Fri October 25, 2013
Inside Louisville's Haunted House Culture
The first one out the door is young and fast.
Then, one by one his friends follow, bolting through large plastic strips that hang from the top of a commercial garage door. Sounds of a chainsaw and screams overpower the quick slap of sneakers on pavement.
“Dude, I ran a 4.3. I’m NFL now. I should be catching passes for Teddy Bridgewater," says the first one out.
"What about the rest of the group? They’re all dead back there," I ask.
"Well, that’s their problem, not mine," he says.
This is the ending of the Devil’s Attic, a haunted house in a creepy brick factory in Old Louisville. It's one of the Louisville area's several haunted attractions that each year get the city into the Halloween holiday spirit. It only lasts about six weeks, and it's all over come November. But the preparation that goes into creating and running a good haunted house can last for months.
The Devil’s Attic is one of Louisville’s larger haunts. There are 32 paid actors inside waiting to scare visitors. The props scattered throughout the building cost thousands of dollars.
Here, owner Jason Besemann has about 16 nights to make back the investment.
The work is hard, he says.
Besemann opens the Devil’s Attic a few hours before the sun sets and well before any guests arrive. By day he's a salesman, but shares his love of the scary, dark and horrifying things in life with fellow operators.
Ten years ago, Besemann began making sketches and planning ideas for what his haunted house would look like.
“That’s when the ideas came on graph paper. I had it all mapped out, our Vannacutt area, our werewolf and vampire areas, a lot of the scenes, like the Hellraiser scene I had in my head already," he says.
Beseman bought the vacant brick factory in Old Louisville four years ago. He says it was built in the early 20th century and, legend has it, the previous owner died of tuberculosis at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, he says.
The building is dark and cool and includes a maze filled with fake blood, guts and limbs. These are materials Besemann has been collecting for years. The panels that make up each of the nearly 20 separate rooms, he hand built and collected beginning in 2010.
“I started in March building panels in my garage at home and had pods in my drive and just built them and stocked them and built them, built about 200 panels on my own that year," he says.
This isn’t a normal job by any means, but Besemann says running a haunted house is just like starting any business.
“It is a tremendous amount of work. You’ve got a lot of things that are similar to other businesses but you’ve also only got two months to make it or break it," he says.
The bills here can be expensive. Besemann shows me his masks—some cost hundreds of dollars.
“They suck to your face and they mimic all of your facial movements," he says.
Michael Book runs LouisvilleHalloween.com and is co-owner of the well known haunted attraction Danger Run. He built his first haunted house when he was 15 years old, he says.
“You have some props that exist that can cost up to $20-$25,000 just for one prop," says Book, who has worked at several haunted attractions around town.
Marketing alone can cost $5,000 to $60,000, depending on the operation, he says.
“A lot of people think it's an easy thing, easy money and that’s just not the case at all. In fact, most haunts' first couple of years don’t make any money at all. It’s hard to break even," Book says.
This is confirmed by Travis Boling, owner of Louisville's 7th Street Haunt, now in its second year of operation. Boling's business partner is his mother-in-law, who emptied the $80,000 in her savings account to support the $100,000 invested to get the house up and running, he says.
Since last year and through this season, 7th Street Haunt has made $40,000 back, Boling says.
“Last year we had 859 people come through. This year, and we’ve still got two weekends to go, we’ve had nearly 5,000 people come through," he says.
But it’s not all about the money for the haunted house owners. It’s the love of haunt. Boling says as a child, his mother used to love scary movies, but she was too scared to watch them by herself.
“So what she did was she always had me watch them, with her. And I always loved being scared,” he says.
And being scared is what people like Boling count on year after year.