St. Pete haunted house ups the creep factor, joins a list of scares
By SEAN DALY
Times Staff Writer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.
© 2016 Tampa Bay Times
If you dare
Radley Haunted House
The house is at 3900 19th St. N in St. Petersburg. It's open from 8 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Sunday plus Oct. 30 and 31. Admission is $4, cash and credit cards accepted. Not recommended for young children.
More than 3,000 turned out last year for this elaborate haunt based on local St. Petersburg ghost stories. It has a maze of fog, lasers, special effects, strobes and enclosed spaces. Suggested for people 10 and older. Free, but any donations benefit the Child's Play Charity. It's at 510 49th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, which is a residential neighborhood, so it's best to park at the Texaco station or Unity Church. (727) 525-2139. 7-10:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and Oct. 31.
Descent Into Darkness Haunted House
Takes place in a blacked-out auditorium with "scare" actors coming out of the shadows. Not suitable for young children. $5. Holland G. Mangum Recreation Complex, 9100 113th St. N, Seminole. (727) 391-8345. 6-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Haunted Angelus House
Situated on 25 acres, the PG-13 rated haunt features a pirate area with realistic hangings, hayrides, a 1-mile spooky trail and other hair-raising terror. $12 main haunt, $8 pirate haunt, $8 haunted hayride, $23 all three, $30 one night unlimited adult, $12 one night ages 5-10, free for 4 and younger. The Angelus, 12413 Hudson Ave., Hudson. (727) 364-2868. 6:30 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, 6:30-10 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 31, 6:30 p.m.-midnight Nov. 1-2.
Two haunted houses in one location benefit two causes. Enter the Side Show Massacre for a scare by pickled punks and freaks of nature. Then 13 Hallows explores the number 13 to reveal that things aren't always as they seem. Side Show Massacre benefits Fire Explorers Post 945, and 13 Hallows benefits area animal shelters. No one under 13 will be admitted without a parent. $2 per house. 5600 Newton Ave. S, Gulfport. (727) 798-2901. 7:30-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Follow the stories of some of America's best- known killers through this adults-only haunted attraction. The use of looping audio and rotating actors guarantees a different scare every time. Benefits Big Cat Rescue. Donations appreciated. Murder House, 9048 Hickory Circle, Tampa. (813) 520-0784. 7-11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 31.
A Classic Monsters Haunted House
A traditional indoor haunted house with fairly dark lighting. Scares are adjusted to suit audiences in the house at that particular time. Free. Church of the Beatitudes, 2812 Eighth St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 822-7178. 5-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Enter gypsy fortune teller Zelda's cursed cabin, where you'll be transported to a cemetery and mausoleum inhabited by the trapped souls of sideshow characters killed in a fire. The PG-13 attraction may be too intense for some. Donations benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Free. Cemeterror, 2035 Cornell St., Sarasota. (941) 726-9913. 7-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Frightmare's Haunted House
A professional 12,000-square-foot haunted attraction with scream zones. $16, $30 fast pass. Sarasota County Fairgrounds, 3000 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota. (941) 822-1013. 7:30-10:30 p.m. Thursday, 7:30-11:30 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m.-midnight Saturday, 7:30-11:30 p.m. Sunday, 7:30-10:30 p.m. Oct. 29, 7:30-11:30 p.m. Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m.-midnight Oct. 31 through Nov. 1.