Matt Boeving is walking down a dark, unfamiliar hallway. He reaches a corner, stops, then slowly peeks around.
If this were a horror film, this is the part where Boeving would get stabbed in the face. But tonight, in Bartlett at the Nightmarez ... Stage Fright haunted house, he emerges intact, if a bit shaken. Now he and his friends stand huddled in the building's parking lot excitedly comparing notes: Were you scared? What did you think was the best part? Was that your big, hairy arm that grabbed me?
"We scare because we care," explains Patrick French, who created Nightmarez, along with Lin Workman and Todd Patton, five years ago to raise money for local charities. This year's proceeds -- around $20,000 -- will go to Youth Villages, the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Bartlett fire and police departments.
Putting on Nightmarez, which runs through Halloween, is a big endeavor. Up to 20 volunteers have to be prepared to scare. Building and electrical permits have to be obtained, and fire-code inspections must be passed. In addition, French, Workman, and Patton visit horror-themed attractions in other cities and attend HauntCon to keep up with the latest, most horrific trends.
"Our rule of thumb is, if it scares us, that's something we want to do," French says.
Visitors enter the "Vortex," an equilibrium-destroying walkway involving a spinning tube and glowing 3D artwork. They then make their way through dark passages that are dotted with "boo holes," little windows from which the volunteers -- "scaregivers," as they're known -- unexpectedly shriek or do whatever it takes to scare the bejesus out of their guests. There are themed rooms with crazy clowns, crazy doctors, and crazy toilets. Perhaps the most terrifying is the room where there is nothing at all, and those who've paid $10 to be startled from all directions are left enclosed in a space with no light and no sound. The anticipation is excruciating.
Every day before the doors open, French goes through Nightmarez and makes repairs. People run into the walls. They drop on their knees and crawl or scream that they're about to vomit. This sort of mayhem indicates to French that the job is being done right, but he still has to field one frequent question.
"If I had a dollar for every time somebody asked me, 'Is this scary?'" he says, "I wouldn't need to produce this thing."