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It’s impossible to check out the latest addition to TownMall of Westminster without confronting one of the skeletal guardians of this new, occult infestation, a black-cloaked animatronic ghoul holding a burlap sack in the front lobby

“In my pouch I have a rare delicacy, I stabbed it, I hit it with a hammer. You’d think it would have the common courtesy to die!" the figure calls out before descending into maniacal laughter.

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All the while, Jason Hackney, the creator, with his wife Sarah, of this new space, Hackney Haunts, is smiling. The couple loves Halloween and haunted houses. Beginning Friday, they will be bringing that love to the public with their grand opening — they’ll allow people into their haunt from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m.

“We’ve created a big grand opening event and we’ve had 400 people respond so far [on Facebook]. If half of them show up and bring just one person this will be the most people in this mall for a long time,” Hackney said. “We have permission from the mall, if we have a line, we can stay open as late as we need to.”

The couple are new to the haunted house business, but not to putting on haunted houses, having started turning their own Hampstead home into a haunt for their neighborhood in 2014.

“The first couple of years we had like 40, 50 people,” Hackney said. “Over the span of the next two or three years, we were having 200, 300 people, so we just decided to go public with it and see how we could do.”

Their new haunt in the mall is far larger inside than the storefront might let on, with multiple themed areas with elaborate artwork and well-planned scares, only a few of which will be familiar to those who may have attended one of the Hackneys’ neighborhood haunts.

The corn maze for instance, with its corn sticks and murder of dark black crows.

“We did this at our house and people loved it. Their favorite section pretty much, so we just brought it back,” Hackney said while giving a tour of the haunt Monday. “With the music and crow calls in here, you can’t tell who is real and who is not.”

Those with arachnophobia should know there is a spider-themed section, and, yes, a space for evil clowns.

“I don’t know if you have seen ‘Killer Clowns from Outer Space?’ The old B movie?” Hackney asked. “I love it.”

Rather than focusing exclusively on scaring people out of their socks, the Hackneys tried to strike a balance between artsy Halloween visuals and fright, but they do note the haunt is best appreciated by children age 10 to 12 and older.

The haunt will be open Halloween day, however, for a candy walk.

“We’ll have people handing out toys and candy and the actors won’t be scaring anybody,” Hackney said. "The lights will be on."

Hackney said he’s heard talk about the decline of mall shopping, but he isn’t worried — he believes a good haunt, word of mouth and a great price will bring people out.

That price? $6.

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“You can’t get a number three at Taco Bell for $6,” Hackney said. "Even if we suck, it was $6. But we don’t suck."

This is a passion project anyway, Hackney notes, not a full-time job, with a portion of proceeds going to charity to boot; the Wounded Warrior Project and Maryland Book Bank will be beneficiaries.

“Since we did that, Carroll County schools, they let students get service hours here as well,” Hackney said. “They are going to be scare actors. We have about 25 kids that will be back there.”

That includes teens like 15-year-old Dane Brodie, of Westminster, who had never really caught the haunted house bug before now.

“I’ve never worked in one, but I have been through one. Working on the inside now, I can see how actually fun it is,” he said. “When you walk in it seems small, but he way they set it up? there is a ton of stuff.”

The plan is to be open every Friday and Saturday night in October, and Halloween night, according to Hackney, and then possibly the first Friday and Saturday in November as well. If things go really well, they might try for a haunted Christmas with Krampus theme, or a “Bloody Valentine” experience in the future, he said, though they don’t plan to turn this into a full-time gig.

“It’s a hobby for us. I don’t ever see us doing this full time, it’s more for fun, for charity,” Hackney said. “We just love Halloween, I guess.”

If you go

What: Hackney Haunts haunted house

When: 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in October and Halloween night; 5 p.m.-7 p.m. lights on, no-scare candy walk on Halloween

Where: TownMall of Westminster, 400 N. Center St., Westminster

Cost: $6

For more information, visit https://hackneyhaunts.com

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