A group on campus called the Swamp Haunters has brought the spookiness of Halloween to springtime.
Swamp Haunters is one of the Gator Theme Park Engineering & Design Club teams, and their student-ran, full scale haunted house gave frights from April 13-15.
Called the “Crimson Carnival,” the student’s haunted house theme was an abandoned carnival with a vampire twist. The walk-through included a carnival entrance with feuding ringmasters, ticket booths turned jump scares, an animatronic jack-in-the-box and a distorting hall of mirrors among other scares.
“The whole experience is around a 90-second walkthrough, which is average for the regional size,” said Hanna Staruk, Swamp Haunters co-captain. “It all depends on how long you take in each area.”
Thirty-six people operated the haunt, including actors, behind-the-scenes roles and guest-facing staffers. The majority of the student team are engineering and architecture majors, but participation included anyone who is interested in working in themed environments — like theme parks — after graduation.
“Neither Swamp Haunters nor UF has put on an event like this before, so we wanted to work through the permitting process and operational issues this spring,” said Josiah Evaristo, Swamp Haunters co-captain. “That way we'll avoid most of these pitfalls when we get back to campus in the fall — especially with the tight turnaround between classes starting and Halloween.”
Evaristo said the group also had the budget to put it on this semester. The club received $5,000 from the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and around $5,000 worth of donated materials.
“Typically, students can only get hands-on experience in themed entertainment by interning or working at a company like Disney or Universal,” Evaristo said. “By putting on a haunted house, we get experience in all facets of attraction design and operation that directly translate to theme parks, which makes our team more competitive in landing internships and full-time jobs.”
Some people on the team have worked on other haunted attractions, but this is the first time any of them have attempted a true walk-through haunt from start to finish.
Working every weekend this semester, students built sets and wrote parts for actors. “Crimson Carnival” was two years in the making.
“Haunted houses are like the indie movie version of theme parks,” Evaristo said. “These are good, transferable skills that can be used in their future, themed-environment careers.”