Horror show: inside Surrey’s gore-fest

Surprising – and thrilling – the legion of fans of B.C.'s biggest tour of terror takes months of planning, and a love of horror flicks.

Potters House of Horrors 2011: going for the jugular.

The Potters House of Horrors is truly one of the biggest, best Halloween frights around.

Now in its 9th year, it’s easily Surrey’s biggest walk through haunted house, attracting upwards of 15,000 visitors – most of those in the week before Halloween.

The 2011 tour of terror boasts 10,000 square feet of dark, twisty hallways leading to gruesome scenes and skin-jumping surprises.

With attractions like Camp Dread, Seven Gates to Hell, and Med-Evil Times, this year’s labyrinth promises to take visitors to new levels of freaky. Think severed heads, bloody body parts, gutted torsos and more. And that’s just one section of hallway. Who knows what awaits around the next corner?

Surprising – and thrilling – the legion of fans who return each year isn’t easy; it takes months of planning.

“We started building the House of Horrors in August,” says Cam Martin, head of the Potters’ Ghoul Crew that stages the horror show.

He helms a team of 12 full time techies, who work nightly along with dozens of actors plus various venue staff each October.

“We started building the House of Horrors in August,” says Martin. The core group of three or four sits down to brainstorm long before that, however.

“We throw some ideas at the table,” he says. “We kind of put them in a pool and make a shortlist. It’s a consortium of minds.”

Martin, who “enjoys a good horror flick,” says it helps to be a horror buff, something he shares in common with the main prop builder, but not essential. The woman who does the decor “wouldn’t watch one if you paid her.”

The House of Horrors – initially conceived as a way to increase fall sales at the greenhouse – has grown from about 700 visitors nine years ago to crowds of 15,000, which gives a sense of how the attraction has evolved and grown in scope and ambition.

“We’ve got a talented core of individuals who make it happen.”

Potters originally hired lighting and audio specialists from outside. But the Ghoul Crew has learned the ropes. The store manager does the sound, mixes the music and creates tracks. He also does all the lighting, using computer software.

Martin’s brother Rob, the Monster Tech, has a background in pneumatics.

Make up experts, however, are brought in. They post those jobs in August, and receive a flood of applications. Actors are hired, too.

For the two-and-a-half week opening, Martin figures there’s between 40 to 60 people working on site each night.

From day one of construction, it takes at least six weeks to put it all together.

“It’s very labour intensive,” Martin says, noting they’ve collected a sizable inventory. There are warehouses full of sets and special effects equipment.

House of HorrorsIt’s a big investment for the 72 Avenue garden centre. But it pays off. Halloween is now the second biggest holiday next to Christmas, says Martin. People really get into it.

Potters House of Horrors claims to be the scariest walk through haunt in the province. And it’s the second largest Halloween event in B.C., just behind the PNE’s Fright Nights.

Martin checks out his competition, and is familiar with all the local haunted houses, small and big.

They’re worth seeing, he says, but Potters’ House of Horrors is number one.

“I think with the detail and quality of our show,” he says. “We really try to take them into a different world.”

Even the lineup to get inside (there are no reservations) can feature moments of sheer terror. Their website is creepy, too, with sound effects and lots of cockroaches scattering across the screen.

About that famous line-up. New this year is a Speed Pass, an option that costs more ($25 to $35 depending on what night you go), but allows visitors to skip the long queue, which can be up to an hour.

Visitors are advised to take in the attraction soon if they want to avoid the wait; the closer it gets to Halloween, the longer the line ups are.

Scaredy-cats and families with small children are welcome to visit during the first hour each day (starting at 6 p.m.), when the event runs “static”, without actors, and uses a quieter sound system. It’s still scary, but less terrifying than the real thing.

The full-on House of Horrors springs to life at 7 p.m.

It’s located at 12530 72 Ave., one block west of Kwantlen University’s Surrey campus.

It’s open daily from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. to Oct. 31.

Admission rates vary: From Oct. 14 to 20 and Oct. 23 to 27, it’s $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. The Speed Pass is $25.

From Oct. 21-22 and Oct. 28 to 31, it’s $17 for adults, $12 for kids under 12, and $35 for a Speed Pass.

Visit www.pottershouseofhorrors.com or call 604-572-7706.

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