You might know it as the llama barn.
That’s when the Missoula County Fairgrounds is filled with laughter and sunlight, and the building is filled with cute and fuzzy animals during the annual Western Montana Fair every summer.
But starting this week, every inch of the 7,000-square foot building at the corner of Russell and Brooks will be home to six days of horror.
Transformed by the artistic vision of Ben Jacobson and Richard Davenport – and the duo’s serious know-how in theatrical set making, video and sound track production – the llama barn is, for a short while, the Missoula Haunted House.
“If you have a heart condition you should not come to this,” Davenport said. “It’s going to be scary.
“The last time we had a haunted house in the backyard of Ben’s house, we had people crying and one guy was so scared he threw up.
“When I asked if he was OK, he said ‘It was so scary – it was awesome.’ ”
Creating a terrifying experience for people takes planning and experience, and Jacobson and Davenport have been creating haunted houses for Halloween ever since they were high school buddies in Kalispell.
Now in their mid 20s and owners of Roothead Studios, a film production company, the duo has teamed up to out-do their long record in wet-your-pants, scream-until-you-are-hoarse, hope-you-get-out-alive haunted house experience.
In this case, the “house” is really a patchwork of theatrical sets that takes about 10 to 15 minutes to navigate.
After a preview, know this: People brave enough to take the tour can expect the unexpected, random acts of terror, horror movie-like theatrics and amazingly real-life gore.
Why is it so elaborate? Because last year Jacobson and Davenport couldn’t find a house to rent to create a haunted house, so they used the time to tour Universal Studio’s “Halloween Horror Nights” to get some ideas for their Missoula Haunted House.
After some searching, they were able to rent the llama barn and have already leased the building for next year.
“If this goes well, we will do it every year – for 30 years,” Jacobson said.
The past few weeks have been frantic for the duo and their team of friends and family who have been helping them create the haunted house and get the fog machines working properly.
Jacobson and Davenport are easily putting in over 100 hours a week on the haunted house, and that’s on top of their 40-hour-a-week jobs.
“It’s a lot of work,” Davenport said. “But this lets us be a bunch of 8-year-old boys building the most awesome fort ever.”
“And it lets us be part of the best of Halloween – to scare somebody else,” Jacobson said.
The Missoula Haunted House is unlike most other haunted houses where you can see what is happening to the people in front of you and expect what’s coming next, Davenport said.
Instead, at their venue, small groups of five people at the most are allowed through the house at staggered intervals, he said, “so you are really on your own through this and the experience is catered to your group – which makes it a whole lot scarier.”
Fog machines, tricks of illusion and light, fluorescent paint, creepy harp music, slamming doors, chainsaws and a team of actors, are just some of the elements that will make people want to jump out of their skin.
“We are film guys – so this is like shooting fish in a barrel for us,” Davenport said. “We know how to push people through scenes, how to slow them down and give them an experience they won’t forget.”
“We know how to light stuff, and we are big on makeup, so we know how to get the mood we are going after,” Jacobson said.
The full-terror experience will be available for six days. On Halloween, from 4-6 p.m. a child-friendly, toned-down version of the tour will be offered in which parents are allowed in free with their children and candy will be handed out.
Jacobson and Davenport hope to make enough money from their horrifying venture to donate any profit to the Missoula Butterfly House.
“We both think it would be awesome to have a butterfly house in Missoula,” Davenport explained. “And I know I really want to walk through a 2,000 square foot atrium filled with tropical butterflies and read books there in the middle of February.”
The business partners aren’t banking on a profit, but they are hopeful their haunted house will make an impression.
“This year we want to make a splash and let people know it’s happening,” Davenport said. “We want to make a mark so that they are looking for it next year.”