If you go
What: "Screamboat Chamber of Horror" haunted house
When: 6 to 10 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday
Where: Monson Hall, Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus
Cost: $5, tickets available only at the door
Steamboat Springs When a group walks into Ariel Marchand's vampire room in the "Screamboat Chamber of Horror," her job is to put them ill at ease.
A 10-year veteran of the annual haunted house at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, Marchand asks the group of 10 or so how they would kill a vampire.
Garlic? Silver bullet? A cross? Nope, those just are annoyances, she tells them.
"It's just to leave a little bit to the imagination and give them something to work off of," said Marchand, who typically plays the vampire slayer in "Screamboat." After her character's introduction, the lights in the vampire room go dark, and the group starts screaming.
Setting the stage is a big part of the 11th annual "Screamboat," said Jimmy Westlake, event organizer and CMC astronomy and physics professor. Put people in a dark room and give them a little bit to work with, and there's hardly any reason to jump out and say "boo," he said.
A fundraiser for the Sky Club at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, "Screamboat" opened Oct. 23 and will run from 6 to 10 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday at CMC's Monson Hall.
Striking a balance
Halloween is one of Westlake's favorite holidays, and he's always enjoyed dressing up and scaring people, he said.
During his 15 years teaching at Young Harris College in Georgia, Westlake discovered that Halloween also makes an excellent fundraising opportunity, and he put on a haunted house in the school planetarium for 10 years. When he came to CMC 11 years ago, the haunted house hobby came, too.
About 500 trash bags, 20 boxes of push pins, a dozen rolls of duct tape and 300 construction hours go into "Screamboat," Westlake said. The production requires about 25 people each performance night and about 50 people total during its five-night run.
The haunting starts on the second floor of Monson Hall and sends guests sliding down several flights of stairs before spilling into the building's bottom floor, which is filled with ghouls.
The 10 skits and various in-between mysteries in "Screamboat" are based on "traditional horror," Marchand said. There are mummies, clowns, vampires, aliens, angry ghosts, crazy people and chain saw murderers. Bob and Dave's haunted dorm room - based almost entirely on suspense and flashing lights - is a Westlake creation, and one of his favorites.
It's not easy to frighten people who are expecting to be frightened, a challenge that makes keeping people on edge in a haunted house a little like putting them on a roller coaster, Westlake said.
The alien room is goofy and funny, but it's followed quickly by plenty of surprises before the mood lightens again.
"It puts them at ease a little bit, and then you sock it to them after that," Westlake said.
Refusing to cut corners
After 11 years in business locally, Westlake is starting to see students in his CMC classes who grew up with the haunted house.
Wyatt Wilson, who is in his second year at CMC and plays a mummy in a new archaeology room this year, is one of those students. He remembers coming to "Screamboat," which was his first haunted house, with a group of friends when he was 10 years old. They had plenty of scares that night, and Wyatt said he hopes to return the favor.
Each "Screamboat" volunteer has become something outside him or herself to pull that off, Westlake said. The props and costumes Westlake collects during the year and his refusal to cut any corners add to the fully committed haunted house.
"We only use real meat products in the 'Screamboat Chamber of Horror' - nothing fake," Westlake said. Each hunting season, he heads to Steamboat Meat & Seafood Co. to collect spare parts for props - a deer head for one of the skits, and a heart, eyeballs, a cow's ribcage or whatever else is lying around.
Along with a chance to dress up, "Screamboat" offers academic opportunities for students in CMC's astronomy group, the Sky Club. Proceeds sponsor a scholarship for an engineering or physics student and help pay for club trips to observatories across the Southwestern United States.
Westlake said the haunted house has become a community event, and he hopes it will continue to bring in Halloween fans. Marchand said she hopes the event continues to give people chills.
"If you can get people worked up, they're going to keep coming back," she said.