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The city of Houston had its origins in what is known as the Buffalo Bayou, a stretch of waterway that, throughout history, has served as a focal point for early natives, settlers and colonies of various nations, as well as the setting of a bloody battle for Texas independence. It’s no surprise, then, that 13 years ago, businessman Bob Wright would design and construct a haunt that he would christen Nightmare on the Bayou.

Featured as a top attraction on the Travel Channel’s America Haunts IV, Nightmare on the Bayou is located outside the urban sprawl of the nation’s fourth largest city, near neighborhoods known collectively as The Heights. It is situated uncomfortably close to one of Houston’s oldest cemeteries, established in the 1870s—not many haunts can claim the same. The graveyard is itself known for goings-on of a paranormal sort, and has been designated as historic by the state of Texas as a resting place for freed slaves and early African-American residents of Houston.

What this location affords Nightmare on the Bayou, besides the creepy view of actual tombstones, is 15,000 square feet of horror divided between both indoor and outdoor attractions, making for its only
Texas-specific quality: It’s big. This may not be the longest haunt experience anywhere, but it gives you plenty for your buck, and it has bite. Even without a busy crowd, one should expect an approximately 50-minute tour. While the owners assure that it contains no dead cowboys or headless honkytonk horseman, the haunt instead features a wide and varied assortment of actors and actresses dressed as devilish ghouls, screaming witches, hungry monsters and chainsaw-carrying imps.

If these are not enough to conjure up childhood fears, worry not, because Nightmare on the Bayou also provides a room filled with deadly, sharp-toothed clowns, and at a certain point, one may encounter an evil Santa Claus. The exterior space, which also incorporates three trailers, provides patrons the opportunity to run for their lives through a garden of zombies. It is Wright’s goal to leave the experience etched in your brain—what remains of it, at least.

There are no limits when it comes to the highly realistic costuming and makeup of the aforementioned characters, which are also provided year-round by Wright’s own costume and decorations supply store, Party Boy. Established in 1985, Party Boy—a Houston institution—was in many ways the catalyst for
Wright’s plans for what would become Nightmare on the Bayou. It was Wright’s desire for a challenge that initially drove him to construct his haunt next door to Party Boy, and the two venues have fulfilled an assortment of Houston’s horror and entertainment needs for years, and have come to define their area of the city. While Wright initially found it difficult to keep Nightmare on the Bayou running, his determination helped him ride out the storm, and fortunately for fright enthusiasts, the screams persist.

Even the walls of this haunt are worthy of a second look. Nightmare on the Bayou features a collection of large-scale, expansive demonic mural paintings throughout its space, some of which require 3D glasses; even these walls are seemingly out to get you, squirming and grabbing as you walk past. In other instances, the walls are made to collapse. Among the more uncomfortable and adventurous offerings are the swinging bridge and tunnel, which are surrounded by an automated twisting wall and ceiling. Once again utilizing 3-D FX, this feature makes creative use of space itself as a subject of terror, resulting in a disorientating, darkly psychedelic impact.

With more than a handful of haunts and ghost tours, like ScreamWorld, Castle of Doom, Terror Dome, Phobia and Texas Chainsaw Maze to name a few, Houston is no stranger to scary business. Therefore, one might wonder what makes Nightmare on the Bayou particularly appealing, or frightening enough to be featured on different media outlets. Perhaps Wright explains it best when he says, “We have real ghosts, and they are very scary.” Wright insists that not only is Nightmare on the Bayou actually haunted, but that these spectral experiences first began at Party Boy next door, and have since moved on to the attraction. Over the years, he says, there have been multiple unexplained phenomena within his facilities. In fact, on a number of occasions, lone construction workers have been known to become so frightened on the premises that they quit their jobs, never to return, leaving Wright to pick up the pieces.

In another incident, one employee is said to have described these specters negatively as “punk ghosts,” immediately resulting in an assortment of cups being mysteriously thrown at this person. Poltergeist, anyone? (It should be noted that while these may not be the friendliest ghosts, no one has been physically harmed by their antics.) While Wright says there are many different spirits residing within both Nightmare on the Bayou and Party Boy, there is one particularly unique resident ghost, whom Wright and his crew have affectionately named George.

Should you prefer not to believe these stories, Wright is happy to invite you over; just bring your sleeping bag and stay the night. If the haunt doesn’t get you, perhaps the sleep over will.

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