How to make a house of horrors

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  • Ashley McElveen wanted to start a haunted house in the Beaufort area last year. But she had never done it before. She didn't even like scary movies.

    Within 16 days, she had one up and running in time for Halloween. She put it in the space she and her husband, Ricky, run a business. By day, it's McElveen Marine and A-Sure Sign and Graphic Design. By night, it's the House of Horrors.

    The House, located at the foot of the Broad River Bridge, is up again this year. It's bigger and better -- and scarier. It's for adults and older kids who can handle a good scare. Fake blood is commonplace, as are jump-off-the-floor scares. Organizers claim one girl fainted last year before she even got in.

    Weeks of planning are involved. Ashley travels from here to Atlanta searching for the right props and costumes. About 25 volunteers help, dressed as a variety of ghouls and horror movie characters. Before each showing, the cast arrives about an hour in advance to dress and run through routines.

    Without revealing too much, Ashley and her cast gave a behind-the-scenes peak at what they've learned about scaring their visitors, or, as they call them, their victims. Here are some of the finer points of scaring someone silly:

  • The details are everything (and don't have to cost too much). A good haunted house isn't just about sudden scares. It won't be convincing if the details aren't right. A good substitute for cobwebs are fishing line. It's hung from the ceiling and unsuspecting victims walk right through it. Packing peanuts are strewn on the ground of one room. It gives the floor a feel similar to walking on a fresh grave. Spanish moss is draped over fake graves in some areas because, well, Spanish moss is a bit creepy. A body hangs from a noose. But the body is really just coveralls stuffed with foam, a mannequin head, gloves and plastic feet. A low-cost way to create atmosphere.
  • Get the right setting. The McElveens leased the property last year. Before, it was a patio store. But the second floor was designed as an apartment, complete with a fireplace and a weathered balcony. It gives the feel of walking through an abandoned house. The route takes visitors all over the first and second floors. Some spaces are hidden by sheets of black plastic to guide the victims and make them forget they're actually in a boat and sign shop.
  • Use changes in environment to your advantage. A fog machine cranks a misty haze in the upstairs hallway. Victims exit the smoky corridor into a darkened room. Immediately they're startled and slightly disoriented by the strobe light. In front of them on a table is a rubber torso, intestines on full display. Limbs and feet are nearby. It's a monster's feast. And then the monster comes out.
  • One recent night, Matt Torres played the role of the monster. Brett Drawdy informed him of his duty. Torres, wearing a grotesque rubber mask, was to jump out from behind the black curtain in the back, grab the head of the corpse (which was detached the whole time), and throw it toward the corner of the room, away from the victims. In the corner is a metal cabinet. Chances are, the victims haven't noticed the cabinet because of the scene in front of them. The flying head hitting the cabinet produces a unexpected bang. If anyone still is in the room, they'll surely be out by then, Drawdy said.

  • Never underestimate the power to scare. One of the rooms has a man in a straight jacket and Hannibal Lecter-like mask. His job is to make a racket when victims walk by. He does that with pots and pans. That was Jerimy Corbitt's job on a recent night.
  • "How do I do that in a straight jacket" he asked his buddy, Jason Tuten.

    "Kick them with your feet," Tuten replied.

    Tuten had played that role before. The surprising thing? It doesn't take much to get a scream out of the assembled crowds. Are people pretty easy to scare?

    "Yeah, they are," he said. "It's pretty cool."