It doesn’t look like much right now: Wooden frames, piles of masks and some painted signs.
But, when it’s finished, the characters there will try to scare your socks off.
“This is chainsaws, blood and guts,” said Mike Walcott, recreation supervisor for Pasco County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources. “This is not kids with sheets going ‘Boo!'”
The Haunted House on 41, an annual tradition in Land O’ Lakes — except last year, when center improvements forced its cancellation — will be back in business Oct. 22 through Oct. 24 at the Land O’ Lakes Community Park, 5401 Land O’ Lakes Blvd. Thursday night is a “sneak preview,” which will be free to patrons and will give the cast a chance to get a feel for the concept, which is “The Mall.”
On Friday and Saturday nights, the house will open at 7:30 p.m., and the line will be cut off at 10 p.m. The suggested donation is $1, and nearly 1,000 visitors are expected to check out the attraction during the course of the event.
Those visitors will be transported to “The Mall,” a room at the center that will become a maze of scary shops and characters, complete with props and costumes that aren’t for the faint of heart.
“They’re really bloody, and they’re really scary,” said Katherine Gomez, a junior at Land O’ Lakes High School. She’s one of around 30 people working on the haunted house, coordinating sections and making sure that everything has a general theme but different frights throughout the 2 ½-minute journey.
Benjamin Martin, another junior at Land O’ Lakes High, also has been involved in the construction.
Martin has seen larger, more elaborate haunted houses, like Howl O’ Scream at Busch Gardens, and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Orlando.
But, after working on The Mall, he has a new admiration for the efforts expended to create a scary event from scratch.
And, he’ll remember his own work when he goes back this year.
“Now that I know how much work it takes to set up something like this, I’ll be very appreciative,” Martin said.
While the Haunted House on 41 is a popular annual tradition that gives residents a few scares, it’s not the actual purpose of the event.
Walcott has been involved in the past 14 haunted houses, and while the end result is Halloween-themed fun, it’s really just a by-product of a simpler goal.
“We want the kids to have a hands-on experience with it,” Walcott said. “I want people who have never used a drill to use a drill. I want people who have never swung a hammer to swing a hammer. And a lot of these kids, they’ve never done that. And, this gives them an opportunity to actually build something.”
What they are building is more complicated than a couple of well-placed scares.
The maze has to lead visitors through the room, but in a way that gives them enough time to experience each separate store in the “mall.” Separate sections are built, so performers can move in and out of their scenes, and each person has to be able to perform their particular role over and over, to scare new visitors as they enter the maze.
The idea is to differentiate each segment, so those making their way through the maze have a variety of experiences.
“This is a huge project where a lot of people are involved. We’re trying to coordinate everything,” Gomez said.
And, when everything has been coordinated, residents will visit the Haunted House on 41 just as they have for years.
It has become a local tradition, Walcott said.
People who used to help put it on now come back from college to take a walk through the house.
The attraction is also a good reason to visit the park, which has undergone nearly $2.5 million in renovations since the last haunted house.
Walcott welcomes the visitors and looks forward to the completion of the haunted house each year, but don’t expect him to go through when it’s done.
Despite seeing it built from nothing, the finished creation is a bit too scary for his tastes.
“I wouldn’t go into it,” Walcott admitted. “I help build this thing, but I wouldn’t go into it. These things freak me out.”
Published October 14, 2015