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VOL. 128 | NO. 205 | Monday, October 21, 2013

Fright Nights

Haunted houses highlight another spooky season

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

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Although his official title is owner and operator of Hauntedweb of Horrors in Cordova, Patrick French’s friends and colleagues call him The Haunt Master.

A performer is ready to act in the Dark Matter attraction at Hauntedweb of Horrors in Cordova, one of several Halloween attractions open for fun in the Memphis area. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The nickname most likely originates from French’s 12-year history of running the scariest Halloween attraction in Memphis, a status awarded by the readers of the website About.com for the past five years.

Or it could be due to the fact that he travels to haunted house conventions and trade shows throughout the year, occasionally teaching seminars on the latest technology for haunted attraction industry professionals.

Or maybe it’s because French admits that he and his friends are obsessed with thinking up ways to scare the daylights out of people.

“Being in the haunted house industry, it never leaves your mind,” French said. “With everything I encounter, I think, ‘How could I use that in a haunted house?’ or ‘How could I use that to scare someone?’ We basically think about Halloween all year long.”

French is among thousands of business owners across the nation who have tapped into the fact that Americans love to be scared and are willing to pay for it. Halloween is the second-largest commercial holiday in the United States. According to national statistics from the Haunted House Association (HauntedHouseAssociation.org) – a website dedicated to helping advance, promote and educate the world about the haunted house and Halloween industry – Americans spend more than $7 billion annually on candy, costumes and Halloween activities. There are more than 2,000 for-profit haunted attractions in the country. In addition, there are more than 300 amusement facilities that produce some kind of Halloween or fall event for families and more than 1,000 seasonal or Halloween attractions that serve local charities.

Hauntedweb of Horrors falls in the last category. Since the volunteer-run attraction has been open, it has generated more than $300,000 for the private nonprofit organization Youth Villages, dedicated to helping emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully.

This year, Hauntedweb offers two haunted experiences: Dark Matter, a dark labyrinth of 3D special effects, and Tormented, a twisted asylum. Tormented is the gorier of the two, French said.

Hauntedweb of Horrors is at 700 N. Germantown Parkway in Cordova and will be open through Nov. 2. Tickets are $10 for Dark Matter, $12 for Tormented or $20 for both. Attendees can also buy a $30 R.I.P. pass that allows them to move to the front of the line. For specific dates and hours of operation, along with more information, visit the website at hauntedweb.com.

The business of fear in Memphis extends beyond the shock factor of a costumed ghoul jumping out of the dark and screaming, “Boo!”

Thrill seekers looking for a more lasting case of the creeps might find it at the Woodruff-Fontaine House at 680 Adams Ave. Built in 1870, the French Victorian mansion is a year-round attraction with a very haunted history. Although the historic residence primarily serves as a museum and wedding venue, once a year it pulls out all the stops and puts its ghosts on display with the rest of its historic exhibitions.

“This is our fifth year to present Haunted Happenings,” said A.J. Northrop, president of the Memphis chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities. “It’s a dark, creepy stroll through the mansion with all kinds of tricks and treats for our guests.”

Northrop said the annual fundraiser, which takes place this year from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 26, gets bigger each year.

“It’s good old-fashioned spooky fun,” Northrop said. “You’ll climb our stairs and it’ll get darker and darker. It’s more of an atmosphere. Although there may be a few surprises, no one jumps out at you, creeps up on you or touches you. If you’re touched and nobody’s there, you’ll be one of several people who have had a genuine supernatural experience in that house.”

Memphis-based paranormal investigation groups Paranormal Inc. and Expedition Unknown also will host the event. Both groups will share their evidence of hauntings at Woodruff-Fontaine, most notably by resident ghost Mollie Woodruff Henning. (Paranormal Inc. also documents its investigation on its website at paranormalincorporated.blogspot.com/2009/02/woodruff-fontaine-investigation.html – including recordings of ghostly voices – and Expeditions Unknown shares videos of its investigations on its YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/ExpeditionUnknown1).

The Haunted Happenings tour is self-guided and admission is $20 for adults and $10 for children younger than 16. Proceeds will go to benefit preservation efforts. For more information, visit facebook.com/events/567315566637004 or call 526-1469. The event is family-friendly.

Other locals who find fall fun in the mystery of strange surroundings and the thrill of getting lost for a while add a trip to the Mid-South Corn Maze, to their annual fall to-do lists.

This is Chris Taylor’s 13th year of running his “agritainment experience.” He and his partner Justin Taylor change the design each year and begin cutting it out in July.

“I think it’s a great family event,” Taylor said. “We have hayrides and a bonfire. We even host team-building events for corporate groups.”

The maze, which is open through Nov. 2, becomes haunted on Friday and Saturday nights and on Halloween. Hours of operation vary. Admission for the general corn maze is $7 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and younger. Admission to the haunted maze is $10 per person. Haunted hayrides for $5 also are available on those evenings.

For more information, visit midsouthmaze.com or call 870-6338.

Shelby Farms is also hosting Spooky Nights, with haunted trails, hayrides, “zombie laser tag” and other events.

For a list of more Halloween and fall happenings in the Memphis area, visit the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau’s I Love Memphis blog post, “2013 Memphis Guide to Halloween Events” at ilovememphisblog.com/2013/10/2013-memphis-guide-to-halloween-events.

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