If running a haunted house is your career goal, it seems best to start young. And it doesn't hurt if you're a little twisted.
Allan Bennett, who's spent a decade operating Bennett's Curse (which moved this year from Arundel Mills to Blob's Park in Jessup), insists he was 4 or 5 years old when he started scaring the neighborhood kids. Patrick Barberry, who's been creeping people out with Legends of the Fog in Aberdeen the past four years, was about 8 when a company rented out part of the family farm to set up a haunted hayride — planting a seed that would grow to horrific proportions once Barberry graduated from college in 2006 and decided to use part of the farm for similar grisly purposes.
Kim Yates, the joyously demonic force behind Kim's Krypt in Dundalk, started when she was just 9 and her family took a trip to Disneyworld. Of all the places for a franchise devoted to scaring the bejeebers out of people to be born…
"It was when I went to the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, that's when I got my first haunted house Halloween mask," says Yates. Family legend has her wearing the mask for most of the trip back north on I-95, meaning that passing drivers who noticed the monster in the back of the Yates family car could count as Kim's first customers.
"I swear, I wasn't trying to get started in the haunted house business," Yates says with a laugh. "When I got home, I started decorating my mom's house. I guess that's where it really got started."
From such humble beginnings do mighty frights grow. And every Halloween, Baltimore's eager-to-be-frightened reap the benefits.
"I've always had a passion for Halloween, as far back as I can remember," says Bennett, 34, who also runs Creepywoods in Kingsville. "As I was growing up, I was always doing things around the house, scaring people on Halloween night. There's just something about it that has always appealed to me."
Bennett uses about 50 actors and other helpers to run Bennett's Curse, and all have a single goal in mind: to terrify. Like any good haunted-house operator, Bennett is loath to reveal much about what's in store for his customers; it's much easier to frighten people when they don't know what to expect. But he does mention, in passing, a House of Vampires, and seems especially proud of a creature he calls The Freak, a puppet some twice the size of a normal man.
"It's just an amazing scare," he assures.
Yates, who's spent 17 years as the devoted crypt-keeper of Kim's Krypt, says haunting has become her life. She's constantly looking for new additions, and speaks with pride of all the bizarre stuff people are always giving her: coffins, pipe organs, ancient surgical instruments, dead animals preserved in jars. Not your typical home décor, for sure, but at Kim's, such touches are definitely right at home.
"This is all from the heart, I love doing this," says Yates, who grew up in Glen Burnie. "I just love to create scenes and monsters and make things move and have people get scared. I live, eat, breathe and am always thinking about new ideas."
For instance? Last year, she and her crew came up with the idea of putting people in coffins, shutting the lids and sliding them into another room. "They loved it," she says with a laugh that's only slightly demonic. "This year, we've changed it up a bit. But how much, that's a secret."
At Legends of the Fog, Barberry and his wife, Robyn, have come up with a nightmare scenario involving a mysterious fog, a forced evacuation and zombies, all played out on 160 acres of his family's 1,500-acre sod farm. There a giant circus tent, a hayride, two haunted houses and a pervasive creepiness that, at this time of year at least, sounds perfectly delicious.
"The show fit really well for us," says Barberry, 26. "We had all these old logging trails in our woods, and we had plenty of tractors from the farm, hay wagons, all that stuff. Everything just kind of lined up."
The key, all three operators agree, is the scare, giving people what they're not expecting. That's not always easy, in a culture where horror movies are released almost daily and even young kids have become inured to scares that would have made their parents' hair stand on end.
"You have to meet a haunted house halfway," says Bennett. "You have to suspend your disbelief a little bit, you have to let your guard down. If you meet them halfway and say, 'I'm going to have fun, I'm going to get into this,' you're going to have a good time."
"It's like being in a horror movie," he explains, "but you're the star."
Still, there's no substitute for good old-fashioned ghoulish enthusiasm. As Yates puts it, "I can't believe that soon I'm going to be 50 and I'm still running around like crazy, with my own severed head and driving a '68 black Cadillac hearse. I love this. Horror is in my heart."
If you go
Bennett's Curse at Blob's Park, 8024 Max Blobs Park Road, Jessup. Open Thursday-Sunday through October, plus Oct. 27. Tickets $20-$35. Information: bennettscurse.com.
Creepywoods Haunted Forest, 11898 Philadelphia Road, Kingsville. Open Friday-Sunday through October. Tickets $15-$25. Information: 410-538-6461 or creepywoods.com.
Kim's Krypt, 1748 Merritt Blvd., Dundalk. Open Friday-Sunday through October, plus Oct. 28. Tickets $8-$13. Information: 410-391-7726 or kimskrypt.com.
Legends of the Fog, 500 Carsins Run Road, Aberdeen. Open Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 6, plus Oct. 14, 24 and 28. Tickets $6-$25. Information: legendsofthefog.com
More information: Learn more about Baltimore-area Halloween events at baltimoresun.com/halloween.