Marcus Poulin, Indy Scream Park's creative director and manager, and Mark Bremer, attraction manager, cut their teeth as masters of terror working on movie sets in Los Angeles. So you could say that they're used to lots of screaming and unhinged personalities. But what drew two Hollywood set designers away from The Hills?
"The scale," said Bremer, without hesitation. Indy Scream Park is, indeed, immense, housing five separate (and sizable) attractions, three indoor and two outdoors, plus a "Monster Midway" with carnival games and concessions. For the last year, the guys have been planning Indy Scream Park's newest attraction, The Brickmore Asylum, down to the last severed head.
"We did the survey and the highest percentage was the insane asylum," said Poulin. "He drew one haunted house and I drew two. Then we put them all together and thought, that's gonna cost a lot of money." So they took what they liked from all their ideas, and mashed them up until they had a solid design and concept that they liked and was feasible on their budget.
Brickmore Asylum's faux crumbling facade looms over the waiting crowds below, appearing three stories tall. They took full advantage of that monumentality when designing the rooms, which vary in ceiling height from a claustrophobic eight feet to twenty feet in other areas. It's just one of the thousands of tiny details designed to scare the living daylights out of you.
"We did scents for numerous rooms, and [Bremer] came up with amazing sound in each room. Through our eight different zones you'll hear a similar soundtrack...One room has flies and it'll sound like flies are buzzing by your ears. Another room has pipes and toilets making noises," said Poulin. "Everything you see was designed and made by me with help from someone else."
But unlike most of us, Poulin and Bremer don't have someone they can call to fix their malfunctioning fire-shooters or make the streams of blood squirt out just so. According to their job descriptions, Poulin manages the attractions and Bremer is in charge of the actors in all five haunts. But as anyone working for a small organization knows, there's never enough of anything.
"You feel like there's so much time in the day, and him being in charge of all the actors and me being in charge of everything, you get pulled everywhere," Poulin said. "So we have to stay up till two in the morning doing stuff, you know from ten at night to ten in the morning to actually get stuff done."
They spend hours tweaking things like the swing of certain doors or a "scare panel" that isn't sliding up and down properly. They have to walk a careful line between making sure everyone stays safe — pertaining to fire codes, installing uneven surface markings and exits every 50 feet — while inducing a genuine sense of danger.
Whatever Poulin couldn't make was donated or purchased with authenticity in mind, from to the vintage Quaker Oats cans in the kitchen, to the antique iron locks, to the real, used morgue table.
"This is a real [embalming] table, weighs about six hundred pounds maybe," said Poulin in the operating theater, pointing to the hulking, two-piece table with a shallow porcelain pan in which the "body" lays. The room also features real specimen jars, tools and an embalming machine. "The bottom took four people just to move. It's actually so heavy that it's slowly sinking into the ground."
But realistic-looking gore doesn't come cheap, not even in bulk. "This blood is something we get from Fright Ideas, [for] ninety-seven dollars a gallon," said Poulin, pointing at the vinyl shine of the puddles of blood all around the kitchen, which was strewn with truly horrifying, real-looking dismembered body parts. "And if you feel it, it feels slick," he said, smiling like a proud parent.
The realistic scenery is ultimately what gets under your skin; those sheet-covered bodies lying around are just as creepy when they don't move. Even without anyone jumping out at you or the lifelike quivering dummies hanging by nooses turned off, the flickering lights in the beige-and-blue hallways lull your disbelief into suspension. The whispering echoes of voices that follow you the whole way make you wonder if they're coming from inside or outside of your head. Then you enter Brickmore's straight-from-the-movies padded cell, and you hear something even more disturbing: nothing.
What's more, some of the most frightening actors are the ones dressed in regular(ish) clothes, who stare at you with disquieting, unblinking gazes, standing just a little too close for comfort. It's the rooms where you see the actor first that start to make your skin crawl. Bremer wants the park's actors to engage with the audience not just as blood-soaked psychos giving chase, but as characters in an intricate and distorted narrative.
But none of that could measure up to the most amazing part of the attraction: the Tesla coil, complete with a dummy "patient" in a wheelchair next to the machine. It's hard to describe being present when that much current slices through the air in glowing purple. Inside the rest of the attraction, the hair only stands up on the back of your neck. Next to a Tesla coil, the charge makes the hair stand up all over your body.
Poulin and Bremer had been keeping the coil a secret all summer. Because it puts out so much electrical charge, they had to do their homework on the machine, creating a way to ground the coil so that they could have the visual effect of the charge arcing around the room.
"The small [inner] cage is called the Faraday cage," Poulin said. "Actually what it does is stops the electricity from coming through, and it's grounded by that rod right there. The wire goes all the way around, and there's another grounding rod behind it. If you bought that online or from somebody you'd probably have about twenty-five to thirty thousand dollars."
Poulin and Bremer have taken every precaution — and because they'd like to keep building sets, rest assured that you'll be safe (unless you stick a solid copper rod through the bars, which the guys politely ask you not to do).
Poulin and Bremer beamed when I emerged from the house with a look of wide-eyed bewilderment. They'd once more fulfilled their vision of total system overload for Scream Park ticket holders. After you've snaked through hellish scene after hellish scene, the Tesla feature shorts out your brain for a second, and exiting feels like waking up from an all-too-real nightmare.