Monday, August 20, 2018
Events

You can pay to be kidnapped and tormented at Tampa's Fright Nights Campout

The roar of the chainsaw drowned out the camper's screams as the ghoulish monster hauled the man away from his tent. The monster dumped him into a casket, laughing hysterically as he sat on top of the coffin.

And people paid for this experience.

The thirst for a good scare knows no season, it seems, since the Fright Nights Campout coming to Tampa this weekend is selling steadily. For $75 to $85, you get 13 hours of overnight horror entertainment. The camp sleeps up to 500 people.

The Kentucky-based Fright Nights Production Co. produces a number of gory events in Lexington each Halloween season. But this summer, it is taking props and costumes on the road for the Fright Nights Campout series. Tampa is the first stop.

"We had a lot of requests to come because there's a big interest there in horror, apparently," said owner Greg Walker, 37. The entrepreneur doesn't even like horror movies, but started his interactive haunt business in 2007 to great success.

"It kind of blows my mind a little bit, but people are after that immersive, interactive experience and enjoy that," Walker said.

Why would anyone want to do this? Glenn Sparks, a communication professor at Purdue University who has studied the effects of media violence and scary TV images, said this kind of experience was news to him. But he's not surprised.

"As the media continue to serve up more and more intense images, I suspect that it is fueling the appetites to experience these things more directly," Sparks said.

The location will be disclosed only to registered campers 48 hours in advance. The spookfest starts Friday with some old-fashioned campground games, with a twist.

You might play tug-of-war with zombies or have potato sack races while monsters with chainsaws chase you. In Extreme Hide and Seek, campers can be thrown in a cage or suffer worse fates once they are found.

There's a safe Pansy Zone to get away from the worst of it, but outside of that, the creepy creatures have free rein. You can yell, "I'm a big pansy," and the actors will stop. You also have the option to leave, but there is no re-entry if you do.

After the games are done, it's lights out — and that's when the real "fun" begins.

Guests can expect visits from creepers and can even be kidnapped. In one of the videos on the Fright Night website, a camper is pulled out of a tent and dumped in a casket. Under the frequently asked questions section of the Fright Nights website, "Will I get any sleep?" is answered with, "Are you kidding me with this question?"

Walker said his monsters come from a highly trained cast of more than 200 actors he uses in the Halloween season. He brings about 60 of the "camp counselors," as he calls them, to the camp-outs.

The job comes with a lot of training, Walker said, "and they know how to bob and weave."

"If an actor does evoke enough of a reaction and gets a punch, you can't see it but under that mask, they are smiling," he said. "Because they know they've won. They have frightened somebody."

Alcohol and drugs are strictly forbidden, and Walker considers the fright family friendly, assuming the parent has signed off. He recommends 18 and older for the sleepover, but says there's nothing to keep a brave teen from joining.

"If we can't make them scream," he said, "we can make them laugh."

Sparks cautioned parents from letting any child under 12 go to an experience like this, because children don't have the same coping skills as adults.

So how do adults cope with it?

Not unlike roller coasters or scary movies, Sparks said, research shows that the scarier something is, the more a person enjoys it, especially after the fact. The physical reactions are virtually identical, whether a person is experiencing fear, joy or anger, he said. But when you add to it the laughter and communal fun, negative feelings become positive.

"They may be self-deluded into thinking they like to be scared," he said. "It's not that they like being scared — it is clearly unpleasant at the time — but they like the positive emotion after," Sparks said.

"They can come out of a threatening experience and say, 'I conquered this, and it did not get to me.' "

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.

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