As spooky season comes to an end, Awaken Haunted Attraction continues to prepare for next year’s season as well as special sets for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
While the haunted house, located about 30 minutes south of East Lansing, operates primarily from the end of September up until Halloween, the attraction’s team works throughout the year, hoping to create the perfect scary experience for their guests.
Co-owner Brian McVay always had an interest in special effects. He used to work for a haunted house, starting in marketing and eventually moving into makeup and prop design.
He caught “the bug" and wanted to continue working in the haunted house industry after his employer closed.
"I’ve always been real interested in special effects," McVay said. "That was one of the things I always wanted to go to school for or be involved in like movie prop design."
McVay was busy running his own graphic design company outside of his haunted house job. A client of his, after hearing about his employer's closing, suggested they could open their own attraction together.
That conversation occurred seven years ago and turned into what is now Awaken.
"It’s kind of one of those things that it wasn’t anything I was looking for. It kinda just fell into my lap," McVay said.
The walk-through style establishment has four different attractions. This year, the spotlight is on a rendition of Area 51, which showcases a run-down military lab where “aliens” are tested.
Before the aliens made their debut this year, the main attraction was a hotel scene with a spooky bowler room and elevator sequence.
Aside from its centerpiece, Awaken has a full, classic haunted house as well as an entire town to walk through. You’ll experience scares in a cemetery, boat house, voodoo house and a maze where you put on 3D glasses and have real clowns pop out at you.
McVay said keeping things fresh year-to-year is crucial. The haunted house attraction, for example, may be similar structurally every season but has a rotating cast of features within.
“The house scene we’ve had since we’ve opened, but we change it so much and the type of characters and what the situations are in there,” McVay said. “We’ve either added something or changed something up so much that no one will recognize it.”
These changes are a team effort, Andy McCrory, one of Awaken's head actors, said.
Having been at the company from the beginning, McCrory has played multiple roles – his favorite being a zombie.
Ironically, he never planned on being one. He originally built sets and monsters for Awaken, but switched to acting at the behest of McVay.
“The first year he had said, ‘Hey man, I need a zombie. You wanna be a zombie?’," McCrory said.
In order to get ready for each night, McCrory gets to the building at 3 p.m. and begins to prepare makeup and costumes. The haunt’s makeup artist, Candy McFarlin, sits McCrory down and spends about 45 minutes turning him into one of a variety of monsters.
McFarlin and McVay “bring the characters to life,” McCrory said, “Brian is an exceptional makeup artist. We’re talking Walking Dead style-makeup … They’re not messing around."
McFarlin, a professional cosplayer who has helped to mimic characters such as Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Fiona from Shrek, said she uses a variety of techniques and tools to transform actors.
Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.
“You can use anything from using appliances like prosthetics to build out cheekbones and so that eyes kind of sink in more, or do tears in the skin and things like that," McFarlin said.
It's only after having makeup applied and costumes put on that McCrory feels he is prepped and in-character.
“Until you actually look at yourself in the mirror and have the costume and everything all put together, it’s like that transition doesn’t actually happen until you step up from the chair,” McCrory said.
Awaken Haunted Attraction usually runs from 7 p.m. to midnight, but sometimes until 2 a.m. The actors get no breaks throughout the night unless there is a break in the crowd, which is unlikely.
McCrory said the schedule is tough, to say the least.
“Oh, good Lord, it’s exhausting,” McCrory said.
Awaken Haunted Attraction is located at 4760 Churchill Road in Leslie, MI. Tickets can be purchased online or at the on-site box office. Doors open at 7 p.m. every night.
Upcoming special events include attractions for the Christmas season and Valentine’s Day.
Share and discuss “Awaken Haunted Attraction staff share experiences working in a haunted house” on social media.