Shop Talk

Panic builds on forest full of killers, zombies, witches

The “Doll House” is one of 10 scenes in the half-mile long Haunted Forest trail at Panic Point.
The “Doll House” is one of 10 scenes in the half-mile long Haunted Forest trail at Panic Point.

Brian Garff, 44, and Huguely, 46, have been business partners for 10 years, starting with a real estate investing company in Arizona. But when the stock market crashed, their partnership with banks suffered.

In 2006, they moved their families to Wake Forest, partly for the area’s real estate opportunities. After visiting a friend’s haunt in 2010, the two decided they had to try it.

In October 2011, they opened Panic Point, which boasted props and tours spread throughout its 50 acres of “blood-smattered“ woods.

The two initially invested about $14,000 each into the business, and barely turned a profit their first year. Since then, profits have improved, they said, mostly due to slow, steady growth both in services and customers.

The two have improvised with their own “do-it-yourself” props, changing up the scenes and slowly embellishing the haunt over time.

In 2012, Garff and Huguely added a child-friendly corn maze. And a creepy clown trailer made its debut in 2013.

Since the first year, they have added to a mind-twisting “Dark Walk,” which is a trail with no lights and lots of scares, and they have started a nighttime hayride.

During the week, they hunker down in a 100-year-old, run-down farmhouse on the leased property full of creepy costumes, “blood” stains from makeup sessions and props that include baby dolls and a pile of chainsaws.

Panic Point’s haunted forest is open 14 nights a year and costs range from $16 to $32.

Garff and Huguely are working to expand that customer base by spreading the scare throughout the year.

“The question is what to do the other 351 days a year,” Garff said.

In 2012, they started “Zombie Escape Mud Runs,” in which gory zombies chase runners through mud pits, bridges and obstacles in the forest. This past June, they added laser tag. Once a month, Panic Points holds “zombie apocalypse,” a game on the Dark Walk trail, and in September, they added a glow run.

The business partners want to eventually add a “Nightmare After Christmas” race and haunted campouts.

Mostly, they cater to the many local high school and college students, who also help run the haunt. Panic Point has nearly 100 volunteers and part-time contract employees who work to undergo massive makeup and costuming to get “the perfect scare”

Along with lots of people and ghoulish creativity, Panic Point takes psychological understanding and research to create “the perfect scare.”

“The chainsaw clown is when people really lose it,” Huguely said.