The Phantom Gazette – News on All Things Halloween
Hauntrepreneur: Louisville’s Mad Haunt Doctor, Michael Book, Reveals the Secrets behind Two of the River City’s Newest Haunted Attractions.
We interview Dr. Michael Book about his two sinister creations, Legend at Pope Lick and Black Orchard Haunted Attraction, and the other creepy projects taking place in his secret laboratory.
Tell us a little about your earliest Halloween memories and what set you on the orange-and-black path as a ‘hauntrepreneur’.
When I was three years old, my uncle introduced me to scary movies. We watched a number of them, but the one that really captured me was “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Something about Freddy’s power to kill people in their dreams really terrified me. Being a kid with a vivid imagination, you can’t even conceive of the nightmares I had! I loved that movie so much, that instead of coloring in coloring books, I was using crayons to draw Freddy with his bloody glove. This of course caught the eyes of my preschool and kindergarten teachers and landed me in counseling for an assessment, only to conclude that “He just really likes Freddy Kreuger,”.
Do you remember the first haunted house you were taken to as a child?
Absolutely! By age four, the same uncle then took me to my first haunted house. That lifted me to an entirely new level of fear beyond just scary movies. As soon as we entered the first blacked-out room with chains, I immediately thought Freddy was coming for me. I freaked out and had to be drug, kicking and screaming, out of the haunt. Of course, it wasn’t long after that I gave it another go and fell in love with haunting.
What are the haunt brands you represent in the Halloween business?
Currently, I am one of the owners of Legend at Pope Lick and Black Orchard Haunted House.
What were some of the biggest hurdles to overcome starting a Halloween enterprise while earning your doctorate degree at the same time?
It was the most challenging thing I have ever done. I’m still not sure how I did it! There are a couple of notable hurdles: 1) Time management was by far the biggest challenge. As you can imagine, getting my doctorate took the vast majority of my time and dedication, leaving me with very little time for extracurricular activities. Essentially every moment of free time had to be dedicated to my Halloween “hobby”. Some people have hobbies like sports. Mine was Halloween. Of course, even then it would not have been possible without our amazing team. 2) Keeping the two professions separate. Believe it or not, there was very little overlap in my two professional lives. Even today, I try to maintain a barrier between my two professions. People tend to make assumptions about things they don’t understand, so instead of having to explain, it is easier to maintain the two separately.
Who are some of the members of your haunt team and how big of a team is it?
We have a pretty incredible team; All told we have over 60 years of combined experience. My business partners include Mike Kimzey and Brian Ward, but our entire team is much larger. Some of the team integral in bringing these experiences into reality include our spouses (who we absolutely couldn’t do this without), Katie Rogers, Rod Whitenack, Garry O’Brien, Antonio Pantoja, Jim Bulleit, Dell & Fred Courtney, Paul Carroll, Cindy Fenwick, Ethan George, Chad Bennett, Tabby Gray, and so many others! Honestly, there are too many to even list! I am incredibly lucky to be a part of such an amazing team!
Tell us a little about the origins of the idea for The Legend at Pope Lick and what people can expect from that particular attraction.
Well, I started designing and managing commercial haunted attractions when I was fifteen. Until I got my license, my parents would drive me to the haunt. I designed and managed that attraction until I graduated high school. Then I moved to Pittsburgh and received my first college degree in Industrial Design, focusing on special effects. I returned to Louisville and began working with Actor’s Theatre and the local haunts. Over the years, I have worked with and directed some of biggest haunted attractions in this area. Through these experiences the opportunity to become a partner in the Danger Run presented itself and I jumped at the chance.
Four years ago, Danger Run was put into a predicament of not having enough haunts. When that happened, it was decided we would introduce some smaller attractions to supplement the larger finale attraction. This was the first step into ownership of my own attractions.
During our location scouting, we found this unique property with an old, wooden trestle in the middle of the woods. When we found it, I immediately wanted to do some kind of Goat Man haunt. Unfortunately, that particular property didn’t have adequate parking and we ended up at two Metro Parks. While the concepts of the two smaller haunts were really cool that year, the size of the attractions were not well received and ultimately led to the necessity to “go bigger”.
With the Goat Man concept still in my head, I knew that the Parklands had recently opened Pope Lick Park located on the property of the actual legend of the Pope Lick Monster. We were able to forge a partnership with the Parklands of Floyds Fork and bring the Goat Man haunt to life. Legend at Pope Lick is now in its’ third year and it grows more incredible with every passing year. It is a must see! We have so much more in store at this haunt as it continues to mature.
Tell us a little about your newest attraction, Black Orchard, and how that concept came about. What IS in the barn?
The overall concept/design for the barn was intended to provide an entirely different experience than Legend at Pope Lick. Legend is more of a monster movie style haunt while Black Orchard is much more of a gritty, bloody, Rob Zombie-style haunt. People like different things in haunts, and the entire purpose is to satiate different flavors. The story of Black Orchard is derived from a combination of actual events. I did considerable research on a variety of serial killers to arrive at the final concept of the haunt’s story. It was written up and from there we went to work bringing it all to life. Of course, this year we went above and beyond to really amplify this experience and truly immerse guests into the story of Black Orchard Meats.
Give the us inside story of one of Louisville’s longest running and certainly most unique Halloween events, Danger Run.
Last year (2017), we experienced the biggest challenge we ever had to face as a company. The founder of Danger Run, Joe Bulleit, suffered a heart attack and was forced to step back from his role in the company. At the time, we were already in a great deal of flux with adding on more haunts AND officially taking over production of the Louisville Halloween Parade & Festival. Joe had always been a mentor and leader of our company, so to lose him during this massive transitional period was the hardest thing we have ever faced. Luckily, we made it out the other side to tell the tale, but we couldn’t have done it without our absolutely incredible team.
This year, I am happy to report that things have leveled out and we were able to introduce some of the biggest changes to the Danger Run in its’ history. We now have multiple ways to win the Danger Run and also win instant prizes. It is far more forgiving than it has ever been, because now mileage doesn’t have to be perfect to win. We also integrated a story-line into the clues which is tied into the included haunts! It is a far more immersive experience than ever before and we are excited for you to play!
What can haunt fans expect from you and your team in the future?
In the future, you can expect to continue to see us push the bounds of haunt innovation; Introducing concepts and scenes that you’ve never before seen at a haunt. We pride ourselves with making our experiences totally unique and unlike anything you will see elsewhere. You can also expect to see the expansion of our partnership with Don’t Be A Monster, a Bullying Prevention Program that we have partnered with out of Denver, CO. You can also expect an expansion of the Scary, Good, Fun coalition of haunts and of course continued growth of Louisville Halloween and America Halloween. We have an exciting future ahead and hope that you’ll join us for the ride! Come out and visit us at one or all of our events! We have so much fun for you to experience, IT’S SCARY!
Meet the New Michael Myers from “Halloween” (2018) at Skeleton’s Lair Scream Park in Scottsville, KY!
The new Michael Myers, actor James Jude Courtney, will be appearing at Skeleton’s Lair Scream Park on Fri. and Sat., Oct. 19th and 20th!
This year marks the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” (1978), and to celebrate the occasion, director David Gordon Green is unleashing a new sequel starring Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as Laurie Strode. John Carpenter himself is returning as executive producer and has also composed the film’s score which re-invents and updates his ominous original compositions. Even the original Shape, actor/director Nick Castle, has returned to cameo as Haddonfield’s infamous boogeyman.
Most of the Myers’ mayhem in the film, however, will be orchestrated by actor/stuntman James Jude Courtney who makes his debut as Michael Myers when the film opens the weekend of Oct. 19th. That very same weekend you can meet the new face of evil himself at the Skeleton’s Lair Scream Park in Scottsville, KY, just a few miles down the road from where John Carpenter grew up in Bowling Green, KY. Courtney will be meeting and greeting Michael Myers fans in the haunted attraction’s gift shop, and he will be signing autographs and taking photos for a fee.
What to know if you go? You must buy a ticket to the Skeleton’s Lair Scream Park to attend the meet-and-greet. Courtney is scheduled to meet fans on both Friday, September 19 and Saturday, September 20. Tickets cost $35 and include all four attractions at Skeleton’s Lair and the opportunity to meet Courtney upon exiting into the attraction’s gift shop. There will be an additional charge for autographs and photos with Courtney, who will not be in costume.
Skeleton’s Lair Scream Park includes four different attractions. Skeleton’s Lair Haunted Woods is a self-guided trip through the woods where you’ll encounter the Haunted House of Wax, Grimley and Sons Morgue and Grover Smith Sanitarium. Skeletal Visions 3D is brand new for 2018 and is a skeleton themed 3D maze. Gold City Ghostride is a haunted hayride through big spooky sets including Big Top Terror. Doomsday Doll Factory is a two-story haunted house that forces guests to visit an abandoned toy factory where the dolls have come to life.
To order tickets online or for more information visit https://www.skeletonslair.com/.
Father and Son Haunt Team, Andrew and Michael Coombs, put the Grim in Grim Trails Haunted Attraction in Louisville, KY!
We interview Grim Trails’ father/son creator duo about their attempt to create a themed Halloween attraction made up of multiple fantastic lands.
Like father, like son. On any given night of the year, during haunt build season or otherwise, you’re likely to find Michael Coombs out somewhere on their densely wooded property in Jeffersontown, KY building scenes for their outdoor haunted woods, Grim Trails Haunted Attraction. It’s a passion for Halloween he inherited from his father, 30-year home haunter, Andrew Coombs. Building is a year-round effort spent laboring to deliver the scope and scale of a major Halloween attraction with a build team of only two. Michael is putting the finishing touches on one of their newest scenes, the full scale, two-story mock-up of Bluebeard’s Mansion.
Andrew and Michael Coombs don’t just build facades that disguise themed haunted mazes. They have a reputation for building full scale structures that are made to last year after year. Currently in its’ seventh season, Grim Trails Haunted Attraction boasts scenes that include a 25-foot tall Dracula’s Castle including a drawbridge and a 15-foot dragon, a colonial two-story Witches’ House and a Lost Jungle Temple haunted by a snake god. These structures exist within themed areas of their attraction that include Transylvania, Salem and The Jungle Book, all with their own signature flora, water features and atmosphere. New to Grim Trails for Halloween 2018, you’ll enter the murderous Bluebeard’s Mansion and you’ll travel to the frozen, forbidden mountains of Gangkhar Puensum in search of the elusive and mysterious Yeti.
“We’re not just building scenes, we’re building lands,” says Andrew Coombs. “I want to take people to different eras, different worlds with different plant life, different sounds and themes. Not just sets, but worlds.”
Before opening their first professional haunted attraction in 2012, Andrew spent over 30 years as a major Halloween enthusiast and home haunter. His son Michael was raised with haunter blood in his veins. “When I was 8 or 10 years old, I built a haunted house called Skeleton Island in my parents’ basement,” admits Andrew Coombs. “I set up a Super 8 movie theater and made my own Super 8 version of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ to show to the neighborhood kids.”
“I’ve always liked building things,” he continues. “When I was 12, I built a miniature golf course in our neighborhood. I was an only child and I was by myself a lot, so I gravitated towards friends who would be willing to help me build things.”
“In 1980, there was a national Tylenol scare and the news recommended everybody go trick-or-treating at the mall,” says Coombs. “I just thought that was wrong. Halloween should be experienced outside! I decided to do my first home haunt that year. We didn’t have any big trees in our yard, so I went and raked somebody else’s leaves and put them in the haunt!”
After graduating from Eastern High School, Coombs studied art for two and a half years at the University of Louisville and then dropped out to start his own landscaping business which he still owns today. His son, Michael, who was born in 1990 is also his partner in the landscaping business. “I was about 11 or 12 years old when I started acting in the home haunt,” confesses Michael Coombs, “and I was in the sixth grade when I got all my friends on board working on it.”
“I went with my dad to the Midwest Haunters Convention for the first time in 2006,” says Michael. “Then in 2009, when I was a senior in high school, we both went to the Transworld Halloween & Attractions Show. With everything we learned, we opened the first version of our haunt, then called Grim Tales, in a strip mall in Middletown.”
Michael Coombs met his finance, Courtney Myers, when she applied as an actress during Grim Trails’ second season. Myers now serves as costume designer, actress and team leader at the haunt. With their marriage looming after haunt season, Grim Trails truly appears to be a family business.
When it comes to scaring the public at Halloween, the sins of the father have clearly been passed down to the son at Grim Trails Haunted Attraction. If you’re interested in learning more about all the dark fantasy worlds awaiting guests in this 30 minute spooky adventure in the woods, check out Grim Trails’ website at http://www.grimtrails.com/.
Fifth Third Bank’s Dracula is an action-packed Halloween treat not to miss this season!
Debuting the weekend of September 7th and running through October 31, Actors Theatre of Louisville, KY presents the 24th consecutive seasonal production of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, based on the theatrical version of Stoker’s novel by John L. Balderston and Hamilton Deane. Now a nostalgic Louisville Halloween tradition, “Dracula” is Actors’ second-longest running annual production next to “A Christmas Carol”.
This year, however, sees some new blood brought to the cast and crew and a whole new level of adrenaline-charged pacing, effective scares and theatrical action choreography. There’s a new Transylvanian Count, a new director and a new bag of technical tricks brought to the Bingham Theatre in downtown Louisville, KY.
A seven-season veteran director of Actors’ other popular seasonal production, “A Christmas Carol”, director Drew Fracher takes the reins of this year’s production from longtime director, William McNulty. Fracher is also a fight master and member of the Society of American Fight Directors where he has choreographed fight scenes and theatrical violence in over 50 theaters across the country. In coordination with Fight Director, Jake Guinn, this production boasts what is probably the most athletic and physically combative version of this beloved vampire thriller in Actors’ history. The undead spring stealthily across the crumbling bricks surrounding the stage and leap from dark corners to attack their unsuspecting victims. Fracher and Guinn arguably deliver the most complex and raucous climactic battle royal in the production’s 24 season history as the cast’s vampire hunters take on a legion of hissing undead in the bowels of Dracula’s crypt.
The King of Vampires is played this year by Santino Craven, making his Actors Theatre debut in the leathery black cape. Craven brings a brusque, rugged physicality to the role that silences any doubt that this Transylvanian noble could’ve once been a formidable ruler whose savage tactics earned him the surname The Impaler. For fans of vampire film history, let me phrase it this way: Craven’s Dracula is much closer to Jack Palance’s physically imposing warlord in the Dan Curtis produced 1974 TV movie version of “Dracula” than Frank Langella’s suave, blow-dried Latin lover interpretation of the character in John Badham’s 1979 big budget theatrical feature. Hungarian accent aside, Craven is more Christopher Lee than Bela Lugosi.
Chewing insects, rats and scenery with equal sweaty fever, Neil Robertson returns as the scene stealing lunatic, Renfield, who equally reveres and fears the dark power at Dracula’s command. Robertson was in full tilt crazy mode during this recent Saturday night’s performance. His character’s delusional mania allows him to frequently break the fourth wall with unsuspecting audience members including one youngster in the front row who will not likely soon forget his rainy night out at Actors Theatre.
Grant Goodman makes an austere and forthright Abraham Van Helsing and Rin Allen, who has worked as a stunt performer in many productions including DC Comic’s “Gotham” TV series, brings a lithe athleticism to the cursed Lucy Westenra. The technical crew delivers all the gushing blood, bursts of flame and creatures of the night any vampire enthusiast could crave. From a breakneck opening of vampire attacks in London to the final assault on Dracula’s crypt, Actors Theatre brings its’ beloved Halloween thriller to new frenetic heights this season. Don’t miss it!
For dates, showtimes and tickets check out the Actors Theatre website at https://actorstheatre.org/shows/fifth-third-banks-dracula/. Tell them The Phantom of the Ville sent you!
We interview The Devil’s Attic creator/owner, Jason Besemann, in Louisville, KY.
The Devil’s Attic at 647 W Hill St in Louisville, KY is celebrating its’ 9th haunting season this Halloween as one of the most theatrically detailed haunted attractions in the region. The rich, Gothic atmosphere found inside the twisting halls of The Devil’s Attic can be attributed to the classic horror sensibilities of creator/owner, Jason Besemann, who admits that the British Hammer Horror films of the late 1950’s to the mid 1970’s were a primary influence on his attraction.
Besemann also admits that his religious upbringing was probably a direct influence on his obsession with horror at an early age, but certainly not the way his parents intended. “I grew up in a really strict Southern Baptist family,” says Besemann. “We did not celebrate Halloween and I wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies. All I had was curiosity.”
“My brother, Brian, however played Dungeons & Dragons and had interests my parents didn’t encourage,” admits Besemann, “and he ended up leaving home early to pursue his own interests, ultimately influencing me to find my own path. Brian was the one who designed all the logos for The Devil’s Attic and did most of the graphic design on the website.”
The Devil’s Attic was constructed inside the old Jobson Printing Company building which was built in 1914 and is rumored to be haunted itself. “It became a bread factory in the 1970’s and a storage for restaurant supplies in the 1990’s,” says Besemann. “I bought it in 2011.” But before Besemann owned his own haunt building, he actually debuted The Devil’s Attic in a much smaller form inside of an empty rented strip mall storefront in Jeffersontown in 2010. “That was tough. I actually built all the frames inside of PODS storage units over the course of three months and then moved everything into the former retail space.”
Right from that first, condensed version of his attraction, Besemann delivered the general concept of his dream haunt intact including the main character, Satan himself, played from that year forward by stand-up comedian, Todd Merriman. Besemann and Merriman developed the character and costume after attending the Transworld Halloween & Attractions Show and were one of the first haunts in the region to make use of the then new technology of silicon masks. The concept for The Devil’s Attic is that Satan, who sits upon his throne and greets each group as they enter his domain, has collected all of the evilest souls throughout history. He stores them in his Hellish attic until he unleashes them upon the unsuspecting public each Halloween season.
Besemann’s first experience managing a haunted attraction was for a small charity haunt put on by the local chapter of the Jaycees in Bowling Green, KY. “At the time I owned a 3,000 square feet eBay store in Bowling Green,” says Besemann, “and I planned on using that building to create a haunt. It had an attic upstairs and I painted it completely red and I was going to call it The Devil’s Attic, so this idea has been with me for some time.”
Although owning his own building means Besemann doesn’t have to tear down and rebuild each season, he acknowledges the need to expand and change things up each year to keep guests coming back. “We add new scenes every year. This year we’ve added a Spider Hallway with a giant spider and two new simulated outdoor scenes,” says Besemann. “I’m really proud of the firefly and lightning effects in the new scene which really feels like you’re outside walking through the woods. We also built a swamp scene where I brought in turf and trees and spread leaves all over the ground.”
“I’ve tried to deliver the kind of haunt that I like,” says Besemann of his haunt philosophy. “I like smaller, close quarters, fast paced, in-your-face haunts. A good haunt should be more like a roller coaster than a stroll through.”
For operating dates, hours, tickets and just more information about The Devil’s Attic, check out the official website at http://thedevilsattic.com/.