Halls of Terror volunteers ready to have some fun

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No one else is home right now! The crazy clowns and chainsaw master have yet to arrive! But this unhappy couple from the crypt has been working late nights in the lonely cedar building on Prairie du Chien’s St. Feriole Island. They stand with broken hearts and oozing guts, ready to startle, scratch and chill you to the bone at the Halls of Terror, which begins Friday. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

The men behind the deranged masks and wicked makeup at the Halls of Terror haunted house in Prairie du Chien find it fun to scare people. 

Many have been helping for years and—with opening night this Friday, Oct. 11—they’re preparing to strike again.

“I like to be loud, jump out, scare and chase people,” said Mike Anthony, who acts as a clown in the Halls of Terror’s quintessential clown room. “Then, I’ll run to the next room and say to the other [scarers], ‘Did you hear that?’”

Scream Extreme will open the Halls of Terror at 7 p.m. Friday, at the cedar building on St. Feriole Island—102 N. 2nd St. Hours of operation this season are 7 to 10:30 p.m. Oct. 11-12, 18-19, 25-26 and Halloween night. A lights-on, kid-friendly haunt will be offered Saturday, Oct. 26, from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission costs are collected in an effort to give back to the community, particularly the Prairie du Chien fire and police departments.

According to Nate Gilberts, Scream Extreme co-organizer, quite a bit of the haunt is different for 2019 and many of the rooms were shuffled around inside the building. 

“We had a lot of rebuilding after the spring floods and invested in a fair amount of building supplies to replace those damaged,” he stated.

Without giving away the best secrets, Gilberts is anxious for the public to come out and experience the haunted house. 

“We have darkened up the haunted house this year. You may go from a well-lit room into total darkness in a matter of seconds,” he said. “With the rainy weather we’ve had this year, we’ve taken the outdoors and put them inside. A few tricks and scenes feel like you are still outside.”

Gilberts described the beginning of the maze at the Halls of Terror. 

“As you enter the ‘house’ portion of the haunted house, you will make your way through corridors to the dining room, bedroom, make an unexpected turn and enter a relaxing living room that is festive. Eventually you wind your way through the rest of the haunt, where you may experience moments that are pretty dark, and rely on your sense of touch to find your way through. 

“Along the way, four out of five of your senses will be tested.”

A few of those senses will be heightened when the chainsaw surges inside the building. 

Farshaun Ardestani has been running the piece of equipment (without a chain, of course) for the past few years, often stepping out from behind a barrier and running after those who’ve dared to enter the haunted house. 

“If I can hear them coming, I’ll scream. It’s a lot of fun,” he laughed. “What really gets me going is when I hear a group screaming their way through the house.”

Anthony added, “It’s like an adrenaline rush that builds up inside you.” 

Both of the men, who are local firemen, admitted to chuckling behind their masks when they see a good startling or feel like they’ve terrorized a group well.

“I like to read my audience. I most often use the element of surprise,” shared Max Erickson, a Prairie du Chien police officer who has had the opportunity to frighten haunted house-goers each season. “The people who are already screaming a lot, or the ones who are trying to act unaffected but are clearly freaked out, those are the best to scare.”

Dan Moris has helped design and build rooms and works in the centralized control room, watching monitors and triggering effects in the themed rooms. He said he prefers jump scares, or suddenly appearing out of nowhere. 

“Usually there’s at least one screamer in a group, and if we can keep that person screaming, it’s really entertaining for the people they’re with, and we know they got their money’s worth,” he explained.

Sometimes, Anthony said, there can be an insistent group going through who shout that the actors aren’t scary enough. But, that just brings on the challenge, he noted.

Overall, the volunteers enjoy their time behind the scenes of the Halls of Terror. They work hard alongside Nate and his co-organizer and brother, Nick, to produce the most nightmarish nights of fright they can. 

“I think [Nate and Nick] bring a great event to the city of Prairie du Chien and to surrounding communities. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of this event every year,” said Erickson, who has stood in as a clown, provided staging in the background and served in other roles too.

Moris said the group is proud of the interactive theater experience the Halls of Terror provides for area haunted house connoisseurs. 

“We have elaborate scenes, lighting, props, actors, and essentially are trying to tell a story,” he said. “Working with Nick, Nate, and the others who help scare regularly is an opportunity to be creative building the rooms and finding ways to draw extreme reactions out of people.”

Sponsoring Scream Extreme’s annual event are Q94 Radio, Southwest Bus, Design Building Materials, Leisure Time, Jim’s Bar, Revitalize Salon & Spa, Milo’s Towing, the PdC Fire Department and PdC Police Department.

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