What are they building in there?

Well, Maxon McCarter calls it a “horror show,” not a haunted house.

The co-owner of Zombie Tools, a company that makes functional weapons and accessories with an apocalypse theme, was describing this project while dressed head-to-toe in a priest outfit.

Around him in the basement of the Zootown Arts Community Center, volunteers in various costumes were building a “horror show,” indeed.

There were still cattle prods to assemble, and whips to make – they’ll probably use rope. The giant space worm was in good shape, though. And the shackles in the torture room were tested and ready.

Come Friday, the finished haunted house – er, horror show – will pit witches against aliens.

“The witches will be rounded up and then tortured in front of the alien elite,” McCarter said, in a broad, no-spoilers plot outline. “And then as you escape the spaceship, you’ll see what happens when the witches get their revenge,” McCarter said.

Like “Aliens vs. Predator,” it doesn’t have to make sense.

“The main point is to make it stranger than anything you see out there,” said McCarter, who has built five previous horror shows in Missoula, including last Halloween’s “Redneck Lab”-themed show at the ZACC.

They achieve that “strange factor” by avoiding store-bought costumes or props.

“We make sure to make it all DIY, out of junk, out of the Home ReSource, and make it so it doesn’t seem made-up and cheesy,” he said.

Indeed, eight to 10 volunteers had been converting about half of the center’s sprawling basement for a month now, said Adelaide Every, ZACC development committee co-chair.

Mylar emergency blankets line the aliens’ rather expansive torture room, the reflective silver adding a nice futuristic effect. It’s a waiting room, more or less, for the witches going before the king and queen alien overseers, Every said.

Take a few steps closer and the alien elites’ throne reveals its origins – spray-painted lawn chairs topped with long arcs of cut metal and skeleton parts. In a decorative touch, an alien baby submerged in a lava lamp sat before the queen’s throne. Back on “Earth,” there was a corral in the woods where a left-behind alien will be held.

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It takes a lot of work to scare people – set design, costuming, prop building and more – and Every said, about 20 people will perform in the main event.

Those are all creative activities that tie into the ZACC’s mission as a nonprofit community arts center, said ZACC Executive Director Kia Liszak. However, she and McCarter both emphasized that it’s appropriate only for those ages 18 and older.

And even among adults, it’s built for a certain subset.

“It’s designed for people who enjoy being scared,” Liszak said. “It’s a real haunted house.”

“I like to emphasize that to people. I always wanted something like this in Missoula – a real haunted house, a real theatrical event that actually changes how you feel,” she said.

Even among those who like to be scared, horror is the most likely response.

Entertainer editor Cory Walsh can be reached at 523-5261 or at cory.walsh@lee.net.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.