TOWN OF WESTPORT – Guy Kitchell was big into Halloween before he met his wife, Sara.
But instead of putting the kibosh on his hobby, she only made it worse. It turns out Sara had a storage unit filled with bins of gore and creep. But something had to give. That’s why they’ve converted a former Stop’n Go convenience store and meat-processing plant into a 15,000-square-foot haunted house called Wisconsin Scaryland.
Located at highways K and M just north of Governor Nelson State Park, the Kitchells have spent $250,000 and the last 18 months creating the attraction, which can draw 800 people paying $25 in a single night. The haunted house is a bigger and more involved version of their home on Larkspur Court in Middleton that had become decorated for Halloween for up to six months at a time both outside and in.
“I couldn’t stand living for six months with zombies in our bedroom anymore,” said Guy Kitchell, who also had a doll of Regan MacNeil suspended from the bedroom ceiling. “It was super crazy.”
MacNeil? She’s the head-spinning, puking and possessed 12-year-old from the 1973 movie “The Exorcist.”
There are scores of haunted attractions throughout the state that bill themselves as the largest, scariest or top-rated. A website, www.hauntedwisconsin.com, created in 2000 by Andy and Jenny Meier of Waukesha, lists nearly 200 haunted houses, barns, woods, cornfields and zombie hunts throughout the state.
In Two Rivers, there’s a place dubbed Splatter Haus and in Iola a haunted mill. Beloit has a 5,000-square-foot, 14-room “Terror Theater” and Eagle River has Evil Falls House, “home of Marcus Dread, a Soul Collector and keeper of Tormented Souls,” according to the website.
For the 34th year, the Onalaska Jaycees have created the “Shed of Dead” and at Appleton North High School, 100 thespians have created “A Night to Dismember,” a long-running haunted house and fundraiser for the drama department.
The list goes on and on, but Wisconsin Scaryland may be the only attraction in the state run by a deodorant salesman.
Kitchell, 43, who went to Crestwood Elementary and Jefferson Middle schools on Madison’s Far West Side but high school out of state, is an entrepreneur. He attended UW-Madison and, ultimately, after dropping out of school three times to start businesses, graduated from Upper Iowa University with a business and marketing degree.
In the early 1990s, he started a trucking company that delivered furniture for Madison area furniture stores and at one time had 21 employees. He then began buying apartment buildings and converting them to condominiums before creating Klima Deodorant, a niche product for people with hyperhydrosis, an extreme sweating condition.
Since creating the company after buying a formula in 2005, Kitchell has a line of 38 products that his Klima Health Solutions company makes in a facility on Pleasant View Road in the Middleton Business Park. The products are sold online and by dermatologists.
But remember, Kitchell is an entrepreneur. In 2009, he started building Halloween props for his home. Family and friends loved the products so he began selling them. That led to more props and more sales and what is now Halloween FX Props, a company that supplies haunted attractions and home haunts and shares the building with Klima.
Products include fog machines and mechanical devices that make props move. Kitchell sells signs, lights, rubber cats and rats, make-up supplies and even different types of goo to replicate bile and vomit. Revenues have been doubling each year.
“It all happened really fast,” Kitchell said. “The neat thing about the haunted attractions industry is that people just won’t go to one, they’ll go to all of them in their neighborhood.”
And that’s good news for Kitchell’s Halloween FX Props and his latest venture, Wisconsin Scaryland. Although getting approvals for the haunted house business from the town of Westport proved more daunting than he expected, considering the exterior of the building has remained relatively unchanged. Neighbors protested the project, which delayed his opening and cost Kitchell eight nights of business. He also was forced to get a $5 million umbrella insurance policy instead of a $1 million plan.
“So far, we haven’t had any problems,” Kitchell said. “It’s controversial because some people just don’t know how to have fun.”
The attraction is no small undertaking. The buildings had been stripped of copper wiring and other fixtures and forced Kitchell to spend $20,000 just to get it up to code. He also installed $10,000 in emergency lighting and exit signs and thousands more on a 48-camera infrared security system that allows each room, regardless of lighting, to be monitored.
“After we saw the building, we fell in love with it,” Kitchell said. “It lends itself to haunts in that it’s decrepit already.”
The attraction begins in the waiting area, which used to be the convenience store. Vandals had smashed the glass doors of one of the dairy coolers so Kitchell simply added foam replicas of bloody body parts. The tour begins in the “Hellivator,” a simulated elevator that rocks and shakes but in reality never goes anywhere. The faux elevators retail for $15,000 but Kitchell, who doesn’t sell them, built his for $5,000.
Rooms vary in themes, including clowns, a nursery with multiple baby cribs, a library, laboratory and kitchen. Each is filled with a variety of props while 60 actors roam and hide in the house, adding to the thrills and scares. One room is designed to replicate the kill room in “Dexter,” a Showtime drama about a blood splatter analyst for a police department who moonlights as a serial killer wiping out criminals.
And while Kitchell’s prop company can supply some of the required items for his haunted house, much of it comes from scrounging.
“A lot of our time is spent going around the garage sales,” Kitchell said. “We can’t have any new stuff in here.”
The lab equipment was purchased at the UW Swap Shop in Verona. One scene that replicates the abandoned town in the movie “Silent Hill” was built from old fencing discarded by his neighbor.
The pews in the haunted chapel, which took four people four weeks to build, are from a former Mexican restaurant that had used them for seating. A size 6 XL pair of underwear hanging in the bloody laundry room was purchased at a Goodwill store.
“For something to be scary in my book you have to have startle scares,” Kitchell said. “So we like to first startle the guest, and then creep them out.”