Visitors of the TownMall in Westminster may hear screaming near Boscov’s and Belk on Friday and Saturday evenings this month.
Those shrieks of terror will be coming from Hackney Haunts, a business aiming to scare its customers with its custom haunted walk-throughs. This year, it has three attractions: two at the mall and one at a corn maze in New Windsor.
One of the mall attractions is called Bite Fight. For $10, visitors can experience an immersive storyline of a feud between vampires and werewolves. The Haunting of Hackney House lets visitors experience a possessed house and The Stalking in New Windsor puts visitors outside a narrow corn maze path unsure of what or who they might walk into.
Co-owner Jason Hackney gave a tour of the two mall sets on Monday when they were closed.
“When the lights are off and the music is going, it’s a completely different place,” he said.
The first room guests step into what’s supposed to be outside the castle of Vlad Orpheus, the main character in the Bite Fight storyline. Carlos Rivas, Hackney Haunts creative director, said Vlad and his wife, Camilla, were part of a peaceful vampire cult in a town in England. The town was attacked by werewolves but the citizens thought it was the vampires. Camilla was killed. Vlad, out of fury, enslaved the werewolves to attack and punish the humans. However, the werewolves revolted.
“Every character has its own background,” Rivas said. “Not that many people notice, but they are telling their own stories.”
During the tour, Hackney said they built the set themselves. Some props were bought from the store, but they mostly made the sets from scratch.
“We’re small, but our quality is good,” he said, adding that visitors from two or three hours away have attended their haunts.
Hackney first started doing haunted walk-throughs at his home with his wife, Sarah, back in 2014. But it became so crowded, he knew he had to step it up, he said. Rivas said the same. He set up haunts at his home in Baltimore that attracted 800 people in two nights back in 2019. He was scared he’d be shutdown by the health department and wanted another space.
That’s when he and the Hackneys teamed up. Hackney said they tripled business last year during the pandemic. They worked with the health department to remain safe and had zero COVID related issues.
Although the business has been going for three years, it’s the first time these sets are being used because they never use the same scene twice. The haunts first opened the first weekend in October and Hackney called the turnout record-breaking.
Hackney said they have been working on the sets and stories since February.
“We don’t just throw some black walls up and have people say ‘boo,’” he said.
Their level of detail includes adding motion sensors that activate a prop to jump out at guests, unleashing scents like “rotting corpse” to match the scene and blasting 20 speakers to enhance the immersive experience.
As guest walk through the manmade fog, fake vampires can be seen hanging or standing near impaled and bloody skeletons — a nod to Vlad the Impaler, a character Rivas used as inspiration for Bite Fight character.
Inside the castle set, guests can see a deceased Camilla with a stake through her heart near the entrance, a bloodied severed head in the dining hall and corpses hanging from chains in the dungeon. The pathway leads you to a swamp, and then a forest where the werewolves escape to.
While Hackney recommends guests be 13 or older, he said he leaves it up to the parents to decide. He’s seen five-year-olds leave the haunt smiling while 18-year-olds come out crying. Refunds are given to customers who are unable to finish.
Carroll County Breaking News
Hackney said the location next door, The Haunting of Hackney House, doesn’t have a storyline like Bite Fight but he’s been told by customers it’s the scariest.
Rivas said he himself gets scared by his own sets. He’s terrified of scary movies despite having a passion for designing scary sets. For Hackney House, Rivas said Hackney told him what movies he enjoyed, like “Paranormal Activity,” “The Conjuring” and other movies about possessed homes. Rivas watched them for inspiration.
Like Bite Fight, the fog, motion sensors and overall creepiness are still at play. The actors have ample opportunity to scare guests, and visitors can enjoy — or fear — rooms with creepy dolls and a kitchen that comes to life leading to the place where guests can “see where evil really lies,” according to Hackney.
The third site is called The Stalking and it’s located at Local Homestead Products’ corn maze in New Windsor on Marston Road. Trevor Hoff, owner of Local Homestead said he and Hackney teamed up after he saw a Facebook post from Hackney looking for someone with property.
“Now we have a haunted corn maze and it’s really, really neat,” Hoff said.
He said the corn can get as tall as 12 feet and the path they built specifically for the haunt is narrow. Even without the 20 to 30 actors running around dressed as scarecrows and cannibal hillbillies, Hoff said it’s spooky to walk through.
The three attractions are open Friday and Saturdays this month from 7 to 10 p.m. Admission to all three attractions are $10 each.