“The Cabin in the Woods,” pictured, is one of three haunted attractions at Farmington Fright Nights. The haunted-attractions event, which runs Friday, Oct. 29, and Saturday, Oct. 30, at the Farmington Fairgrounds, is a collaboration between Titcomb Mountain, United Way of the Tri-Valley Area and Halloween-production company Loki’s Workshop. Photo courtesy of Darlene Patrick

FARMINGTON — At Farmington Fright Nights, the town’s annual haunted-attractions event, United Way of the Tri-Valley Area (UWTVA), Titcomb Mountain and Loki’s Workshop, a Halloween production company, are collaborating to turn Farmington into the “Halloween destination of Maine.”

Fright Nights, which is running at the Farmington Fairgrounds Friday, Oct. 29, and Saturday, Oct. 30, (and ran Oct. 22-23) is the most extravagant edition of the town’s haunted-attractions event yet.

In past years, the Fright Nights were held at Titcomb Mountain and run by the folks at Titcomb and UWTVA. The previous editions of the haunt were just one weekend long, one consecutive walk and on a smaller swath of land.

This year, UWTVA and Titcomb enlisted the help of Darlene Patrick, a haunted house expert and founder of Loki’s Workshop. Patrick is helping run the haunt at the Fairgrounds because “we outgrew Titcomb,” said UWTVA Finance and Operations Coordinator Kendra Baker, who is overseeing the event.

Patrick has been working in the haunted house and Halloween industries for over 30 years — though she remembers doing her first haunted house in a neighbor’s home in 1978.

In her career, she’s run haunted houses all over — namely at the New York Renaissance Fair, taught seminars and workshops on the art of the haunt, and currently serves as a member of the Haunted Attraction Association.

When Patrick moved to Farmington in 2017 and learned about Fright Nights, she was immediately drawn to the event and imagining the possibilities for what it could become.

“These guys have that heart and that potential (for Fright Nights) to become a really big draw for the area,” Patrick said. “They can raise a lot of money for what they need, but also bring a lot of people up here.”

Baker said UWTVA and Titcomb decided to work with Patrick after they heard “the new girl in town already asked about reserving (the Fairgrounds)” for her own haunted-attractions event, Baker said.

“It was meant to be,” she added.

“It’s a good partnership because all of us love Halloween so much,” Patrick said.

Patrick first got involved with Fright Nights in 2020. Due to COVID, the physical haunted attraction was canceled. But Patrick kept the spirit of the event alive by producing a “Farmington Fright Nights Halloween Home Challenge,” where 30 residents decorated their homes and entered into a contest. Patrick then created an interactive map — which she said was downloaded over 200 times — so people in the area could tour the houses.

“That tells me that Halloween is something that we love around here. And we want to see more of it,” Patrick said.

This year’s haunt entails three separate attractions: “The Cabin in the Woods” — graveyard and all (where this reporter might just be acting Friday), clown-house “Carnevil of Chaos” and “The Slaughterhouse.”

The haunts are focused on the actors and theatrics, rather than just “animatronics jumping up,” Patrick said.

Though Patrick and Loki’s Workshop have been contracted to help run things, the rest of the event is completely volunteer run — even the actors. Patrick said it wasn’t difficult to round up Halloween lovers — who often time feel “alienated” — to act in the haunt.

“One of the things I love about the industry is that it speaks to those who are on the fringe. It gives them a place to be welcomed for being a little odd and dark with no judgment,” Patrick said. “Some kids are on the edge of everything, so they don’t fit into the normal activities at school, or maybe they’re feeling bullied or they have a little bit more of a dark aesthetic. And they oftentimes feel like there’s no place for them.

“At the haunted house, we accept everyone as they are. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or if you don’t know how you identify … everyone is welcome. Because that one thing that we all have is that need to belong,” she said.

Alongside building the attractions, Patrick has also been preparing the actors and helping them to “make (their) own monster.”

“Everyone has a monster inside of them. Our job is to help reveal them and understand where they fit them (in the haunt),” Patrick said. “Once you find your confidence, the character develops.”

Lois Bubier, of Ron’s Market in Farmington, dresses as a witch while volunteering at Farmington Fright Nights. Ron’s Market is a major sponsor of the event. Photo courtesy of United Way of the Tri-Valley Area

On a Sunday a couple weeks before the haunt, 15 volunteers of all ages gathered to help put the haunted attractions together. Some volunteers work with UWTVA, others saw an ad on Facebook and were drawn to the event.

Some of those volunteers are eager to act in the haunt.

“I look forward to scaring people I don’t like,” Sadie Burnham, a thirteen year old from Farmington, said. “I like making grown men scream.”

Farmington-resident Preston Ball, 14, is excitedly fulfilling a bucket list item by acting.

Others will be volunteering their time to do actors’ makeup, including cosmetologist Mackenzie Houghton.

Patrick also brought in haunted-house experts, including Angelo Lamblase of Augusta.

Lamblase, who has been building and running haunts year-round for 40 years, was overseeing construction to ensure the attractions focus on what haunt experts refer to as “the five points.”

The goal is for attendees “to talk about those (five points) when they leave,” moments “that are unique that people don’t expect that they’re going to talk about,” “something that sticks with them,” Lamblase said.

While a haunt is about scaring people, Lamblase said it’s also important to create “a balance between humor, terror and fun.”

“There need to be highs and lows. It’s not just about jumping out of a corner and saying ‘boo,'” Lamblase said. “Fear is psychological. A great haunted house knows the difference between psychological fear and startling someone.”

“It’s not just about terrifying someone. We are here to entertain,” he added. “Whether you’re afraid of nothing or everything, you will enjoy yourself.”

Patrick also brought in Elizabeth Martinez, a Halloween expert who helped with makeup and training the volunteers in haunt acting (silly-clown, zombie and ghoul walks alike) the night before the inaugural evening. Patrick said the haunt is “really lucky to have her.”

In future years, Patrick envisions the entirety of Farmington as a “Halloween town.” She would like to see the downtown streets of Farmington lined with scarecrows and decorations with “as many people as possible decorating (their houses).”

“We want to get the whole town involved,” Patrick said.

The final weekend of Farmington Fright Nights runs Friday, Oct. 29 and Saturday, Oct. 30, 7-10 p.m. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and organizers suggest arriving as early as possible.

Over 1,500 people attended last weekend — more than 800 of whom purchased tickets in advance. Some attendees reported long lines — waits reaching two hours.

Patrick said “an extraordinary amount of people (attended), more than we expected.”

Baker said that people who arrived to the fairgrounds between 7-8 p.m. were able to attend all three attractions.

“People would show up around 9 p.m. expecting they were going to get through all the attractions, (in addition to) moseying around and getting food,” Baker said. She added that though ticket sales closed at 10 p.m., the team continued to let present attendees get in line and ran the attractions past 11 p.m.

“If you’re there at a reasonable time in the beginning you’re able to make it through all three,” Baker said. “We have learned a lot in our opening weekend, but we cannot eliminate the wait (by sending in larger groups or putting them through faster) as that will compromise the experience inside.”

Tickets are $20 for one entry to each of the three attractions. There are also $10 tickets available to roam the grounds without walking through the attractions. Proceeds will go toward Titcomb Mountain, UWTVA and the subsequent programs and initiatives they run in addition to the people they help.

The haunt is recommended for ages 13+, however Patrick said “we’re not going to turn anyone away if somebody thinks that their child can can handle it.”

Alongside the haunts, there will be Fright Nights merchandise, a beer/cider tent, local vendors, food trucks, axe throwing, photo booths and a tarot reader.

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