October 23, 2010 in Washington Voices

After dark, Silverwood’s a different park

Jacob Livingston jackliverloole@yahoo.com
 
Kathy Plonka photo

“I love scaring people,” said B’Shawn Reed of Payette, Idaho, before the Oct. 13 opening of Scarywood Haunted Nights at Silverwood Theme Park near Athol, Idaho.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

Tickets for Scarywood Haunted Nights are $24.99. The park opens on Wednesday night and runs through next Saturday with weekday hours from 6 to 10 p.m. and open till midnight on weekends. Admission includes all attractions and rides. Visit Scarywoodhaunt.com for more information and discount offers.

Forget what you know about Silverwood Theme Park.

As the Scarywood Haunted Nights moves in for one last fright-filled week, the park’s family fun reputation makes way for thrill-seekers scared stiff.

And scare you they will – that much is assured. In an amusement park overrun by all manner of nightmarish creations, there is no safe place to hide.

The undead shamble across the sprawling complex. Creatures hide in the shadows. Even the scarecrows aren’t to be trusted – everyone and everything in the park is focused on one goal: to scare the living daylights out of every person that crosses their path.

“It’s definitely PG-13 – not for children under 12,” said Nancy DiGiammarco, director of marketing and sales at Silverwood, located on Highway 95 near Athol. “Within the park itself, there are scares everywhere. There are roving actors and also some of the large puppets. So there’s a lot of fog and a scare around every corner.”

Now in its second year at the theme park, Scarywood has drawn thousands of visitors since opening in early October. On weekdays, the park is crawling with some 2,000 guests; on weekends, the number triples as students, couples and horror gluttons invade the ghostly grounds. A cast of 149 actors and supporting staff were hired this year, compared to 112 last October, to fill the park with a variety of dreadful characters.

The park itself has been transformed from its summertime identity. Gore Galore, a Southern Indiana-based consultant, was brought in during the summer to begin a $1 million overhaul throughout the park, in particular converting the old museum into the Blood Bayou attraction.

“Pretty much the entire park is themed,” DiGiammarco said. “Last year when we did this, we took a very small budget and kind of test-marketed it in the area to see if people would in fact enjoy this type of attraction, and we found that it was extremely well received.”

The Blood Bayou takes groups on a walkthrough of a murder scene. Like something out of a Jim Henson nightmare, giant puppets that resemble evil tree creatures, undead animals and other monstrosities strike from the shadows. At the heart of the attraction, a twisted Southern-style mansion marks the scene of many horrible events. To help shroud the visitor in the fantasy, fans waft different scents into each area, including that of a forest and burning flesh.

“Everything is supposed to be an assault on the senses, on all the different levels of the senses,” said Kevin Alvey, owner of Gore Galore. “It’s all about encompassing you in this other little fantasy world, and that’s really what it is, trying to bring you in and make you believe it. If we can make you believe it, we can entertain you because you leave all those questions behind. It’s a whole lot easier to scare people when they believe it’s real. The basic philosophy is that they question what is and what isn’t real, make people question reality. That’s really what’s fun for us.”

Other attractions in the park include the horror-filled Terror Canyon Trail, which takes place on the drained bed of the Thunder Canyon white-water rapids ride. Creepy clowns roam the former games area of Silverwood, the steam engine has been retrofitted with armor into the Zombiewood Express for an action-packed zombie hunt though the nearby woods, and the Timber Terror Roller Coaster travels backward.

In addition to those rides, four more will open to the public Friday: Panic Plunge, Skydiver, Trabant and Round Up.

In the shift to Scarywood, the theme park becomes almost a parallel version of Silverwood, DiGiammarco explained.

“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s the total opposite. Our audience when Silverwood is open is females 18 to 52 – that is our demographic. In other words, that’s who we market to because mom is making that decision about bringing the family out here. That totally changes with this event. This becomes a 13- to 38-year-old male demographic.”

Throughout the park, the scares will make the most seasoned horror fans jumpy, Gore Galore’s Alvey added. And the jolts are plentiful.

In the grip of fright, boyfriends have been known to abandon girlfriends; wives have shielded themselves with their husbands. The terror will test relationships as much as nerves, he said.

“There is a lot of screaming, a whole lot of screaming,” Alvey said. “It’s a good crowd, and we pack the house, and we’re going to continue to pack the house.”

For those looking to go deeper in the fiction, Scarywood features a plot centering on a local girl murdered in the park.

“There is an entire plot line,” he said. “A lot of people don’t get it, and it’s OK that they don’t get it. But those that do get it will kind of fall in love with the story and we’ll drag them in, and they can come back year after year and see how things change and evolve.”

Given Scarywood’s success, it will return each October for the foreseeable future, DiGiammarco said.

“It’s been a phenomenal success.” she said.

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