JOHNSTON, R.I. — The operator of a free haunted house in Johnston isn’t getting paid enough.
On the Rhode Island Report, Michael DeCesare tells the Globe why he transforms his backyard into a night of the living dead every Hallow’s eve.
Spoiler alert: He loves scaring people.
At first, Deadly Fantasies, Silent Nights started out as a bet between DeCesare and a neighbor over who could create the best haunted house for the kids that came — Canonchet Trail has some prime trick or treating.
“From that year, I won, and from that year, we, my wife and I noticed that it was a fun experience,” DeCesare said. “I’ve always loved Halloween. But doing it that year gave it something a little bit special. And after that, we decided to — with my wife’s permission of course — to grow the haunted house year after year, adding props and scenes to it.”
Nearly two decades later, it’s still completely free.
DeCesare builds many of his own props, including a noise-maker that sounds like a shotgun, an army of creepy people, skeletons, and theme rooms. He said it’s made for adults, but kids are welcome and accommodated. They provide glowsticks that signal the undead to be nice. They do their best.
Some people have wet their pants. Some have run from the haunt. Some have puked on DeCesare.
“I like to think that we do old time scares,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of fancy props and animatronics because it’s my home. I don’t have the budget that professional people do. I don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars. I wish I did.”
But that’s nothing a good jump scare can’t fix. And DeCesare many people return year after year.
When he’s not a zombie or a demon or a psychopath, he’s a food microbiologist for a new Italian meat processing facility being built in Missouri. “I make sure that everything we produce meets US Department of Agriculture regulations and its safe for the consumer to eat.”
Pro tip: Nothing in the meat room at his haunted house is edible. In fact, it’s stomach-turning.
“Everybody likes a good scare,” DeCesare said. “They may say upfront that they don’t, but everybody does because once their fear is gone and they realize that there was really nothing to be afraid about, that rush of adrenaline that has gone through their body becomes euphoric and they get a good laugh out of it.”
DeCesare gets help from a cast of people, some actors with more than a dozen years of experience. And yes, his neighbor who lost the bet comes every year.
“You know, I’ve had the fortunate that part of the success of Deadly Fantasies is because of the people that come and help volunteer their time to help do the scares,” DeCesare said. “And they say the same thing. It’s like a drug. They come back year after year to help scare people and to to to get the reactions that we get out of people when they come through. Some of them are priceless.”
Deadly Fantasies, Silent Nightmares begins at 6:30 p.m. on Halloween, as long as the weather isn’t severe. The neighborhood is busy with trick or treaters, so DeCesare asks people to carpool if they can, not to park in the cul de sac, keep an eye out for pedestrians, and beware of the walking dead.