The first day of fall might have felt “summery,” with temperatures in the upper 80 degrees, but Greensboro’s Woods of Terror on Church Street has spent all year on a haunted attraction that will send chills down your spine. Owner Eddie McLaurin has been operating the woods at the current location since 2001, and this year’s annual additions are on a scale the haunt has never seen before. This year, media partners for an inside scoop on this staple Halloween tradition in the Triad.
The picturesque drive to the woods takes you past the Greensboro city limits, and in the daytime, the attraction seems harmless enough. It all takes place in the backyard of McLaurin’s plantation-style home, which looks normal enough from the side of the road. After checking in with the ticket booth and walking past the fence, you are transported into a haunted world, straight out of McLaurin’s imagination.
The first attraction guests see before even stepping foot in the main walkthrough is a gated “Midway.” It is a carnival-style common area, with little shed exhibits that guests can walk through to pregame for the big scare. A DJ booth blasts Halloween-themed tunes.
At 7 p.m., those who show up early are treated to a “parade,” where the cast of over 100 actors march through the Midway, accompanied by motorized mini-hearses. The parade concludes with a headbanging interpretation of the National Anthem, complete with a guitar breakdown and fireworks. Eddie is the frontman of this act and sports a red and black spiked mohawk.
In the Midway, guests can get food or souvenirs, and are joined by a small cast of characters that slink around, scaring guests in line and taking photographs. Eddie hangs out in the middle of the park to take guests’ pictures with the mascot of the Woods of Terror: a gigantic, yellow Burmese python.
McLaurin is a self-proclaimed “hauntie,” who dipped his feet in the world of running a haunted house in 1991. “For me, I grew up Southern Baptist. I never went to a lot of haunted houses, never really watched a lot of horror movies,” McLaurin said. “I had a couple friends acting in a haunted house. We went and saw it, and I thought ‘Wow, you could really make a lot of money doing this.’”
His original Oak Ridge attraction cost $2 a ticket, but only saw an attendance of about 180 people — an initial disappointment to McLaurin. In the early 2000s, he met some people that “made a living off of Halloween,” and the motivation was back for McLaurin. He did some research and made a list of the top-ten haunted houses in the country. He would take weekend plane trips to Georgia and New York to see the best of the best and found out for himself what he wanted in his own haunted house. In 2001, about 2,000 people came through the haunt. This year, the Woods projects about 35,000 visitors.
Now, the Woods of Terror takes about 45 minutes to walk through. Guests start in the “Arachnophobia” house, where real spiders are displayed in cages and tentacles dangle from the ceiling.
The “Industrial Nightmare” exhibit blasts heavy metal music, and sparks fly from the chain-link fence keeping guests locked in the sensory overload scare. The walk is a bit of a workout — there are stairs to run up, ceilings so low you have to bend in half, and suffocatingly small tunnels to crawl through.
A three-dimensional clown house messes with your sense of direction and space, creating a dizzying experience that is both terrifying and mesmerizing. An exhibit of classic movie characters, a vampire house with seductive sirens of the night, and an outdoor section inspired by “The Purge” movies are also included.
This year, those who have been coming to the Woods for years might notice some changes. “This year, I know I improved the show. People are going to go, ‘Holy cow, that was amazing,’” McLaurin said. Notably, a two-story treehouse has been added to the “Blackbeard’s Revenge” pirate house. Guests climb up and down this carefully detailed addition into a voodoo priestess’ apothecary.
McLaurin takes pride in the structural quality of his attraction, and says he “built his buildings like a real house. A lot of haunted houses just throw up something, and it might fall.” Future additions to the Woods of Terror are already in the making and must start in December to be premiered in September of 2018. Maintenance is constant at the Woods, especially now that McLaurin has obtained a year-round operational permit for the facility.
“I know next year is going to be better than this year. The calendar’s already full,” McLaurin said. He is excited to obtain his firework technician’s license this year, in preparation for next year. “I’m shooting legal fireworks now, but to get the illegal ones that are good, you gotta have a license.”
Even if you have nerves of steel, the attraction is impressive in the attention to detail displayed by Eddie and his team. Actors are always in character, and dressed to the nines in appropriately chilling costumes. The makeup is extremely impressive. Media partners this year were invited to see the behind-the-scenes work the makeup and costuming team puts in. The hours before the park opens at 7 p.m. on weekends are hectic, with a staff of about 20 makeup artists frantically attending to their assigned creeps.
Kalan, a UNCG student, paints faces for characters in the Texas Massacre House, assorted “victims” and more. “I’ll have about four (people) at the same time. I’ll be bouncing from seat to another. You have to multitask,” Kalan said. At one point, a line of about ten characters formed on the side, just to be splattered with blood.
“Cut-Throat Catherine,” a “butcheress” with electric green eyes and a gnarly scar on her throat, is an original character that can be spotted in the Midway, where the actors must come up with an authentic costume and character. Catherine says her favorite part of working at the Woods is seeing “very large men get scared and hide behind their tiny girlfriends.”
McLaurin and his whole team are passionate about Halloween, and the enthusiasm shows. “If it’s all over tomorrow, I had a great time,” McLaurin said, with his half-skull painted face and mohawk as spiky as ever. “But I hope there’s another 25 years.”
The Woods of Terror on Church Street runs through the first week of November on weekends. For the full schedule, or to purchase tickets, you can visit http://www.woodsofterror.com. WUAG 103.1 FM will also be giving away tickets throughout the month of October on Mondays at noon.