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CREEPYWOODS HAUNTED FOREST

CREEPYWOODS HAUNTED FOREST – Fear Comes in Trees
By JOHN PORTER

One common element of most haunted houses across the country is the simple fact that the attractions are enclosed buildings. Even when we audience members suspend our disbelief and surrender to that delicious feeling of organized terror, we know we are safe inside the attraction.

Creepywoods Haunted Forest does its best to throw all that out the window. This thrill-filled attraction, located about 16 miles north of Baltimore, MD, is outdoors, in the woods; there is a primal immediacy when you’re outside, and no places you can safely hide. On a crisp Maryland autumn night, especially when the mist rolls in just right, you can feel the fear creep into your very skin—and it stays there a long time.

The Bennett family—husband and wife Allan and Jill, along with Allan’s brothers Tony and Royce—have a long history in the haunted-attraction business. The Bennetts had already been operating Bennett’s Curse in nearby Jessup, MD for seven years prior to opening Creepywoods. Despite their success with Bennett’s Curse, they were delighted to bring their special touch to the newer haunt, and felt like they were coming home. “That’s where we really got our start in the Halloween attraction business, as volunteers at the haunted hayride there,” says Allan Bennett. “As we were looking to expand into other locations and attractions, it seemed like the time was right to try our hand at something very different than our successful haunted-house model, and we were excited about the challenge.”

Creepywoods sits on property previously known as Huber’s Farm, and more recently called Jones Farm. The three Bennett brothers were teenagers when they started volunteering for the farm’s annual hayride. “We were known for providing the big finale and scariest scenes in a very toned-down, family-friendly event,” Allan says. “From the very beginning, we showed our dedication, traveling about 30 miles from our Baltimore City home out to the ‘country.’ The three of us would pitch in our own money to buy the best props and equipment we could afford.”

Even then, they had plans to make the attraction bigger and much more frightening. “After our fifth season volunteering,” Allan recalls, “with my wife Jill joining us as a volunteer actor, we approached the farm owners about expanding and ramping up the attraction to take it to the next level. The owners wanted to keep the hayride small and kid-oriented, and we decided to move on and start our own.”

There were no hard feelings; the farm owners continued to fill a niche with their family attraction, while the Bennetts went on to scare the heck out of thousands of Marylanders. Bennett’s Curse became the scariest place north of D.C., and pretty soon everyone was taking notice. The Bennetts eventually got a second chance at the property that started it all for them. “We were visiting the farm for a daytime hayride, and the owners asked us if we’d be interested in taking it over. We started preparing for the attraction, and then they decided they’d like to keep doing the hayride but offered us the trail through the wooded portion of the property. After a few walks around the trail, we began conceptualizing the scenes and flow, and Creepywoods was born.”

As the Mid-Atlantic weather can be tricky to negotiate during the fall months, the team operates Creepywoods for a short season, generally opening on the first Friday in October and running weekends through Halloween. Despite the abbreviated season, the attraction is very well-attended, with many people coming back several times to get their fright on. The Bennetts and their team are now entering their sixth season of fear, but they’re not resting on previous successes; Creepywoods is constantly changing and evolving from year to year.

“Last year, for our fifth-anniversary celebration, we revamped a large portion and took many of the older scenes to a film-quality level,” Allan says. “This year, we’re adding a couple of new scenes, plus more scares and finer details to existing scenes and buildings. We also added the 25-foot-tall skeleton that was featured on the Travel Channel show Making Monsters.”

Creepywoods Haunted Forest has a distinctive theme that drives the attraction, centering on a group of early settlers in the New World who found a difficult existence in the forest. Because death was ever-present in their lives, they became obsessed with it, trying to prevent it and even reanimating those who had already succumbed. The settlers began experimenting with black magic and the occult, and unleashed evil spirits upon not only themselves but also the very forest, where the undead arise, and animals and even the trees grow larger and filled with anger. Unlike most outdoor Halloween attractions, which proceed from scene to scene while showcasing different themes, Creepywoods offers a seamless series of scares that amount to a more believable and realistic experience. “Being in the dark of the forest gives us an edge in creating a creepy atmosphere,” Allan says. “We utilize that well, and allow it to set the stage for the performers and action to be most effective.”

While their attraction is only open briefly, creating the themes and developing the scares are full-time jobs for Allan and Jill, and they and Tony, who manages Creepywoods, brainstorm throughout the year to come up with the best FX and concepts. “We’re always looking for ways to improve and offer our guests a better overall experience,” Allan notes. The team hires five to ten workers for various project builds through spring and summer, and adds another 60-plus employees for the run of the attraction, in addition to security and support staff. Many of the actors return every year. Bennett and co. design their own FX, but also work with vendors to create custom props and animation. It’s always a challenge utilizing heavy technology in an outdoor setting, but they find that equipping their actors with everything they need to be effective and utilizing just the right amount of technology creates a memorable tour.

Creepywoods hasn’t forgotten its roots, either, and offers a family-friendly hayride on select nights. But for those who want a more hardcore scare, look out for the moving-bridge effect. “You cross over a steep gully on a bridge that appears quite normal,” Allan explains, “but once you and your group start walking, it violently drops and swings, and the guests are harassed and taunted by very energetic and terrifying performers.”

Another highlight is the scene in which glowing ghostly apparitions fill a room the guests walk though, wondering whether one will lunge and attack them. However, they tend not to expect it will be one flying just over their heads, grabbing at them as they pass underneath. “That always gets a great response,” Allan smiles. “But I’m not satisfied that we’ve achieved the best effects just yet. I believe that my scariest gag will be the next one we build, because we improve based on guest feedback and experience and use those to make the next one even scarier and more effective.”

The Bennetts indeed relish the challenge of attempting to top themselves and come up with new, frightening scenes. “There is some pressure to grow,” Allan admits, “but we thrive on it! For us, it’s not only about being the best in our region, it’s about being the best out there, period, and giving our guests the scariest experience we possibly can. As we continue to expand and improve, it will only motivate us even more to try new things, and evolve into a truly terrifying attraction on an epic scale. We never stop working and moving forward, and from one year to the next, the show often sees very dramatic improvements, and that’s something we take pride in and have built a reputation on. It’s about the excitement of thinking up ideas that push the envelope, that others would never attempt. That’s what pushes us into the future, and to hopefully someday achieve our goal of being the best and scariest outdoor Halloween attraction in the country!”

Explore the forest further at www.creepywoods.com.

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