Haunted House Review and Rating of Chamber of Horrors NY– Hauppauge, New York By Nick Georgandis and Frank Ingargiola
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When Marty Arominski founded Chamber of Horrors NY in 2012, his first new haunted attraction in nearly a decade, he anticipated plenty of competition for customers in haunt-happy New York. What no one could have possibly expected was Hurricane Sandy. Making landfall the afternoon of October 29, the mega-storm did massive damage. On October 30 and 31, typically two of the biggest nights of the year for professionally-run haunted houses, people were in no mood to go out and pay to be scared. All they had to do was look at the damage and destruction around them for that. It was the kind of extreme catastrophe that most people might take as a sign that their business venture wasn’t meant to be. However, Arominski had been passionate about haunted events for more than 15 years by then, and he wasn’t about to back down.
The next year, his never-say-die attitude led him on a journey when one of his staff members introduced him to an ex-professional baseball player named Matt Guiliano. Guiliano attended Iona College in the 1990s and had been selected in the 20th round of the 1994 amateur baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. A slick-fielding shortstop, Guiliano toiled in the Phillies’ minor league system, topping out just shy of the majors in Triple A. When Major League Baseball success eluded him, Guiliano transitioned to coaching and then to the private business sector, opening Matt Guilano’s Play Like a Proin 2004. The massive 22,000-square foot facility on Long Island offers private coaching for baseball and softball along with recreational activities. Guiliano met with Arominski in 2013 and the two talked shop and space. They’ve been partners ever since. Now, every year as the leaves start to fall, Chamber of Horrors NY takes over more than 10,000 square feet of Play Like a Pro and turns it into the premiere haunted attraction in the Empire State.
Building a Monstrous Masterpiece
From humble beginnings, Chamber of Horrors NY has risen to not just be the talk of Long Island, but one of the top haunted tourism destinations in the tri-state area. Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle came together and the current staff took shape. The process began with the addition of general manager Robert Frankenberg, whose early musical career introduced him to the horror business in 2007, and he has been neck deep in it ever since. Another key addition was Oscar Gonzalez. He was an amateur set designer for Halloween parties at his own house for years, getting more and more intense and elaborate with the props and decor as time went on. His designs got so much buzz that he started getting offers from community events. After a few very successful solo shows he came on board in 2015 to design the ultimate sets and terrifying scares at Chamber of Horrors NY.
In the haunt’s early days, everyone did a little of everything during the prep and preseason. Running a haunt project this vast requires real organizational flow for maximum effect. With each passing year and performance, The Chamber’s staff fine-tuned itself. Adam Capparelli was promoted to head makeup artist and oversees a staff that grows almost annually. Meanwhile, GM Rob began working on the operation’s overall efficiency, streamlining processes to save everyone time and money while still maximizing the scare factor for guests. He upgraded Chamber’s lighting, sound and video production, introduced new techniques to modernize the haunt’s special effects, authorized an increased use of prosthetics in character design, and focused more attention towards costuming in order to really ramp up the horror and diversify the characters.
All of Chamber of Horrors’ rooms are enhanced by special lighting, scene specific sound, and in many cases, animatronics. The latter of which are some of the best and scariest ways to catch attendees off-guard. “The best part of the animatronics is that we can change their costumes easily to reflect the theme of the haunt,” Arominski says. “We can dress them like zombies or clowns, and they drop down for a scare. Nowadays, with motion sensors and state of the art triggers, they always get their timing right.”
However, the biggest scares always come from the collection of talented actors who faithfully work night after night to give fans the thrill and screams of a lifetime. This age diverse group ranges from stage actors to horror enthusiasts, and even includes several circus veterans using their talents in ways undreamt of under the Big Top. But it is not for everyone. The ones that don’t last long, according to Arominski, are the ones who don’t see the work as anything more than a paycheck. “There are some people who love Halloween and have always wanted to do this.” he says. “You get those type of people, and then you get people who are just using it to make money. I tell them, if you’re just into this for the paycheck, you’ll never last. You have to love what you are doing, love Halloween, and love horror." While the paychecks don’t necessarily motivate the staff, a nightly prize does. Although Marty mostly works the ticket window, he’ll head out into the different haunts once per night, tagging along at the back of a group of customers where his 6-foot, 4-inch frame allows him to see from a distance where the biggest scares are coming from. He makes his notes and compares them to those from his section managers. After factoring in data collected by the haunt’s exit polls, three top actors are selected.
“Before the actors head home every night, we give out cash on a sliding scale for the performers that did the best job. It’s a great motivator because it’s not only about the money, it’s about the status of being the best,” Arominski continues. “The cash money as a reward is great, but being recognized in front of your peers just seems to up the game for them.”
Costumes and makeup are crucial for the actors to perform their best. While many of the staff at Chamber of Horrors NY have been trained to do a lot of their own basic makeup, the pro artists under Adam’s direction always augment and airbrush the performers’ faces to perfection. Actors playing prominent parts may also use prosthetics to amp up the creepy and allow a more realistic look for up close, intimate encounters. Others use silicone masks to become something decidedly inhuman but still very real. The costume department is headed in-season by build crew members Mandi Kovalevich and Megan Lane. The costume designs are the living embodiment of their passion for the craft.
The sets are full of extra dressing as well. Set Design is a hands-on labor of love for team leader Oscar Gonzalez, who begins painting, distressing and detailing each haunt in the oppressive summer heat as soon as the walls go up. As they say...the devil is in the details and there are many devils in The Chamber. State of the art lighting dazzles audience members as they travel through different degrees of light, shadow and total darkness with disorientation being the objective. Sound, which is sometimes neglected in other haunts, is a key component along with the lighting. In earlier days, Arominski’s son ran the soundboard and blasted a mixture of hard rock and metal through the haunts, a pairing that many customers really got into. Now, with every room wired with its own unique soundtrack, the music has been lowered to more of an ambient level so customers can hear all the creeks, moans chains, and those creepy, creepy character voices. All the actors have free rein to improvise within reason but most are fed lines beforehand in order to enhance the theme and further the storyline.
The Trilogy of Fear
With so much room to play and an army of crazies to man it, Marty’s staff offers three different haunts, known as The Trilogy of Fear. Each haunt features its own interactive queue and finale. Each of the haunts could be standalone events. "This concept, unique on Long Island, gives our patrons more bang for their buck," says Arominski.
The first haunt has traditionally been a variation of a haunted Victorian mansion, although its actual theme changes each year. The other two attractions evolve dramatically from year to year as the staff experiments with new ways to scare, shock, and of course, entertain the attending audiences. "Having all three in one location is what sets Chamber of Horrors in a category all to itself among New York haunts. We want to be the purple cow that stands out, we want to be different,” Arominksi says. “We want to be different every year, and scare the shit out of people.”
Because Chamber of Horrors is not limited to a single set like many other haunted houses, it has the distinct advantage of being able to recreate itself each season. Even though they have the same space, the walk through is always different. “The first haunt is usually the most detailed. We’ll mix up the rooms every year. It is always changing. As for the other two, they are a blank canvas and are limited only by our staff’s imagination. Everyone is encouraged to pitch ideas,” Arominski says.
Silent Evil: Serial Killer Monty Arbuckle's Life Size Dollhouse is a home for his twisted family. Victims of Monty's Sadistic Murders are dismembered, taxadermed into life size dolls and brought back to life using dark magic and kept inside his Gothic Dollhouse. Victims must survive the treacherous rooms in his house or forever be kept as permanent additions to his family.
Malevolence: The Catacombs beneath the Church of Brimstain are filled with secrets. An ancient evil lurks in the shadows waiting to swallow the souls of the innocent. A Witch once hung in the chapel known as Nora Scarlington. She seeks revenge upon anyone unfortunate enough to enter the cursed building. Demons, Wraiths, Devil and more accompany her in the depths of the underground tunnels.
Cold Blood: A Alaskan town sits in the cold of night as the winter snow blows through it's streets. The Moonlight illuminates blood stains among the snow littered abandoned cabins where vicious vampires search for their next meal. A savage species hell bent on carnage and chaos they hunt in the shadows and slaughter anything with a pulse.
The only constant for Arominski’s creation is an Exorcist-styled room, which has been created in some form into every haunt he’s done for over two decades. He was not a huge horror buff growing up but an exception was The Exorcist, and it has remained a favorite of his to this day. “In 20 years we have had 8-9 different actors perform that role, each putting a unique spin on it but it works every time. It never fails to get a reaction. We have had to adapt it a bit because not all of our younger patrons know the movie as well as you’d expect but the visual is very primal, very disturbing in any case. We just let the makeup and fx crew go nuts.” Arominski said with a twinkle in his eye.
The scary fun begins as soon as guests arrive. They are greeted in the lobby by 15 year Chamber veteran Frank Ingargiola, providing the voice for fan favorite animatronic Alphonse Lobbizombi aka the ‘Lobby Zombie’. Always ready with a joke, insult or scare, Alphonse sets the tone for what is to come. Next up is co-owner Guiliano dressed up as the devil himself to escort guests into the haunt. The first stop is The Board Room, an interactive movie experience hosted by one of our ghouls. It provides an introduction to the characters and themes soon to come.
Every year, the Chamber seeks to top itself with their newest creations. From the early years that featured a lot of black walls and spider webs, the Chamber has gotten more grisly, ghostly, and intense with the likes of:
Ward 9: An asylum where the patients aren’t just disturbed, they’re zombies!
Carnage: A cult compound headed by Father Payne Ripper. Join or die!
Murders' Row: A collective of serial killers, real and imagined, all waiting for you!
Toxic City: Everytown USA, polluted, corrupted and...infested.
The Chamber’s 2019 schedule is more terrifying than ever and is set to blow away anything that has come before. The Trilogy of Fear will scream back to undead life with three spectacular haunts sure to have visitors talking for years to come. “We have done some crazy stuff in the past but this year is our most ambitious undertaking yet. We are pulling out all the stops. Be afraid, be very afraid.” Marty cackled. This years lineup is set to include some edgy, controversial and experimental content. The first, Silent Evil is a twist on the house theme. When is a house not a house? When it is the shop of a magician who dabbles in both the Dark Arts and murder. The result? Living Dolls! As Stan Lee used to say, “Nuff’ said!”. Then comes Malevolence. In the catacombs beneath a church, a spirit lurks, exposing all who enter to demons, wraiths and the Ultimate Evil. Closing the show is Cold Blood, an Alaskan town, shrouded in darkness. Its inhabitants are being hunted by vampires during a SNOWSTORM. As the GM puts it, “We go to a lot of haunts, all over the country and we had never seen a snow machine in use. So we said, hell, lets get three! That should give everyone something to talk about on the ride home."
Themes, Screams, and the Greatest Birthday Ever
In addition to The Trilogy, Chamber of Horrors prides itself on offering guests thrills they have never experienced before so there’s never the feeling of “been there, done that.” New shows and events are added whenever inspiration hits. Rumors of a long whispered about sleep over event persist and may soon come to fruition.
Chamber pioneered the ‘all dark' or 'blackout night' trend, premiering Kill the Light as a weekly event in early years. Each group was given a single glow stick and then sent through the pitch-dark haunts in reverse order, entering through what was usually the exit and making their way towards the entrance. “Even if they had been through it forwards before, they couldn’t keep track of it going the other way with so little light,” Arominski says with glee. “You were already scared before you even realized you had been in the room before.”
The open-screen wall haunt known as “The Maze of Mayhem” was almost too successful when it opened. The Chamber of Horrors team employed a giant strobe light on a long, slow cycle that blinked on and off. When customers entered the area, they saw two creepily-dressed performers behind the screen about 40 feet away. By the fourth blink, the distance was down to six inches, and the performer was on the inside of the screen with the group of attendees. “This one girl, when our actor appeared six inches in front of her, she was so scared that she turned around and started to run,” Armoniski said. “That’s one of our big rules, no running. The girl went eight feet before crashing face-first into a fence." Chamber of Horrors NY graciously paid her medical bills from the collision.
A different type of scare occurred during, or rather just after, an infamous event called Dead of Night. Because it’s a full-contact show featuring adult themes, only guests 18 and older could enter and must sign a waiver too. Among the 70 plus items on the very real, very binding waiver was some very tiny print, inserted as a joke, that confirmed said entrant had agreed to “forfeit your soul to our master.” “About a month after the show, a guy called and said he’s been talking to his priest and he wants his soul back,” Armoniski said. ”He had apparently assumed that our lawyer Lou C. Fer was licensed in New York.”
The best story of all for Arominski came in the Chamber’s fourth year. Not surprisingly for a guy who runs a haunted house, his birthday falls just a week before Halloween. As mentioned previously, scaring the crap out of people is always an objective, and it literally happened one night. "It was our fourth year and on my birthday. Two different people from two different groups literally crapped their pants; they were so scared,” he shares with a laugh. “I told the staff afterward, this is the best birthday present I’ve ever had.”
There is No Bad Press
When Arominski signed his partnership with Guiliano, it gave him much more capital to pour into advertising, including a number of television commercials. One of those would fatefully play a huge role in the Chamber of Horrors’ increasing popularity. In 2014, the haunt didn’t go away post-Halloween. After that came the big winner, a Very Scary Christmas, Long Island’s first Xmas themed haunt that was advertised on late-night television with a commercial featuring a Serial Santa (Claus). Shown late at night, the commercial had little chance of spooking real-life Santa enthusiasts until the cable provider running it used it to fill some dead air spaces in its programming at 4:30 p.m. on Nickelodeon. “Suddenly one day I start getting death threats because the commercial has been played on a kids channel during the day,” Arominski recalls. “People were telling me I should die and that their children cannot unsee what they’ve seen. We saw this as an opportunity, and we put out a press release saying ‘The owner is getting death threats.’ Pretty soon, NBC News and Fox News were coming out to do stories on the Chamber of Horrors Christmas event." Further stories on the controversial TV commercial appeared on LongIsland.com and in The Huffington Post. All the buzz paid off with huge crowds to see the show the rest of the season.
Twenty plus years down the road, Marty feels the best is yet to come. “The Chamber is organic, it grows and it changes. It always moves forward. Every year, you deal with the build, the logistics, the paperwork and you get tired, real tired. It’s a lot of sweat and late nights. Then the doors open and you hear that first scream, and it reminds you why you love doing this. Before you know it, you’re planning for the next year.” Marty said with a satisfied smile. “Bigger, better, faster, more.”
Chamber of Horrors NY is billed as Long Island’s Most Intense Haunted Attraction. Featuring its famous Trilogy of Fear: 3 Haunts for the price of 1, it combines state of the art lighting and sound with a cast unequaled in imagination and talent. The Chamber is owned, built and staffed by industry veterans. It was ranked the #1 Haunted House in 2018 by a local haunt directory and has been ranked as the Top Overall Attraction on Long Island before that. For details and news, check out www.chamberofhorrorsny.com. In addition, after 10 years of anticipation and planning, in 2019 Marty intends to further his legacy by opening Fear Manor in Queens, NY with First Responder, NYC Fireman, Chris Landano. It will be Queens first and only Haunted Attraction.