Erebus Haunted House
By CHRIS ALEXANDER
When in Michigan, drop into the city of Pontiac and follow the screams to the doorstep of Erebus, a towering and emotionally draining four-story haunted house run by brothers Ed and Jim Terebus, who have devoted their lives to demolishing your central nervous system.
Erebus employs state-of-the-art special FX to serve the brothers’ unwavering devotion to terrifying their customers—a go-for-the-throat aesthetic they’ve been nurturing since they started dabbling in the haunted-attraction business in the early 1980s. Erebus—cited as the longest walk-through haunt by the Guinness people from 2005-09—was erected at the turn of the millennium in 2000, and every year gets bigger, badder and more bloodcurdling. We chatted up Ed Terebus about his beastly baby…
FANGORIA: When did you first stumble into a haunted house? Which one was it and where? Tell us about that experience.
ED TEREBUS: My first experience was at age 14 or 15. One of my older siblings took me to a local charity’s haunted house that we’d heard great things about. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet the expectations we had built up in our minds. Over the next few years, my friends and I became obsessed with finding the biggest and baddest haunted houses out there. To my disappointment, we never found them, but that didn’t discourage us from continuing to look.
FANG: Were you a horror-film fan as well? Did the two obsessions go hand in hand?
TEREBUS: I love horror movies! There wasn’t cable TV back then, so you had to wait for the shows to come on. Saturday afternoons, there was a local horror host named Sir Graves Ghastly with his own program, and there were two on late Friday nights, The Ghoul and Creature Feature. I had to beg my parents to let me stay up to watch those. I do believe that the two obsessions go hand in hand, because one inspires the other. Many earlier haunted attractions were based on movie characters, and a number of haunts still use them to this day.
FANG: Was Erebus your first stab at launching an attraction?
TEREBUS: No, it was our brainchild after 20 years of growth and expansion. We then figured out Erebus was in our name, and turned this into a full-time career for both of us. In the earlier days—that’s going back 33 years—it was like the Wild West. I don’t think the public was ready for our type of scare, compared to the other haunts. Every year, we had an actor or two get a broken nose from being punched. Most of the time, I don’t believe it was malicious, but rather the customer overreacting, enacting the fight-or-flight response we all have built into our human nature. That’s where a very important rule came into play-stay an arm’s length away from customers-because all the actors want to get in your face and give it everything they’ve got!
Back then there were no conventions, seminars, actor training or any type of education that could help somebody in the haunted-attraction business. We were living the dream by sharing our nightmare!
FANG: Tell us about any memorable “victims” of the house of Erebus…
TEREBUS: The victims (laughs]! There is nothing better than seeing full-grown adults on their hands and knees, screaming like little girls! One of the most memorable was a 300- or 400-pound woman. Back in those days, I had a “show no mercy” attitude. I even had a code set up, like if I screamed out, “Don’t scare them” to give a customer a false sense of security, that really meant come out and get them—easy pickings! This woman came through the haunt, and something jumped out and scared her to the point where she passed out. I was the first person on site, other than the actor who frightened her, and she wasn’t coming around very easily. We called 911 and had EMS dispatched.
As we waited for them, she finally came to. She was in hysterics; the closest fire exit was 10 feet behind her, but between her and that door was something that terrified her so badly, she refused to go backwards. The next fire exit was approximately 40 feet in front of us, and by accident—I wasn’t even thinking—I yelled out, “Don’t scare her!” As we moved forward, the actors jumped out and scared the hell out of her again, and she passed out four more times inside the house. When we finally got her outside, she walked five feet and passed out for no apparent reason. I thought for sure she was having a heart attack! You can’t hold up a 400-pound woman; it’s like Jell-0 slipping through your arms.
She finally made it to her car, jumped in and was actually going to attempt to drive away. I thought she was going to pass out behind the wheel and kill somebody, so I reached in through the passenger-side window and grabbed her car keys. This woman grabbed my arm like a chicken wing and bit a chunk out of it. I was screaming, she was screaming and then the fire department showed up. They held me longer than they held her, taking care of my bite wound.
FANG: Why do you keep doing what you do? It can’t all be about the money.
TEREBUS: The money? When Erebus first opened up, my brother and I went eight years with no paycheck; we kept reinvesting in the project. Where else can you get paid to scare people? My job makes me laugh and giggle, and I love the challenge of coming up with new ways and ideas of freaking them out. With the movies nowadays, people have become desensitized to horror in general, so we have to try harder. This is not the haunted house you grew up with as a kid; this is the haunt I was looking for when I was young and searching for the baddest haunted house around.
In those years, I heard of this haunt that was multiple stories high; it took almost an hour to walk through, had 100 actors inside, live animals, separated you from your party and things grabbed you and touched you. And now…Erebus is four stories, three up and one down, it’s over a half-mile walk inside the building that takes about 45 minutes. We have about 90 actors inside each night. We’ve had live animals and also simulated them, we separate people from their parties temporarily and we have things that will grab you, bite you, land on top of you and then, to finish you off-we bury you alive.
FANG: What new terrors await Erebus attendees in 2013?
TEREBUS: The circus—everybody loves the circus, right? But this will be a little bit different; instead of laughing and cheering, I’m hoping people will be screaming and crying! This will just be one of the zones that people travel through in the time machine at Erebus. Top-secret information for FANGORIA readers: Beware of the snake charmer!
For more information on Erebus, visit www.hauntedpontiac.com.