Monday, March 26, 2012

Are you brave enough to enter Hollowgraves Haunted Manor?!

By - Steve Mezo

Years ago I got to scratch something off of my bucket list I wrote when I was six years old, and that was to work in a haunted attraction. 

I'm writing this one in the celebration of Hollowgraves Haunted Attraction making it's return to Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

The first time I had found out about this haunt is when my wife and I had went to Keansburg Boardwalk in Keansburg, new Jersey. It was an Easter Sunday and the official opening of the season. As we were walking around we saw a new haunted attraction that wasn't there before. There's a ride through haunt called "THE SPOOK HOUSE" that's been there since forever, but that's another article. 
Photo by "Haunt Space"

We had given our tickets and went inside, and once we made our way inside the doorway we were completely blown away!  

We were led by our guide to the houses foyer, where a ghostly voice gave the history of the house and why it's hunted by murderous spirits today. After that a door opened and we walked into the living room and were greeted by the homeowners Ichabod and his wife Martha. 

Once they told us that we were going to be there for dinner they told us to make our way to the kitchen, and from there the rest of their home. We did as they said and every room ahead held a different horror. Just when we thought we had seen the coolest stuff this haunt had to offer we walked into the library and thought we were at the end of the haunt. As we were looking for a way out we saw a corpse sitting in a chair and just as we were waiting to see what it did or had to say. The next thing we knew they library bookcase slid open to reveal a hidden passageway!!!
 Little did we know my wife would be providing the voice for this moving animatronic months later.

We went through the passageway and enjoyed everything in the second half of the haunt. Once we were out we went to the ticket taker and then manager to tell him what we thought of it. And that's when he introduced us to a man named Stan Ambro. 

We told Stan how great we thought the haunt was and how I did F/X work and horror movies, he thanked us and told us how he had started it as a haunt on his parents front lawn as a teenager and how it grew into the mobile haunt it is know. I had told him that I had some weeknights and weekends free and if he needed help I'd be there. He said yes and that's when began my journey with the haunt. That whole first season there I was a Grim Reaper.

This is also when I found out just how much work goes into working at and maintaining a haunted attraction. Doing something like this is a labor of love just like any other art. And it's something that's never done, not in a bad way it's just each year needs a new feature to keep it exciting. 
Then the animatronics need to have tuneups and parts changed from time to time or just new dialogue. And when it made the move from Keansburg to it's first season in Seaside Heights I really jumped into the deep end with both feet. This is when I had to take part in the tear down to pack the haunt for the move. 

Stan and me before the big move from Keansburg to Seaside Heights

Now Stan is very low key about his abilities but I have no problem telling everybody about them. When I really got to see the guts and workings of the haunt I was even more impressed with it then my first walk through. The Haunt is made up of three trailers with two connectors (Trailer, connector, trailer,connector, trailer then exit ramp). 
From this

To this

Now before you have thoughts of another haunt for years ago, this is absolutely nothing like it. The haunt is equipped with a sprinkler system running throughout, heat sensors, smoke detectors, emergency lights, fire retardant coating on every surface, emergency exits and direct fire hose connectors. 
And the wildest thing is it assembles like a movie set. After the water and electric is hooked back up, the roof line, wrap around porch front stairs and front bay window are added on along with a front yard/cemetery. 

Now for the animatronic monsters. Originally Stan had built air cylinder driven jumpers with lights and actuators. But after he went through a haunt on vacation with his wife (Then girlfriend) he was inspired to build animatronics. He took another look at them and just like that figured out how to create his own! This is what he does, he walks around and then says "I'm going to add this or make that." Then without having to write a single thing down or draw any kind of plan he gets out the welder or other components and it's there like magic, and it's perfect!

  The heads have their own unique sculpted faces as well as drive boards designed by Stan. 
And he had designed the movement brackets for their eyes and mouths himself as well. Once they're put together they are tested on his workbench with a audio/movement sync program.
 Once that's completed their bodies are built with more animatronic actuators designed by Stan fleshed out, painted and dressed. Then their movements are synced to their dialogue tracks. I keep waiting for Stan to make them where they walk around on their own with some kind of heart monitors to detect if their scaring people enough. 

After everything was ready for the new season
 I figured it was time for a new look. 

I had a blast scaring people full time but started to really love repairing and building new additions of the haunt, which was funny because it used to be a chore for me. Then I had the added responsibility of keeping a crew on to be ghouls in the haunt and take care of the business of the haunt on the Funtown Pier itself. The one upside was I had a group of people that loved being there and pretty much worked for lunches like I used to back in the old Costume Shop days (Yet another article). So that got the haunt through most of that season.

Then one day a man named John B. Watt 
walked onto the Funtown Pier and turned the haunt up to eleven!!!

He is to haunting the haunt and managing it like Stan is to creating it. Working it along side John was like watching scare artist. He is so good that not only did he make a woman pee herself, she came back and told him about it as a compliment! True Story. 

And we had allot of fun times together there. We met Joe Jackson yup, the creator of "The Jackson Five" while he was directing a movie on Funtown Pier and he was nothing but cool. As well as Will Rahmer from the band "Mortician", Guitarist "Jack Frost" (okay so I know him from back in the day anyway) but he was still there and liked it, a few members of "Carnival of souls" and I had to take Kevin Smith through with the house lights on. 

And after a huge blackout on the Island where a State of Emergency was called we met then Governor Jim McGreevey.

But the ultimate was us getting to spend the season with Danielle Stampe "Slymenstra Hymen" of GWAR.
That's right, that one is part of another article too.

And we got some great reviews from two
 well know Haunted Attraction web sites.

This is Bill and Seph Cherkasky from "Dark in the Park" sitting with Martha 

This is such a great site with listings and histories of just about every Boardwalk Haunt that ever existed in New Jersey. The link will take you to their review of Hollowgraves, but if you click on the HOME button it will take you to their main page. And you can see everything from photos of the Haunts to their actual commercial spots. 

This site is a one stop shop for everything from Haunt listings to Haunt reviews do it yourself Haunt instructions. 

Hollowgraves Haunted Attraction is currently in storage after surviving Hurricane Sandy.

For the latest news on Hollowgraves days of operation use the link below for Hollowgraves official Facebook.

And follow them on Twitter