Derek Vitas and his brothers Jimmy and Damian were mere teenagers back in 1990, twenty-five years ago when the Rockin’-R-Ranch, now known as Spooky Ranch began. The Vitas brothers did not sit down one day and start planning a haunted house attraction. The idea evolved when their mother almost lost the farm where they lived. “It’s uncanny how your survival mode kicks in when necessity of survival becomes a reality,” agrees the family. The oldest son, Jimmy recalls how he used to make haunted houses in his basement and had his school friends come over to scare. “I remember thinking…If the farm down the road can do hayrides, why don’t we? But to differentiate us, I wanted to make ours a haunted hayride. We didn’t have much money, but we had a couple of credit cards, an old tractor, a hay wagon and some hay. We had some talent, drive and a hard work ethic.” They started making homemade props, and the rest is haunting history. The saga of Spooky Ranch at the ole Rockin’R-Ranch began with the introduction of the now famous Haunted Hayride, but originally it was called Spooktacular Nights at Rockin’R-Ranch. Time progressed, other haunted houses were added to the venue, and eventually the name changed from Spooktacular Nights to Spooky Ranch.
Most every haunt owner will attest that their haunt is the scariest, the best, the most frightening, the biggest, the most well-known, has the best actors, the most monsters, most gruesome zombies, most wicked creatures, most crazed clowns or whatever else they can dream up to say. Through the last 25 years, Spooky Ranch has provided all that and more which is why their customers (victims) keep coming back for more!
What sets Spooky Ranch apart from everyone else to be ranked so high in the haunted house community? To be awarded an 11 out of 10 rating by the Haunted House Enthusiasts is quite an honor. They’ve been rating haunts for over fourteen years. Their average attendance is forty to fifty haunts per season. So why did they rank Spooky Ranch their rare 11 out of 10 rating when only 5 other haunts prior had been bestowed such honor? Obviously, the simple math of that speaks volumes. Where Spooky Ranch goes above and beyond is the “quadruple threat” of acting, prop use, proper animatronic use and timing. Spooky Ranch hits on all cylinders. Some might say that every haunted house utilizes these 4 facets, but to say that all haunts use them correctly would be false. The Spooky Ranch team is expert! Here is an example: You walk into a room and are greeted by a monstrous actor. He introduces himself as your ‘master of ceremonies’ for the evening. As he gives his outrageous spiel, you fail to realize he has moved closer to you. Just as you notice the prop in his hand, the floor starts to drop & vibrate and a deep, penetrating laugh that emanates seems to shake the whole room. Without giving away the whole gag, I believe you get the idea. Not realizing that he changes his proximity to you as well as producing a scream rendering prop, gives you an idea of how Spooky Ranch interweaves the ultimate quadruple threat. Now, combine those scare tactics with the great sets and exterior designs, and that’s why Spooky Ranch deserves all the accolades.
What makes Spooky Ranch so special?
“Our haunt is managed properly, professional and unique, but even more importantly is the family aspect. I’ve learned… The family that scares together, stays together. Who knew?” says Darlene with a smile, mother and CFO of this family operated business.
What could credit the success & longevity of this haunt?
Spooky Ranch has done such a good job at pleasing so many age groups at the same time. Even while being a hard core haunt, Spooky Ranch is also a major draw for families. It’s not easy to please so many age groups, but kudos to them for being the rare haunt that truly caters to all generations.
Weighing in on this is son, Derek Vitas, who is perhaps the creative genius behind the success of Spooky Ranch. “Spooky Ranch appeals to the masses not just teens,” says Derek. “We truly are the theme park of haunted houses, and our actors have speaking roles. Instead of giving the typical ‘boo’s and ‘rah’s found at other haunts, we give you a professional, theatrical production. People of all ages attend our incredible haunt. How we do that?...We have different levels of fright and fear. We have kids that will come with their parents to ride our now famous Haunted Hayride. This is a ride of terror and suspense at every turn. We have Hollywood quality sets and scenes in the Forest of Fear including massive thirty-foot-tall, gigantic props, monsters and many surprises. The Haunted Barn is a theatrical production with all the glitz, screams, thrills etc. of a ride at Universal Studios. In fact, when the doors open to exit, our patrons are clapping their approval… That’s when you know you’re doing something right! Plus, this is the only place in the Cleveland area to ride a haunted hayride. Spooky Ranch has it!”
I couldn’t agree more with Derek. The ambiance is so electrifying as you drive up and immediately see the gigantic, lighted skull atop the barn. Nothing beats their Haunted Hayride. It’s the flagship of the production. After all, what’s better than a ride underneath the starry Autumn skies with the Halloween moon shining down as you timidly enter the Forest of Fear with creepy monsters, ghouls, zombies and ghosts lurking behind each tree and prop along the way.
“The second level of fear might be the Wicked Clowns in 3D or the new Blood Slingers Saloon with a western theme,” says Derek, “and the extreme level of fear & fright would be our new Bloody Mary’s Revenge haunted house.”
Spooky Ranch is the only haunt in the U.S. to have the copyright to use the Bloody Mary name. Previously, Universal Studios Horror Nights in Orlando, Florida used it. “Children are not permitted in this house,” tells Derek, “not for vulgarity, but it’s just THAT frightening.” Spooky Ranch’s top actor, Gus Maurer, is the lead actor who sets the stage in this house. “He is well renowned in the industry, and for GOOD reason,” explains Derek. I happen to know Gus, and I certainly agree with Derek.
Other SPOOKY RANCH projects:
Hauntville in Elyria, Ohio is another extreme, rare, totally out of the box, over the top, scary haunted attraction produced and operated by Derek Vitas, the family’s guru of haunted attractions. Derek designed and began this amazing haunt in 2010. He and his scare-masters production team managed by Maureen and Krieg Hall is a whole new haunting experience. The five mind-blowing, awesome attractions are Cellblock 13, the Butcher Barn, Psycho Manor, Zombie Hunt in 3D and Wicked Clowns in 4D. Wicked Clowns is the first 4D attraction of its kind utilizing a whole new sensory perception of sight, sound and smell. For years, Hauntworld.com has recognized BOTH Spooky Ranch and Hauntville as two of the best, scariest, most well-done haunts and gives them extremely high ratings.
Also, back in 1995 the family started a daytime festival called The Old West Pumpkin Fest at the Rockin’-R-Ranch. This is a real Autumn treat for the whole family. It features hayrides, pumpkin patches, pony rides, animal petting farm and more. They even feature a professional stage show with a live production of the costumed characters called The Country Kids Show.
Past, Present and Future:
Derek Vitas is the creative talent behind both Spooky Ranch and Hauntville, and with the invaluable help of his siblings, Jimmy, Damian, Travis and Allison they have moved way beyond that first haunted hayride experience twenty-five years ago. The original, old tractor used in haunt season one has been laid to rest many years ago. In Columbia Station, (Cleveland) and Elyria, Ohio you will find two haunts unlike any other in the country. These creative giants led by Derek will give you an experience like no other. They will make you scream, laugh and be totally entertained and amazed. Derek’s plans are to imitate his success by expanding into other cities across the country as his family migrates elsewhere. It’s a natural progression for this well-run family business operating 2 of the country’s best haunts!
Spooky Ranch and Hauntville will be highlighted during the Midwest Haunters Convention (MHC), the largest Halloween convention of its kind in the US serving a primary audience of haunted attraction producers, actors, artists and home haunters, May 29 -May 31, 2015, featuring the pre-bus, spotlight tour of the best haunted houses in Northeast, Ohio.