Reign of Terror!

The biggest and baddest set of haunted houses, Fright Nights, has returned to South Florida just in time for Halloween, and this year’s incarnation is chock full of enough freely flowing innards and pant-wetting scares to keep you shivering under the covers until next October. Back are the classic haunts: “the Smiths,” a psychotic family of Dahmer-like clowns who use the town of Middlebury as a playground, and “Country Bill’s Meat Market,” a tour of the aforementioned meat packing impresario’s base of operations. But scare-shack fans will be pleased to know that three new houses are also being introduced. “The Scourge” pits visitors against a virulent plague that turns its victims into cannibals; “Dead End” puts you in the path of a deranged serial killer; and “Rats” is a giant labyrinth from the perspective of a lab animal.

One of Fright Nights’ creators, Craig McIness, was on hand before opening weekend, and New Times asked him what makes a really good house: “The details are really important. In ‘Country Bill’s’ you’re in an alleyway and there’re tires, an old porch, a meat case that’s filled with different goods… we try to take it as close to reality as we can,” McIness says. “Likewise, if we’re doing something that’s more nightmare-ish, we really try to crank the screws.” To this end, McIness and his creative companions, Jeremy Schroader and Brad Cain, put a lot of artistic touches into the houses, crafting sights, sounds, and even smells designed to mess with your senses. “We’re all visual artists, so we lean towards making them look as phenomenal as we want to look. If we make it look great, we can put an actor in there and really give them the tools to pull off a good scare.”

In addition to the houses, Fright Nights will have a midway carnival, packed with rides, good eats, an amazing freakshow by the Brothers Grim, and horror film screenings courtesy of Regal Cinemas. It all goes down every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through the end of October (plus October 31) at the South Florida Fairgrounds (9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach). Tickets cost $25 for unlimited access to the midway rides and haunted houses, $15 for one visit to each house (order online to save $5). Call 561-793-0333 or visit
Thursdays-Saturdays; Wed., Oct. 31. Starts: Oct. 12. Continues through Oct. 27, 2007

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John Linn