“Last wagon,” someone bellows. Similar calls repeat through the darkness, going down the dirt road like a signal fire. Everyone holds their breath, standing strangely still as a wagon passes by the entrance to the woods. They all scream, our cue to get ready.
“Since it’s the last wagon everyone will be following it, but it’s your scene,” Katherine Marinier reminds us. She is a legacy, related to large number of the actors, and very gifted with wrestling fear out of customers. Thankfully, tonight we are her students, not her victims. One of the actresses, Amanda Pardee, bounces in preparation, trying to get her energy to spike. This is our first night and we’ve been on our feet for four hours.
Screams bounce along the trees as the wagon rolls through the scenes. When the tractor pulls into the tunnel and turns off we peek through the door. Already fluent in the scene, Amanda and I whisper the lines as we wait, our fingers twitching against the handles
“So, let the party begin,” the blood-chilling voice booms. Strobe lights flash and we pull the huge doors open. Waiting in the shadows, I eye potential victims. Anyone cowering against their loved ones or distracted by the scene is ideal. A group of teenage girls looking wide-eyed at Glinda sparkle like diamonds. I wait until they’re far enough to forget me and rush low past the wagons.
“Y’all look delicious” I yell. They tumble towards the middle of the wagon, whimpering. Cackles hide my real laughter. I will get them again before they leave. Until then I join the actors following behind them. The last wagon of the night is an encore of nightmares.
Haunted Hunt club began 24 years ago with the haunted hayride. Owner John Vogel, began the hay-ride to entertain his friends. It consisted of fire pits and eerie woods. The Village of the Damned opened next, followed by the Field of Screams. Now Haunted Hunt Club is the go-to Halloween event in Virginia Beach. Anyone who was raised in Hampton Roads probably has a childhood memory of Haunted Hunt Club.
“I remember being in the fetal position by everyone’s feet in the tunnel of the hayride as the chainsaw went off. It was absolutely terrifying,” Pardee recounts.
Hours before opening, actors that have this gig as a second job are blurs as they come into the small office, meticulously applying makeup to already exhausted faces.
“I usually limit myself but on these nights I drink at least one of these,” actress Sissy Byars says as she holds up a giant energy drink. She is Dorothy and behind the scenes while waiting for the wagons and spends time bouncing from one actor to the next. Once she confirms her actors are ready, she runs around like an over-joyed kid, blowing glow in the dark bubbles. This mixture of inner-childhood and love of Halloween is apparent in all the actors.
When questioned as to why they work at Hunt Club every employee replies without pause, “I like to scare people.” It’s a common pastime for actors to pass their down time by trying to scare their co-workers.
What has been the best theme in the hay ride history? “The carnival theme,” Kathy Parsons, manager of the haunted hay ride replies. “We had clowns, carnival freaks, and a strongman with a skull high striker. So many grown men were terrified.”
Old Dominion alumni, Laurie Durrette, disagrees. “This year has been my favorite year. I love being Alice.” In her scene, her ghostly white face smiles dementedly as she holds the decapitated head of the Red Queen. “In the day time, I’m a social worker,” she says sweetly.
The actors all seem to have unexpected careers, from health care-provider to paralegal. If you saw them in the street you would have no clue that they worked nights lurking in the shadows.
Come experience the Haunted Hunt club and remember, it’s interactive theatre. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, don’t be afraid to scream, have fun, and most importantly, bring an extra pair of pants.
Haunted Hunt Club is located at 2388 London Bridge Rd. in Virginia Beach, and is open Wednesday through Sunday night from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. until Halloween day. For further information on tickets and other attractions, visit http://www.huntclubfarm.com/newhalloween/.
By: Erika Schaubach