Going hunting for haunting in the Denver area

Halloween attractions find challenges amid venues’ popularity

Posted 10/2/18

On a late September day, Andrew Smith walked through a downtown Littleton shop unlike most on the block. Inside the Reinke Brothers costume, prop and Halloween store on Prince Street, bundles of …

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Going hunting for haunting in the Denver area

Halloween attractions find challenges amid venues’ popularity

Posted

On a late September day, Andrew Smith walked through a downtown Littleton shop unlike most on the block.

Inside the Reinke Brothers costume, prop and Halloween store on Prince Street, bundles of hairy spiders dangled from the ceiling, eyeballs filled cabinet shelves and a deli counter held an odd assortment of limbs, heads, guts and the like.

Before Smith left, he made sure to ask when the shop’s haunted house opens for the 2018 season.

He hasn’t been to a haunted house for a long time, he said, but the Littleton resident hasn’t forgotten coming to the Reinke Brothers Haunted Mansion about 10 years ago.

“I remember it being pretty cool,” he said. Haunted houses in general, Smith believes, offer “dark, creepy” fun.

People like to be scared, said Greg Reinke, who runs the Haunted Mansion from within his store with his brother, Chris, and people particularly like to be scared when they know they are actually safe.

On Sept. 25, Greg, Chris and a handful of staff were busy putting the final touches on their haunted house, which runs from Sept. 28 through Nov. 4.

Reinke doesn’t know how many people will come through their doors this year. There’s been a lot of buzz as the Haunted Mansion, which will operate for its 50th year in 2018, is reopening after a nearly three-year hiatus.

But in years past, they’ve seen between 18,000 and 30,000 people a season.

The National Retail Federation reported 21 percent of Americans plan to visit a haunted house in 2018. That figure has had held relatively steady in recent years, with 23 percent of Americans in 2017 and 21 percent in 2016 planning to visit such an attraction.

The building interest in haunted houses grew a few years ago, according to the NRF surveys, such as in 2009, 2010 and 2011, when the percentage of people expecting to visit a haunted house grew each year.

High expectations, big productions

With the growing popularity of haunted houses has come growing expectations, said Joe Palombo, co-owner of the 40-acre scream park Haunted Field of Screams, located in Thornton.

Palombo, the Reinkes and other organizers behind Denver metro area haunted houses and spooky attractions are busy preparing for thousands of people to visit their events in the coming weeks while also attempting to keep up with mounting pressure to leave their customers entertained.

“Every year, actually, it gets tough. You try to revisit things you’ve done well and think of ways to make them better. You try to pick other people’s brains to figure out what scares them,” Palombo said.

Palombo, his brother Mark Villano and sister Gina Palombo-Dinkel started the scream park in 2001 as a daytime corn maze and pumpkin patch.

But people started showing up later, wanting to go through the maze at after dark. The siblings quickly realized they could easily turn it into a haunt, Palombo said.

For its 18th year, the park now comprises four attractions — some indoor, some outdoor and all with interactive elements like escape rooms, plus evil clowns and zombies. Tickets get customers access to each section of the park.

They don’t turn anyone away, but they also don’t recommend children younger than 12 years old attempt the park, Palombo said.

To pull the production off, Palombo and his siblings employ nearly 100 actors, which requires a team of 20 more people to manage costuming, makeup and special effects for the cast each night.

In general, props and makeup used in haunted house are becoming “more Hollywood quality,” Palombo said.

“I think we’re getting a little bit better every year. I know the competition is definitely getting stiffer, and becoming more of an industry,” he said.

Reinke and Palambo both say these aren’t easy productions to carry out.

For the trio behind the Haunted Field of Screams, it’s a year-round venture. Villano, a farmer, plants the park’s cornfield in early May. By June they’re cutting out the maze. In August, they begin constructing the sets from scratch. In the off season, they’re holding regular planning sessions.

Reinke and his brother personally built the interior of their haunt shop and customize each stage of their haunted house, which they fill with nearly 20 actors who hide and lurch at the thrill-seekers coming through.

Unlike the Haunted Field of Screams, the Haunted Mansion is family-friendly, Reinke said, and they offer children’s tours during the day.

Haunted houses, for real

Theatrical haunted houses aren’t the only way to get a good scare this season.

Ghost hunters can visit what many believe to be real haunted houses on various tours, including the Historic Ghost Tour and Pub Crawl, based in Golden.

Run by Suzanne Restle, who said she’s personally witnessed evidence of ghosts in Golden’s historic buildings, the attraction takes people 21 and older on a pub crawl and walking tour of the community’s paranormal hotspots.

It portrays historical events through actors, with stories such as a crooked mayor who overdosed on drugs and a notorious murder known as Golden’s Night of Terror.

Although they offer historic tours year-round, the Halloween-themed tour in October seems to dredge up unexplainable occurrences, Restle said, particularly when she ran her vintage photography business from a downtown building also featured on the tour.

“Every night we did a tour something strange would happen,” Restle said. “The water would get turned on in the bathroom. Doors would slam. Pictures would fall off the walls. They (ghosts) definitely wanted us to know they were paying attention to what they were doing.”

Last year, Restle said, every weekend of the tour sold out.

The NRF conducts a survey annually to gauge how much and in what ways consumers plan to spend on the nation’s spookiest holiday. Overall, Americans are projected to drop $9 billion this year, down slightly from last year’s $9.1 billion projection.

It’s the second-highest in the survey’s 14 years running.

Reinke said he knows haunted houses can be an expensive way to celebrate the holiday, but he’s still expecting a big turnout for 2018, and like the NRF found, plenty of revenue to support their efforts.

“What people do when they come through is, they have a blast,” Reinke said. “And I’ll tell you this, if you entertain people, they don’t mind spending money.”

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