Archive for Mike Fini

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.

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Derangement Syndrome Part I: Interview with Mike Fini

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

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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.