This ultimate getaway, with the inviting name of “Camp Blood,” is now entering its 22nd year of turning high-functioning people into stumbling scaredy-cats. And its host, Mark Atcheson – a man with a true gift for the macabre – promises a whole new, revamped Halloween attraction.
For one thing, the trail is reversed from previous years so that earlier survivors – that is, visitors – will be thrown off. And there are new attractions, including a maze called “Claustrophobia” designed to mess with all a visitor’s senses at once, and a patch of woods where guests can enjoy themselves hunting zombies with paintball guns.
And there are lots more tricks up Atcheson’s sleeve. “Whatever your imagination can come up with as far as backwoods, hillbilly, redneck kind of things.”
Camp Blood is located at 2277 Whooping Creek Road and is open from 9-11 p.m. on Thursdays, and 9 p.m. until midnight Friday and Saturday night, until Nov. 3. Admission is $20, and you can hunt the zombies for an additional $10, or do so separately for $15. There is an additional $2 charge for parking.
Each Halloween, thousands of communities across the United States play host to haunted houses, haunted mazes and similar attractions. Like Camp Blood, they use a variety of costumed actors to pop out of dark corners, and spooky, Hollywood-style special effects to play on the senses and create a perpetual state of wariness, or even fear.
But there are differences. Many haunts employ a lot of splatter, gore and demonic themes to enhance the fright – but Atcheson emphasizes that his is a “Christian-owned and operated” attraction.
“There is nothing Satanic out there; if there is, I get rid of it.”
This does not mean, however, that Camp Blood is a Disney-like attraction or a walk in the park. The haunts are meant for people who want to – and expect to – be scared.
“You can bring any age you want out here, but like any other haunted house, we just tell you that we don’t recommend it for children under 12,” says Atcheson. “Now, if parents want to deal with nightmares, and the sleepless nights, and the kids in the bed with them, then that’s the deal. We don’t have to go home with them. Basically it’s ultimately up to parents.”
That being said, however, Atcheson and his crew have tried to make the attraction as safe as possible. For example, if a visitor going through “Claustrophobia” finds it too intense – it is a fog-filled maze in the dark with surprises along the way – there are staff standing by in a “rescue hallway” to take down sections of wall and pull the frightened guest back into reality.
Although not a psychiatrist, Atcheson has had enough experience to know just how far to take the scares induced by his effects-heavy constructions, or by the actors paid to scare the guests.
“I just have a rule of thumb, which is I don’t want them going beyond what they want somebody doing to them if they were terrified. I basically just tell them, look, you gotta know when enough’s enough, (you) scare somebody, give them a hard time, and then walk away.”
Camp Blood started as an annual Halloween party at Atcheson’s home.
“I invited a bunch of my buddies over and we made a trail through the woods and told them we had free alcoholic beverages at the end, but they had to go through that trail to get it. We just had some people out there jumping out and scaring them.”
Word-of-mouth soon brought increasing numbers of people to the annual parties, so that Atcheson abandoned them entirely in favor of the haunted trail portion. He has refined the system since then, doing most of the construction and electrical work himself.
Camp Blood is now full of features designed to keep visitors on their toes throughout the entire half-mile of terror, which most visitors are able to complete in 30 minutes. The trip includes a visit to “Lakeview Asylum,” where some inmates have been inside perhaps a little too long; there’s “Uncle Buck’s Bain and Tackle,” located beside a toxic spill; and there are other sets with such names as “Hillbilly Dentistry,” the “Clown Room” and “Caged Zombie” that are probably best left to the imagination.
Atcheson estimates that he has thousands of dollars invested in the annual attraction – and most of it is re-invested for the next year.
“I don’t care about being rich, I just want to make sure my bills are paid, that’s it. The money goes back into the place and the good Lord takes care of it, so I don’t worry too much about it.”
Here’s just a word of advice for people who are planning to visit. Atcheson and his crew have, over the years, learned to identify those groups of visitors who are the most easily scared. And when the crew has picked out such a group they may set aside a special treat to trick them with.
Consider yourself warned.