KITTERY — Steve Workman stood in the woods in the dark Sunday night, explaining the finer points of being a zombie to 20 youngsters from a New Hampshire church group.
It was opening night at “Night Terrors Haunted Woods Walk,” a volunteer-driven Halloween event created and run by Workman.
For Workman, a 41-year-old organizational consultant and Halloween buff, the moment was the culmination of a life-long passion for scaring people in creative ways.
As a youngster, he made haunted houses in his basement to scare his brother, and in his front yard to scare neighborhood kids. As a young man, he organized a haunted attraction at a public swimming pool in Portsmouth, N.H., and did Halloween events with local recreation departments before launching “Night Terrors” 10 years ago at his home on Bridge Street, with lots of volunteer help.
He filled his yard with costumed spooks and hand-built props, and asked for donations to cover the thousands of dollars he spent. He finally decided last year that the thing had gotten too big, attracting hundreds of people and cars each night. This year, Workman accepted an offer from Charlie Williams, owner of a zip line and aerial adventure park in Kittery called Take Flight, to hold “Night Terrors” there.
Now, with revenue from a $12 admission charge, plenty of parking and plenty of deep, dark woods for his spooky sites, Workman can continue what has become an annual tradition in Kittery.
And he can do it at a higher, scarier level.
“I remember being in fourth grade and seeing my uncle put a plastic skeleton and a witch on his porch and waiting to scare people. I thought that was the coolest thing,” said Workman. “To me, it’s about the creativity. About getting all these people together and creating something that’s fun and scary. We don’t have money for animatronics; we rely one hundred percent on people power. Which is pretty effective for scaring.”
So far, Workman’s bigger and better haunted walk has gone over well. More than 300 people showed up for a “sneak peak” session Sunday night, and more are expected for the event’s remaining seven dates, through Nov. 1.
ALL-VOLUNTEER HAUNT SQUAD
Workman’s knack for making spooky spectacles out of plywood and make-up seems to draw people to him. Some of the volunteers assisting Workman on Sunday have been helping him make Halloween nightmares a reality for years.
Lorelei Gilman, who met Workman at the pool in Portsmouth, takes a vacation from her job in Frederick, Md., every year to work at “Night Terrors.” On Sunday, she was the gatekeeper, sending people into the woods.
“I love the fact that Steve has the vision to take an empty field and woods and come up with something really fun for everyone,” said Gilman. “I love Halloween, and I love volunteer efforts that really come together. That’s why I’m here.”
Unlike many haunted attractions around Maine at this time of year, Workman’s “Night Terrors” is staffed wholly by volunteers, 40 to 50 people who do all the scaring. No electronically operated spook machines, no animatronic gadgets, just folks dressed in shredded clothes and drenched in white face paint and fake blood.
Workman entices community groups to work as haunters by letting them sell refreshments to the scared crowds to raise money.
ROVING MONSTERS, SCARY MAZE
The volunteer workforce spent about three weeks building this year’s “Night Terrors.” Just minutes before it opened Sunday, volunteers were climbing trees to secure lights, and Workman was giving lessons on zombie behavior and other scaring tactics.
“Zombies don’t ever say ‘boo,’ ” said Workman, talking to the youngsters from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth. “Don’t run at people. If you just follow them around, that’s enough. That will freak them out.”
This year’s version of “Night Terrors” is a 20-minute walk that leads visitors past a giant bonfire, through stretches of dark, quiet woods, under eerie lights and past assorted zombies.
On Sunday, people riding the adjacent “Zombie Zip Lines” at Williams’ business screamed in delight. People walking through “Night Terrors” faced hillbillies brandishing chain saws and bad teeth, and roving swamp monsters.
The attraction includes some impressive structures, like a 40-foot enclosed maze attached to a graveyard, and a giant “clown prison” populated by shrieking, hysterical clowns. Playing the clowns Sunday were members of Dorks in Dungeons, a local improvisational comedy troupe.
“Take me with you, take me with you!” shrieked one female clown, nearly grabbing onto the pant legs of passers-by as she crawled on the ground.
During the night, Workman manned the maze by the graveyard, an enclosed and mostly pitch-black place where visitors had to feel their way through it. Sometimes, they’d feel something slimy or rubbery, or a hard dead end. Other times, they’d see the glowing white facemask of Workman, floating in the darkness, and hear his eerie voice warning them to go back.
“I think it sort of adds to it to know those are real people. Seeing those zombies coming at you was sort of freaky,” said Heather Walsh, 25, of Rochester, N.H., after experiencing “Night Terrors” on Sunday. “And that clown prison was pretty intense.”
FOCUS ON HELPING THE COMMUNITY
Walsh said she has gone to seven or eight haunted attractions over the last couple years and felt like “Night Terrors,” with its all-volunteer staff, was “great for the money.”
Workman, who works as a consultant to nonprofit groups and community organizations, has spent more than $8,000 to build this year’s “Night Terrors.” He’s charging an admission fee this year for the first time, but has to split revenue with Williams. So it remains to be seen whether he’ll break even. If he makes money, Workman said, he’ll use it for next year’s haunted walk.
Workman’s goal is to keep making “Night Terrors” bigger every year, and maybe even hire a staff some day, while keeping it a community event to help local groups. The St. John’s youth group made about $150 selling food on Sunday night.
One of the community groups that’s benefiting from “Night Terrors” this year is the Kittery recreation department. The proceeds from a special scare-free walk for kids on Saturday afternoon will benefit the department’s two-year-old community center. Workman is on the community center’s board of directors.
“I’ve known Steve since he was 16, so none of this surprises me – his leadership, his ability to get things done,” said Janice Grady, director of the Kittery recreation department. “He’s such a community guy, it makes people want to come out and help him. He’s totally committed to whatever he does and he works to the last minute. If it was anyone else, I’d worry he wouldn’t get it done in time. But he always does.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: