Matt Champneys’ 10-year-old daughter requested that he turn their home into a “spooky hall of fright.” Champneys obliged and went about transforming their home into a family-friendly haunt of thrills.
Today, Champneys and his daughter continue to thrill visitors with their own variation of a haunted pirate hunt. Tour guides take you around the handcrafted wooden ship adorned with pirate skeletons, who guard buried treasure, steer the ship and play a cobweb-covered organ.
The Haunted Halloween Lair now averages more than 3,000 visitors each year, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
“At times people are lined up around the block just to get a glimpse,” says Champneys.
Mill Creek Haunted Hollow — Mill Creek, WA
The Pankow family’s Victorian home has an elaborate, and fabricated, backstory.
In the late 1800s, the story goes, wealthy benefactor Thomas Blackburn relocated from his home in Lancashire, England to Mill Creek. Out of loneliness, he “imports” Elizabeth Sharkleigh from Ireland to eventually be his wife in the United States. One October morning, Elizabeth and her horse mysteriously disappear, never to return. But Elizabeth’s soul would return each October to haunt her old home, according to the Pankows, providing the manor with its engaging backstory and spooky twist.
“I just got hooked,” explains Gary Pankow, the mastermind behind Mill Creek’s most elaborate haunted house.
The Mill Creek Haunted Hollow features a graveyard where skeletons literally rise from the dead. There’s also a mausoleum housing the Blackburn family’s remains, giant spiders and flying ghosts.
The transformation was anything but easy for Pankow. “When my wife and I could finally own our first home, I started looking for a house with Halloween in mind —something that had a decent front yard and could lend itself to a spooky feel,” he says. “Then I remodeled the heck out of it.”
Higbee Horror Haunt — Modesto, CA
At the Higbee Horror Haunt, classic horror movie characters are brought to life.
Created by Jon Scott in 2011, the haunt is designed to “put a little jump in your step” with infamous horror film characters like Freddy Krueger from “The Nightmare on Elm Street” and Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s “It”.
This year will feature a new character created by Scott, the Doll Maker, a demented serial killer who crafts dolls using the body parts of his victims. These creations have come to life this October to help find the Doll Maker’s next victims.