As I crept through the darkness, pausing to carefully peer around corners, stepping forward only when I was sure my companions were close behind, I kept wondering: Who is screaming so loudly?
The weekend before Halloween, I visited two haunted attractions across the road from each other in northern Johnston County near Middlesex. A friend invited me to join him and two others to visit Darkside Haunted Estates, and to say I was excited is an understatement; Halloween is my favorite holiday. As we drove up to Darkside’s entrance, a familiar childhood glee resurfaced as I looked on at skeletons, spiderwebs, fake blood and a scarecrow creature, all with the backdrop of a creepy forest.
As we walked out of the gravel parking lot to go buy tickets, a woman cautioned us that her family couldn’t even finish the tour. Just a few minutes later my group was waiting in line to start the trail, and screams in the distance made me wonder: Am I going to chicken out?
But no, I stayed in line, and soon a hostess was ushering us through a door into a world of horrors seen most often on late-night TV.
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I had such fun I felt like a kid again. Guests wander along a path lined by houses and attractions, and each section is unique. The decor is as detailed as a movie set: blood splattered on the walls, limbs hanging from ceilings, Mason jars filled with brains tucked away on shelves and abandoned elevator shafts luring visitors to lean over.
The biggest scares come from the dedicated volunteers who dress up as monsters and wait until guests are distracted by the scenery to jump out. “Are you scared?” they growl from behind masks or makeup. Actors can’t touch guests and vice versa, but knowing that didn’t keep me from yelling and running away more than a few times, especially when statues that were part of the scenery ended up being people.
I finally discovered the source of the screaming about halfway through: When trying to enter one house, a little girl in a blood-spattered white dress stared at me, tilted her head and said, “We have to wait for Daddy.” Then she let out, as the books always say, a blood-curdling scream and stared me down.
Then, in one of my favorite parts of the night, she looked at each person in my group and emphatically said, “I HATE you.” I have never before heard a child speak with such disgust – she was great.
Darkside was so much fun that my group decided to try our luck with the Slaughterhouse Horror Experience, the similar trail across the street. We had a fun time there too, and I’d be hard-pressed to say which I liked more. Slaughterhouse also appealed to a number of primal fears, with similar props and scare tactics, but both experiences were different and well worth the $16 and $15 each.
But afterward I kept wondering: Do they compete? How did two Halloween attractions end up across the road from each other?
After calling both places, I found out that Darkside started first.
“I guess you could consider it friendly competition,” said Jason Champion, one of Darkside’s owners.
The family that runs Slaughterhouse used to work with the family that runs Darkside until deciding to split off and do their own thing.
“And of course he lives right across the road from us, and that’s how it ended up,” Champion said.
Both families have been running haunted houses for years, they said.
Al Driver of Slaughterhouse said he wouldn’t go so far as to call it competition.
“The only thing I’m really worried about is the people that are helping us put on having a good time, the people coming through having a good time and us putting on the best show we can put on,” he said. “It’s one of those deals where it is what it is, and I don’t see it as a bad thing.”
In short, whatever happened in the past is in the past, and the two families that run the attractions only care about scaring whoever comes through their doors. Both families donate some of the profits to charity and rely on volunteering friends and family to dress up as monsters. Each year, they spend hour after hour building the attractions for the love of it, they said.
Both families also said they change the trails and attractions each year so that visitors can return to a different experience. They said ideas come up throughout the year through trying to scare friends and just shooting the breeze: “Wouldn’t it be scary if...?”
As for my group, rather than viewing the attractions as competitors, having one next to the other meant we visited both. You won’t be disappointed if you do the same next year.