LITCHFIELD — Mike Krausert has been building haunted houses for 23 of his 40 years. He was “lured” here from Wisconsin to devise Nightmare New England, which opened five years ago and affiliated with Spookyworld the next year. The Halloween-season destination in this town features six haunted attractions and a Monster Midway. It closes Nov. 3 with a “Lights Out” session lighted only by glowsticks.
Q: What was the idea behind Nightmare New England?
A: A lot of other attractions are very family-friendly. So I said to the owners, “What would you think about really being the scary, sinister, dark place?” They loved it. We don’t do anything that would turn families away — no nudity or language or anything that’s too over the top, but we do pride ourselves on being the scary attraction in New England. We want to see you terrified. We want to see you running and screaming.
Q: Why do people pay good money to be scared silly?
A: We are the only holiday in the industry where we can take you out of reality. If you had a bad day at work, chances are that when you’re here, you won’t be thinking about what happened to you at work anymore. We take you out of that mindset. It’s a release for people. I think being put into a situation of unknown or uncertainty is fun for people. They know it is in a safe environment. They know it is going to happen but not in a way that is dangerous for them.
Q: What scares people?
A: It’s surprising what some people are afraid of. I know someone who is terrified of wet hair. Some people are terrified of clowns. Some people, it’s spiders. I can’t stand flies for some reason — they freak me out. One of the attractions, Torment, is dedicated to the most common fears: spiders, snakes, tight spaces. At one point the walls inflate and close in on you. Having six different attractions gives us the chance to play on all those different fears.
Q: Are you setting things up for people’s own fears to take over?
A: It’s like a roller coaster ride. You’re going up that first hill and the suspense is just building, building, building. Then you pause for a second — you’re like, Oh my God! — and then you plunge. That’s what we try to do here. We try to build you up, then hit you, then take you down and let you get relaxed. Then we build you up again — and we hit you again. It’s an art form. We take this very seriously. We want to hear screams coming from every part of this park.
Q: With zombies, werewolves, and vampires all over television and the movies, has horror become so mainstream that people have become desensitized?
A: Growing up, we didn’t do a lot of blood and guts and gore but we do now. People are watching so much of it on TV. But we don’t do it everywhere. We do it in certain attractions or parts of certain attractions. We don’t want to just splash blood everywhere. How can we do it in a way that’s going to be effective? Certain scenes will have that blood and gore, but it will also be accompanied by scents. We use “scent cannons” to shoot out smells. If you are in a room where there are a bunch of pigs or ducks chopped up, we’ll have a raw meat smell. People are getting hit with all their senses.
Q: What’s new this year?
A: We built a brand-new version of our cemetery called Raven’s Claw: The Resurrection. It’s great: the dead coming back to life. It’s a lot darker, it’s bigger, it’s deeper into the woods so you really have that atmosphere. The other addition is the new mansion, Brigham Manor. We pride ourselves on not doing movie characters. We want to have more individual characters so our actors come up with their own back stories. Brigham is very actor-oriented. You’ll interact with the characters more. We have a lot of drama club actors.
Q: What are some of the stories that actors share at the end of the evening?
A: People have lost control of bodily functions, believe it or not. You don’t know how people are going to react when they are scared. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they push, sometimes they kick. We’ve had people on the ground here in the fetal position. A lot of people will start laughing uncontrollably when they are scared. Screaming is great. We see people running away so fast that they should be in the Olympics. It’s fun for us to build this, design this, act in this, and watch the reactions of people.
Q: Other holidays must seem really boring to you.
A: My wife is a huge Christmas fan. She has a giant Christmas village set up, but she gave me a little corner. It’s the dark corner.
Interview was edited and condensed. Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.