Black Rainbow: A Journal of Lucky Misadventures

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2020 by bluefall8

This is the first in a multi-part series detailing my happenstance introduction to a community of artists, writers, and creatives who collectively make Metro-Detroit an interesting place to live.

CHAPTER ONE: All Wounds Bleed Ink

Stating the obvious here, but I’m a big fan of horror. A good horror movie is a catharsis for the soul — a timely comeuppance, a jaw-dropping twist, the mindless slaughter of scantily-clad, nubile woman — yes, horror has the dexterity to pluck all the best strings. Horror, however, isn’t limited to the silver screen, the genre has transcended every entertainment medium known to Western Civilization, and that does bode well for those of us with an unquenchable thirst for the spookies.

My love of horror is substantial, but it is not without rival. Yes, you read that correctly, there is another. By what name is this harlot known, you ponder? Well I call her the written word. I cherish the ability to read because it has granted me the pleasure of pulling the curtain on the external world and has offered a reprieve from an otherwise racing mind. Similar to the way those flickering images flutter across the screen to form a narrative, ink patters over the page to reveal a plot. This act of absorbing and encoding these stories is singular and intimate.

So then, how to blend these two white-hot passions? Horror poured onto the page, of course, but in particular, written in short form. Yes, the joy of cracking open a book filled with an array of the eerie, macabre, and perplexing is as addicting a drug as man or nature can conceive. With that said, one can imagine what someone such as myself might do when suddenly unencumbered by the trappings of pesky employment in a world now consumed by pandemic.

Needle meet vein.

This ironic, harmonic convergence would, last month, bring me to the Balloon Factory in Ferndale where an outdoor, art pop up called Black Cat was held, the latest such event presented by Pinzu. Pinzu? Yes, Pinzu. What the hell’s a Pinzu, you say? Fair question, and one I had asked myself just two years prior. Simply put, Pinzu is a convention of sorts and having attended it twice before I found that it possessed both a certain whimsy and an allure for those who embrace all things that go bump in the night.

It was there that I had a conversation with Michael Cieslak, a Michigan-based author of horror and publisher of Dragon’s Roost Press. Michael had a small tent erected at one corner of the parking lot where he had displayed a collection of books. We chatted casually about our specific tastes in the genre and I ultimately settled on a pair of titles that jumped out at me. The first, titled The Midnight Creature Feature Picture Show, was a collection of short stories hatched from the fertile mind of David C. Hayes and published by Cieslak’s aforementioned Dragon’s Roost Press. The second selection cut from a similar narrative fabric and titled Urbane Decay, was penned by Cieslak himself and published by Source Point Press.

I found myself back in my vehicle, lost in reverie and very much filled with pleasure over the fact that my greedy fingers would soon swim across a sea of words in search of suspense, gore, and the skillful execution of gallows humor. My mind swam back to the publisher of Mr. Cieslak’s book, Source Point Press. It was a name I knew and it had caused me to reflect on the curious path that had first led me to Pinzu, a path I can plausibly claim was blazed by a foul-mouthed sock puppet some seven years prior.

The Mortuary Collection Returns to the Roots of Anthology Genre

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2020 by bluefall8

Honestly, I am astounded that fright fans are so often forced to defend the anthology genre of horror, because, quite frankly, it is the perfect union of form and function. Vaulted first into America’s mainstream by the equal parts infamous and iconic E.C. Comics, then galvanized through the poignant irony of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, and ultimately enshrined into our collective consciousness by HBO’s Tales From the Crypt, the horror anthology is every bit the survivor of cinema’s most heralded final girl.

What began as a Kickstarter back in 2014 by independent filmmaker Ryan Spindell has shambled onto Shudder as a snarky, tightly-written throwback that will delight us 80’s babies who long ago fostered a nocturnal magnetism with the likes of Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, and Deadtime Stories.

The Mortuary Collection is based in the fictional, New England town of Raven’s End, a place that the viewer will learn, is home to a curious funeral parlor and its peculiar mortician, one Montgomery Dark, a man who knows the story of every soul that has passed through his funeral home. The imposing undertaker is played by the underappreciated Clancy Brown, most memorable to yours truly for his unsettling portrayal of Sheriff Gus Gilbert in 1992’s Pet Sematary Two.

With a grandfatherly disposition, albeit one contrasted against a cutting wit and knowing menace, Brown breathes life into moldy Montgomery through his understated genius as a character actor and serves as the grounding force throughout the film. Joined shortly by Sam, a young woman in search of employment who possesses her own flair for storytelling, the duo’s travels throughout the mortuary comprise the classic wrap-around portion of this horror anthology.

The individual stories are enjoyable in their own right, each a fresh spin on some of the genre’s most tried-and-true yarns, the grave fun comes to a fitting climax with The Babysitter Murders, the original, foundational piece that spurred The Mortuary Collection into existence, it’s a tale concerned with a child murderer who has a taste for tender flesh and is known only as the Tooth Fairy Killer.

Throughout the narrative, the unlikely pair of Sam and Montgomery wax philosophic about the nature of storytelling, playfully nodding to the conventions of the horror genre while ever so respectfully winking at the audience from behind the proverbial fourth wall. Not unlike the carefully sutured wounds of a recent cadaver, the cinematography is sharply stitched and complimented by visual effects that elicit both shrieks of fear and bales of laughter. Indeed, the whole production is delivered with the patience and poise of a well-practiced eulogy, dusted, of course, with the signature twists that remain an indelible hallmark of the genre.

Inspired by the beloved beasts that populate the genre from yesteryear, The Mortuary Collection, like Trick r’ Treat more than a decade ago, will prove to be the latest triumph of the anthology genre over Hollywood naysayers. In doing so, it not only delivers a welcome dose of nostalgia to legions of horror fanatics, but also fills the hearts of those fans and aspiring filmmakers alike with a much needed injection of hope.

Halloween Hopscotch

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2020 by bluefall8

Halloween was, as it always seems to be, a surreal, mad dash toward that invisible veil that separates our world from the next. My son, Lincoln, and I got an early start on our hunt for candy and made a stop first to Churchill Cemetery in Southgate, which was, of course, the subject of a recent story here on Horrorlust.

Lincoln bravely walked through the cemetery gates where he was offered some treats at the end of a groundkeeper’s spade which I found to be a clever and effective way to safely dispense candy in a COVID-19 world. He posed for a picture with the towering Patches before we departed Churchill Cemetery and then, at a nearby house, semi-confidently informed a creepy jack-in-the-box that it was nothing more than an electronic.

Patches (left) and my 5-year-old son, Lincoln, at Adam Grignon’s Churchill Cemetery in Southgate, Michigan.

We hopped back into the car and came to rest next on London Street in Lincoln Park; this is the street that I grew up on. As my son is still a relatively young trick r’ treater, we pounded the pavement as the Sun still hung in the air which perhaps explained the lack of houses that had yet to flick on a porch light. Lincoln didn’t notice of course, but I did, and the sight saddened me a bit.

As we visited some of the very same houses I did as a young child, I saw my memories layered over the present and I told my curious little boy stories from my own youth. All told, we probably spent an hour on the hunt and that was all Lincoln needed as he reasonably said to me, “I’m good, dad. I have enough candy.” Being a parent is humbling, and ironic, and sometimes heartbreaking; it’s also the most worthwhile endeavor I’ve ever experienced.

Yours truly (left) donning the mask of The Misfits iconic Fiend, Lincoln (right) appears amused by the rictus grin looming behind us.

As the Sun began to set, Lincoln was excited to attend a kid’s Halloween Party with his mom. Meanwhile, I hit the road with a few members of our own haunted house crew including my girlfriend, Shirley, to return to the Haunted Hydro in Fremont, Ohio for the first time in a decade. Although, I did attend a limited amount of haunts this season, of those, Crazy Bob and the gang far and away ran the most efficient operation tailored to COVID-19.

A lot had changed since my last visit in 2010, but the overall charm of the place was alive and well. The theme played loosely with the current pandemic, and offered a tagline that read, “Curse or the Cure.” The outdoor maze, Curzed Woods, was a tangle of fun highlighted by a lively cast and a full moon that sent silver rays of light glistening across the bubbling surface of the Sandusky River.

Once free, we enjoyed a stroll through a makeshift museum which detailed the long history of the Haunted Hydro, a history that I was pleasantly surprised to learn included the Fremont Jaycees.

The main attraction located inside the former hydro-electric dam itself, Cure Family’s Bizarre Bazaar, did not disappoint either, dotted with an array of highly-detailed rooms full of whimsy and fright. Our favorites included a skeletal, high school band, a curiously padded cell, and a series of interesting freak show displays near the conclusion of the attraction.

The entire affair came to an end in bales of laughter when Jaclyn, Shirley’s impish, 17-year-old cousin, who I affectionately (and sometimes disparagingly) refer to as Frankenstein, unwittingly purchased a pair of bondage bracelets which she believed to be a spooky necklace.

Friendly Neighborhood Monster: Adam Grignon on Being A Home Haunter

Posted in Home Haunts, Interviews on October 31, 2020 by bluefall8

It’s no secret that Halloween is big business these days, but in America’s Midwest that passion allows bleeds in many a home owner who craft elaborate yard displays and backyard mazes. We refer to these folks as “home haunters” and 31-year-old Adam Grignon proudly counts himself as a member of this curious slice of Americana.

Adam and I share the same hometown of Lincoln Park, Michigan and it was there, at his parent’s home not far from Carr Elementary School, that Adam spearheaded Terror on the Blvd., a home haunt that he re-imagined annually from 2005 – 2016. Adam relocated in 2017 to Southgate where he wasted no time ingratiating himself to his new neighborhood with Churchill Cemetery.

Adam, as a shady medical man at his Sanitarium home haunt circa 2016

Horrorlust: Adam, what inspired you to become a home haunter?

Adam Grignon: I can say my inspiration came in two separate moments. When I was young, there was a house not too far from my elementary school that would put a lot of stuff out on their front lawn. I always loved what they did and it spurred an interest in wanting to do something of my own. So, when I turned 15, I asked my parents if I could decorate the front yard and our porch. That year and the next was my start as a “home haunter.”

But it would be amplified when I went to the super popular Halloween event at Universal Studios, Halloween Horror Nights. I knew I wanted to do something significant in 2007 but my plans and theme were fairly generic. Early in the year, a few videos on YouTube caught my eye that were of the previous year’s event. It looked like a blast and I became obsessed with wanting to check it out. Luckily, my dad just so happened to be doing work down in Florida and I made plans to visit.

That year, the event was themed to a creepy carnival with a ringmaster clown called Jack the Clown. All it took was one visit and seeing what Universal Studios did to completely transform my idea of what a “haunted house” could be. Their elaborate sets and rich storytelling left me speechless and really set me on my path. It was after that event, on the flight home, that I decided that I wanted to do THAT for a living.


Horrorlust: Any other examples from pop culture that have served to influence your style as a home haunter?

Adam Grignon: My favorite horror film is John Carpenter’s The Thing because of the amazing use of practical effects and awesome set designs. It has been a huge influence for me when it comes to doing things practically.

Horrorlust: How long have you been actively pursuing this passion?

Adam Grignon: I’ve been home haunting for 15 years now. My first two years were small front yard decorations. But then I started doing elaborate backyard mazes at my parent’s house. That lasted until 2016 when I decided that I was going to finally look for a house of my own.

So, 2017 was a test to see how busy Halloween was in my new neighborhood. Unfortunately, I live on a dead street and I just cant get the crowds I use to get at my parent’s. So, I will probably only be doing front yard set ups for the foreseeable future. 

Churchill Cemetery circa 2017


Horrorlust: What kind of crowds were you drawing at your parent’s house prior to your move in 2017?

Adam Grignon: Attendance has been a little all over the place for my home haunt. When I was at my parent’s, we had few visitors on Halloween. As we got more popular, I would open the haunt on Devil’s Night and we would get around 300 to 400 people over both nights. As for my new house, I’m lucky to get 30 people down my street. I’m hoping that things get better and traffic increases over the years.


Horrorlust: Have you experienced any other growing pains transitioning the home haunt from your parent’s place in Lincoln Park to your own now in Southgate?


Adam Grignon: Aside from the financial aspect of moving, I knew I would miss having the huge crowds. Halloween was a family affair and I got closer to my mother and other family members because they would participate and we would have a blast entertaining the neighborhood. And the fact that people from the neighborhood have told me how much they miss my haunts really hits me hard.

I’ve had a hard time these past three years finding where the crowds are and trying to reach out to them. Although, I will say that I have had a few of my neighbors come up to me to say how much life I’ve breathed into the Halloween season on the street. So that does keep my spirits up even though I get very little foot traffic on Halloween. 

Horrorlust: I have no doubt that for the kids who attend, the decorations and haunts are an added bonus to a bounty of candy. However, I’m always curious to know, what was your LEAST favorite candy to receive on Halloween as a kid?

Adam Grignon: I hate anything that’s chalky so my least favorite candy is SweeTarts. I’m also not a fan of chocolate covered raisins and black licorice.

Author’s Note: I am aghast at Adam’s disdain for black licorice. It’s a favorite of yours truly.

Horrorlust: What kind of expense do you incur building a home haunt?


Adam Grignon: For the first four years of doing a backyard haunt, my budget was pretty low. I would spend around $200 and that was, mostly, for building materials. As I got more into the hobby and built my knowledge of the craft, things got more expensive and I would spend closer to $500 every year. The last two years of doing the backyard haunt at my parent’s saw a budget of over a thousand dollars. I had a good year at work so I ended up with a good chunk of disposable cash. And because I knew I would soon have my own house, I wanted the last two years to be special.

Now that I own my own home and have much more financial responsibility, I have a very small budget. This has forced me to get creative with how I build things and rely on a lot of hand outs and scrap materials from my work. I doubt I’ll ever have a big budget to work with going forward but that’s not an entirely bad thing. My neighborhood is very quiet and it doesn’t see much trick or treating action on Halloween. So keeping it more of a “decoration” style of home haunt is perfectly fine right now.

A modest backyard maze at the original location of Adam’s home haunt
The highly-detailed Sanitarium facade

Horrorlust: When do include a walk thru maze, how many actors do you require to properly staff the attraction?

Adam Grignon: I’ve always managed to run my haunts with minimal actors. And I usually design my mazes to be run with four actors but leave room for more if I can find more people to help.

Adam and friends engaging in some Halloween fun

Horrorlust: You mentioned gathering scrap materials from work a moment ago. Does your professional background lend itself to the construction of a home haunt?

Adam Grignon: My background is very limited as far as what I would call professional. I’ve always had a knack for building stuff and I took two years of building trades in my junior and senior years of high school. That class helped me build my knowledge of basic construction methods which helped me build more elaborate structures. I also try to absorb as much info as I can from how to YouTube videos and haunter community sites. I’m always trying to learn new things and try new methods or techniques.

Horrorlust: How many hours do you spend creating your haunts with particular attention paid to your signature facades?


Adam Grignon: I usually spend a lot of time coming up with designs and making sure I know just how I want them to look before I start building them. The design process is done during the winter and summer months whenever I have free time. Then I usually start constructing my display around mid to late August. I try to have things done before the end of September so that I can get as much exposure to people driving down the street. My hope being that more people see my display and want to visit it on Halloween.

Churchill Cemetery in Southgate revamped for 2020 photo credit: Shirley McFarland of Shirley Ann Photography


Horrorlust: I know that you enjoy getting into costume for your home haunts, what characters have been particularly memorable for you over the years?


Adam Grignon: When I first started doing backyard mazes, I had dressed up as a character from Universal Studios Halloween event. The character was a clown called Jack (the very same mentioned way back at the beginning of this interview) and I just loved interacting with people as that character. Other than that, I’ve been a myriad of characters that fit the theme of that year. My character for the first two years at my new house has been the grim reaper and I enjoy interacting with people as him because I put stilts on and can loom over people and be very intimidating.

But last year, I made a new character that I plan on using more. It’s a scarecrow style character with a pumpkin head called Patches. I utilized the stilts again but it’s more of a family friendly kind of character. I’ve had a blast as Patches because he seems to go over well with kids of different ages. He’s not too scary but he’s also no push over.

Horrorlust: How long did you have to practice on the stilts before you felt comfortable? Any spectacular falls?

Adam Grignon: It didn’t take long for me to get use to stilts. The ones I use for my tall characters are drywall stilts so they’re made to be used with no need for a staff. I can free walk with them and not have to use a staff but both of my characters have staffs that fit the theme of the character. Obviously the grim reaper uses a scythe and my pumpkin scarecrow character “Patches” uses a long pitchfork. I have yet to take a tumble and I intend to keep it that way.

Adam as the kid-friendly Patches


Horrorlust: A moment ago you talked about some of your favorite characters to portray, but what was your WORST Halloween costume?

Adam Grignon: My worst costume was in 2013 when I did “The VOID” maze. My intention was to go for a look similar to Pinhead from the Hellraiser film series. I went through the trouble of getting fitted for contacts to enhance the look of the character but I was unable to get over the fear of putting things in my eye. I was able to create a complete character for a photo shoot, complete with a bald cap and other prosthetics. But on Devil’s Night and Halloween, I ran out of time to put the character together. So I threw some makeup on as a last ditch effort to save time and I ended up looking awful.

The Void circa 2013


Horrorlust: Do you have any experience working in the commercial haunted house industry?


Adam Grignon: My experience in the haunted house industry is limited at the moment. I started helping the Wyandotte Jaycees haunt a few years ago, but I now work for a haunted trail in Romulus called Deranged. The man in charge is a fellow home haunter and made the decision to try operating a legit haunted house back in 2018. I act in it and I also help with designing the layout as well as designing and building the facades that are littered throughout the maze.


Horrorlust: Even those of us who obsess over Halloween and haunted houses are afraid of something; what was your greatest fear as a child?

Adam Grignon: Growing up, I was always afraid of being alone in the dark. I never particularly believed in ghosts, but my paranoia would be off the charts if I was somewhere pitch black, all by myself. There were times where I would even get paranoid in my own maze when I was working on it late at night.

Horrorlust: Adam, what can trick r’ treaters expect from you in this most unusual year?

Adam Grignon: For 2020, I decided to change the theme for my display. The past three Halloweens have been a graveyard theme with characters that fit that theme. But this year is a classic haunted house and small graveyard. And I plan on being my scarecrow character, Patches, to entertain trick or treaters. We will only be open during trick or treating however since that’s the only kind of traffic we get.

Regarding the current pandemic, this year is set up a little different to keep people safe. We will all be wearing safety masks and will utilize a way to give candy out that’s unique to the aesthetic of this year’s display and our characters. I will also offer hand sanitizer just in case people want to use it. And if anyone wants to take a photo with us or in front of the display, we will allow it but still emphasize social distancing.

Churchill Cemetery, less than a block from Anderson High School photo credit: Shirley McFarland of Shirley Ann Photography

Horrorlust: Halloween obviously had an enormous impact on me as a child and I often recall many formative memories of the holiday. But what about you, Adam? Do you have a specific recollection of the spooky season that has stayed with you through the years?

Adam Grignon: I do recall being very reluctant to go through haunts as a young kid. But the particular haunt that got me out of my shell was The Extreme Scream that was set up at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Taylor. I remember all my friends going through it without me because I was too chicken to go through. But, after a few minutes, I composed myself and just went through it by myself. And I had an absolute blast despite being alone.

*All photos provided by Adam Grignon unless otherwise noted.*


All the World is A Mirror

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , on October 28, 2020 by bluefall8

I get to reminiscing sometimes, and I find the entries here at Horrorlust to be a portal to the past. I’ve made little to no time to chronicle my love of Halloween and haunted houses here over the last four seasons and that’s left me yearning for days gone by. This wasn’t an idle choice, of course, nor was it due to a sudden lack of interest. Life comes fast at times — priorities change, dynamics shift.

But, I miss it.

My role as a father as well as my position with the Wyandotte Jaycees haunted house project, means the halycon days of unbridled Friday and Saturday nights is in the rearview mirror. Still, I’d like to get back to regularly sharing my experiences on both sides of the haunt industry, and I’d like to offer up other fare in the realm of horror as well.

Due to the domino effect caused by COVID-19, the haunted house committee within the Wyandotte Jaycees made the decision not to operate this fall. I don’t regret that decision as it was the right and responsible call. The silver lining for me was that less nights spent in character meant I could, on a limited basis, reengage as a patron.

While the outings have been sparse, they’ve also been informative, strangely refreshing, and both somber and surreal, simultaneously.

A trip to Deranged revealed that the now third year haunt has improved its scenery with a series of quaint, neatly designed facades throughout the wooded trail, but the actors, aside from a few talented standouts, could use some fundamental pointers on the art of the scare.

Two weeks later, I found myself at Darksyde Acres for the first time in six years. The operation has changed substantially in some ways and remained static in others. The experience was overall a positive one with an expanded trek through the first leg of the journey, it also featured a much larger cast than previous seasons although the vast majority of them were wet behind the ears.

Finally, last weekend I found myself with a large group out in Pinckney at what turned out to be a highly enjoyable, second year effort called Ghostly Grove. We endured quite a wait to experience the outdoor trail, but it offered the right mix of fun and fright, as the ghouls and goblins elicited shrieks with creative scares and the woodland setting lent itself to several truly majestic scenes.

That last one was the spark I needed to peek back into this diary of a madman and summon the will to write once more.

Cleveland Trip Underscored by Mix of Emotions

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2018 by bluefall8

This past Saturday, I took to the road with 7 Floors of Hell and Bloodview on the agenda. It was a fun outing despite some rain but overall I did expect more from my maiden voyage to 7 Floors of Hell. The same can be said of my beloved Bloodview; this was my third trip to the haunt called home by the Legion of Terror  and although it had its moments, I found myself nostalgic for years gone by.

7 Floors of Hell, as the name implies, featured seven separate haunted attractions — Chaos, The Basement, House of the Dead, Catacombs, The Butcher Shop, Mental Ward and Phobia. Chaos and The Basement were the best executed, House of the Dead also had several redeeming qualities but on average the various haunts offered too few unique scares or interesting characters.

The set designs fit the bill and each attraction featured plentiful, impressive props, but only a handful of actors engaged in fun and creative interaction, the vast majority delivered simple jump scares and bland, cliched vocalizations.

Bloodview remained a beautiful, macabre Mecca but the cast on this night was largely missing that magical spark. There were memorable moments sprinkled here and there but that was the exception. Perhaps the lack of punch was caused by the rain, or the false emergency that was in full swing upon our arrival or maybe it was simply the effect of the passage of time on yours truly. Such things are difficult to discern these days.

Derangement Syndrome Part II: Interview with Mike Fini

Posted in Interviews with tags , , , on October 24, 2018 by bluefall8

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In Part I of my interview with Mike Fini, we discussed the origin of Deranged and his journey from home haunter to commercial business owner. In Part II of the interview we shine a light on style, theme and character development.

Horrorlust: How would you describe the style and theme of Deranged?

Mike Fini: I’d definitely say our style is an actor driven haunt. There are several haunts in the area that do incredibly detailed haunts from top to bottom, and unfortunately we’re not there yet. If you want to see incredible props, animatronics and Hollywood caliber set designs, I’ll recommend you to the experts at Hush, Rotten Manor and Exit 13. I like to think of us as the low budget horror film of haunted houses. We’re not going to draw big box office numbers like Halloween or Friday the 13th, but we’re going to do what we can to leave our guests with an unrivaled, personal experience.

Horrorlust: What haunted attractions would you say have most influenced Deranged?

Mike Fini: It would be impossible to list all the attractions that have influenced me and my team as I’ve spent the last 7 years attending an average of 20 haunts a year. A few notables would be the Realm of Darkness, Sinister and Bloodview. I always enjoyed the interactivity that was provided at the Realm of Darkness. It was an attraction I attended year after year and will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first real haunt I ever attended.

A big influence was the late Sinister in Utica. They operated with minimal space and resources, but provided an intense, interactive and fun haunt. The experiences I had their were unique and tend to stick out and get brought up every time I’m talking haunts and that says something.

The actors at Bloodview out in Broadview Heights, OH. stuck out to me as well. Through my two trips, I don’t remember it being a terrifying experience, but I’ve always left there with a smile on my face. Not everyone can be scared in a haunted attraction, but everyone can be entertained. That’s something we’re really trying to capture this season at Deranged.

Horrorlust: How many total staff members does it require to operate Deranged?

Mike Fini: We can operate with 16 – 17 people if we have to. We shoot for around 20 – 24 people on any given night. That includes parking, ticket sales, our ticket taker and the demons that haunt inside the gates.

Horrorlust: What kind of instruction and training are your actors given?

Mike Fini: When we do actor training, we try and work on improv. Jumping out and saying “Boo” is easy, that’s why we try and avoid it. The most memorable characters in haunts tend to be the ones with the snarky comments, that can come back with wit at whatever may face them. That’s definitely something we’re still working on, but I’m more focused on actors being able to think on their feet, rather than being able to drag their feet around as a mute zombie.

Horrorlust: The Baker is an interesting character — what inspired his creation and more generally how do you decide what kind of characters to include in Deranged?

Mike Fini: Ahh yes, the Muffin Man, or the baker if anyone may be checking the copyright on that — I play 1860s rules baseball over the summer and everyone is coined with a unique nickname as that was a thing back then. One of the players on my team, volunteered to act in my home haunt last year, his nickname on the field was the Muffin Man (due to his daily trip to the vending machine at his old job). It was only right to carry over his name and create a room based around his character, which we’ve expanded on this year after it’s popularity at the home haunt.

One big factor with the home haunt, you get a lot of younger visitors as opposed to a commercial haunt where you see older teens and young adults. We’re still messing around with the character to see if we can get it to translate the way we want to. It seems as if every haunt has their mad scientist, and in a way, he’s ours. Instead of messing around with radioactive potions, he’s trying to figure out the recipe for immunity as everyone fears for the apocalypse.

We’ve flip flopped themes just in the planning process, and it’s kind of fallen by the wayside. Being powered by primarily volunteer actors, I wanted to give them the creative freedom to create a role they would enjoy playing throughout the season. In doing such, we’ve lost a bit of the story, which we’re still trying to hop back into. It’s definitely been tough trying to balance the creative freedom of 20 different actors while holding to somewhat of a theme.

Horrorlust: Your predominant character is a clown known as Marbles. Why was this character type your personal choice and what’s the story behind the name?

Mike Fini: Back to the Muffin Man, this is a name that carried over from vintage baseball. I was given the name when I began playing when someone misheard my wrestling name (Mike Marvel). While Marbles the Clown was something I did at the home haunt, my acting nights at Deranged are very limited. The character never really took off as it never had any distinguished paint or costume as it’s varied over the years.

I’ve just always enjoyed being a clown as I much prefer face paint to a mask. It doesn’t muffle your speech, you can still make facial expressions, and with the products on the market you have the ability to turn yourself into a monster from your eyes to your teeth to your nails. I’ve always found the role of the clown very easy and natural to play and when given the chance to act, I prefer more of a challenge.

Horrorlust: In your estimation, what does a successful 2018 season look like for Deranged?

Mike Fini: A successful season is having people leave with a memorable experience. Whether they smelled something disgusting, whether they got scared, or even if they were just entertained, we want to leave a lasting impression on our guests, so that hopefully they’ll return to see us in the future. Any income that Deranged receives this season is just getting thrown right back into the haunt for next year, so from a financial standpoint, the more people the better. At the same time, keeping our numbers relatively small gives us the ability to create a more personal and intimate experience with our guests.

Horrorlust: What can guests expect from Deranged this final weekend of the haunted house season?

Mike Fini: This weekend we’re amping up the intensity. If you’re 18 or older, this is the weekend to come. Sunday night we’re putting on a show that’s more intense, and a little more…raw! However, if you have young ones, we will be doing a Scare-Free trick or treat this Saturday from 3pm – 5pm.

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Deranged is located at 35560 Goddard, Romulus, MI. The box office opens at 7:30pm on nights of operation; it closes at 11:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 10:30pm on Sundays. General admission is $13 per person. For more information, you can visit their official website: Deranged Haunt.

Derangement Syndrome Part I: Interview with Mike Fini

Posted in Interviews with tags , , , on October 23, 2018 by bluefall8

DerangedLogo

Canton-native, Mike Fini is the owner of Deranged Haunt in Romulus, Michigan. He and I first became acquainted at an independent wrestling show held at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Taylor, Michigan in August 2011. He was making his Metro Pro Wrestling debut that night as an 18-year-old, high-flying babyface (good guy) known as Mike Marvel. I could be found behind the ringside camcorder, as I often was in those days.

Over the course of the next year or two, he and I discovered that we had a mutual love for haunted attractions. Like myself, Mike began to hit the road each fall in search of fresh havens of fear. Also like yours truly, Mike couldn’t resist the urge to peek onto the other side of the curtain, assuming acting positions with the now defunct Dark Legacy and most recently the Scream Machine.

However, he had simultaneously constructed his own home haunt known as Deranged and in just a couple of short seasons the growing popularity of his neighborhood attraction forced him to embrace a more substantial opportunity.

Horrorlust: How did Deranged develop and grow as a home haunt?

Mike Fini: Around 2010/2011, I began excessively decorating my house. It was around this time I was growing out of trick or treating, yet wasn’t willing to let go of my passion for Halloween. It started with the generic, cheesy tombstones in the front yard, and went on to adding homemade cemetery fencing, to creating a (debatably, unsafe) 20 foot tunnel out of tarp and 2×4’s. As time went on and I got older, it expanded to a graveyard walk through to tarps in the garage and eventually became a walk through attraction.

In 2015, about two weeks prior to Halloween, I found a post on a local Facebook Halloween page about someone selling haunted house walls. The walls were believed to have been used for some sort of theater, or fundraiser haunt before getting stashed away in a storage unit. The unit was abandoned around 2013/2014. No one bid on it at auction, and then the fellow haunter I purchased them from had acquired them for relatively cheap, if not free, as they were all destined for the dumpster.

He had used them for a year or two in his driveway, but no longer had the room, so I purchased a variety of 7’ walls for an amount cheap enough for a college student to purchase. Many of them were not in great quality, but they stood up and took the wind way better than any contraptions I had created in the past. About 25 walls were moved from Taylor to Canton in my friends pickup truck and assembled into a structure 10 days prior to Halloween. There were a lot of blank/black walls, and cheesy designs from Pacman ghosts to cartoonish pumpkins, to splattered red paint to mimic blood. It wasn’t a pretty haunt, but it was an improvement for the trick or treaters.

Over the next couple years, it continued to expand. I added a dozen walls in 2016 and expanded the haunt into a backyard walk that bordered the forest behind my house. In 2017, 25 new walls were added or replaced which resulted in a full backyard attraction that totaled just under 1,000 square feet.

The main driving factor behind Deranged was the crowds. Growing up, on the other side of the block was a house that used to send chills down my spine. They had maybe 6-8 walls, but as a young trick or treater, it was an intimidating structure, and the strobed dolls in the front window, left nightmares. This house stopped decorating around the time I started and we became “The Cool House on the Block.”

The first year of the walkthrough, we already had people making our house a focal point of the trick or treat festivities. In 2016, we opened the Saturday before and then on Halloween and had over 350 attendees. Then in 2017, we opened for 5 different nights (kind of a test run for the pro haunt) and were able to see 500 visitors with Halloween still being the highlight of the week.

Horrorlust: How did you settle on the name Deranged?

Mike Fini: As a young teenager, I was a big fan of hardcore, independent wrestling. There was a wrestler by the name of Deranged that participated in a series of death matches. I enjoyed watching his work, and the name got adopted into some screen names I had used at the time for various sites such as AIM and Runescape. That trend instantly popped in my head when digging for a name that would be short, yet compelling.

The original theme for the home haunt was an asylum which fit the name even better than the current cluster of a theme. Coincidently, one of the more memorable moments I have observing the wrestler known as Deranged, resulted in him having a solid, uncarved pumpkin smashed onto his skull.

Horrorlust: What fueled your decision to expand from a home haunt to professional attraction and what has been the greatest challenge during that transition?

Mike Fini: Being lost and lacking purpose. I’ve always had an itch to entertain. I’m pretty shy and introverted, but being an only child, I crave attention. From sports, to pro wrestling to a brief stripping phase, I’ve always enjoyed entertaining. However, in haunting, I’ve kind of found my calling. In other forms of entertainment, you’re often still yourself under an alias. In haunting, I get to become a character, something other than myself, which I’m not judged for and no one recognizes outside of the environment.

Everything just kind of lined up at the right time. It was something I had wanted to do since 2012, but wasn’t really sure how to go about it, or if I had the tools to make it a destination worth going to and spending money on. To be honest, I’m still not that sure. When I made the decision, I had just finished a long, slow, five year process getting an associates degree and wasn’t ready to rush into more schooling. Also, I determined I was luckily in a financial position where I could take the risk and not lose a house or car if the haunt failed to be successful.

The biggest challenge has been dealing with the city and codes and ordinances. Each city is different, and it’s hard to know exactly what your city officials are going to want and require, prior to doing it. It also doesn’t help that several cities haven’t had a haunted attraction, and at times, the city doesn’t even know what they want from you. Thankfully, the City of Romulus has been accommodating and willing to work with us to find a balance of what we want to do along with what is safe for all of our guests.

Horrorlust: How did you acquire the location for Deranged?

Mike Fini: The location for Deranged actually came through a high school friend of mine. He acted in my home haunt the prior two years, and saw that we kept expanding. He mentioned in passing that his family owned a property he thought would be perfect for Deranged and I shrugged it off as a “yeah right, like that’s going to happen” kind of thing. And well, here we are, in a rather secluded five acre lot located less than a mile from I-94 and Detroit-Metro airport.

Horrorlust: As a new attraction, how do you approach the marketing of Deranged? I noticed that you didn’t advertise in the Fear Finder and instead opted for the Haunt Guide. Was that strictly a financial decision?

Mike Fini: The amount of times I’ve gone to Kroger in early September searching for a Fear Finder is embarrassing. The cover artwork is always incredible and I believe it to be a staple in the Michigan haunt community. However, it’s no secret that the ads in the Fear Finder aren’t cheap. Just as a little personal goal for myself, I hope to see us in there in the future but I don’t see it happening right away.

However, I don’t want that to take away from the Haunt Guide. While the Haunt Guide doesn’t quite have the notoriety of the Fear Finder, there are a few areas where I find it superior. The main thing is the Michigan Haunters Association — the fact that we’re in the Haunt Guide with nearly a dozen other haunts, that are all trying to help and promote each other is incredible. Plus, as a customer, if you attend one of the attractions in the Haunt Guide, you get a card that grants you VIP access to almost all the other haunts listed inside. I definitely love the community aspect and the fact that we’re a part of a publication where several different styles of haunts all across the state are working together to try and create business for everyone.

Horrorlust: What are the short-term and long-term goals for Deranged?

Mike Fini: A big short term goal is to just keep this going. We’re not the number one haunt in Michigan. I’m the owner, and I’ll tell you that right now. Do I believe you’ll get your $13 worth? Absolutely. The state of Michigan is littered with fabulous haunts, and while we want to be a respectable attraction that doesn’t want to disappoint the haunt industry, we’re not in the current mindset to become the top attraction in the area.

I enjoyed doing a home haunt, and wished it could’ve been a bigger attraction, open for more than just a couple nights a year and more intense. That’s what we’re trying to create. I’m slowly learning every night presents it’s own challenges and set-backs. We’re a long ways from what I originally envisioned, but we’re getting a little closer each night. While scaring people is the purpose of the haunted attraction industry, we want to provide a memorable experience that combines the screams with an evening of fun.

A long term goal is to just expand what we have. We’re on five acres of land right now. While we did what we could this first season to maximize the property, with the proper timing and resources, we could expand our trail to be two and a half to three times the current length and we could quadruple the size of the house, without changing too much of the landscape. The big goal is to develop a local, loyal fan base that not only attends our attraction once, but keeps coming back to support us and help us grow into a larger attraction.

Hororrlust: Can you share a story or two that has stuck with you from your time as a home haunter?

Mike Fini: The craziest thing about home haunting was the amount of time and effort put into an attraction that wasn’t even open 10 hours a year. I probably need psychiatric help as I oddly enjoyed making kids cry — from chasing a 12-year-old in a banana suit around the entirety of the block, to getting a middle schooler to cry under a street lamp while curled in the fetal position.

This answers the question in a way other than intended, but one key thing that stuck with me from a home haunter onto the big stage were my actors. Almost everybody that acted for me opening night was a part of my home haunt at some point or another. And taking the 6-7 actor home haunt to the public, tripling the crew and having everyone show up, is something I’ll forever be grateful for.

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Part II of my interview with Deranged owner, Mike Fini, will appear here on Horrorlust tomorrow evening.

Deranged is located at 35560 Goddard, Romulus, MI. The box office opens at 7:30pm on nights of operation; it closes at 11:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 10:30pm on Sundays. General admission is $13 per person. For more information, you can visit their official website: Deranged Haunt.

Brotherly Love

Posted in News on October 7, 2018 by bluefall8

The weather was admittedly crummy last night throughout Metro-Detroit, but most attractions defied the elements and remained open to the public. My brother, Jason, and I set off into the dreary night in search of fright. Once upon a time, my brother scarcely missed a haunt outing, but then he became a nurse and his work schedule seriously put the brakes on haunting. I was shocked when I realized that it had been five years since he and I had visited a haunt together.

Our target on this night was Madison Heights with Azra: Chamber of Horrors in our sights. As my brother was in a hilariously altered state of mind (more on this later), I was asked to ferry us to our destination. While cruising through Detroit on northbound I-75 we witnessed an extended lighting strike that appeared as if it may have produced a small explosion. It was cool sight to behold.

I was a little skeptical about Azra which is held in a former laser tag venue, but the new haunt did not disappoint. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall production value. It did feature a mishmash of themes — one part medieval, gothic dungeon, one part industrial hellscape and a little harlequin influence near the conclusion for good measure — but some how the disparate narratives pulled together okay.

When we had exited through the sewer of Azra, we arrived on the inside of an adjoining space that housed a rage room where two dudes gleefully smashed glass items and a variety of themed escape rooms! One facade was shaped like a pyramid, another put me in mind of a lost, underwater civilization, but what truly piqued my interest was the brightly colored Mardi Gras room that reminded me of something I once saw on Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

“So, I found a piece of a stale cookie in my desk. I ate it. Now, I’m stoned.”

-My brother, explaining his actions before departing his house, and what just might become a pre-haunt ritual.

Sad Face, Happy Face

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2018 by bluefall8

Ominous clouds roll through the sky, the wind carries a frenzied energy — it’s an ideal night to be one of the horde at any haunted attraction. Unfortunately, for your dear author here at Horrorlust, it’s a work night…and so is tomorrow. But, like last Saturday, I believe I’ll grace a few local haunts with my presence. Where I shall visit remains to be decided, but there’s no shortage of options.

On the flip side of that coin, they’re some Michigan mainstays that will not be operating this season; the most noteworthy of which is St. Lucifer’s Haunted Asylum which is reportedly in the midst of a move. No word yet on where the new location will be but the operators do hope to find a new home in time for the 2019 season.

Also in the dark is Krazy Hilda’s Trail of Terrors, a fun for the whole family event, that has stolen my heart over the years. The ole witch vows to be back next year and I take her at her word because Hilda and her brood have proven mighty resilient over the years.

As some of you know, Anxiety Alley in Lincoln Park did not operate last year after decades of opening its doors to seasonal patrons. Several weeks ago, my source within my hometown informed me that the trailers in which the event was held had officially been scraped. Anxiety Alley was poorly organized and executed in recent years but it was the object of boyhood fascination and the very first haunted attraction that I ever attended. It holds a special place in my heart and will be missed.

On a happier note the Woods of Darkness in South Rockwood will open its gates tonight for the 2018 haunt season. The Psycho Path in Flat Rock will follow suit on Friday, October 12th. I fully intend to visit both of these attractions this season as I have in the past.

Happy Haunting.