Acres of Terror: Scaring the Midwest for a decade
LEONARD, N.D. -- Wearing Frankenstein, werewolf and creepy clown masks, they hide throughout the corn maze, abandoned trailer and an old school house, waiting to prey on the innocent who brave the haunt.
Some are armed with chainsaws -- others with shovels and Tasers. And some just lurk above silently, making their presence known with menacing looks. At Acres of Terror, even in the silence, the visitors are never alone.
The haunted attraction, which opened in 2003 in Leonard, N.D., is self-proclaimed the scariest in the Midwest, and the blood-curdling screams heard throughout are a testament to the scare level.
The haunt starts at dusk every Friday and Saturday through October, when brave souls sign their lives away in the form of a liability waiver and venture into the darkness.
"The first part is always the scariest -- the chainsaws," one young visitor warned his friends on a recent Friday night.
The haunting is broken into several parts. "You start going through some corn, then the trailer house, then the school and then the corn maze," said Patrick Melville, also known as ZiggyD Wolf, one of the more prominent characters at Acres of Terror.
In the corn, visitors trip and stumble over the uneven ground as they run to escape one chainsaw after another, after another. When they finally escape, they are greeted with more spooky thrills inside an old trailer house. Blinded by strobe lights, they feel their way through small paths filled with creepy dolls, bloody dummies and haunting photographs.
Outside the trailer, a masked bus driver waits to take them on a dangerous, bumpy ride to the school, where even more thrills await them.
Roxie Gulley, who has worked at Acres of Terror for 10 years, greets the guests and states the rules: No lights of any sort, no cameras and no cellphones, she warns.
"The school is the scariest," she said, before letting the guests through.
In the pitch black, guests must feel their way through narrow paths as characters dressed in all black lurk from above with menacing looks and others pop out of the walls with Tasers in hand. "I'm going to murder you," they say, laughing maniacally.
"Every time a light came on, I just tried to look ahead; that's all I could do," said Jeff Douty of Jamestown, who led his group through the school.
At the end, the visitors hop back on the bus only to go through yet another haunted corn maze before finally reaching the end.
Heather Weik, one of the founders, said the entire attraction can take 45 minutes to an hour.
Melville added, "It depends on how fast you run."
Those behind the 'Terror'
Weik said she and Tony Plante, the owner, had always wanted to create a haunted attraction, so when they finally got the opportunity 10 years ago, they jumped on it. They bought several acres of land, which includes the trailer, the old school and all the corn fields, specifically to create Acres of Terror, and it continues to grow each year.
"We always tease that we'll eventually have the whole town," she said with a laugh.
They employ 30 to 40 monsters, who they hire on a trial basis. "If they can't scare them after a few times," they're gone, she said.
Landon Huer, 13, is the youngest monster; the others are age 20 to 40.
A friend of the owners, Huer started scaring visitors two years ago. He wears a mask and hides in the corn fields waiting to jump out and scare the visitors.
For him, it's all about the rush he gets from scaring people. "I'm like I scared those people, I did good," he said, proudly. "I wish I could run a chainsaw. Can you imagine a shorty with a saw?"
When the attraction first opened, Weik said they wanted it to be really scary. "Tony doesn't like the whole 'rawr' and the kiddie pumpkins," she said. "He wanted something realistic."
Developing characters with their own back stories, the scare starts even before the visitors arrive. According to their website, acresofterror.net, ZiggyD Wolf (played by Melville) is the lead bus driver, who "makes your safety his No. 2 priority."
Another character named Striker is a diabolical mass murderer. According to the website, "he escaped from a maximum security prison where he was being held for crimes too heinous to mention." Wearing a gas mask to conceal his identity, Striker carries a razor sharp blade and lurks in Acres of Terror, waiting for his next victim.
'Come out crying'
But even without the back stories, the attraction is full of terror.
"We've had grown men, Bison football players, who come out crying," Melville said. "The scariest (part) would probably be the chainsaws, but it varies from person to person."
Melville, who has worked at Acres of Terror for nine years, is now the lead bus driver. He said some people are more scared by the school because it has a certain creepy factor that makes your skin tingle, while others are terrified by the bus ride because their life is in his hands.
Kristie Douty, who went through the attraction with her husband and kids, said the chainsaws and Tasers were the scariest part. She had gone through other corn mazes before, but they were "nothing like this," she said. On a level of one to 10, she rated Acres of Terror a 20 for scare factor.
If you go:
What: Acres of Terror, a haunted attraction with a corn maze, haunted school and a haunted bus ride.
When: From dusk to 1 a.m. every Friday and Saturday in October, plus Oct. 31.
Where: Leonard, N.D., 16 miles south of Casselton, N.D.
Cost: $20 for adults; $15 for youth; $15 each for group of 30 or more