Halloween New England recently took a trip down to south central Connecticut to visit The Only Scream in Town.
Rounding into its 3rd year as a haunted attraction in North Haven, The Only Scream in Town is situated on the property of The Only Game in Town—a Family Amusement Center.
The brainchild behind The Only Scream in Town’s haunted attractions is entrepreneur Bobby Arel. Arel's story begins as a familiar one—he started volunteering as an actor during his freshman year in high school and connected strongly with the unique and tightly-knit community of haunt actors, artists, and designers. After time spent learning the craft at CT’s now-closed Fright Haven and other various attractions, Arel began angling for a haunt to call his own. Partnering up with The Only Game in Town’s owner Olek Golinowksi in 2012, the two opened The Only Scream in Town.
When you meet Arel, it doesn’t take very long to glimpse his fierce entrepreneurial spirit. Throughout his teenage years he accumulated professional experience by forging various businesses—everything from founding a deejay company to teaming up with make-up artist Kyle Pasciutti for creating custom foam design through their business Decimated Designs. While some haunters are compelled to create from the inspiration they draw from horror films or rich graphic novels, Arel is simply a different kind of cat. It’s clear he is driven by a love of the business end of the spectrum, craves a challenge, and has a nose for opportunity.
Whereas some future pro haunters may be content to learn the business by cultivating their craft for years on the sidelines, Arel is not one to sit anywhere idle for long. He’s clearly ambitious and he’s got his fingers in many different pies. He operates other seasonal businesses —fireworks and Christmas—and it is impossible to miss how intentionally he is bridging his businesses from one season to the next. (For the record, he loves Halloween best.)
Arel is a ringleader of sorts—an owner, a manager, a planner, a coordinator, a delegator. He’s deeply and vocally committed to his vision and driven to express himself in a way he feels is uniquely authentic to him. Perhaps the most surprising thing to learn about Arel is that he is a full-time college student and is only 22 years old. Which leads me to wonder—is Bobby Arel emblematic of the next generation of haunters?
Is the next generation simply more strategic about the business side of haunting because they have to be? Is it the world that they’ve grown up in that compels them to learn on the fly, partly out of survival but also with a deep commitment to doing it their own way? Is there an urgency for younger haunters to make their mark?
To sum it up this way, when Arel attends a trade show, you won’t find him in the classes, you’ll find him vending. There’s nothing about Arel that says “old school haunter”. He’s unapologetic about his plans, his youth, and the variety of his professional interests.
He’s less concerned with what other designers or haunts are doing or industry trends. He’s determined to produce his show without outside influence, eschewing haunt seminars and the like. “We’re an actor-driven haunt,” explains Arel matter-of-factly.
All of this focus on individualism could leave you wondering what kind of haunted attractions Arel, Golinowski, and their team are delivering. The Only Scream in Town features five different attractions—The Infernal Abyss (an almost entirely dark haunt), The Big Top of Terror (a paneled labyrinth), and Redneck Rampage (an outdoor, roofless walled attraction set in the woods but not a conventional “trail”). Additional activities include the Gore Karts (horror-themed Go Karts) and Thriller Mini-Golf (bathed in black-light) which take advantage of the game-focused property which hosts The Only Scream in Town’s attractions.
With less emphasis on design, by default more attention and responsibility is placed on the actors’ shoulders--and The Only Scream’s high energy group delivers very effectively. Arel may characterize his haunts as “actor-driven” and the bottom line is the actors are the show. Whether through coaching or pure instincts I don’t recall ever seeing so many actors having as much fun as these ones are—as a customer you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Arel, and nearly seventy actors, work together to choreograph the scenes and develop original characters prior to the season. In the scenes, the actors communicate seamlessly, have strong characters, well-crafted stories, and are remarkably natural in the way their characters talk, move, stalk, and corner you. They have a solid sense of timing and they know when to forge an assault (at one point I hid my face against a wall to escape from the two chainsaw wielding hillbillies on either side of me).
Each of the three haunted attractions, for me, unfolded like a good movie with a slow build up, a middle, and ended in a big, bold way. Each haunt featured actors that worked so well together—coordinating their “attack”. When I reflect on the way the actors brought these attractions to life, the word I kept coming back to was choreography. The characters work their area like a kind of dance, adding to the overall show but never overdoing it or taking away from the next room. The Redneck Rampage has the most open space of the three haunts and there’s the risk that so much elbow room could work against them—sacrificing the customer’s claustrophobia and making scares less effective. Yet, this athletic, highly physical crew of actors fly across the expanse and even literally jump over you so no customer really ever has the chance to let his guard down.
The Infernal Abyss is so dark that there’s hardly anything to see at all but no room felt the same because of the way the actors use the darkness in their favor. The customer has no choice but to creep at a slow pace through the hallways because you can’t see enough to get away from whomever is stalking you. Though some haunters might balk at the simplicity of a totally dark haunt, the plain fact is that it is effective. Nobody can see in the dark and as long as the actors are good—and Arel’s have terrific timing in this space—it’s always thrilling. Every haunt season I overhear more and more customers who complain that haunts are too bright to be scary and haunters do have to find the balance between showing off every inch of their detail and design and remembering that the utilizing the darkness is also an important tool.
At the end of the night, after the adrenaline settled, it becomes crystal clear to me: The Only Scream in Town is a production—specifically, it is Arel's production. He’s crafting entertainment for the customer and relying on great actors to accomplish it; he's leaning less on design to deliver his goal. Frankly, as a customer at no point was I paying attention to the walls, the detail, the rooms, or the props. I was more consumed with not getting slaughtered by a redneck and trying escaping the clowns in the labyrinth. The Only Scream in Town is pure theatre and Arel is directing the show.
The Only Scream in Town opened September 26th and runs through Nov 1st, 2014. Visit their page on Halloween New England here for more info, dates, times, online ticketing, directions, features and more. The Only Scream in Town is located at 275 Valley Service Rd. North Haven, CT.