SURREY — Amid the buzz of overhead power lines, Stephen French attempted to get the electric generator going.
“It’s flooded,” he reported with a sigh on a sunny Thursday morning.
“You’ll have to come back when it’s all lit up at night, it’ll look great in here.”
French beamed as he and Roman Kuzhlev showed off the “L’il Haunters” houses they created over the past month on the back lot of Potter’s, the garden store in Newton that turns into a big “House of Horrors” each October.
For French and Kuzhlev, the task this year was to build “houses” meant for kids, and they’ve done so by paying attention to details.
“This is the first year we’ve collaborated on this,” French said. “We’ve always helped build the more scary houses here but in there, some kids find them a little too intimidating because of the dark hallways, even during the family hour. They’ll go in, get frightened and leave. In ‘L’il Haunters,’ we want them to stay and look around.”
The new attraction includes two separate houses, one called “Mystic Village” and the other “Spooky Castle.” Built in so-called hoop houses otherwise used for storage, they’re connected by a party room created inside a metal storage container.
Inside “L’il Haunters,” signs reveal areas such as “Merlin Monroe’s Fortune Telling,” “Stinky Marshmallow Bistro” and “Broomhilda’s Broom Emporium.”
“It’s still spooky, of course,” Kuzhlev explained as he gave the Now a tour, “but it’s more for kids, maybe 12 and under. There are no animatronics, no moving things, and no actors in here either. We tried to remove all the grossness of the other houses, so there’s no blood, but with more of a classic spooky thing, with witches, monsters, snakes and things.”
Kids notice everything, French added, so their challenge was to create something not too scary but also interesting for younger visitors.
“We’re used to doing gory and scary here, the more macabre the better, but we needed to make this space fun, and funny, for kids,” French said. “A little simple thing is to add eyes to a skeleton and all of a sudden he’s goofy and not as frightening for a little child, or placing an eyeball on a pumpkin as his nose.
“Often, when people go through the upper houses, they’re so frightened that they just run through and don’t see all the detail,” French continued. “And we put hours into the detail in all of the houses, with props and paint. So in here, kids are allowed to come in and leave, walk around as often as they like, unlike the others where people pay and are allowed to go through just once. Maybe their friend saw something, ran outside and told them about it, and they’ll both run back in to look at what caught their eye, that kind of thing.”
The two “L’il Haunters” houses are open nightly in October from 4 to 7 p.m., and from noon to 7 p.m. on weekends.
The whole attraction was up and running last weekend, at 12530 72nd Ave., and reopens Friday (Oct. 7) for a month of Halloween-themed thrills.
For older kids and adults, the “Monstrosity” and “Swampin’ Slaughterhouse” houses will offer full-on spookiness nightly from 7 to 10 p.m., with “family hour” (for younger guests) happening from 4 to 6:30 p.m. For admission rates and other details, visit Pottershouseofhorrors.com.
Kuzhlev and French, helped by painter Megan Davies, take pride in the “L’il Haunters” houses they’ve created.
“A lot of the things we used are from the garden centre and remnants from the other haunted houses,” Kuzhlev said.
“And the local thrift stores love us,” French added as he pointed to Pumpkin King, a giant creature placed at the front entrance of the attraction in recent years.
“He’s been moved over here,” French said. “He’s been re-purposed, and that’s the beauty of everything we do here. It all gets re-purposed, reused in some way, to create a whole new look.”