Rick Davis - Darkride and Funhouse EnthusiastsThrillNetwork’s Rick Barber asked Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts founder, Rick Davis, all about Halloween haunts. Davis shares his five favorite haunts and tells us about his own home haunt.

ThrillNetwork: How many haunts have you been to (seasonal, part time, full time)?

Rick: Honestly, I don’t know. Trying to remember back to what I did as a kid (when there were a LOT more parks open) I think I’ve probably seen around 100 dark rides, funhouses and haunts. Sadly, I have few memories of most of them. I do have some pretty fond memories of the old funhouse at Idora Park in Youngstown, OH and its barrel of fun, giant slides, shocking handrails, air jets and Magic Carpet. I only have one memory of the darkride (Golden Nugget/Kooky Kastle); the Saw Table which cut a woman in half. I think at that point I closed my eyes till the ride was over!

ThrillNetwork: Do you have any insight into the history of haunted houses?

Rick: Great question, but I don’t have the answer. I’ve heard people in the industry ponder the same question. Most seem to cite the Jaycee’s haunted houses in the 70’s as the root, but I seem to remember there being at least one haunted house in the Warren, OH area in the 60’s. Actually, I think you need to go WAY back for the real roots, probably to the late 1800’s at least. I’m sure a lot of people have heard of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion (think Disney’s Haunted Mansion ballroom and the ghost riding in the car with you near the end.) That illusion was part of a ghost show more than a hundred years ago. Coney Island and other parks had scary walkthrough attractions in the early 1900’s too. And of course amusement park funhouses were starting to move away from physical stunts to walk-through style funhouses with scary props probably in the 30’s and 40’s.
Haunted houses as we know them today have been evolving and improving from the old Jaycees haunts in abandoned houses with guys in sheets and masks (“boo haunts” as the serious haunters would call them.) The best haunts today are like walking into a Hollywood horror flick.)

ThrillNetwork: What is your favorite haunt and why?

Rick: VERY tough question! I have a lot of favorites for a lot of different reasons. First I will say that I haven’t seen many of awesome haunts around the country; there simply isn’t time or money to do them. October is a busy month. Currently, I am the set designer for the Vampire Biker Ball (motorcycles, horror flicks, costume ball and a great band mix for a different event.) October 1st. The following weekend is the must-do Knoebels Phoenix Phall Phunfest and following that, I’m busy trying to get my home haunt built.

Rick: I’ll just mention a few haunts, in no particular order, and trust me; there are a lot of great haunts that I’m leaving out.

Castle Blood – Beallsville, PA This is different from most haunts you’ve ever been too. I doubt you will see many other haunts that use theatrical style make up. Each year the haunt has a new theme and challenges for you as you go through. Gotta love a haunt whose motto is “Chain saws are stupid!”

ScareHouse, Pittsburgh, PA
– Three haunted houses in a row in an awesome old building. This year zombies invade Pittsburgh in one of the haunts. Oh, yeah. These aren’t your traditional slow-moving Night of the Living Dead zombies either!

Ghostly Manor – Sandusky, OH
Yes, there is more than just Cedar Point in Sandusky! Ghostly Manor is one of the few full time haunts in our area. The fact that it shares the building with a roller rink also makes it unique, but don’t let they lull you into a relaxed state! It has been DAFE’s number four favorite walkthrough for several years. The haunt is a mix of live actors and animation which is perfect for a full time haunt. During slow times it can run with just a few actors, but they can really ramp up with a full compliment during the Halloween season.

Bates Motel – Glen Mills, PA
Always on the haunted house top ten lists, Bates Motel offers you a hayride and a walk-through haunted house. The haunted house is perfectly detailed and staffed more than 75 actors.

Haunted Hydro – Fremont, OH A bit west of Sandusky is a seasonal haunt in a former hydroelectric plant! Actually two haunts. Whereas Bates Motel relies on detailed scenes, haunt owner “Crazy” Bob Turner uses a more minimalistic approach, preferring to give just enough detail to set the scene, relying on the actors to sell the story. Bob is probably the most entertaining haunt owner/host you’ll ever meet, just look for the guy with a bullet hole in his forehead.

ThrillNetwork: Which is the scariest haunt you’ve been to?

Rick: Ever since we started DAFE, I’ve been really interested in the “how’d they do that” aspect of the haunts. Instead of being scared I find myself saying “oh, they want my attention HERE so THERE is where the scare will come from. I can honestly say I can’t remember getting a scare in recent memory. That makes me a “flat-liner” in the parlance of the haunters, and that also makes me a target. Haunters have two high goals, scaring the guy smiling all the way through and making girls wet their pants!

While not scary for me, some of the most frightening haunts are in Niagara Falls. First, they CAN touch you. Secondly, two of them are pitch black 99% of the way through. One in particular is one to avoid if you are claustrophobic; it has VERY tight spaces and ends with you crawling out, uphill through a tube. For a 6’ 3” guy, it was not a pleasant experience. I literally had to use my toes and fingertips to inch my way out…as my friend happily snapped photos, hoping I’ll have to be pulled out with a rope!

ThrillNetwork: What is the best location in the country to experience haunts?

Rick: I think those of us in the northeast Ohio and western PA area are blessed with a number of good haunts with in a two hour drive. Eastern PA and New York also have quite a few good one. St. Louis is known for one of the top haunts in the country. Universal Hollywood and Florida have awesome haunts and of course, Knott’s Berry Farm is the granddaddy of all amusement park haunts.

ThrillNetwork: If you could create the ultimate haunt, what would it be about?

Rick: Hmmm…If money were no object, I suppose it would be detailed to the max with the best horror actors money could buy. I doubt that there are many unique theme ideas left, so we’d probably revisit some classic ideas. Maybe start with the classic horror film castle. State of the art imaging techniques that could make ghosts appear and disappear throughout the castle. Maybe add in some secret passage ways to discover so each visit could be a bit different from the last. Of course we would need the traditional mad scientist lab and probably need the Frankenstein monster, his brides and their horror friends to wander about.

I might like to borrow a Universal Florida idea and add a twist to a non-Halloween season holiday. They did a CHRISTMAS haunted house that was totally warped and well done. I liked the dark humor of it all.

ThrillNetwork: I see you do a yearly haunt at your home. Can you tell us about it briefly?

Rick: About the time we started DAFE, I bought some old props from the former Kennywood Railroad. I had no idea what to do with them when I brought them home. At some point I noticed that one of the props arms moved and kind of looked like how Dracula pulled his cape up in front of his face. That started it; Sue and I converted the figure into Dracula, then we converted a few more. The first year I think we had four props in the yard and few trick-or-treaters. The next year I added Frankenstein and his bride and a fence (kids were tripping over the spot lights, not the cords, the LIGHTS!) I would stand in the yard with the props in a Grim Reaper’s costume, and then walk up behind the kids as they were getting candy from Sue. Great fun for us and the parents that could see it coming! Each year I would add more tombstones and props and each year more kids and adults would come to see the display.

One year we added a blow up castle for the kids and found that it scared them instead of making them want to walk through it. (I sold Rick Davis as Ghouldiniit.) That inspired two of my friends and me to talk about making a small haunted house with a 10 x 20 tent. Unfortunately, we were making trips to Cleveland to see my sister-in-law who was dying. The sad day came as we knew it would. We then had one weekend before Halloween and my friends decided that we could still build a haunt. It wasn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen; hastily thrown up plywood walls and cheap props with two actors inside. But amazingly, the people loved it!

The next year we built a 12 x 24 haunt outside. This time with semi-permanent walls in three sizes and a pre-drawn floor plan. We were actually named the “Most Spook-tacular House” by a local TV station. As we were doing this, construction was nearing completion on my new 40 X 50 garage.

Last year’s haunt moved into the new garage which allowed us to start building earlier and bigger. We made the TV morning show again and gained more attention…the attention of the local fire chief who showed up just before we would open the haunted house. After telling us we needed fire extinguishers, I pointed out that we had three fire extinguishers, three emergency exits; low voltage lighting and the actors had radios. “You know more about this than I do! I’m happy!” He did advise me to keep the haunt less than a thousand square feet, more that that we would need a sprinkler system.

Thankfully, we had the blessing of the fire chief as well as a township trustee and one of the local policemen who liked to stop by as we were building. (He also gave me a dumpster location that had a LOT of plywood!) This year the haunts grows a bit more. If I had a place to store 4 vehicles it would be a LOT easier…maybe I need to build a garage…

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2 Responses

  1. Joel

    I haven’t been to many haunts, but after reading this article I might have to get down to Scarowinds this weekend and test my bravery. I’m definitely in the mood for a good scare now.


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