Kent’s newest haunt is now open for business, and its first night was a frightful experience. And every night since has been the same. Welcome to Morbid Estates. A place the dead like to call home. It’s truly a fright-fest feast as ghouls come out of the woodwork – literally, and restless spirits roam about the place at random. For the living, going there can be a gruesome and grisly encounter.
The experience of moving through the exhibit feels more like being in a scene on a stage and interacting with the characters rather than having some person appear out of nowhere and start screaming – but there is plenty of that as well. The elements of subdued lighting, subtle sound effects and intricate details in the exhibits combine to induce an emotion of pure fear, panic and sheer terror that is quite strong. And going through the mazes touches on many of our most basic and primal fears, such as fear of the unknown; claustrophobia; fear of germs; fear of the dark; fear of clowns; and fear of death.
Co-founded by Stow resident David Shonk and Chad Collins of Cuyahoga Falls, Morbid Estates, a collection of three haunted mazes, is in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Portage County with a goal of raising enough funds this season to build a new house next year. Located in the University Plaza in Kent at 1416 S. Water St., in a former grocery store, the 10,000-square-foot haunted attraction contains the Borley Brothers funeral home, the Infestation and the Estate.
Shonk, 22, is no stranger to creating detailed sets and exhibits with a high “creep” factor even with the lights on. He began in his youth by turning his front yard into a little cemetery then doing a haunted house in the garage. He then started going into the back yard, then the driveway and continues every year since. Along the way there were events on a farm, a haunted cornfield and haunted woods.
“We were actually trying to move into a building by then because there’s weather…Ohio being so unpredictable,” Shonk said. “It was frustrating.”
The pair, who met in second grade and have been friends ever since, then took a few years returning to a home haunt with setups in the driveway and front yard like they used to do and kept a lot of the props in storage. “Then we finally made it into a building [this year],” he said. Collins, 22, began helping out at the farm set-up. They have been working together four years now.
While some of the building materials and older furniture came from Habitat’s (an ecumenical Christian housing ministry) ReStore in Kent, Collins said. “David had a lot of it though.” Shonk quipped, “I was kind of a hoarder when it came to haunted houses…I could reuse this!”
Collins explained Habitat provided more of the bigger furniture. Shonk said they helped out with all of the USB, plywood, 2x3s and supplies. He said he felt the group became notorious for digging through Habitat’s trash piles and scrap heaps. “I can use this for something…This is neat,” he said. The group collected items suitable for props from auctions, thrift stores, resale stores, a lot of curb shopping and a lot of dumpster diving, among other methods.
When asked how long it took to turn the empty space of the store into what exists now, Shonk said they were moved in by mid-August. They had to get the sprinklers up to code first. The floor plans had been three years in the making, because they had been looking at the building and felt it was a good location — with vast square footage and the realtors willing to rent it to them even though it would be used for a haunted attraction.
Upon taking possession they were faced with half of the acoustic tile ceiling missing and only two light bulbs were working. “So the first few weeks in here it was pretty dark in here,” Shonk said, “and we needed to clean 15 years of dirt off the floor.”
Nicolle Lukezic, 24, a University of Akron graduate art student, manages the actors. She explained how everybody has called out the things that they have worked the most for, trying to make it an experience, like having the sets be above and beyond what has been seen around this area. “That’s what people are really excited about, saying that they were really into [it] when they’ve gone through,” she said.
Shonk is in art school at UA and Collins also attended art school. “A lot of the people helping us are in art school and have a strong creative direction and can see the final piece and what they’re working for,” said Collins. “So in a way, I would say, obviously, some of this has become an art piece sort of thing.”
Lukezic interjected: “And people are going to pop out at you wearing a mask. But we try and make it be that all of our actors are actually characters and we have very limited masks. Almost none of our actors wear masks. The ones who wear masks are just a pop-out and then everyone else wears makeup and becomes a character and can interact with the people who come through,” she said.
They did not put out a casting call this year for characters because their build schedule had become so short. Wanting to move in by June they did not get in until August. “I think we were worried about opening up on time, so I reached out to a lot of my past actors, people who had worked for me, people I had worked with on other haunted houses,” Shonk said. “People who I really liked what they were doing. It became a friend of friends sort of thing. It became big almost like a family sort of thing, really.
“Everyone’s friends, everyone’s having a good time. And that’s important, especially in a situation like this. If the guy in the room next to you is going crazy and yelling, that makes you want to yell even louder like you want to be scarier than what he is doing,” Shonk added.
Shonk explained that all of these people have been long-term friends. Actor Alex Zak has been helping out since Shonk was 13 years old at one of his first haunted houses, and he said he is good at riling up the other actors since he has been doing it for so long. They work together great and they know how to play off each other.
Lukezic said, “I think, a lot of times, in haunted houses, you want this overwhelming, oversensory experience of just not knowing: you’re being affected on every level and by that point, by the end of the haunted house, you’re just like: ‘I can’t even handle this anymore, I just need to go,’ because we’ve messed with every kind of sense that they’ve had to start with.”
Morbid Estates will welcome visitors again Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 from 7 p.m. to midnight at 1416 S. Water St. in Kent. Cost is $18 for a full pass. For more information, go to www.morbidestates.com, go to the group’s Facebook page, email [email protected] or call (330) 577-FEAR.
For more on Habitat for Humanity of Portage County, go to www.habitatofportage.org.