Here at the Basement, we haven’t spoken much of haunts. With haunted house season upon us, I figure it’s time to rectify that! Well it just so happens that I have an “in” when it comes to the haunt scene. My paternal uncle, Mike Ross, proudly runs the Sinister Sidney Haunted Trail Attraction, an acclaimed haunt on his own property in Sidney, Iowa. He also works as the haunt’s mascot, the pale and exuberant Reverend Michael, AKA, The Gravedigger, who hosts his own show called Haunt Chat Live. Mike Ross is very active within the haunt community and seemed the perfect cretin to interrogate about all things haunt.
Thank you for joining us for this interview! I’d first like to ask about what set you down the path of spooky exploits. Can you trace it back to any specific instances?
No. It’s just always been inside me. Your Dad and I use to do things like pose his ventriloquist doll and take pictures, then tell everyone we had a gremlin. We dressed up every Halloween and went door to door freaking out the neighbors. I used to sneak out of my crib during nap time to peek into the living room and watch Dark Shadows. I’ve just always been drawn to it.
Do you remember your first time in a haunted house?
When I was 14, I attended one of the local radio station’s haunted houses in Omaha. Fell in love with it. The next night I returned, lied about my age, and became part of the cast. I was hooked. It combined both my love of horror and of theater. Over the years, I worked many other haunted attractions from Omaha to Kansas City. In 2015, with the support and encouragement of my wife, Mistress Laurie (also a horror fan and haunt actress), we decided to build and open our own attraction, Sinister Sidney.
What was your first horror movie and what is your favorite horror movie?
First, no clue. I remember watching Dark Shadows and the local Creature Feature shows, so I’m guessing it was one of the classics. I was always enamored by the Dracula and Werewolf ones. I have slight memories of my brother trying to torment me by making me watch The Exorcist, but he was too late. As far as favorite, I love just about all of them. The only one ever to actually disturb me, give me nightmares, though was 8mm.
Much like horror conventions, there are haunt conventions. How do these differ, and what is the community like?
Haunt conventions are geared more towards those in the industry as opposed to the fans, but the community is awesome. The people involved are very welcoming and helpful. Most of them are in it for the love of it and more than willing to share ideas and knowledge. Not to mention, they can really party! We’ve been able to attend a couple trade shows, like Transworld (industry people only, not open to the public) as well as HauntCon and Midwest Haunters Convention in Columbus, Ohio and it has been a thrill. Not just seeing all the cool new props and animatronics, but also meeting, face-to-face, the other haunters that we have been introduced to online. I have also gone to a couple CryptiCon Horror Conventions (and done live broadcasts from them) and had a great time there.
Haunted houses vs real haunted locations. Is there a community for both or is it the same crowd?
I prefer to use the term “haunted attractions”, since many of them are not houses, per-se. While they do tend to have their own communities, there is a huge cross-over. The haunted attraction community is filled with people who, besides loving horror, tend to blend that with theater, community service, and the love of scaring the crap out of others. Where as the other is more about the actual paranormal experience and finding out what is out there, beyond. Not to say that they don’t enjoy scaring the crap out of others also, LOL.
Tell us a bit about your haunt! What can the public expect?
Sinister Sidney Haunted Trail Attraction in Sidney Iowa is a self-paced, outdoor attraction. The route is a little over 1/4 mile (this year) and winds through forest, open areas and a couple of buildings. It takes an average of about 22 minutes to walk through, depending on your pace. We did have a couple of kids last year who, after the first scene, ran the entire way though and made it in about 5 minutes. Half way through there is a bonfire and hot chocolate stand to give patrons a chance to catch their breath and give us the ability to redistribute the crowd. The suggested age is 12 and up. We have had parents bring smaller children through, but by the time they are a couple of scenes in, they are hysterical and in tears. This requires us to back off so as not to traumatize them, which ruins the experience for the rest of the group. So please, don’t do it.
Each year we also have a free raffle for a Halloween themed inflatable. Any night we give up to $2 off the price of admission for donating non-perishable food items, which we in turn give to the West Central Food Pantry in Sidney. Admission is $10. More info on that (and other things) is available on our website and Facebook page.
Great! Who is the Grave Digger?
The Grave Digger is the host of the haunt and of a monthly talk show, Haunt Chat Live, where he interviews and promotes other haunt industry shows. He also does on-location live broadcasts of haunt/Halloween style events. He’s kind of a cross between a southern tent preacher and a car salesman. He has a very dark back story, but it ends with him finding a community of “The Fringe, The Freaks and The Forgotten” at Sinister Sidney.
What do you get out of portraying the Grave Digger? Is scaring people a form of therapy for you?
Are you saying I need therapy? (FYI, it runs in the family) Yes, I guess it kinda is. It allows me to be boisterous, opinionated and sometimes even a little rude. He isn’t afraid of anybody or any situation because he knows that in the end, they all come to him. As for the scaring people part… It’s A BLAST!
This will be your third year running the Sinister Sidney. I have a three part question. What has been the biggest challenge running the haunt so far, what are you most proud of, and what will be new this season?
A: Biggest challenge… Finances. Laurie and I have payed for this out of pocket (and credit cards) so far, and like any new business, we’ll be in the red for a few years. Next biggest, Draw. Sidney is a small town (1,100) about 40 south of the Omaha Metro. We have to use a strategy that not only brings people in from all the surrounding communities, but also will pull people from Omaha and Lincoln. We seem to be doing it though. Last year we had visitors from as far as 300 miles who drove to see the attraction. This year we were voted the #2 Must See haunt in the entire state of Iowa by The Scare Factor, a haunted attraction listing and review site. (www.thescarefactor.com)
B: Most Proud of? Our crew, definitely. The best part of this whole thing is seeing the growth that takes place when you empower the kids. When speaking of the Grave Digger, I mentioned the type of community he found at Sinister Sidney. This is not a story. Most of our actors fit into one of those three categories. This is not a ‘Safe Place’, it’s an ‘Empowerment Place’. We run a ‘No Drama’ haunt behind the scenes and everybody gets along. whether they want to, or not. We have a saying: We don’t care who you pray to, who you vote for, or who you sleep with… You are family.
C: This year we have changed up some scenes, added some scenes, and are currently putting up an actual ‘Big Top’ tent. As for the rest… I ain’t gonna spoil the surprise…
I’d like to ask The Gravedigger a couple questions now. if that’s alright.
Well Dang! Why the Hell wouldn’t it be? I mean that’s why I’m here ain’t it? How Ya Doin?
Why do you think people like to be scared?
Wait… they LIKE it? Shit! Thanks for telling me. Way to burst a bubble kid! What, you always do that? I get it.. You’re one of those that just likes to run up and knock over some kids ice cream cone for no reason, ain’t ya? OK, hold on… That is kinda fun. I remember one time I was skipping through J.C. Penny’s and I came up behind this lady taking on her phone and I was like… Wait… what were we talking about?
What is your driving motivator?
Motivator? Let me tell ya kid, If you had my life, that’s all the motivation you need. But seriously, seeing the kids come in, some full of spunk, some spunked out, and seeing them all come together to put on a show to make you crap your pants, it warms my cockles.
Finally, what is this event that is occurring on October 13th?
On October 13th (that’s a Friday by the way) Sinister Sidney is holding a Friday the 13th Food Drive! You will receive $1 off the price of admission for every non-perishable food item you donate. Bring 1, get a dollar off. Bring 5, get five dollars off! Bring 10, GET IN FREE! Bring 20? You better bring a friend because they’ll get in free too! All the food collected will go to the West Central Food Pantry in Sidney to help those that need it. You can meet myself, The Grave Digger, as well as Creature Feature host Dr. San Guinary. We might even have a couple of other, well known, special guests. I mean, it IS Friday the 13th after all… Right? So come on down. Bring your friends. Bring your mom. Bring your mom’s friends. But be sure to use the bathroom first or you might also want to bring a change of pants.
Sinister Sidney opens on October 6th and runs every Friday and Saturday night in October from dusk till 11:00 p.m. (Just Google ‘Sinister Sidney’) I hope you all have a happy haunting season!
For More Info: (don’t forget to ‘Like’, ‘Subscribe’ and ‘Share’)