Year after year, Nightmare on Edgewood lives up to its claim of being Indy’s most intense haunted house and the 2014 season is sure to be no different.
This year the haunt is longer, stocked with new special lighting effects and boasts significant updates to the clown-themed Schizophrenia and the dark maze Hysteria. Nightmare on Edgewood has even increased their staff by 20 people, bringing their total headcount to an astonishing 70 workers.
I had the opportunity to stop in at Nightmare on Edgewood on the afternoon of their opening night to speak with co-owner Kevin Cook. With just hours to go until the first patrons of the season showed up at their gates, Cook was called to the front for our interview via walkie talkie from somewhere deep inside one of the haunted house trailers.
Several minutes later he emerged with beads of sweat dripping from his forehead and streaks of fake blood on his forearms. His brother (and Edgewood co-owner) Paul walked by us with a cinder block in his hands and his head down to the ground as he worked on a waiting line corral.
It quickly became evident that their work is never done. Driven by passion, not profit, they thrive on hearing people scream, cry or laugh and do all they can to make sure their patrons are scared- or at the very least having fun. As it turns out, there’s a lot that goes in to making that vision come to life.
Construction & Logistics
Planning for each new season begins immediately after closing for the previous year. Since Nightmare on Edgewood uses the Edgewood Athletic Association to hold their attractions, they cannot have access to the site until August 1st, at which point they have six weeks to build mostly from the ground up until the fire and safety inspection. After inspection, they have two additional weeks until opening night to finalize and make adjustments as necessary.
The fire inspector walks the haunt from beginning to end to look for things like a smoke alarm installed every 25 feet and a fire exit every 50 feet. He triggers smoke alarms, makes sure exit lights light up, and confirms that everything is backed up by a battery. The entire process takes between one and two hours and even includes pulling things off the walls and setting them on fire.
“Everything has to be flame retardant, and that chemical also has to be mixed into the paint that goes on the walls. A lot of people think you can just throw it up and open the door. There’s a lot more to it,” Cook explains.
Bringing the Haunt to Life
How does one go about planning the layout of a haunted house? Cook says he used to draw everything out to spec on graph paper, but learned over time that it never turns out the way he plans and eventually abandoned the precise plotting. Now, when has an idea, he jots it down as a guiding concept and lets it come together freely and naturally. Pandemonium, the outdoor crate maze, is an example of this phenomenon.
Long-time fans of Nightmare on Edgewood will be pleased to hear that staples like “the bus” and “the house” are still part of the experience, and Cook says he’s OK with that level of familiarity in the haunt because it’s something people look forward to seeing.
“It flirts with reality. They don’t know if it’s really a haunted house anymore.”
Nightmare On Edgewood is also one of the few haunts in the area with a unique do-touch policy, which Cook says has always been the haunt’s rule, despite the occasional complaint.
“We weigh our options that we get way more people that want that than don’t. We hang signs to make it clear that you’re going to get touched. That’s the scare factor. That’s why people come.”
Operating A Haunted House
Cook and his brother are the type of guys who can walk through a commercial haunted house alone and not flinch, which is why one might assume they would both be actively involved in scaring the hell out of their customers. It turns out that their role is just as crucial as the actors, albeit not quite as glamorous.
“We just run around and fix stuff, relieve people for bathroom breaks, or let them take a smoke break. We’ll dress up occasionally and bounce around in the line and have fun with it, too. But believe it or not, when it’s open, stuff breaks. Lights go out, bulbs break, somebody runs through a wall. We kind of run around and do chaos control. It’s pretty hectic.”
Kevin and Paul are very serious about providing an experience that is both terrifying and fun at the same time.
“If people come out of the haunt and there’s one certain room that I get a lot complaints that they didn’t like, we change it,” Cook says, and quickly adds, “… outside of crawling, because everybody complains about crawling.”
Crazy Customers & Scaredy Cats
Cook shrugs when I inquire about over-the-top customers and runs through a list of predictable situations they face every year: customers resentful towards the fast-moving VIP line, patrons with uncontrollable reflexes that throw punches at actors, high school kids that act tougher than they are, and the occasional threat to sue (usually over a splinter or fake blood on a t-shirt). Annoying? Perhaps. A big enough problem to prevent them from operating again? Unlikely.
“We do get a lot of people that quit, usually in the clown area. We usually have between 100 and 200 people that quit over the course of the season. And it’s not all kids; a lot of adults quit, too.
We get a lot of girls that just sit in the corner and don’t move. The good thing about the do-touch policy is that our guys can just pick them up and take off with them to make them move on to the next room.”
This year, Cook & his brother relinquished creative control of the neon clown haunt to local artist Steve Stephens. Indianapolis residents who have been to the eastside’s Bat Cave batting cages & mini golf will recognize his unique art decorating the walls of this haunt. Unlike Cook, Stephens drafted the big top themed layout and design of Schizophrenia on paper first, then brought it to life with impressive drawings, gallons of glowing paint and a whole lot of devious handiwork.
The only outdoor haunt at Nightmare on Edgewood, Pandemonium has expanded to be twice as big as it was last year. The haunt’s inhibiants , inspired by The Purge, are hungry for a fresh kill.
Edgewood’s characters are given creative freedom to make their roles uniquely their own – an effective approach that works especially well in Pandemonium.
“One thing we do different from a lot of haunts,” Cook explained while standing next to an abandoned car that acts as the centerpiece of the Pandemonium haunt, “is we don’t give a script. We don’t say, ‘You’re gonna stand here and you’re gonna say this.’ We have 13 people in this area; last year there were only five. I brought them all out here and I said, ‘This is what I want: someone here, someone there, someone there; make it work however you want.’”
This pitch-dark, feel-your-way-through attraction has been a staple of the Nightmare on Edgewood haunt for years and that’s something that won’t be changing any time soon. Always mindful of providing the best experience possible, customer feedback has played into some notable changes to Hysteria in 2014. Expect the difficulty level to be toned down a few notches, as well as a break from the darkness that’s sure to tickle your senses, thanks in large part to the contributions of art designer Paul Lanner.
Perhaps the most elaborate haunt at Nightmare on Edgewood, Old School Fright literally puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with all the classic characters you love to hate. Cook notes that the attraction has more props than usual, all of which are operated by the actors (as opposed to timed sensors) for optimally timed scares.
After a successful first run in 2013, this 4-D ride will return for another year at Nightmare on Edgewood. As detailed in our 2013 review, “Patrons undergo a simulation of being buried alive in The Last Ride. After taking a surprisingly comfortable seat inside of a specially-outfitted coffin, the lid is closed and the pitch-dark ride begins. Without their sense of sight, patrons rely on sound, scent, and touch to keep their sanity as they endure the unique ride.”
Regular Admission: $20
(includes Schizophrenia, Pandemonium, Hysteria and Old School Fright).
VIP Fast Pass Admission: $30
(includes all four haunts mentioned above, plus The Last Ride, and shorter wait times)
For more scary fun, check out these websites for like-minded haunts:
Read our full review of Nightmare on Edgewood 2014 here.