Behind The Scenes: Fright Trail
“It’s all true, the boogeyman is real and you’ve found him.”
“I open the doors to Hell. Welcome to my nightmare.” Melissa Torres works at the front gate of Acadiana’s original haunted trail attraction.
As trick-or treating increasingly turns into a tightly controlled event and noise ordinances often shut down Halloween parties, people search for other options during the scariest month of the year.
Enter The Fright Trail.
For the past two years, Torres has welcomed teens and adults, encouraging them to strap on their big boy/girl shoes, and take a walk through 20 acres of spooky terrain.
The trail is the brainchild of Debra Leblanc. Three years ago, Leblanc, President and Founder of Literacy, Inc., searched for ways to purchase e-readers for high school students.
“E-readers would allow the student to pick a genre they might be interested in,” said LeBlanc.
She turned to partner, Rich Hanf, a veteran in the haunted attraction industry. The two drove past a long abandoned property, nestled in Scott, La off of Cameron Street and suddenly the idea to combine funds for e-readers with horror came alive
Leblanc said, “We just kind of looked at each other and went…Fright Trail!”
After acquiring the property, Hanf set out to hand-create the trail.
“I grabbed a chainsaw and went in and nobody saw me for 6 months. I came out with a really long beard and a trail,” he said.
Since 2012, dozens of volunteers and scare actors have helped to create each “scare scene.” Almost 90 percent of buildings and props are hand-crafted.
“We’ve been tearing down buildings to get the 50 year-old wood to get the rustic look, that Louisiana bayou rustic look,” said Hanf.
Many abandoned buildings are donated to the trail; one company even blessed the attraction with pound upon pound of mulch to help prevent muddy and slippery conditions when customers run in fear.
Although the non-profit organization has grown in popularity, Leblanc said they haven’t been able to reach their goal of purchasing e-readers, which can cost approximately 70 dollars per unit.
“The first year, we were lucky we opened at all. It was just the first year. We lost our rear-ends the second year.”
In 2013, musical guests played in a festival like atmosphere, but the haunted attraction had their beer and liquor license pulled at the last minute. Fans hoping to enjoy beer and food during the live performances were disappointed, sometimes leaving without even walking the trail but the artists still needed to be paid. The Fright Trail bled monetarily.
With a little bad luck the first two rounds, 2014 could be the final chance for Fright Trail. Leblanc appropriately said, “This year, it’s do or die.”
Make Me Over
Over 60 actors will walk into the Fright Trail make-up booth and walk out as zombies, clowns, and other frightening characters.
Calli Malorin, the head MUA and Costume Designer, has been with the attraction since its early days.
“I’ve always been a huge horror movie fan, and I always knew I wanted to do something in the industry, whether it was the haunt industry or film. What I see in a movie, I get to make these people look like them.”
Malorin, Torres and some actors make a majority of the masks and prosthetics. Cuts and gashes are molded a few weeks prior to the opening day scare.
“For each scare we came up with a palette of colors. You would just go off of that and branch off for each character,” Malorin said.
Every Friday and Saturday in October, each character will have 15-20 minutes to transform, before it’s time to shriek, chase and send chills through customers. Air-brushing helps save time and money. Film and stage make-up brands like Ben Nye and Monster Makers can prove costly for a non-profit production.
Leblanc and Hanf said sponsors help provide drink and food to the volunteer staff. Cox Communications and Evangeline Downs are two main sponsors the “Boo Krewe” give thanks for their heavy support.
Is it over, yet?
As Halloween approaches, excitement sizzles through the air. Torres said her favorite part of the entire process, “making people cry.”
Volunteers and staff spend months preparing for opening night. The “dysfunctional family” depends on organization to help counter-act the chaos of what Hanf described as a “living, breathing thing.”
Each element of the production comes with its unique set of problems. Customers can lose items in the trail, attraction lights burn out, the ATM machines goes ka-put, a customer is too frightened to leave the trail, another gets sick or injured. Even actors run into issues when a customer jumps, accidentally hitting them or another irate customer threatens the professionals.
Police help to manage the extreme customer issues, as actors are trained to “never break character.”
With so many different problems, Hanf jokingly said his favorite part of the trail days…is when it’s all over. Realistically, when Hanf and Leblanc turn off the fright lights, they must start the process over again for the next year. The next 11 months are spent thinking of bigger, badder and scarier scenes, while recruiting more volunteers and sponsors.
Leblanc, is also a para-normal investigator and author. Hanf, tours the country and regularly attends The Legendary Haunt Tour and the National Halloween Trade Show.
FRIGHT TRAIL DETAILS
Opening night- October 3rd
Run Dates- Every Friday and Saturday night in October, with a special run on Thursday, October 30th
Fright Trail Box Office, 5401 Cameron Street, opens from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm.
Show closes when last person is safely through the Trail.
Dress Options- No open-toed shoes, high heels or flip flops. Please wear old shoes or boots, especially after a rain.
Alcohol and Tobacco Products are NOT permitted on the trail.
For more information and ticket prices- visit www.frighttrail.com