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Looking for a scare? Face your fears here

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Posted at 4:01 PM, Oct 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-12 16:01:37-04

When the nights get colder and leaves begin to turn red, yellow and orange in Cincinnati, it’s a sign fall is near – and so is Halloween.

Many Tri-Staters seek out attractions that have ghouls, goblins and things that go bump in the night to give them a fright in the name of fun. We’ve rounded up several places – a few favorites and some less so famous – determined to scare the socks off anyone who dares to pull into the parking lot.

Kings Island’s Halloween Haunt doesn’t stick to one theme or storyline. Whatever someone’s fear is, it’s featured somewhere on the grounds. And who among us isn’t afraid of clowns?

Dent Schoolhouse – Green Township, Ohio

As the lone West Side attraction featured, the well-known haunted schoolhouse comes with a story and a legend. The story is the theme the co-owner Bud Schloss and his staff operate on when creating and re-creating the attraction each year: children began disappearing from the schoolhouse in the 1940s and 1950s, with all signs pointing to janitor Charlie McFree. A strange smell led an angry mob to the children’s decaying corpses, but when parents searched for the janitor, he was nowhere to be found.

The legend that follows is that the school is haunted by the ghosts of the murdered children, and Charlie is looking for more victims. While the story likely is not true, Dent Schoolhouse makes a strong effort to blur the lines between fact and fiction, making the old and real schoolhouse (which was used as a school from 1894 to the 1950s) seem even creepier.

Those who brave it can expect something new each year, including the more than 150 hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns, at the same old-fashioned haunted schoolhouse that is known for attention to detail, Schloss said.

“This year, we’re trying to bring Halloween back to the haunt,” he said.

Returning visitors might find some of the characters familiar – Schloss said many of the 120 actors and crew members return each year, including the man who plays the star of the haunt, Charlie McFree. When he’s not available, however, Schloss will step into a jumpsuit himself to take up the cause.

“We’ve created a bar for ourselves, and each year we’re trying to figure out how we can make it bigger and badder,” he said.

If you go:
When: Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Sundays from 7:30 to 10 p.m., now through Nov. 7
Where: 5963 Harrison Ave.
How much (regular price): $20 per person
Special events: “Lights on” tours Oct. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m.; “Lights Out” tours on Nov. 5 and 6; the “Ecto 1” car from Ghostbusters on Oct. 3
More info: Find more information on tickets, prices for special events and more at www.frightsite.com or call 513-445-6797.

Mayhem Mansion – Morning View, Kentucky

For those who are looking for a rich, developed background story at their haunted attraction, take a ride down to Morning View in the Bluegrass State to visit Robert Haverford’s house and hometown of horrors at Mayhem Mansion.

A haunt with a charitable background that raised money for the Boone County Fraternal Order of Police’s Christmas “Shop with a Cop” event, Mayhem Mansion tells the story of 1930s businessman and distiller Haverford. Not unlike Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby or Cincinnati’s famed George Remus, Haverford used his fortune to throw giant parties for the town’s residents, in which he didn’t participate. When his beloved daughter is discovered dead at one in 1933, he maniacally murders everyone in attendance.

Both attractions – both the mansion and the town dubbed “Haverford’s Hollow” – aren’t for the squeamish or those with a defined personal space. Co-owner Chris Saunders said actors will definitely get up close and personal, whether they brush up against visitors or swipe at their ankles, or separate them entirely from their group. He added that it’s the lack of control that really scares people.

“(The actors) have their own dialogue they create, and you never see them break character,” he said. “They are really stepping back to 1933, and they have no control. … We really pride ourselves that we transform people from millennials into people from the 1920s and 1930s – they get lost and don’t know what to do.”

Saunders said repeat customers from year to year will not experience the same thing twice, and that even though the house and the town maintain the 1933 setting, the surprises around each corner will change. Characters, such as Haverford’s murderous butcher Lenius, return each year with new frightful friends, but the basis of the story stays the same, as well as the idea that visitors should be on the lookout from the second they pull into the parking lot.

“You never know where a scare is going to come from,” he said.

If you go:
When: Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to midnight, now through Nov. 7
Where: 13966 DeCoursey Pike
How much (regular price): $14 for Mayhem Mansion, $10 for Haverford’s Hollow
Special events: Mayhem Mansion Extreme Night on Nov. 7, Meat from WEBN on Oct. 11
More info: Find more information on tickets, prices for special events and more at www.themayhemmansion.com or 859-356-DEAD.

Fear Factory – Batesville, Indiana

Coffins are inherently creepy because of their association with the dead. A haunted house inside a Civil War-era building that was once a coffin-making company? The story writes itself.

Fear Factory in Batesville, Ind. was once the home of a coffin manufacturer, and then later housed a furniture factory. Its long tradition of building things didn’t end when the manufacturing stopped – instead, the product became terror. That terror was for a good cause, however, because the proceeds benefit Cierra’s Club, a nonprofit that provides drug-free entertainment for kids and is named in memory of a teen who died of a drug overdose in 2011.

Visitors can expect an experience that embraces the building’s manufacturing history that is made eerie when remembering its main export. Those who dare wander around through a maze and a hazardous waste zone inside the 30,000-square-foot building must stay vigilant for nefarious characters roaming the floors, said Mary Ellen Rippe, co-owner of Fear Factory.

Anyone who has attended in past years can revisit the attraction for a unique experience, because much of the factory is changed up each year, Rippe said. The coffins, however, are a constant.

“Our motto is that everyone sits in a coffin, whether they want to or not,” she said.

If you go:
When: Fridays and Saturdays from 7 to 10 p.m. now through Oct. 10, and Oct. 23 through 31.
Where: 7 S. Eastern Ave.
How much (regular price): $10 per person
Special events: Family Fun Day on Oct. 18, junior high dance on Oct. 23
More info: Find more information on tickets, prices for special events and more at www.fearfactorybatesville.com.

USS Nightmare – Newport, Kentucky

The only attraction featured on water, the USS Nightmare has a story that is largely true with creepy embellishments. The legend goes that the old river dredger, the William S. Mitchell, was run by a strange captain of the same name. Known for his oddities, crewmembers said Mitchell the man saved bones and weird items that Mitchell the boat dredged up from the riverbed. He ran a tight ship with maniacal tendencies, such as inviting clowns onto the boat to entertain his beloved daughter, Anna.

One day, the Mitchell broke free of its moorings, slamming into four bridges before coming to a stop. In total, the Mitchell claimed 112 crew lives over its lifetime and revealed the sinister dealings of the captain, who was also killed. Anna’s body was never found.

As crazy as that sounds, some of it is fact, said Allen Rizzo, general manager of the USS Nightmare and a Coast Guard-licensed captain. The boat worked as a dredge, and the captain was known for being somewhat strange. The Mitchell did also break away from its moorings and hit four bridges as it floated downriver – however, those dozens of deaths are happily fiction.

Many of the scenes play off common fears, such as claustrophobic spaces – and clowns. The attraction opened in 1993 and, while exaggerated, testifies somewhat to the hard, grueling work and life crew members endured. Each year, they change it up and expand the story while still keeping with the original theme.

“We try to keep true to the theme and tell a portion of the actual history,” Rizzo said. “We change up from year to year because we want to give fresh experience, but it will always be built on a real steamboat, and we will be challenged to present the storyline with different chapters.”

Keep an eye out for Rizzo – the captain can be seen roaming the decks in the fog.

If you go:
When: Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. now until Oct. 31.
Where: 101 Riverboat Row
How much (regular price): $17 on Wednesdays, $20 Thursday through Sunday
Special events: Lights-on matinee on Oct. 18, Captain’s Extreme Tour on Oct. 23, 24, 30 and 31.
More info: Find more information on tickets, prices for special events and more at www.ussnightmare.com or 859-740-2293.

Wilmington Haunted Hollow Ride – Wilmington, Ohio

For those looking for a haunt that will provide a whole evening of scary fun, Clinton County’s Wilmington Haunted Hollow Ride will do the trick. It began a few decades ago on a working farm with livestock, a small trail and some buses. Soon, the trail expanded, and the Slaughter Hotel and Nightmare Penitentiary were added.

It’s a challenge to create a detailed backstory for an attraction, especially one that keeps evolving. But those behind the Haunted Hollow Ride have kept the theme alive, said co-owner Sandy Sharpe. It revolves around Samuel Slaughter, who was a rich and eccentric world traveler, but only wanted a bride out of life. Unfortunately, his face was slashed when his pregnant mother was murdered, leaving him disfigured. Each attraction adds more to the story of Slaughter and his unlucky search for love and the insane people that surrounded him.

This year, the Haunted Hollow Ride has added a fourth attraction called Terror in the Corn – a corn maze where characters hide out in the stalks, waiting to scare and trap – but not touch – unsuspecting walkers. Sharpe said that preparation for the enormous attraction begins in February to change it up each year so it’s new to everyone.

“It’s all completely worth it when you see the look on the customer’s face,” she said.

If you go:
When: Fridays and Saturdays from dusk until midnight, now until Oct. 31.
Where: 1261 W. Dalton Road
How much (regular price): $10-$15 depending on the attraction
Special events: Extreme blackout night, Oct. 18
More info: Find more information on tickets, prices for special events and more at www.wilmingtonhauntedhollowride.com or 937-382-6147.

Benton Family Haunted Farm House – Walton, Kentucky

For a scare involving real ghosts, the Benton Family Haunted Farm House is worth a look. The two-story farmhouse has been in the family since it was built in 1901. During the year it’s host to several activities, but when fall comes, the house is opened up at night to people looking for a true scare.

Director Mary Marcum grew up in the house and never experienced anything strange. She said the weird activity began when the family began tearing out walls to remodel it, and strange things have happened since. The family hasn’t let it go, either – paranormal groups have visited the house, documenting the activity.

If that’s not scary enough, Marcum and the staff go to great lengths each year to make it a haunt to try and scare even the most skeptical and unshakable. Visitors find their way through 10 rooms completely unguided, while 20 to 25 characters (and who knows who else) lurk in the shadows.

This year, a paranormal hunting group and a medium will be on the property, showing equipment and giving readings. Marcum thinks the scariest part, aside from the eeriness of the house itself, are the younger actors dressed as ghostly children.

“There’s nothing scarier to me than a little girl in a white dress with her face whited out and blacked-out eyes saying ‘Help me!’” Marcum said.

If you go:
When: Fridays and Saturdays from 7 to 11 p.m., now until Oct. 31.
Where: 11896 Old Lexington Pike
How much (regular price): $10 per person (not recommended for kids younger than 12 years of age.)
Special events: Paranormal groups and a medium on site.
More info: Find more information on tickets, prices for special events and more at www.bentonfarm.com/haunted-farm-house or 859-485-7000.

Halloween Haunt – Mason, Ohio

When talking about Halloween attractions in the Cincinnati area, Halloween Haunt at Kings Island can’t be left out. At night, the park descends into darkness and more than 600 monsters begin roaming the grounds. Those who visit the park during Haunt nights are fair game for all of them, said Don Helbig, public relations area manager for Kings Island.

Halloween Haunt doesn’t stick to one theme or storyline – whatever someone’s fear is, it’s featured somewhere on the grounds. The attraction began as Fear Fest in 2001, which was more about shock, blood and terror, but evolved into an exploitation of fears, Helbig said.

The full experience averages seven hours and includes 11 mazes to wander through, so customers can pick and choose their preferred activities. Kings Island’s rides are also open. Back by popular demand is the Hot Blood show, which has developed a following Helbig likened to the cult-like fandom of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The mature audiences-only show features recognizable songs by rock n’ roll favorites, such as Journey and AC/DC.

An attraction as large as Halloween Haunt is still able to evolve, however, and it changes every year. The overall atmosphere and broad spectrum of fears included makes the experience much more individual.

“Once you’re in the park, you’re in it,” Helbig said. “… You never know when you’ll encounter a monster.”

If you go:
When: Fridays and Saturdays, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. from now until Oct. 31.
Where: 6300 Kings Island Drive
How much (regular price): $29.99 per person
Special events: New blackout maze, open each night
More info: Find more information on tickets, prices for special events and more at www.visitkingsisland.com/haunt or 513-754-5700.