Five years in and Richard Davenport is just settling in to being the premier architect of scares through his annual haunted houses.
Tuesday afternoon, Davenport was in “crunch time,” busy directing workers and putting the finishing touches on lighting, wiring and painting in the llama building on the Missoula County Fairgrounds in advance of this year’s opening, which will feature the Empower Choir singing Halloween songs.
Davenport started construction Sept. 1 and it’s been his full-time job since then. In the past year his partner, Ben Jacobson, left Roothead Productions, but Davenport wasn’t going to give up on the haunted house.
He started thinking up ideas that were more practical, with less expensive materials than last year’s alien/zombie apocalypse theme that required elaborate spaceship sets, finally deciding on an expansion of his first theme —back when the haunted house was in Jacobson’s backyard.
“The Reaping” is a mashup of ideas inspired by the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the first season of "True Detective" and a little bit of “Psycho’s” motel madness.
The website, themissoulahauntedhouse.com, offers a lengthy back story to the haunted house, one that follows a group of friends who stop at a motel before being drugged and abducted by a cult-like group that haunts the nearby orchard and cornfield.
The story goes into more gory detail, as will the haunted house itself.
“People actually get murdered in front of you in the haunted house this year,” Davenport said. Fun, scary and exciting is how he described it.
The “why” of haunted houses gave Davenport pause, thinking of reasons thousands of Missoulians would pay to get the pants scared off them.
Halloween is really the only holiday, besides Christmas, that encourages creativity in decorating one’s house and yard, Davenport said, along with coming up with costume ideas.
“It’s all about creativity,” he said.
But “why do people pay to get scared? I don’t think I’ll ever know.”
They do, though, and the Missoula Haunted House is among the area venues providing quality scares every Halloween.
It pulled in about 4,000 visitors a year its first three years, Davenport said, and jumped to more than 5,000 last October, though that’s only about half of what he thinks they could handle over the three weekends they’re open.
That’s despite last year’s house not quite meeting Davenport’s high bar for scariness. He promised this year’s will up the ante.
Only committed actors have been hired to work the haunted house this year, no volunteers, and the actors have free rein to customize interactions for each group within the story, warranting repeat walk-throughs for horror fans.
There’s no age limit for the event, but Davenport warned it’s rated “M” for mature audiences.
“I think that this year’s going to be pretty damn scary,” he said. “Probably not as good as next year.”
The Missoula Haunted House opens Friday, Oct. 13, and runs every weekend up to Halloween from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $10 and cash only.
Kids' hours (which are more of a trick-or-treat style walk-through) are 4 to 6 p.m. starting Saturday, Oct. 28. Tickets are $5 and cash only.
A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the nonprofit Imagine Missoula, which helps low-income residents make repairs and stay in their homes.