Photo: Courtesy of Helen Tackett of Calico Photography

Local haunted attraction driven by commitment, community

Halloween might be the only time of year in which masses of people who don’t typically seek fear-inducing events are on the hunt for a good scare. For those who enjoy that rush year-round, the influx of horror movies and spooky events are just icing on the cake.

Hall of Horrors is a haunted attraction put on by Cayce-West Columbia Junior Chamber and has been opening its doors around Halloween for 38 years. The event originally took place in abandoned houses around town but has moved to a permanent location in Cayce where it currently resides.

Building the haunt is a nearly yearlong process, and a lot of thought goes into it — both from a business angle and a creative angle.

According to Jimmy Wall, the creative director for Hall of Horrors, physical construction this year actually started with massive deconstruction. This is because the organization ran into issues with fire safety codes, and practically the entire house had to be torn down.

"This year has been the most significant rebuild the project has gone through that anyone who's been involved can remember," Wall said.

However, Wall and the rest of the team knew they would make it to opening night.

"Failure was not an option," he said. “There had to be compromises … but not being ready wasn’t an option.”

Bryan Moore is the chairperson of the Hall of Horrors and mostly takes care of the business aspects. Moore and his wife had their first Hall of Horrors experience five years ago when they moved to the area and became involved with the Junior Chamber. The idea of working a haunted house did not initially appeal to the couple.

“We ended up going, we got addicted, and we ended up helping out every night that we could,” Moore said.

And each Halloween season since, the scope of the Moores' involvement has increased. This year, for example, they created a new attraction separate from the standard haunted house.

The new segment is called “Mission: Survival Zombie Experience” and is essentially an escape room in which participants are given a task to complete while trying to avoid getting infected by zombies.

Moore said that many people involved in the design process are artists, actors or scary movie fans who drew on their past experiences with horror films and television shows to create frightening elements in the haunt.

“There’s a lot of detail that I think people, most people, won’t recognize [except] the people that are very in-tune with the horror movie scene — they’ll get a lot of the things,” he said.

Wall, taking the lead in this design process, explained that the house is built for making quality scares; it’s a very intentional, thought-out process.

“In order for the scares to land, you’ve got to tap into something psychological. And what is scary for people is real life. So if it’s not rooted in something real, it’s going to fall really flat,” he said.

The project draws much of its support from the community, being completely volunteer-run. They have volunteers for everything from acting to make-up to crowd control.

“We never give a paycheck to anyone. We feel like that’s a violation of the spirit of it,” Wall said.

For Wall, seeing the personal growth of the volunteers from the beginning of the project to the final day is the most gratifying part of his job. He is always willing to teach someone a new skill — like using a drill or saw successfully — and Wall’s role as a mentor is fulfilling to him. He can see increased confidence in the volunteers, even if he did not get to work with them personally.

According to Moore, they often work with student groups too, like clubs and Greek life, to bring them out for a night of participating in the maze or to be volunteers themselves.

“USC is a great resource because ... you have a wide variety of people that [are] maybe interested in acting or make-up or they just want to go find something fun to do with their friends,” he said.

While much of the proceeds go to fund the project itself, Hall of Horrors also supports charities, specifically one called Camp Hope, which is a summer camp program in South Carolina for kids and adults with cognitive disabilities.

For these reasons — paying for the attraction and continuing to fund kids at Camp Hope — it is important for Moore and the team to make decisions that will turn a profit while give customers the best deal for the money they pay.

One new strategy implemented this year for promoting business is providing food and entertainment to those waiting for a turn in the haunted house. This includes movies, games and snacks.

“We’re trying to make the experience much better for the guest,” Moore said.

A participant’s experience at the haunt is important to the crew, both from a business perspective and for the fun of it all. To Moore, the most satisfying aspect of bringing design ideas to fruition and opening the attraction to the public is when he gets to see legitimate scares, because then he knows that people got what they came for.

"When you see people running out of the building, it's awesome. [It's] like, 'Alright, we're doing something right,'" Moore said.

The entire project is immersive and intense from the moment the ideas are conceived to the final product. Each contribution by volunteers is noticed and appreciated, and all are working towards a common goal of providing the public with a Halloween experience that is unique and memorable.

"It involves so many people," Wall said.  "And I think that's the biggest thing ... we're a team."



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