When visitors walk through Amhurst Asylum, they see dilapidated padded cells crawling with demented inhabitants, and dangling corpses shrouded in spider webs. Shrieks and cackles echo in the darkness while wild eyes leer through boarded walls. Finally, the smell of gasoline, accompanied by the roar of a chainsaw, greet them as their nightmarish journey comes to an end.
What they don’t see is the labor of love that goes behind every scene, every face and every prop- and the dedicated community that brings the fear to life every October.
Amhurst Asylum, located at 228 South 500 West in Valparaiso, is home to a very special set of people devoted to creating a walk-through horror movie, where each visitor is immersed in the twisted realms of the directors’ imaginations.
Jim and Steve Alvarez transformed their father’s old farm eight years ago into what is now Valparaiso’s only haunted attraction, utilizing the 23,000 square foot space as a playground of fright.
“Every year we seem to add more rooms,” Steve Alvarez said. “After eight years, we have 40 rooms of terror…This is our passion, we want to give people a good show. It’s something we all pour our hearts and souls into for the month of October.”
For the Alvarez family, it’s a family affair where siblings, spouses, kids and parents alike come together to play their part. Which is fitting as the crew of make-up artists, actors, set designers and directors make up their own macabre family, where occasionally sparks fly resulting in marriages and life-long friendships, according to the brothers.
Steve Alvarez said there could be anywhere up to 110 actors and actresses, ranging from ages 14 to 75, in the asylum on a given night. While at night they take on a ghoulish façade, during the day, the many faces at Amhurst are lawyers, nurses, veterinarians and police officers.
“We’re an actor-based haunted attraction,” he said. “We’re very proud of that. It takes a whole team to do this every year. It’s those folks inside who make this what it is.”
Jim Alvarez said people have driven from different states just to experience Amhurst.
“There’s a story behind every character, there’s a story behind every room,” Jim Alvarez said. “Everyone has a crazy background; every person and scene has a meaning.”
Jim Alvarez said construction of the following year’s asylum begin as early as November as soon as they take apart their current set. Everything that makes Amhurst a terrifying yet fun destination is credited to its many talented volunteers.
Stephanie Masco, head of the make-up department, has been on SYFY’s “Face Off,” a reality show competition between special effects make-up artists creating looks from both fantasy and horror. Masco appeared on season eight, which aired in 2015, and has kept her love for her craft alive since. She thrives in the flurry of air brush paint and hairspray as she and her team create clowns, zombies, asylum experiments, monsters and more each night.
“We do their teeth, hair, make-up,” Masco said. “We really do a full head-to-toe transformation.”
Visitors can thank Geoffrey Graves, creative director, for the bizarre and creepy scenes they encounter as they explore the asylum. Graves researches the old era of asylums, dating from early 1800’s to 1970’s when the last true “asylum” shuttered its doors.
“Without the basis of reality,” he said. “Fantasy can’t exist.”
Graves has done make-up, prop and set design for Six Flags, Sea World, the famed Knott’s Scary Farm in California and more. He has also done prosthetics work in Rob Zombie’s cult classic, House of a Thousand Corpses.
“I love the movie aesthetic where you can really get lost in it; I like to transport people into their environment,” Graves said. “The deeper you go in, the more sinister and darker it gets.”
For Graves, he also sees the positive community Amhurst Asylum creates. Older members mentor young volunteers, and school-aged volunteers have to have good grades to participate.
“Even if it’s 15 days out of the year, it gives people a release,” Graves said. “Take the bad things from their week, or their day, and focus that energy in positive ways.”
Amhurst Asylum Hours of Operation, now through Oct. 29th
KIDS DAY HOURS: NOON–3PM (Regular show will be open on these nights as well, 7-10pm).
Check out http://amhurstasylum.com for more information!