Scaring and caring
Lee Pulaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Skeletons rotting in coffins. Snakes slithering in crawlways. A creepy dentist drilling on a victim.
These attractions do not even scratch the surface of what awaits visitors to the Panic Chambers Hotel in Gresham this October.
Shawano County’s scariest haunted house will unleash terrors and horrors every Friday and Saturday during the month, with additional nights on Oct. 24, Oct. 27 and Halloween night. Surprises await every corner, and the house is twice as big as the inaugural house in 2012.
In addition to scaring victims, however, the organizers of the Panic Chambers are also planning to help people in need. A canned food and household item drive will benefit Safe Haven Domestic Abuse Services in Shawano.
Last year, the Panic Chambers team expected to scare 500 people, but the victim toll came to about 2,000. Zach Boyea, one of the creative forces behind the house, is hoping to get those people to return and bring more with them, which means creating a different scary experience.
“Our main focus for the haunted house is to scare people. That’s it,” Boyea said. “It’s a simple thing. If you buy a ticket, we’re going to scare you, and we’re going to do everything we can to scare you.”
One thing the Panic Chambers takes pride in is its shock scares, said Lance Williams, another key player who crafts much of the scary makeup and costumes for the actors. The Hollywood-style makeup, along with those scares, create an experience where the crew tries to “scare the unscareable,” he said.
Boyea feels he and Williams make an ideal team because his focus is on fear, while Williams crafts the look. Boyea describes the experience as like being in a horror movie.
“Eliminate all the senses, put people in darkness and scare the crap out of them,” Boyea said. “It’s not about how cool things look; it’s about scaring you.”
Visitors will be climbing up and down stairs, crawling through narrow crawlspaces and weaving through narrow spaces through more than a dozen separate attractions that have the potential to terrify.
Williams feels people who experience a haunted house should feel an authentic scare. He went through the experience as a child, which is what motivates him to give future generations the same thrill.
“We’re trying every year to diversify and change it up,” Williams said.
Everyone, whether they enjoy horror films or not, can enjoy the experience, according to Boyea. While films provide a certain amount of safety because it’s on a screen, the Panic Chambers changes the game because visitors are integrated in the mayhem.
“Phobias are our fuel,” Boyea said. “We try to dissect and run on it.”
The location of Gresham seemed ideal, as most of the bigger haunted houses are in Green Bay and Appleton, Williams noted.
There were options for the Panic Chambers crew to go elsewhere, but Shawano County was an untapped resources, according to Williams, especially Gresham being a small village of 586 residents.
Craig Ronsman, lead actor for the group, said the village has been nothing but supportive. The Panic Chambers has a five-year lease on the Main Street building used for the haunted house.
“As long as the building is safe, and the fire codes are good, we have pretty much carte blanche on what we can do here,” Ronsman said.
While the Panic Chambers will be frightening most nights, there will be a children’s event on Halloween from 4-6:30 p.m. where children will get to trick-or-treat and experience the house, minus the monsters, for $2 or two canned food items.
The canned food drive is a high priority for the team, according to Williams. Most of the money made from last year’s Panic Chambers went into making this year’s house more terrifying, so the focus for this haunting season is to give back to the community that has supported the event.
“The more cans, the better,” Williams said. “We don’t even care if we make money this year. The can drive is huge.”
Stacy Cicero, Safe Haven executive director, said she was very excited when the Panic Chambers crew came to her and asked what could be done to help her clients.
“I think it’s great. Anytime you can bring awareness to the community and do something for a good cause, I think it’s a great idea,” Cicero said.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Panic Chambers Hotel
WHEN: 7 p.m. to midnight every Friday and Saturday in October; 7-11 p.m. Oct. 24, Oct. 27 and Oct. 31
WHERE: 1285 Main St., Gresham
ADMISSION: $12 per person. Canned food and other household items will be collected for the Safe Haven Domestic Abuse Shelter
FYI: More information can be found online at www.panicchambershotel.com