Northland volunteers keep the Haunted Shack a scary attraction with good intentions
“We have buckets of heads, we have buckets of hands, we have arms. We actually have real cow skulls.”
Kyle Dwinell has acted in other Halloween haunts, but this is his first year working the Haunted Shack. Towering at 6 feet, 3 inches tall, his face painted like a demented clown, the Proctor man seemed perfect for the job.
“These people are here to have fun; you try to just scare the bejesus out of them. That’s your whole goal,” he said.
Dwinell was among the handful of volunteers taking scare lessons from Haunted Shack showrunner Pat Stojevich. “Eighty percent of the scare is the sound. The next ten to fifteen percent is lighting and special effects. The rest is just you,” he said.
In its 26 years, the local Halloween attraction has moved from a skating shack to its current home partnering with Carlton’s Ru-Ridge Corn Maze. The “shack” is now an expansive building with several themed rooms, a hayride and a freaky trek through a corn maze.
Behind the scenes is a 40-foot trailer that houses some of the Shack’s more than 600 costumes. There’s a mural of Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Also: Containers of monster hands, numerous makeup kits, plastic bins with fake blood on the outside and racks on racks of costumes — the grim reaper, a murderous jester, some marked “white hair demon.”
“We have buckets of heads, we have buckets of hands, we have arms. We actually have real cow skulls,” Stojevich said.
The Shack has several themed rooms — dolls, devils, a morgue. After they’re assigned a room, each actor gets to pick which monster or ghoul they’re going to be, said Mary Stevens.
She’s been involved with the Shack for years. “I act, I ride on the hay wagons, I made the haunted cemetery, I help inside.” She likes all jobs, but she’s partial to acting.
“There’s nothing better than making men scream,” she said, recalling a stint in the clown room where she pretended to be a mannequin until just the right moment.
To get into character, Stevens plays Halloween music on the drive out. Getting ready gets you hyped up, she said, as Christine Dougherty fashioned bloody handprints on a coffin.
Dougherty has done many jobs, but working the hayride is gratifying because you get to see the other actors work their magic, and “experience the attraction yourself,” she said.
Her husband, Joe, is the actor coordinator, in charge of rallying the troops. It can be tricky because they’re all volunteers. The ideal headcount is 40 actors a night, but they can get away with 24, and Dougherty fills in the blanks when they need it.
They’ve worked with kids as young as 4 — “They’re more scary than the adults,” Stojevich said — but they like their actors to be 11 or older.
Masks line the wall of the costume trailer, more decor than function. Actors don’t like wearing them for hygienic purposes, Dougherty said.
The couple are among the regular crew that keeps coming back to help. Many of the Shack’s 12 regulars who work year-round, planning and organizing the attraction, started as actors and moved into different roles.
Dougherty has sold T-shirts, he’s worked in the elevator. He’s played a clown. He said he enjoys people’s reactions. “It’s fun hearing them scream. Some people wet themselves. It’s funny seeing them run from you.”
Scary movies aren’t his thing, but being apart of the Halloween attraction doesn’t spook him. “When you go in there and see it all, you know what it’s all about,” he said.
Stojevich walked his newest actors through the Haunted Shack. First is a memorial room, a tribute to family members who have passed. Next is the elevator that’s meant to transport you to hell. Along the way through the many rooms is an embalming table, numerous skeletons and ghouls, a hanging Cabbage Patch doll that promises to be more sinister in the dark.
Driving part of the hayride route after dark, lifelike statuettes and shadows poked out from the trees. There are 30 mannequins out there, and there might be one actor on the night of a show. Stojevich shared his plans to build more in the corn maze and hayride, but as is, it was so unsettling, a News Tribune reporter had to cut the drive short.
Stojevich has always liked scaring people. He recalled dangling a ghost on a string when he was 4 for his parents’ annual haunted house.
Running the annual attraction costs $10,000 a year. That covers the electric bill, maintenance, rebuilding and replacing pieces and leasing tractors. Stojevich donates money from the Shack to the Special Olympics, Coats for Kids and CHUM, and the staff are all volunteers.
“Over 26 years, not one of us have gotten paid. We work for a T-shirt and food,” he said.
Megan Wilander and Isabella Dwinell were among the newbies learning the ropes. Wilander was worried about acting, but: “You don’t have to do much. You just get in people’s faces, and you can just whisper and it’s creepy enough.”
“I don’t like scary things, but I like scaring people. It’s a different story,” said Isabella, 11.
Kyle Dwinell said the trick is to be stealthy, quiet and sometimes as still as you can.
He was happy to bring his girlfriend and daughter out to support the Shack. “It brings families together; it involves the community. If people don’t do this, things like this aren’t going to survive.”
If you go
What: The Haunted Shack
Where: 1781 County Road 1, Carlton
When: 7-9 p.m. Oct. 20 and 24; 7-10 p.m. Oct. 25-26, Oct. 31
Cost: $15; ticket sales end 30 minutes before close. $2 off with nonperishable food item; $5 off with child coat donation
More info: hauntedshack.com/home.html