2009 FSView article!
Prof. Kuersteiner snatches tickets from patrons as they enter the Terror of Tallahassee..
Halloween is not just for football
Haunted house on Gaines Street brings spooky fun to Halloween
CARA BORUCH-DOLAN • CONTRIBUTING WRITER • OCTOBER 29, 2009
Located on Gaines Street is a building that will hold hundreds of nail-biting, shaking, screaming students this weekend.
A far different experience than that found in Doak Cambell Stadium, Terror of Tallahassee houses its own team of terror enthusiasts who consider making their visitors run out in panic a night of success. Soon after entering this haunted house, a quick trip down the Hellevator takes students into a maze that truly puts the scare back into this Halloween.
Kurt Kuersteiner, the main director of Terror of Tallahassee, has been scaring Tallahassee residents since 1999. After his first location on Monroe Street was demolished in 2002, Kuersteiner relocated his haunt to the warehouse on Gaines Street; here, he has terrorized locals for almost seven years. It looks innocent enough on the outside: a large building with seemingly no ominous features except their sign. On the inside, however, awaits an innovative world of the dead and dying.
“It’s a fantastic fright facility, and most people have no idea how elaborate it is until they experience it themselves,” Kuersteiner said.
Over the years, Kuersteiner has developed his own haunted family: a troupe of actors whose main passion is for the experience Terror of Tallahassee creates, not the profit gained from the Halloween season. Dozens of trained and experienced volunteers join together every year for this massive production. Most of the cast is comprised of college-aged students, but a number of them are also students from Maclay High School’s Drama and Key Clubs. They start work during the summer months of July and August to repair, redesign and improve the house before anyone sets foot in it in October. Depending on the night, Terror of Tallahassee holds around 30 to 45 actors, 13 of which are “official” and are there full-time.
Although Terror of Tallahassee is a business that produces profit for rent and upkeep, Kuersteiner has also made it a charitable organization that aids the Tallahassee community, donating much of its proceeds to fire departments, drama clubs and back to the Maclay High School Key Club.
“This really is built on passion,” said Keith White, the “Mad Scientist” in the cast. “We’re here for the love of the scare and not for the money, since none of us are really making that much.”
It also is a perk that they are allowed to scare the living daylights out of total strangers and have no repercussions for it. This is one business, however, that is actually looking toward the recession for profit. People are looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy themselves this Halloween and still have a unique experience, and Terror of Tallahassee offers a local outlet for entertainment without having to travel outside the city.
“We get more people every year who come here instead of Orlando, because they get much more bang for their buck,” said Kuersteiner. “They save a ton on tickets, avoid the long drive and wasted gas, plus the hotel cost. A recession makes coming here a no-brainer.”
With over 12,000 square feet and over 266 twists and turns, this haunted house creates a labyrinth of constant surprise. Terror of Tallahassee focuses on individual groups, usually around 5 to 10 people at a time, so that each visitor gets a personal experience rather than forcing them through a continual line of people like other attractions typically do, allowing only certain areas of the line to witness certain events, whereas Terror of Tallahassee forces the group to lead themselves and challenge each room and corner as a new threat.
“Terror of Tallahassee is four times the size and length, plus a fourth of the wait compared to Orlando haunted attractions,” said Chris Hough, an FSU theater major.
Its massive size allows for a variety of different sets and experiences, as well as certain rooms where guests are allowed to stop and witness the cast perform an elaborate illusion.
There is a mad-lab where a crazed scientist shows the crowd his newest creation, as well as a new, interactive feature for this year: the mad magician. Here, patrons can actually volunteer themselves to be “beheaded” before their group.
Terror of Tallahassee also incorporates a terrifying landmark that was specifically native to Tallahassee students and residents. A remake of the allegedly-haunted Sunland Mental Hospital, which was demolished in 2006, has been reconstructed with actual pieces from the building and creates one of the most eerie atmospheres of the house, even in broad daylight. The Sunland Hospital forms the outside feature — one of the three conjoined houses Terror of Tallahassee winds its tour through.
Besides avoiding long lines, there are other aspects that Terror of Tallahassee avoids fervently. They refrain from using any movie references in their sets because it is the cast’s goal not to portray a character people pay the same amount to see in a film. To them being generic is unacceptable; by not using film characters, the cast is left up to their own devices to creatively construct a truly unique experience.
“We don’t want you going, ‘Oh, I saw that prop at Walmart and almost bought it,’” said Hough.
Terror of Tallahassee doesn’t believe in expensive computer-generated monsters. Instead, they focus on the basics of creating a truly horrifying adventure.
“You don’t need a big budget to scare people — just good timing, knowing how to psych people out and knowing how to get them to scare themselves,” says White.
Some tips offered by the staff to optimize your haunting experience: Don’t touch anything. If you don’t desire to be touched or handled by a security guard, don’t meddle with any of the actors or the props. There are more general rules like no smoking or flashlights, but the staff argues this is by far the most important. Also, if you want to avoid the long lines and large crowds, going on a night other than Halloween may be in your best interest, since that is the most popular time for attendance.
Another request: Don’t come drunk. No one is paying to come to see a stumbling, slurring maniac — unless it’s a zombie.
This haunted house is definitely not for the faint of heart; the actors admit to trying their hardest to scare the patrons into bolting out of the house screaming before reaching its end; they also admit that they are usually very successful.
Each tour usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes, sometimes longer if visitors get lost inside the maze and sometimes shorter “depending on how fast they run,” jokes White.
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rev 10.25.09* rev. 10/10