Arx Mortis remodels attraction for 2015 Halloween season

An actor creates sparks with special skates as part of his horror scheme at the Arx Mortis Haunted Attraction in Killen. The popular haunted house opened for the fall scare season Friday, Sept. 25.

“I’m either going to vomit or pee. Or both.”

My hands were clammy as I sat in the backseat on the way to Arx Mortis Sept. 24. Along with Student Photographer Tori Patterson and Managing Editor Jasmine Fleming, I was about to experience the haunted attraction for the first time.

Arx Mortis re-opened for the 2015 season Sept. 25, and since last year the staff has been working hard to perfect their spooks.

“Each year we tear out one-third of the attraction and rebuild it,” said owner Vinny Grosso. “This year, we tore out more than that.”

The 50,000-square-foot maze took me between 30 and 45 minutes to walk through, with no small amount of skipping heartbeats, multiperson collisions and borderline expletives.

“We added a new area we call ‘Voodoo Bayou,’” Grosso said. “It’s a new bridge to the swamp area with a few new buildings and some new voodoo characters. That was about a 150-foot section that we built.”

The crew also added a new section to the mine shaft, the dungeon and the cave, he said. The ‘Freak Show’ section, defined by its cotton candy-scented fog, also received a facelift.

USA Today named Arx Mortis one of the 10 spookiest haunted houses in the country last year at the same time Grosso introduced Ataxia, a laser tag maze.

“We expanded it this year, and it’s now twice as big,” he said. “We added a lot more twists and turns and a lot more hiding places.”

With the soft opening this past weekend, Grosso said the staff hammered out the kinks and fixed any broken props.

“We had about 350 people come through (Sept. 26), and that was perfect right there,” he said. “We like to go slow and make sure everything is working right. For opening weekend, I was really happy with everything. The actors did a really good job, and the props all performed like they were supposed to. It was a smooth opening weekend compared to others in the past.”

Senior biology major Paige Hauck attended Arx Mortis for the first time Sept. 24 and said it was nothing short of “haunted.”

“It was a wonderful haunted house — the kind where it sucks to be the lead,” she said. “The scariest part was probably having to walk through a tunnel that felt like two bouncy houses pushed up against each other.”

Hauck said her favorite aspect of the attraction were the costumes, specifically two males on skates — but we do not want to give too much away.

“Haunted houses are like roller coasters,” Grosso said. “The reason roller coasters are popular is because it’s an adrenaline rush. Getting scared makes you feel good and the same thing with haunted houses. It’s an adrenaline rush, and we put a lot of work into it.”

Grosso is not just a local businessman who wants to engage UNA students to visit — he himself is a Lion.

“A lot of the people, including myself and my wife, are UNA graduates, and a lot of UNA students work down here, too,” he said.

Grosso said the attraction previously offered discounted tickets for groups of international students in the past.

Department of International Affairs Graduate Assistant Mark Bryant said he has encouraged Navigators to take international students to the attraction, but does not know of any groups going.

Bryant, also a makeup artist for Arx Mortis and a 10-year veteran said it would be the chance of a lifetime for students.

“I think it would be fun regardless of the level of English (they speak) As long as you’re enjoying it with friends,” he said. “I’ve seen many international students there in the past, and they seem to be the ones to have the most fun.”

Tickets for Arx Mortis are available online, with the attraction being open 17 select days between Oct. 2 and Nov. 1.

The final day, Nov. 1, will be the annual “Flashlight Night,” where guests guide themselves through the maze using only their flashlights; no lights will be on anywhere within the area.

The attraction is handicapped accessible with frequent locations to exit the maze, but be warned: if guests use an exit, they will have to pay for new tickets to get back in.

“Halloween is a popular holiday and there’s not a whole lot of Halloween-type events around,” Grosso said. “It’s good, clean fun.”