Shudder for Charity at Scare for a Cure
Austin’s biggest fundraising haunt returns with safety in mind
After one of the more frightening years in recent history, Austin's biggest charity haunted house has a lot to compete with. Scare for a Cure's Haunted Experience is back from the dead this October after taking 2020 off, and while the main goals are still to terrify their guests and raise money for good causes, this Halloween the other priority is safety.
Located at the J. Lorraine Ghost Town in Manor, the experience is fully immersive, complete with actors, special effects, elaborate set design, and an interactive storyline. Scare for a Cure's director, Jarrett Crippen, prides himself on the machinery of the Haunt, which unfolds an interactive plot as guests move through each building of the ghost town. He explained, "You're isolated. You only see the show we want you to see. It's like a theatrical performance with moving seating."
This year's show is called "Lockdown," and is set inside a futuristic prison, built around a nuclear power plant and run entirely by artificial intelligence. Guests play the role of citizens whose civic duty is to inspect the facility and ensure the humane treatment of its prisoners, only for their tour to be hijacked by rogue inmates.
With Scare for a Cure being marketed as "Austin's only extreme, full-contact, interactive haunted experience," it's natural to have concerns that customers may bristle at an experience that once invited only one layer of fear. On top of terrifying creatures, simulated blood and guts, and jump-scares, guests are now wary of the very real danger of virus transmission. So while it would have been narratively convenient to place the Haunt this year in a hospital setting, or to even inject elements of the pandemic, the SFAC team thought that could be insensitive. "Since people are actually dying from this, we didn't want to make light of it," Crippen said.
Instead, the prison setting becomes a way to subtly implement the necessary distancing measures. Those faded placemats painted onto the floor of the grocery store that encourage six feet of personal space which we've all struggled to follow throughout the pandemic are simply de rigueur in a setting where your every movement is constantly monitored. The tour guide that typically acts as the group's narrator will be replaced by a computerized "AI" to reduce person-to-person contact. The actors that do interact with guests will wear face shields just like those worn by riot guards.
Although Crippen certainly worries about diminished turnout, he is confident that SFAC will be supported by their loyal and dedicated customer base. "I believe that once they know that we are taking precautions ... they'll come out," he says. "They want to have something to talk about on Monday at work. Going through an hourlong murder mystery show and being splattered with blood is certainly worthy of a conversation on Monday at work."
Behind the scenes, organizing the haunt around COVID conditions has not been an easy task, but one that needed to be done. "I don't think we could survive two years without a show as an organization. Having to shut down in 2020 hurt us drastically," said Crippen. However, after a year of closure and neglect, the grounds of the ghost town required weeks of extra preparation just to begin construction, and will not fully open until mid-month. Plus, skipping last year's show left the organization with diminished funding and resources, and the number of volunteer workers, on whom the haunt depends, is also down approximately 30%.
Still, with all of this heavy on his mind, Crippen said he is savoring every moment of the creative process of building the Haunt. There may be fewer volunteers than previous years, but those that showed up have worked longer hours and come to the build site twice as often, and they're all on schedule for their soft open on Oct. 9. "Right now, I'm in my element," he says, walking the grounds of the ghost town, overseeing volunteers building animatronics, designing special effects, and raising building structures, in his neon T-shirt with the words "Managing the Blood, Sweat, and Fear" printed on the back. "I just love the machine of the show taking place over an hour. That's my jam. That's my high. Building it and seeing it come to fruition and entertaining people."
Scare for a Cure presents “Lockdown” at J. Lorraine Ghost Town, 14219 Littig Rd., Manor, Oct. 15-16, 21-23, 28-30: discounted preview night Oct. 9. All proceeds go to Breast Cancer Resource Center and Manor Independent School District. Ticket, info, and COVID protocols at scareforacure.org.