LAUREL – Richard Blankenship has always loved Halloween, and now he is sharing his passion with county residents. Blankenship’s girlfriend, Charlene Dudek, said she remembers years of homemade haunted houses and hanging up scary decorations. Last year, around Halloween, she said Blankenship began to wonder about the possibility of building his own haunted house, […]
LAUREL – Richard Blankenship has always loved Halloween, and now he is sharing his passion with county residents.
Blankenship’s girlfriend, Charlene Dudek, said she remembers years of homemade haunted houses and hanging up scary decorations. Last year, around Halloween, she said Blankenship began to wonder about the possibility of building his own haunted house, so she agreed to help.
The couple created a Facebook page to see if they could stir up enough interest to sustain a haunted house in Prince George’s County.
“People started calling us, asking where our haunt was,” Dudek said. “That was the start of it all.”
Now, one year and a lot of work later, the couple runs Laurel’s House of Horror out of a previously vacant movie theatre. As soon as they stumbled across the venue, they knew it would be perfect, Dudek said.
“There were a lot of hoops to jump through,” she said. “At first, it seemed like a long shot.”
But after a lot of persistence and patience with the realty company, they finally bought the theatre.
“We had a lot of financial falling through,” Dudek said. “Loans and grants are difficult to get for a startup.”
The couple relied heavily on help and donations from friends and family to raise enough money to proceed.
To design and build the haunted house, they hired a haunt consultant from Salem, Mass.
“His job is to give pointers and share his expertise with hauntrepreneurs like us,” Dudek said, explaining that a “hauntrepreneur” is another term for a haunted house enthusiast.
“It’s expanding into a bigger industry, especially in Maryland,” Dudek said. “Our consultant travels everywhere from China to Australia doing this.”
Laurel’s House of Horror is run mainly by volunteers, Dudek said. Blankenship and his son do the bills. All actors, concession stand workers, and ticket salespeople are volunteers.
“People are really happy to help us,” Dudek said.
Mariah Perkins, a student at Howard County Community College, got involved with the haunted house after seeing a flyer on campus. Now, she acts, helps with costume makeup, and prepares props.
“I love Halloween so I love being around others who love it too,” Perkins said. “I used to go to haunted houses, so now I get to see the other side.”
Perkins currently acts in the haunt’s doll room, sometimes jumping out to frighten unsuspecting visitors. “We’re these creepy, demented looking kind of dolls,” she said. “Some people run through the room because they’re so scared.”
Perkins said she tries to gauge people’s reactions as they move through the room to see how much they can handle.
“If they seem too comfortable, I’ll say something like, ‘Do you want to play with us?’ to creep them out,” she said.
Even Dudek admits the house still scares her sometimes.
“My mom was a super horror fanatic,” she said. “So I’ve gotten desensitized to it. But even if you anticipate it, you can’t always control your body’s response to it.”
To give back to volunteers and the community, the haunted house sponsors different charities throughout the season, such as the Wounded Warrior Projects, the Special Olympics and Relay for Life. The haunted house donates $2 from each ticket sale to the charities.