NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 18, 2013

The haunting

How two New Hampshire guys made a business out of spooking people

By Kelly Burch
Staff writer

---- — Wayne Caulfield didn’t start one of the largest haunted houses in New England out of a devotion to Halloween. He’s no more likely than the next guy to enjoy a fright night or a gory movie. But Caulfield, along with his business partner Mike Accomando, knows an opportunity when he see one.

“Honestly, it was a business decision,” Caulfield said. “We saw the need for a very large-scale spooky attraction.”

Accomando, 40, of Windham, N.H., and Caulfield, 48, of Alton Bay, N.H., had been business partners together in the video industry. When they sold that business in 2005, they began looking for the next endeavor.

“We wanted something fun that was similar to what we were doing before,” Caulfield said.

They realized that there was a need for a Halloween amusement park in New Hampshire. The pair set out to find a property for their attraction, and when they came across Mel’s Fun Park in Litchfield, N.H., they knew that they had found it.

“Right away, we knew that it was perfect,” Caulfield said. “It’s very creepy and dark. It’s the vision of a haunted house.”

The two purchased the park and set to work. The first year that Accomando and Caulfield planned to run SpookyWorld, they went to a national trade show for haunted attractions. They introduced themselves to a vendor, and told him their plan.

“Who is helping you with this?” the vendor asked.

The two looked at each other, puzzled, and realized that they might be in over their heads.

“We were completely in the dark about how hard it is,” Caulfield said. “You have safety issues, electrical issues, health issues. There are so many issues. It would boggle your mind how much it takes to put this together.”

However, Caulfield said that dealing with all the regulations was worth it to see SpookyWorld come together without a hitch.

“Mel’s has a long season, but when you’re putting together a show, it’s exciting. All year, you are waiting for the opening. There is a buzz leading up to it. I love that part,” he said. “There is definitely a beginning and an end, and at the end, you’re exhausted and pleased.”

Each year, the story line changes at SpookyWorld. This fall, the haunted house is based on the fictional Bishop family, a mysterious and murderous gang that has returned to Litchfield.

Michael Krausert is the director of Halloween operations for SpookyWorld. He spends his whole year crafting the story line and thinking up all the little details that make it believable to the thousands of guests that come through SpookyWorld each year.

“This is his only job,” Caulfield said. “He is an expert in the industry and has been doing this since he was 13.”

Although Spookyworld aims to scare, Caulfield said that it’s not all about the screams.

“We make you laugh and have a good time, too,” he said. “We get you distracted, and scare you when you least expect it.”

Krausert’s knowledge and the entire operation’s attention to detail are what set SpookyWorld apart from other haunted houses, Caulfield said.

Each night, 147 dressed characters do their best to make patrons scream and jump. Performers get to SpookyWorld early to prepare. Seven professional makeup artists craft spooky faces, and another team helps with costumes. On one side of the makeup trailer, normal, preppy-looking performers wait their turn in line. On the other side, ghosts, ghouls and goblins emerge.

Many of the performers are local teenagers. Some have acting backgrounds, and some are just there for the fun of the scare. Nearly two-thirds of the performers return year after year.

Chris Nobrega, 17, of Salem, N.H., knew for years that he wanted to work at SpookyWorld but kept getting rejected because of his age. Finally, last year, he was accepted as a performer.

“I’m scaring people, and getting paid. It doesn’t get much better,” he said.

The best actors — fewer than 10 percent — are selected for the midway. That means that they have free range to roam the park, scaring patrons when they least expect it.

“They’re the most talented,” Caulfield said. “To make it on the midway, you’ve got to be the best. It’s hard to become a midway actor.”

Robert Matteau, 23, of Manchester, N.H., is returning for his fifth season at SpookyWorld. Matteau, who is a cook at LongHorn Steakhouse when he isn’t scaring, knew that he wanted to work at SpookyWorld when he went through the attraction and was frightened. Now, he enjoys keeping visitors on their toes as a midway actor.

“We make sure you aren’t bored,” he said. “You have to constantly watch your back, because we’re out for blood.”

Matteau said that he loves seeing the look of terror on the faces of people who are genuinely scared.

“And when you get these big football players to scream like a girl,” he said.

It’s that devotion to providing a terrifying night that keeps patrons coming back year after year.

“I like the thrill of it,” said Jack Lithgow, 17, of Peterborough, N.H. “It’s different than all the other haunted houses.”

“It’s the excitement,” said Kelsi Carter, 17, of Epping, N.H., who has been coming to SpookyWorld for four years. “It’s awesome how they chase you. It gets your blood pumping.”

If you go

What: SpookyWorld/Nightmare New England

Where: 454 Charles Bancroft Highway, Litchfield, N.H.

When: Open Thursdays through Sundays until Nov. 2. Haunts open at 7 p.m.; Funway Park opens 3 p.m. on Fridays, noon Saturdays and Sundays.

How: Tickets $29.99-$54.99 at the door or online at www.nightmarenewengland.com

SpookyWorld by the Numbers

250 employees

147 dressed characters

7 makeup artists

50,000 annual visitors

5,500 people per night

5 haunted attractions

2-4 hours to go through the haunted attractions