October has fallen upon us, bringing pumpkin-flavored everything and the threat of a hurricane with it. The beginning of the month also marked the countdown to Halloween. While some stockpile candy for begging children dressed as princesses and frogs, others develop a game-plan of good-natured terror.
In other words: Bring in the haunted houses!
After Panic Attack closed in 2014, it wasn’t clear where Halloween fanatics would get their thrills and chills this October. When Museum of the Bizarre (201 S. Water St.) opened in April of 2015, however, owner Justin Lanasa didn’t necessarily know he would be the one filling that void in Wilmington.
“Last year I had to drive all the way to Greensboro to Kersey Valley’s [haunted house, Spookywoods],” Lanasa tells. “So when I opened the Museum of the Bizarre, I was sitting around thinking, ‘I could turn this into a haunted house.’”
On a daily basis the Museum of the Bizarre is filled with exhibits of the macabre and artifacts of myth and mystery. Oddities, like the Crystal Skull of Knowledge (of the 13 Crystal Skulls Legend), Harry Houdini’s Ouija board and Alexander Hamilton’s hair decorate it. “We have probably a thousand bizarre things,” Lanasa continues.
It was only about a month or so prior to his favorite holiday that Lanasa started thinking the Museum of the Bizarre could really become what is now—at least for the month of October. And, so, Museum of Nightmares took shape.
“Halloween is the go-to vacation time for me and I usually leave town to go somewhere cool,” he quips. “[But] we decided to really get the ball rolling.”
It took all of five days to transform his shop into a place where hundreds of people seeking a fear-fix can go night after night, Monday through Sunday, from 6 p.m. until midnight. “The locals are definitely ready to come,” Lanasa says. “Being the only one [in downtown Wilmington,] there’s no competition.”
On a scale of one to “Pee Your Pants,” with disorienting smoke, airgun pops and screams all around, Lanasa is hoping his haunted house hits the high mark on the scary Richter scale. Mechanics do play a role: A mother zombie cradles her mummified baby in a moving rocking chair in the zombie area. Curdling screams seem to come from every direction. Suddenly, we’re standing in front of Michael Myers, who is safely locked behind a cage—for now.
“We may have someone waiting around the corner,” Lanasa hints during a pre-opening tour.
A guide walked around the unfinished haunted house and noted more chains would be placed here, an otherworldly creature there and more flashing lights. I mean guests need to see the details in the masks of their “attackers.”
“The witch will be standing there.” Lanasa points to a fiery cauldron. “And the witch that [Tony Rosen] did is sick.”
Rosen worked in Wilmington’s once bustling film industry, in special effects makeup for seven years. His work can be seen in “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Under the Dome.” The Museum of Nightmares is his first haunted house.
“I made the Annabelle doll for both ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘Annabelle,’” he tells. “Me and my wife do all of this stuff together. She’s been helping with all of the masks.”
Rosen created almost a dozen original masks and wardrobes for the live actors. His unsettling creatures, one having rows upon rows of teeth made of epoxy, and another with a face split open by an upside down counter-face, could induce nightmares without actors wearing them. Each mask takes about three weeks, from start to finish, so Rosen had all of them going at once to have them ready by the Museum of Nightmare’s opening night, Oct. 1.
“To sculpt it, mold it, cast it, and paint it, it’s a long process,” he tells of his grotesque and murderous characters. “I like to scare people. I hope to make someone throw up one day.”
Rosen attended award-winning special effects artist Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program in Pennsylvania. Savini is the creator of several well-known characters in films that have defined the horror genre, such as Jason in “Friday the 13th” and Blades (a menacing biker) from 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead.” Despite his training and talent, Rosen and his colleagues have lost a good bit of work this year in Wilmington, due to so many productions leaving or passing over the area. “We just have to find it in other places like [the Museum of Nightmares],” he continues.
James Jenkins, who works on “Under the Dome,” was another film industry pro Lanasa recruited for set design. Folks will see deadly clowns and other would-be foes hanging from ceilings and climbing the walls.
Despite the short notice, Lanasa’s connections in the industry made the quick turnaround for a quality production. “I got a lot of actors who were in movies filmed here, extras, and a couple of them have specifically done haunted houses before,” Lanasa continues. “I’ve got a guy who’s big and beefy, I want to make him Leatherface. Put an apron on him, and he looks perfect.”
There are rabbit holes of scares galore in the museum. Holographic projectors, provided by sponsor Spirit Halloween, complement blaring heavy metal music, while strategically placed signs on the walls written in “blood” faithfully warn all who enter.
“We’ve trained the actors to not ‘push people’ through fast,” Lanasa tells. “We want them to come through slowly, because it’s big enough to have up to 400 people in here, and there’s a lot of detail we want them to see.”
The Museum of Nightmares is better suited to adults. However, mature kids 10- to 14-year-olds must come with parental supervision. Visitors can enter the Museum of Nightmares at the entrance on Orange Street ,and, if they make it to the end, they will exit to safety on Water Street.
The Museum of Nightmares will remain open nightly from 6 p.m. to midnight throughout October. Regular admission is $20 and fast passes (which get you to the front of the line) are $30.