HUDSON — The crowd chants louder and louder: "Hang him! Hang! Hang!" Then a condemned pirate plunges into the gallows, his noose grinding tightly against his neck. While hanging in the air, he twitches, causing a stir among onlookers. Then he falls still and the crowd moves on.
And the pirate gets ready to do it again.
Don Surenkamp knows how the stunt works, but he'll never tell. For five years, he has worked hard to keep the Angelus House's annual haunted house interesting, scary and mysterious.
Surenkamp, who owns Ron's Halloween and Patriotic Fireworks in Holiday, created the handicapped-accessible haunted house to provide thrills and raise money for the Angelus House, the Hudson facility for severely disabled adults.
Surenkamp provides all of the Halloween props and costumes free of charge, so all proceeds go to the Angelus. But he said the event wouldn't exist without the volunteers.
"Bottom line is, it's an accumulation of everyone doing this with me that makes this entirely possible," he said.
The house is run by Halloween-crazed volunteers who relish the spooky fun. Angelus residents are also involved; some wear pirate costumes and greet guests at the front door.
Surenkamp has been in the fright business since the 1980s, when his family owned a Halloween shop in Indianapolis. Across the street was a school for disabled children. They sometimes visited the store, and he would walk or wheel them through the aisles, explaining the nuances of Halloween.
At first, the kids were restless and tried to touch everything in the store, but by the end of the season a group of students could walk with him through the store. They would point and laugh at toys and costumes.
"You could just see the change in these people," Surenkamp said. "So it just stuck in my head that I can make a change in these people."
When Surenkamp moved to Florida, he met residents from the Angelus, including a young disabled girl. She reminded him of the students in Indianapolis. He asked himself: Why not create a haunted house here that is accessible to the disabled?
The director of the Angelus, Joe Neri, found it to be a great idea, and each year the house has grown and improved.
At first, the haunted house featured about a dozen rooms. Now it has 21 rooms, followed by a 1-mile haunted trail, a pirate ship and a hayride.
The hangman's gallows is one of the additions this year. There are also three new rooms: the Witch's Room, the Gallery Room and the Hunter's Room, where machetes splotched with bright red stains hang on the wall. A human leg, hand and brain simmer on an old grill. Even Sulley, the blue monster from the children's movie Monsters, Inc., is there.
This year's house also features "pass-through walls" with sliding panels that allow actors to look through and scare visitors.
Surencamp said the secret to a successful haunted house is having great actors with good makeup and masks. This year he invested in a few $500 masks that are so thin that every facial expression is noticed, making the actors look like real monsters.
The haunted house is for everyone, but families with children should come early. Anyone carrying a glow stick earlier in the evening will get a less intense experience.
The actors become scarier as the evening progresses — especially after the Angelus kids have gone to bed.
Jacqueline Baylon can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.