Hauntville is a terrifying Halloween extravaganza

Forget the usual family fare associated with Burnley Circus Park – for the next two weekends it’s playing host to Hauntville; a legitimately scary Halloween extravaganza, with a messed up big top theme set to terrify everyone still scarred from IT.

Dale Pruser - who’s heading up the fright-fest with her husband - is a Halloween fan to the core. Although it wasn’t really an Aussie tradition while she was growing up, Pruser has long been up to her ears in black cat and witches gear as the founder of Creative Costumes, which she’s run for over 24 years. In that period of time, Pruser has seen Aussie attitudes to Halloween change radically – what was once an American thing is now culturally embraced.

“When we first started out, it was tiny,” Pruser says. “It’s massive now and our busiest time of year – three times busier than any other month. Over the years too, I’ve seen how it’s grown even locally, with more and more kids dressing up and heading out for trick or treat. We don’t have the historical ties to All Hallow’s Eve and the veil thinning and ghosts walking the earth here, so I think the attraction boils down to fun.”

Maybe it’s some kind of weird DNA hangover from days when we used to get chased by lions, but people do like to scare themselves. “It gets your heart rate going,” Pruser says, letting out an evil chuckle of her own. “That whole sensation of fear makes you bond with whomever you’re with and you get that whole adrenaline rush. It’s like a state you get into – you know deep down you’re safe, but in that moment you don’t feel that way.”

In terms of set up, Hauntville is roughly split between above and below ground themes. Depending on your tolerance levels, there’s a kid-friendly and toned-down version during daylight hours, but if you’re after a heart-stopper, go after 6pm. Brace yourself though, because the experience is interactive, with actors hell-bent on creeping you out. Naturally, Pruser has deliberately picked freaky folk with a knack for scaring people.

“When we auditioned them, they were just wearing jeans and t-shirts. Even then I was scared, and when I’m scared I laugh. I laughed a lot,” Pruser recalls. “There’s one guy in particular, when he turns it on I’d cross the road to avoid him.”

Cirque du Slay, one of the haunted houses, is a thing of nightmares for those with coulrophobia, AKA, a fear of clowns.

“Yep, it’s all about the clowns,” Pruser cackles. “For some reason, people find them terrifying.  Because of my costume background, I ordinarily don’t, but these are definitely creepy. As you walk through, there’s a twisted play on a circus performance. The threat is that you’re going to be trapped in there.” Realistically, of course, no one’s gonna be trapped – it’s just a 20-minute walk through.   

The second haunted house is the Yarra Coffin Works underworld; a recently discovered, abandoned casket and funerary site. “The idea is that we uncovered it on site – it’s old, full of decaying bodies, and a couple of stuck souls still in their doing their jobs,” Pruser explains. Think a maze, with a bucket load of jump scares.

There’s also a haunted graveyard onsite, which forms part of the free attractions (Cirque du Slay and Coffin Works are ticketed), populated by the undead telling ghost stories for the evening. You can also try your hand at the “carn-evil” games (decapitated dolls, a zombie ring toss and the like), and a photo booth to document the whole ghoulish experience with your mates. Pruser also urges patrons to dress up for the occasion, with a daily best-dressed competition and prizes.

For people pondering whether to give the Hauntville experience a go on the basis it’s likely to scar them for life, Purser assures that while it is properly scary, no one is walking away traumatised.

“For a start, you’re absolutely safe. Number one – in our haunted houses there’s no touching. We also have managers in both houses, so if it all gets a bit too much, you can leave. I’m such a big scaredy cat and I’ve managed to go through the houses because the rewards are worth it - although I do have to go through with someone else.” 

Hauntville runs over the next two weekends, from Friday October 19 to Sunday October 21, and Friday October 26 to Sunday October 28. Tickets can be purchased at the event or through the Hauntville website.