Scaring people for a living may seem like an easy job, but Greg Allen, the owner of FearFest, located west of Columbia, sees it as a chance to relive his love of horror films and share it with customers.
“Wes Craven is one of my favorites,” said Allen, referring to the horror filmmaker who created Freddy Krueger. “Movies like the original 'Nightmare on Elm Street,' 'Predator' and even Rob Zombie’s remake of 'Halloween' are great. Those are probably the ones that inspired me the most.”
Where: Exit 121 (Fayette exit) on Interstate 70
When: 8 to 10 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 1
Cost: $15 for two attractions, $20 for everything
FearFest, which has been operating for six years, features Hollywood-style animations and special effects, along with a Reapers Revenge hayride and corn maze. It is a project that Allen, 45, has dreamed about for years.
In 2001, he began to develop the idea with his wife, Christina. Together the two eventually created a 46-acre complex that now employs nearly 45 actors with up to 35 volunteers and 10 security guards. The complex consists of four buildings and includes the Slashmasters Asylum and a haunted attraction called Sarah's Legend.
The legend revolves around a girl who used to live on the hill where FearFest is located. According to the story, Sarah befriends a mortician and eventually dies in a blizzard. The mortician then becomes a recluse and begins hearing the girl's voice.
Allen said he discovered the property after he heard about a man 3 miles west of Columbia who was interested in doing haunted hayrides. Allen told the man that he was more interested in a haunted house.
The man then directed him to a vacant area of land that used to be a funeral home. Allen said he fell in love with the place immediately, calling the abandoned house perfect.
His love of haunted houses emerged from the classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller "Psycho."
In 1996, Allen was given a sign reading "Bates Hotel." To accompany it, he put together two pieces of plywood, painted two doors and made a makeshift hotel in his driveway.
"People started to show up and wanted to know if it was a haunted house and I said, ‘Well, no,’ " he said."The next thing you know, I added two more pieces of plywood and even made a shower scene for kicks. It was fun, and that’s how it started."
During the off-season, Allen and his employees tear down the decorations in preparation for the following fall. During the spring, Allen attends Halloween conventions to buy new props and animatronics, which are set designs that include monsters fitting in with the Halloween setting.
His employees love their work.
“The best part of this job is pretty much being around everybody here,” said Gary Shead, 17, whose character mirrors Leatherface from the film "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
“We’ve become a family of sorts,” he said. “We all take this seriously."
Allen said he wants to make FearFest one of the top 10 haunted houses in the country.
“We have 46 acres to play with, so it’s not a thing of space,” he said. “We have great financial backing, so it’s just everything we need we can get. It’s just a matter of time.”