Saturday, February 24, 2018
Travel

St. Pete haunted house ups the creep factor, joins a list of scares

By SEAN DALY

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG

For this year's Radley Haunted House, one of the area's premier poltergeisty attractions, creator Cody Meacham went dark. Darker than his past six mazes, which weren't exactly la-di-da strolls through Candyland. Darker than his devout Christian upbringing usually allows him to wander.

"Witchcraft," says the 25-year-old self-taught spookmeister who spent $11,000 of his own money on this year's pentagrammatical walk-through. "I kind of said a prayer in that room."

"That room" belongs to Agnes Radley, unhinged owner of a 1930s orphanage and yet another ill-fated member of Meacham's cursed fictional family. Without giving too much away — Meacham is a sly showman as well as a sinister storyteller — Agnes does her young charges wrong on Halloween night, with all h-e-double-hockey-sticks breaking loose in a fiery, and disturbing, "basement" finale.

Last year, more than 5,000 visitors braved the haunted house at 3900 19th St. N — built, as always, with meticulous care in his parents' front yard. That story, set in the 1880s, involved newlyweds William and Scarlett Radley, who were drawn into a mystical labyrinth.

"Every year I say I want to keep the story simple," Meacham says with a laugh. He pens the plot and then builds the detailed sets without a whole lot of help, just a few friends and associates. "Then it always gets convoluted. But I've wanted to do an orphanage since last year's haunt."

The Radley Orphanage — subtitled "Ashes of Innocence," which should let you know just how dark this sucker gets — ups the ante with a subsequent plot about modern-day investigators, the Radley Paranormal Research Team, digging into the eerie past. The haunt begins in a burned-out schoolhouse — and then gets really scary really fast.

Oh, there's a little hope to be found within — just a little. "I wanted the kids to come back (from the dead) and defeat Agnes," says Meacham, whose day job is in the scenic department at HSN.

Twelve volunteer actors — three of whom will play Agnes in different stages of witchy awfulness — will blend in among the rich 1930s details and high-tech touches that include surround sound (just wait until you hear the children chanting, "Burn the witch!") lighting and, for the first time ever, an "ash machine."

Setting the scene will be the facade, which features a multistory orphanage, a decrepit playground and that seriously unsettling charred schoolhouse. "I purposefully overachieved on the exterior this year after a negative YouTube comment said I half-a---- last year's exterior," says Meacham, whose talent has brought fans, and critics, from all over.

Yep, nothing like a haunted-house guy with a grudge. Good luck with that, boys and girls.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

   
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