By ALLEN RAU
Local folks who consider Halloween their favorite holiday have more than likely visited this venerable scare-fest, and probably on a yearly basis.
Back for the 31st year, the Hales Community Ruritan Haunted Forest opened Sept. 28, and will continue to terrify visitors until Halloween night.
“We have four scenes this year. There’s a trail you follow that goes to different scenes,” Haunted Forest proprietor Robb Phillips said. “They’re all basically designed on our worst fears and nightmares to make it terrifying and scary for everybody. And we change it yearly. We keep it new so it’s never the same.”
Phillips, who runs the event along with Kathy Shephard, said this year would be the fifth year he and Shephard have managed the attraction, which is held in coordination with the Hales Community Ruritan club.
The four different scenes this year include the Haunted Forest, the Escape Room, the Haunted Maze of Horror and Zombie Laser Tag.
“We have the Haunted Forest itself,” Phillips explained, “where people go through different themes we setup to terrify people. Just to scare the grownest men.
“Then we have the Escape Room. They have 20 minutes to escape from that particular room, and they have to find all the clues in order to get out. It’s not really scary, it’s just intense. Because you’re on a time limit and have a certain amount of time to get out so there’s pressure. So it’s pretty intense.
“We also have the Haunted Maze of Horror, and (people) have 20 minutes to find their way through that. It’s disorienting, the way it’s designed and you basically have to go through and find the right path to take to get out. And there’s a few pop scares in it. I get lost in it just trying to go in and talk to (the designer). I can’t find my way out. Half the time he has to come back and lead me through it.
“And finally, we have Zombie Laser Tag, which is pretty self-explanatory.”
Because the attraction has been running for such a long time, Phillips and Shephard, along with the employees, have been able to fine-tune the details for maximum terror.
“We have a makeup room here. (Employees) are doing their makeup to make it look real. And it is very realistic,” Phillips said.
“Everybody takes it serious, too. They want to get out here and make everybody scared and they do a very good job doing that. They also have a blast.
“We’ve had grown men come in acting really cocky, showing off in front of their girlfriend. Then they come out, running funny trying to keep from peeing themselves, screaming coming up the hill. Those are always fun.”
Phillips urged customers not to wear open-toed shoes and to bring a jacket in case the weather gets chilly. He also had one other recommendation. “I never recommend against people bringing a change of clothes. We’ve had it happen several times. We’ve had it happen twice this year so far.”
While the employees are certainly good at terrifying visitors, they also keep the scares appropriate for younger visitors.
“We’ve had kids as small as two years old. What we’ll do is try to keep families coming in with smaller kids in the same group. (The employees) aren’t going to try to scare the two year olds like they would an adult. We try to keep all the age groups together.”
The cost for one attraction is $10. For each additional attraction, the cost is $5. The Haunted Forest is open on Friday and Saturday nights. The last two weeks of October, the attraction will open on Thursday nights, as well.
Phillips said that the parking lot opens at 7:30 p.m. and customers start getting sent in “at dark”. The parking lot closes at midnight, but customers will still be sent in “until the last victim has gone through the last scene.”
Additional information is available at (423) 491-1473 or (423) 202-8348. The Facebook page for Hales Community Haunted Forest also has information.
After 31 years of terrifying people, the Haunted Forest certainly knows its craft well and know their customers well, as Phillips noted, “People want to be scared. And we’re gonna lay it on them.”