Halfway through “Alice’s House of Nightmares,” between the bloody walls and the man tossing his dismembered hand around, we find a lovely open space. “This room has possibilities!” declares Valley real estate agent Zoee Tsighis.
This month, attention turns to the East Valley’s haunted houses. The media usually dwells on their grislier aspects. But tight financial times require us to prioritize. In a sluggish housing market, is “haunted” really such a deal-breaker? Murder and paranormal activity may spook the faint of heart. But with a can-do spirit and a little elbow grease, can’t one man’s “demonically possessed” be another’s “folksy fixer-upper”? We took an expert through some dreaded domiciles to learn: What makes a “haunted house” a “haunted home”?
“There’s actually a name for property like this,” says Tsighis. “It’s called 'stigmatized.’ ” The brave, diminutive broker with Intero Real Estate Services explains that realtors are honor-bound to disclose “if there’s been a murder, or anything the neighbors know about, that can taint the property.” In the courtyard of Arizona’s Screampark, where shrieking girls dart from exits, disfigured creatures lurk in shadows, and our hostess sports a 5 o’clock shadow over her pinafore and pets a decapitated bunny skull, something tells me the neighbors know.
The Screampark features four attractions: Alice’s House of Nightmares, the 3-D Fear Factor, the Castle of Darkness and the Western-themed Gold Miner’s Revenge. We choose Alice’s House and the Castle, because muffled cries and Gothic doormen scream curb appeal.
Haunted houses have a variety of grotesque, frightening and nauseating features, which they alternate like fastballs and curveballs. Corridors build the suspense, but most have tortured floor plans, offering a mile of narrow hallway for every “room.” Yes, corridors are easier to haunt (a bleeding mutant makes a bolder statement lurking in a hall as opposed to, say, an airy sunroom). But Tsighis appreciates areas “that give you the feel of a home.” Like the hearth (even with the caged troll). Or the bathroom, where she again saw possibilities. “It was big, which is a selling point in a bathroom,” she says. “I don’t know why you would want two urinals, or why a dead mummy was on the toilet. But it did have lots of space.”
The Screampark puts visitors squarely in the middle of a “Scooby-Doo” cartoon — holding hands and running in a hunkered squat through a half-lit maze, while the tortured and grotesque find every possible way to pop and howl. For Tsighis, it brought back painful memories: “They remind me of really bad listing agents,” she says. “The ones who won’t get out of your face when you’re trying to look at a house.” Our home tour ended in a screaming sprint from a brandished power tool, and what might kindly be described as an “aggressive handyman.”
FEAR AND LODGING: 2 MILES
Those willing to commute to Fear will find a more pastoral terror out in Queen Creek, where The Nest soils trousers in the bucolic setting of Schnepf Farms. “I think these heavy double doors are lovely,” says Tsighis at the entrance. But she warns that creepy, discordant music and milling zombies tend to undermine curb appeal. Now in its second year, The Nest stokes the terror quotient two ways: by rolling out a Web-based back story of former owner/serial killer Jacob Kell and the grisly crimes he committed there; and by finding clever ways to rattle your cage without touching your skin. It is actually three features: The Nest, Kell’s tortured home; The Graveyard, where apocryphal guests are buried; and The Carnage, in which they were wise not to build a snack bar.
“They had very defined rooms, which made it more scary,” says Tsighis. Smaller and gorier than the Screampark, The Nest is both more homey and more horrible. Picture Norman Rockwell’s “Doctor and the Doll” where the doctor bites off the doll’s head, then the girl’s head, then looks at you.
“They take the recognizable parts of a home, and put a twist on it,” says Tsighis. A familiar floor plan is the worst of it. Once past the serial killer’s claustrophobic living quarters, you breathe relief in the graveyard out back. But a roaring chain saw reminds you: You haven’t seen the workroom yet. The Nest will challenge your fondness for “country charm.”
“It’s really a lot like the regular housing market,” Tsighis says later, as we’re walking to the car trying to shake out of our crouches. “You have this new build out in Queen Creek — it’s cleaner, with lots of amenities — or you have this reliable property that’s more accessible in Scottsdale.”
In real estate, even demons answer to “location.”
Arizona’s Original Screampark
Where: 8823 E. McDowell Road, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
When: 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, through Nov. 3. (Note: Only three attractions run Sunday through Thursday.)
Cost: $16 for a single attraction; $20 for two attractions; $25 for all-access pass (four attractions); speed pass $10; parking $5.
Information: (480) 444-2590 or www.azscreampark.com
Where: Schnepf Farms, 24810 S. Rittenhouse Road, Queen Creek
When: 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays, Saturdays and Halloween; 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. all other nights, through Oct. 31.
Cost: $25 (For all three features: The Nest, Graveyard and The Carnage) and $35 (VIP front-of-line admission)