Diversions: The Scream of a Haunted House (Slideshow)

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Nothing thrills Kelly and Neena Collins like a good scare. Kelly, marketing supervisor for Columbus, Ohio-based White Castle Corp., and his wife, Neena, operate a 40,000-square-foot haunted house, complete with spooky sets, actors in ghostly makeup and a 3D fun house crawling with scary clowns.

Neena works full time at the attraction, handling marketing, hiring, training and logistics from January through peak times of the year—the fall, of course, but also a nightmarish Christmas run in December. In his time off, Kelly builds sets, coordinates workshops and develops attractions for the ever-evolving space. Their ScareAtorium in Columbus has two attractions, the Northland Asylum and RIP’s Funhouse in 3D, which accommodates more than 10,000 seasonal guests each year.

Q: When did you become a glutton for ghoulishness?

KELLY: It started 35 years ago when I managed a campground. We started running an elaborate, scary hayride. I realized I enjoyed entertaining people—by scaring them.

NEENA: Kelly’s a charismatic person who I met through skiing and canoeing. Eventually, I got pulled into the business. Initially, I said no to anything ugly or gory, so the first year I was a pretty vampire. By the second year, I had safety pins in my cheeks.

Q: You enjoyed the theatrics of it as well?

NEENA: Costuming is my real background, but the first time I scared someone, I was hooked. They were a bunch of big guys. It’s all about timing, vocals and posturing.

Q: How did you end up running a full-blown haunted house?

KELLY: After the campground, I worked at several haunted attractions including a trail, an amusement park and even the baseball stadium for the Yankee’s minor-league team. Neena and I also started a haunted-house convention that we did for years. We had actors, costumes and the experience, so seven years ago, we went out on our own.

Q: Tell us more about the ScareAtorium.

NEENA: The asylum dates from 1899 to 1955 and the fun house uses 3D glasses to make the paint jump off the wall. Inside, we use drop panels so actors can pop in from above or from a window. Of course, we have an electric chainsaw. That’s a classic. We have a dentist’s chair. We also have animatronic props, like a vampire popping out of a coffin and doors that rattle.

KELLY: Our newest attractions are “escape rooms.” People get clues and have three minutes to escape. We tested it last December and people loved it.

Q: How is the scene evolving?

KELLY: In the past, actors wore rubber masks. That evolved into using airbrush makeup. Now the trend is going back to masks, with silicone allowing for an extremely realistic look. It attaches to the lips, seals around the eyes and covers the nose.

Q: Will you ever stop creeping people out?

KELLY:I love the people in the industry. We all love performing. In a theater, they give you a standing ovation. For us, they scream and run.