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Be Afraid... of Local Halloween Haunts

It’s October, the season for haunted houses and chills and frights. WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz talked with some area scare providers and filed this report – and just a word of caution: this includes some scary sounds.

People who like to scare other people aren’t necessarily scary.

RITTER CLEVENGER: I think people assume that, like, “Oh, you must really like haunted movies.” I was like, “No, I don’t watch them. They don’t appeal to me.” I really like comedy.

That’s Ritter Clevenger. He lives at the end of Ott Street in Harrisonburg, where on trick-or-treat nights since 2007 he and his family have put on their own neighborhood haunt.

[Sounds from a video of Ritter’s haunts]

CLEVENGER: People really like the chainsaw. It just scares them enough. Now a couple times, you jump out and you pull the chainsaw and it doesn’t fire, and then you pull it again and you pull it again then it finally fires. That loses its effect, so it has to be running really good, the chainsaw.

This is the Clevengers’ first year as empty nesters, so they’re not sure they’ll set up again this year, but as a kid Ritter always enjoyed fun scares.

CLEVENGER: A lot of people are just happy afterwards. It just makes them happy.

There are lots of reasons and opportunities to observe the season. Spirits of New Market is a seven-station lantern tour at the New Market Battlefield in which historians will portray people whose lives were impacted there. That’s on October 27.

[Music from the Zombie Run promo video]

A week before that, on October 20, there’s the Zombie Run for Brains to benefit Brain Injury Connections of the Shenandoah Valley, during which runners try to avoid being infected by the zombies who chase them through the grounds of Fear Forest on what used to be a dairy farm near Harrisonburg.

Setup preparations for Fear Forest’s 13th season have faced rain delays, but are underway. Co-owner Brandy Nesselrodt said there’s something satisfying about scaring people.

BRANDY NESSELRODT: If you can brave the cold weather that we sometimes have during the month of October, you know, a good scare kind of makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s kind of a sense of accomplishment, especially as a girl scarer, when I scare somebody who’s a really big strapping guy, and you see them cower or throw their girlfriend in front of them to save them, it’s kind of funny and it makes you feel good, that you did a good job.

She calls it “good, clean fun.”

NESSELRODT: We’re a very family-orientated haunt. We don’t recommend it for children under twelve, but we do kind of a more G-rated show. We have some blood and guts and gore, but as far as that goes, we try to be really careful about the scenes that we do.

There are haunted houses, too, in the region – you’re hearing sounds from a walk-through at DarkWood Manor in Luray.

[Audio from a DarkWood Manor video]

Later this month, DarkWood is hosting a special guest – R.A. Mihailoff.

R.A. MIHAILOFF: I am best known for playing Leatherface in the movie Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. You’ve heard of Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

CLYMER KURTZ: I’ve only heard of it. It sounds horrifying.

MIHAILOFF: I gotta tell you Christopher, you’re a rare bird. I realize not everybody’s a fan, but usually people have some kind of familiarity with the series.

CLYMER KURTZ: When you come to Darkwood Manor are you going to be continuing the Leatherface persona?

MIHAILOFF: I am going to be DarkWood Manor’s ambassador of good chills. In other words, I’m there to meet and greet.

CLYMER KURTZ: So you’re not gonna be scaring people so much when you’re here.

MIHAILOFF: Oh yes, I will. Just by the look of me. I’m not the prettiest spoon in the drawer.

When he was a kid, he said, he loved horror movies.

MIHAILOFF: I’ve always been big, you know bigger than everybody else, generally speaking, and you know sometimes felt maybe like a little odd man out. You know, and that’s what the horror – You know, Frankenstein, he’s a kind of a pathetic character in a way. Even though he’s a big killing monster, he’s also kind of sad, you know.

Mihailoff said he doesn’t know the psychology of horror fandom. But for himself?

MIHAILOFF: I just like the visceral stuff, man. My criteria for a movie does it have you know explosions, gunfire, bloodletting, and other things that I suppose we can’t say in the family station. You know, car chases, and stuff like that.

If being scared is too frightening, or you have younger kids, there are other seasonal options.

LYNNE HESS: We found that Wizard of Oz is one of the more popular designs that we have had. Other than Charlie Brown.

On a rainy afternoon just north of Harrisonburg I stopped by Back Home on the Farm, where Lynne Hess told me about their five-acre Wizard of Oz corn maze. They have a game for their maze-goers: Maize-opoly.

HESS: We’ll do an Oz weekend where we’ve added additional clues, so if they get all of those, then we do free things in the Country Store, that type of thing.

I think even I could handle that.

Christopher Clymer Kurtz was a freelance journalist for WMRA from 2015 - 2019.