I don’t scare easily. When I was a child, horror movies were my favorite to watch. I would rent them year-round. As time has gone on, it takes more to scare me. I do not think I have ever been more scared than I was when I was a kid, discovering horror movies. Even though I was terrified—of my dolls coming alive to kill me, ghosts or demons hurting me, or snakes and enclosed spaces—I still wanted to experience that fright again and again.
Today, nothing lives up to that scare I experienced as a child, but that doesn’t stop me from chasing it. I had only ever been to a scare house once, in the small Adirondack town where I grew up, and it was mostly funny, not too elaborate, and similar to small scare houses across the country. I went with my friend, Petrina, my accomplice in watching rated-R scary movies as a kid, because her parents were more lenient than mine.
About two decades have passed, and here Petrina and I are together at the House of Horrors and Haunted Catacombs. It is about 50,000 square feet of space with five houses, one motion-simulated ride, two short escape rooms, and three immersive escape rooms. Needless to say, this giant building dwarfs our one small scare house.
Tim Bunch, owner and operator of House of Horrors and Haunted Catacombs, tells me that this is an ongoing project: “Year round we’re ripping stuff down. Rebuilding stuff. Even though we’re only open six weeks, we’re working on it year round.”
The first house we enter is “The Infected.” Unlike some of the other attractions, this house has a single storyline of a dystopia where a government-run research lab has spawned not only extraterrestrial creatures but infected humans. Our mission is to make it through without becoming infected.
During our walk through, we came into contact with zomb-ified humans trying to infect us, and people screaming out for help as the virus took over them. It reminded me of The Walking Dead meets 28 Days Later. After about 15 minutes, we made our way out and I was able to dislodge Petrina’s white-knuckled grip from my shoulders.
Of the five houses we explored, the unanimous favorite was “Hell House.” The premise is that murders and unusual rituals have plagued this house, and we are going in to explore, knowing the rumors and tales. The gradual progression of terrors makes this house very effective in scaring people. You begin in the dark, with pops of firecrackers, feeling your way around. As you travel through the elaborate sets, you see stranger and stranger things. Severed heads hung from the ceiling led us to even more horrific scenes.
Monsters, demons, zombies, and whatever else your brain can scare up jump at you in the middle of these houses. At times, we were less than a foot away from a costumed demon before we knew he was there, screaming in our face and threatening us. The twists and turns and occasional darkness force confusion, coupled with the actors’ convincing portrayals of dead and possessed people. There was a point in “The Killer Theater” when we were face to face with Freddy Krueger and could not figure out how to get away from him, until we realized we could escape into what could most adequately be described as a birth canal, leading to a swamp that provided the optical illusion of being chest deep in water. A nightmare.
I found the sets, makeup, and actors to be remarkably good. Bunch tells me that his inspiration comes from his love for horror movies, scare houses, and his work with heavy metal and punk bands Gwar and the Misfits. Gwar, known for elaborate stage productions where every day is Halloween, actually produces costumes for the House of Horrors and Haunted Catacombs.
Bunch admits it’s harder to scare people with every year that goes by, so he uses a variety of scare tactics to make sure everyone is covered. Being immersed in the experience is central to the ability to scare people.
“Our sets are above and beyond anything else out there,” says Bunch. “You go into the boiler room or the big church, I mean nobody has really immersive sets like that. We have a lot of stuff that nobody else has. We build everything ourselves and we have custom costuming.”
USA Today named House of Horrors and Haunted Catacombs last year as one of the top 10 scare houses in the country. Reader’s Digest, MSN, and others have named it as one of the best horror houses in the United States.
The company that runs House of Horrors, Immortal Entertainment, operates three immersive escape rooms throughout the year. “Escape the Serial Killer,” “Locked in a Room with a Zombie,” and “Escape the Pharaoh’s Tomb” are all located in the same building as the House of Horrors at 3637 Union Road in Cheektowaga. Additionally, the Blackout event on November 3 and 4 is an extremely popular way to end the Halloween season. For more information regarding hours and tickets, visit houseofhorrorsbuffalo.com.
The scare houses are only open through Halloween, and large crowds are common, so my advice is to go earlier than later. The scare will never be as good as it was when I was a kid, but there were moments when I screamed despite knowing that I was in a controlled environment. With a perfect blend of horrors, you are likely to find something that terrifies you at the House of Horrors and Haunted Catacombs.