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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Jack Fearon hangs tubes inside one of the buildings as workers continue to build sets Tuesday, August 24, 2010, for this year's Spooky World/Nightmare New England, held at Mel's Funway Park in Litchfield.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Taking a break from building sets, Brian Poulin, left, and Tom "Vampire 13" Cowern look over a giant skull prop Tuesday, August 24, 2010, for this year's Spooky World/Nightmare New England, held at Mel's Funway Park in Litchfield.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Chase DeNamar and Marc Dahlquist hang a black curtain in a spook house inside the Arcade Building Tuesday, August 24, 2010, for this year's Spooky World/Nightmare New England, held at Mel's Funway Park in Litchfield.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Local haunted house sees jump in applications

SpookyWorld/Nightmare New England, a haunted attraction in Litchfield, is scaring up jobs as it prepares for Halloween. The organization has seen a spike in job applications this year, receiving more than 100 in a week’s time.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase since last year,” said Mike Krausert, director of operations for SpookyWorld. “We hire up to 350 people for the month of October. And right now, applications are really starting to roll in, which is great for us.”

Seasonal positions run from September through November and include 22 nights of “performances,” plus acting classes, which begin this month. The applicants range from high school students to professionals.

“We get all walks of life,” said Krausert. “We have firefighters from Boston that apply. We’ve had people who are health inspectors for the state of New Hampshire apply. We have police officers sitting next to cheerleaders sitting next to football players. You name it.”

The majority of the applications are for acting spots, which involves dressing up and scaring park-goers. There are also positions for ticketing and parking attendants, as well as specialized job openings for makeup artists and wardrobe staffers, said Krausert, who works for SpookyWorld/ Nightmare New England full-time, all year long.

And it doesn’t hurt that he has a background in theater.

“There are a lot of similarities between theater and what we do here,” he said. “We have actors, managers, wardrobe and rehearsals. The two are very much alike.”

This marks SpookyWorld’s third year in the area, and many of the actors are seasoned ghosts and goblins.

“We have a lot of actors that have worked with us before and many have worked with other haunted houses for more than 20 years,” Krausert said. “Since so many have been doing this for a long time, they’re able to teach the new actors and help them along. It’s a lot harder than you think.”

Additionally, SpookyWorld hosts one of the largest costume contests in New England on Halloween night.

As for hot costumes this year, Krausert said, “I still think anything that has to do with vampires will be big because of the popularity of the ‘Twilight’ series. And I’m willing to say you’ll see a lot of ‘Avatar’ costumes as well.”

Between classes and building several haunted houses and attractions, the pace is swift. The crew will spend up until Thanksgiving breaking down sets and then it’s onto next year’s return gig.

“We do get to take a break and spend time with our families over the holidays, but believe it or not, we’ve already started planning for next year during our setup for this year,” said Krausert. “We get a lot of ideas while we’re working, we discuss things that we can change or improve and perhaps make happen for the following year. It’s just a continuing process.”

If this fright fest sounds like a roller coaster ride, it is.

“That’s a perfect way to describe it,” said Krausert. “People expect bigger thrills and more spectacle, so what we try to do is put them on a mental roller coaster. We want to build suspense and we want to hit them with that element of surprise and scare, and then bring them back down to the level a little bit and then build that suspense again. We’re really trying to offer something for everyone here.”

SpookyWorld sets up on the grounds of Mel’s Funway Park, at 454 Charles Bancroft Highway, in Litchfield. Scare tactics abound, according to Krausert, throughout seven different haunted houses and more than 40 acres.

“Maybe you’re not afraid of clowns, but if you go into the next space, you may feel claustrophobic. Or maybe it’s zombies or corpses that you fear,” he said.

Krausert predicts that this year’s screaming hit will be “The Colony.”

“We have a lot of attractions that are located in the woods, and we get a lot of natural fog out here at night to add to the creepiness. And native New Englanders really enjoy the outdoor aspect, so we’ve got this ‘Colony’ of backwoods people, convicts and inbreds that have been sort of banished to the woods. There are junk yards and burned out cars from the ’50s. And you’ll see as you approach the property, there are a lot of cabins that have smoke coming out of the chimneys. It’s a great atmosphere.”