Last year, I discovered that a local haunt attraction called Fright Kingdom I’d heard about but never looked into was, quite literally, just across the graveyard from me. It also happens to be near our local pho place. My wife and I had a craving, so I got some carry-out. On my way back, I decided to see if Fright Kingdom had erected its façade yet.
The haunt is located at 12 Simon Street in Nashua, New Hampshire, and from the road, it looks just like a warehouse. You have to drive into the lot, across a set of defunct railroad tracks, and around the back of the building to see the entrance. It’s impressive. A large dark castle juts out from the warehouse with the haunt’s name emblazoned in Halloween-orange letters on a battlement that towers more than two stories into the air. Around its base and inside the tower, like so many warnings to stay away, were skeletons bound to stakes and crosses.
I pulled into the parking lot, took a quick snap, posted it on the socials, and the file ricocheted around the server farms until it came to the attention of the man who owned the haunt, Tim Dunne. He invited my wife and me over for a walk-through before the place officially opened on October 3.
“Oh, that’s up year round,” he said. The bricks, he told us, were made of compressed ceiling tiles and then coated with a sealant and painted. I rapped on one as we entered and it felt like actual building materials instead of the styrofoam-softness I was expecting, able to weather the harsh New England winters and pansy New England summers.
Speaking of expectations, here is what I expected from Fright Kingdom. Even with that dramatic façade, I thought it’d be a quick walkthrough of a cobbled-together, quaint haunt that maybe got an A for effort but was not something you’d turn into a Halloween tradition.
No. This is a major attraction. With heart. That I want to live at.
The place is vast—150,000 square feet vast, with five different haunts inside, plus staging areas and facilities for the staff. “We started 10 seasons ago in 17,000 square feet on the other side of the warehouse, and just grew,” Dunne said.
The line doesn’t start until inside, where it wends in the shadow of a giant orange pumpkin on the wall. Once you get tickets, you walk through a short hallway…of live tarantulas. The tunnel glowed orange with the heat lamps in the furry arachnids’s terrariums.
“They’re from my personal collection. I have about 500 at my house,” said Dunne. “I want to get a reptile handler in here for the season so that we can have live snakes and alligators, too.”
There was also a burial simulator that ended up being part of my destiny. I’m going to have to revisit that experience in a separate piece.
Dunne explained to us that the main purpose of this part of the haunt was to keep the size of the lines down. “If people are stuck in line, no matter how good your attraction, they’re going to find it not worth it.” He explained that each group of fifty gets a matching card pulled from sets of zombie-themed playing cards. They hang out, have a Halloween party, and wait for their group to be called.
At one point we passed a large booth guarded by a pair of towering killer snowmen. Inside was a sleigh and a Krampus, the German Christmas demon. In December they host a “Fright Before Christmas” where they remake one of the haunts with the black magic of Christmas. “People love it. Doesn’t matter if it’s snowing, they still come.”
“Now you’ve been contaminated.”
When the haunt is fully active, Dunne has some 100 performers running around the spaces behind the haunts, scaring people through hidden doors and fake panels, dashing through the secret hallways that encircle the individual haunts, wandering through the crowds in the staging areas.
“We have people from all walks of life on staff. Scaring people is addictive. I have bank executives come in and do this. They’re not here for the $8.50 an hour. It’s just fun.”
The next maze he called, “Bloodmare Manor,” a name he adapted from one of the early names of what would eventually be Disney’s Haunted Mansion. “This is my favorite, my baby,” he said.
Dunne grew up in Florida, and the Haunted Mansion was one of the biggest influences of his life. He excitedly recounted the time he won a video contest to play a butler in the Mansion, and many of the art and artifacts in the haunts were tributes to the Disney spook house’s various incarnations. Bloodmare Manor started out with nostalgically spooky stuff like a 1964 Cadillac hearse, an old ghoul on an organ, and an entryway inspired by Phantom Manor, the Disneyland Paris equivalent of the Haunted Mansion, complete with an animatronic werewolf head poking out a window. Eventually, it got bloody and disgusting, like a charnel house of cannibals. Blood everywhere. And the screams of my wife.
The third haunt was Carnival of Corpses 3D. Before entering this colorful kaleidoscope of a maze, you put on a pair of 3D glasses, which makes the special paint applications on the walls and the figures and the props stand out in vivid, vivid neon. The effect was amazing, and done better than any of the 3D mazes I’ve ventured through in the past. My favorite parts of this haunt were the giant, two-headed yeti on display in the freakshow and the pair of Klowns straight out of Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
That final haunt exited out into an area where Dunne has a gift shop and some of his own personnel horror memorabilia on display. He also hosts celebrity appearances from horror movie stars there. Two large screens dominated the space, which bore feeds from inside the haunts, so you could watch other people getting scared. I want that cable channel so bad.
For real. I was standing in the middle of 150,000 square feet of that passion. I can’t wait to go back when it opens.
Speaking of which, Dunne gave me two pairs of VIP passes to hand out. Just email me with the subject “Fright Kingdom” at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day September 30. On October 1 (Fright Kingdom opens October 3), I’ll pick two of those emails at random. Obviously you need to be relatively local or visiting in October. I’ll express mail them to you or, if things work out, meet your personally for the handoff.