WORDS BY PATRICK STRAIT
There is no wrong time of the year to be scared. Or so says the gang at Nowhere Haunted House.
Equipped with everything from your haunted house staples, such as zombies and killer clowns, to more unique elements of horror, such as abandoned pirate ships and a giant pneumatic shark, the Inver Grove Heights haunt is finding ways to keep people pissing their pants all year long (but like, in a fun way!).
“We’re trying to get people accustomed to the idea that it doesn’t have to be October for them to be scared,” says Mike Reimer, one of the co-owners of Nowhere Haunted House. “Horror movies come out all throughout the year. We want people to think of us the same way.”
Reimer, alongside co-owners Ian Knutson, Galen McKay, and Nicole Ross, opened the haunt this past October. Before that, all four were home haunters—that is, people who build their own haunted houses and displays in their garages or yards.
“You get a little more freedom doing that as opposed to what the corporate industry haunts deal with,” he explains. “It’s fun. It’s fun to play and be creative.”
They also worked together on projects in the past, such as The Haunting Experience on Highway 61, as well as the award-winning Fringe Festival production, Hello, Mother, providing their painting, costume design, and acting abilities to a variety of hair-raising presentations. But when one of the owners made the decision to invest in a more formal version, that’s when things got seriously spooky.
“We were all really good friends who had worked at another haunt,” Reimer recalls. “Galen was a home haunter, which most of us started out as. When they decided that they could invest, we all sat down and decided, ‘Hey, let’s try this.’”
After securing a location big enough to house their creativity, the group got together building, painting, staffing, and marketing the business. By fall, Nowhere Haunted House was open for business, offering displays of both bloodcurdling terror and family friendly spookiness. And while other local haunts pack up shop on November 1, Reimer and company were just getting started.
“It was always our plan to do other seasons,” he continues. “With a haunted house, you need to come up with other ways to generate revenue.”
Some of those other ways included a Christmas-themed creep show called “Yule Scream,” and a Valentine’s Day version called “Cupid’s Revenge.” These haunts brought in evil elves and blood-soaked angels to provide more seasonally appropriate scares, but Reimer says that it was much more than their standard Halloween presentation with a different coat of paint.
“Those ones were more of a story,” he explains. “It brings back some of the folklore into the haunted house. With those events, we couldn’t have as many people come through in the course of an hour, but you got more time and interaction with the characters.”
Reimer says the success of the two special-edition haunts may lead to even more holiday characters getting in on the action in the coming months.
“We’ve talked about doing a leprechaun version, or maybe a big bunny bash for Easter,” he laughs.
In order to the keep the year-round nightmare rolling, the group just recently launched their new escape room, The Lucky Skull, inside of the haunted house. The game takes players on a trip to an abandoned pirate ship, where they are tasked with finding the right clues and solving puzzles to help them snag treasure from the undead pirate crew.
The new feature, Reimer says, allows Nowhere to show off their sets and provide a less terrifying way for curious customers to see the space.
“We want you to have fun and be entertained,” he says. “I don’t know the industry standard in escape rooms, but one thing we did differently is we have Handsome Hank, who is a talking skeleton that will give you a clue whenever you want. We won’t shame you if you ask for five clues. Plus, Hank might sing a song or just tell you different things without giving you a clue, too.”
Over the past several weeks, test groups have been playing inside of The Lucky Skull, giving organizers feedback as to what works, what doesn’t, and what they’d like to see in the future.
“It’s been fun and stressful, but we’re getting there,” Reimer says.
Beyond the new escape room, the crew at Nowhere Haunted House is planning to keep making their space bigger and better. This summer, they’ll be opening an arcade with Elvira pinball machines and a mini-golf course with themed holes featuring moderately scary attractions like giant wasps and bees, and plan to launch more escape room games that utilize the haunted house as something more of a hybrid-space.
“We want to encourage everyone to come through,” he continues. “We’ll do low-scare events for families, but it’s not out of the question for us to do horror-themed escape rooms in the future using actors and things like that.”
While Nowhere Haunted House is upping the ante on the increasingly crowded haunted house industry in the Twin Cities (Reimer counted four other large-scale haunted attractions just in the immediate area around his location), the group is hoping that their big ideas will make the scaring business a bigger success for everyone.
“We want haunted houses in this area to succeed,” he says. “I don’t want Halloween to go away. If people come to our haunt and have a good time on a Thursday or a Friday, maybe they’ll want to check out another that weekend, or next month, or later this year.”