How local haunted houses are functioning in the pandemic
October 16, 2020
October has always been viewed as the time of year when people can dress up as scary creatures and have Halloween parties with treats and scary movies, but Oct. 2020 has different plans as the pandemic remains dominant nearly seven months after the country shut down and many businesses have had to close due to Covid-19. The fate of Halloween remains unknown, but local haunted houses have been working on staying open by taking safety precautions to ensure the well-being of the customers and the staff.
Located in Charlie, Texas, Insane Acres by Wicked Andy’s has been in business every October since 2012 with co-owners Chad Lagunas and Melissa Lagunas. Before they were officially a haunted house, Insane Acres was called the Twisted and Insane Hayride until Wicked Andy’s opened Insane Acres in 2016.
The storyline of Insane Acres is simple: scientist Dr. Price Karter was known to create monsters out of humans and animals. He lives in Charlie with his cannibalistic family and is rumored to be the reason for locals going missing. This story has kept people from all over the country coming back for more every year.
“Insane Acres is a high-intense haunted house based on a storyline,” said Chad Lagunas. “We stick to the same storyline and characters every year with a few changeups.”
Local Wichita Falls attraction Nightmare on Main Street opened in 2007 by retired nurse Donna Graf. What started as a haunted house in her basement 13 years ago has transformed into a 3,500 square foot property with 60 actors and around 100 customers every night.
Graf also upholds a story in her haunted house. Nightmare on Main Street has rooms dedicated to major phobias: the woods, snakes, a butcher room, and more. Graf has another haunted house near the same property called Dark Water Asylum about a doctor who went crazy and started experimenting on his patients.
“Originally, the medical fears part was in Nightmare on Main Street but took it out when I opened Dark Water Asylum around the corner,” Graf said.
However, with great fun comes great responsibility. Insane Acres and Nightmare on Main Street have been taking precautions to ensure the safety of both the customers and the staff.
“[We switched] to online ticketing, time slots, longer queue lines for social distancing, hand sanitizer stations and [requiring] face masks,” Lagunas said.
Aside from online ticketing, Graf has been taking the same precautions in both of her haunted houses. Graf admitted she wasn’t sure if she would be able to open this season.
“I was debating with myself on opening but decided to go for it,” Graf said. “There wasn’t any breakouts with the actors, and we’re sanitizing. I did decide not to open the claustrophobic chamber, because people touch around a lot in that room. We had to tweak some things, but we haven’t had any positive cases.”
Both Laguna and Graf say their reason for opening up this season ties into traditions and the community. Laguna said he wanted to take a chance and didn’t want to risk the future of Insane Acres disappearing. Graf said she loves the community aspect and opens her haunted house because she loves what she does.
“I go around the country looking at haunted houses, see what others do, and go to shops for props and materials. We share ideas,” Graf said. “I didn’t know it was going to be such a welcoming community. You’d think it would be scary people, but it’s actually mostly farmers with lots of land.”
In addition to handling two haunted houses, Graf is planning on opening a Christmas haunted house in December where Nightmare on Main Street is located.
“It’s called ‘Elf Off the Shelf.’ There will be evil elves, Krampus and gingerbread men. This kind of thing is popular up north and in big cities,” Graf said. “All of the actors wanted to be involved because of how cool the idea is, but I only needed about 35. I chose my strongest and best actors to take part.”
Graf said Nightmare on Main Street is a small-time haunted house and doesn’t stay open as late as other haunted houses, but all of the people who help put everything together take part not for a paycheck, but for the love of it.
“People think I make a lot of money putting this on, but really, all of the money goes back into the haunted house,” Graf said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love what I do.”