The Shallow Grave and the mayhem within orbits around its resident trouble maker, Thaddeus Van Buren, a good guy gone bad with a tragic ending. Sound familiar? Not so fast… Thaddeus, a jack of all trades (when it comes to the dead that is), was a caretaker of the old cemetery on the hill around the time of the Great Depression. Things were good for the Van Buren family until that dark day. Poverty set in, then famine, followed by the horse of death. With more bodies to bury, it seemed as though Thaddeus was in high cotton. Only one problem…There was no money to pay ole Thaddeus for his services. Eventually, the same dead that fed his family were now starving them. Torn between his sense of duty to the community and the responsibilities to his family, Thaddeus came to a conclusion. He would continue to put the dead to rest, only in another way. Thaddeus thought he had it all figured out. Since no one could pay for his services with money, they would pay in flesh. One way or another, Thaddeus was going to feed his family. He pretended to bury the unfortunate all while loading the coffins with bricks and serving up the bodies to his otherwise clueless loved ones. Things were good for Thaddeus again. The community was happy, his family was doing just fine, and things started to get back to normal. But eventually the dead weren’t as plentiful, and food became scarce for Thaddeus again. Driven mad by his cannibalistic ways, the once gentle man just trying to do the right thing turned savage hunter. His thirst for flesh outpaced the dead, so he decided to tip the scales in his favor. With this came more problems; the souls of the dead were restless. They became furious with Thaddeus and his lust for the living as well as the dead, so those fortunate enough to be laid to rest refused to do so. They rose from their slumber to seek vengeance against Thaddeus and his family. And that’s exactly where you will find yourself, when you visit The Shallow Grave…Caught in a war between the dead and YOU the living.
How it all started:
The Shallow Grave is the brain child of owner/producer, Joe Phillips. Joe always had a deeply rooted love for horror, but never imagined he’d be in the haunted house industry. Joe was raised in Orlando, FL and frequented the classic ‘Terror on Church Street’ haunted house often, but actually building his own haunt never even crossed his mind. Until one day, Joe found himself diving head first into the passionate yet stress filled grinder of haunted houses.
After driving home one day in October to prep for his upcoming Halloween house party, Joe took a peek at his groundbreakers from the big box stores in his front yard and the embarrassment he felt was demoralizing. That evening he hit the internet. “There has to be better decorations,” Joe thought. That night he came across Distortions’ Spitting Debbie and Poison Props’ Lunging Spider, plus he picked up an air blaster. “Well now what?” Without a haunt, a plan was crafted to booby trap the house for the party. Just one problem… Joe didn’t know how any of this worked. Hours into internet research, he stumbled across Home Haunting. Puzzled, he watched a few videos about them. After about 100 hours or so of scouring the internet, he learned what NOT to do. From those lessons, he did what so many others have done; he started a home haunt. Not having anyone else to share his madness with, he began obsessively rigging his house with as many animatronics as possible in his free standing 725 SQ FT haunted joke (as he called it). With dark walls, $5 strobes, and whatever props he could muster, Joe quickly decided it wasn’t gonna cut it. It reminded him of how he felt that day driving home and seeing the pitiful attempt in his front yard for the party. But by year three and some help from friends, Joe went from 725 SQ FT to nearly 2,000 SQ FT with fully-equipped animatronics and ADA compliance, ALL in his backyard. Little did he know that the municipalities had caught wind of his venture into the dark world, so that didn’t last long, but Joe had three years in with hooks set deep. What’s a guy to do? As it turns out, there was another local home haunter in the same predicament. “Chad Ashley (current house manager for The Shallow Grave production) stopped by my house on my last night open that season. He too was being forced to close his home haunted house due to complaints from neighbors that live to ruin things for everyone,” jokingly recollects Joe. So, the pair did the only natural thing. They teamed up and started planning a professional haunt.
“No amount of seminars at the tradeshows could prepare me for the coal raking I was in store for from the local powers that be,” said Joe. All the same, he pressed forward. Joe and his team aspired to bring Central Florida something they hadn’t seen before. He had been to HHN once before and enjoyed himself, but the bug never bit him until his first year at Midwest Haunters Convention. There the bug kicked him in his face when Joe was lucky enough to experience the Haunted Hoochie in Ohio. “Holy Cow,” he thought. “Florida is getting robbed!” Being a perfectionist, Joe knew he was going to set high standards, which is great for the paying customer, but typically not so great when it comes to setting a budget and trying to stay within budget. So YES, Joe broke the cardinal rule of setting a budget and sticking to it from year one.
Fight or Flight:
At Shallow Grave, realism is paramount. “Just scaring people was never the plan. There is an art to being scary, the setting must be just right,” said Joe. At The Shallow Grave everything is done to trigger the “fight or flight response”. Even the props must serve a function. This is a fear symphony with every part in concert with another, constantly pushing those closer to the edge.
High Praise as SCARIEST haunted house:
On one Friday night alone in 2014, Haunted Hills had over 40 people in one night quit. The Shallow Grave quickly gained the reputation of being the scariest haunted attraction in Central Florida. That’s high praise considering the competition. In fact, Orlando Weekly said, “I was impressed by the length, scenic detail and gooey gore of The Grave which rivaled or exceeded Universal’s mazes in most respects.” The Shallow Grave is by no means an “extreme” haunt, nor do they have any desire to be, but The Shallow Grave haunted house does allow controlled minor contact with some of its patrons from some of the more seasoned actors. Almost everything done is through a tactical filter, all to squeeze every bit of discomfort from the customers.
The design team and haunt ‘think tank’ at The Shallow Grave consists of Joe Phillips, Chad Ashley and Eric Dodson. Three very different people with very different views, which gives The Shallow Grave a plethora of ways to extract fear from the customers looking for more than beer and high prices elsewhere. The Shallow Grave has an all-volunteer staff of almost a 100 strong. The Shallow Grave pours everything back into the attraction in an effort to weather the storms. The building is leased year round so the design and build team can create breathtaking sets full of realism that can rival even the major theme parks in the area. Joe Phillips (owner), Chad Ashley (House manager), Eric Dodson (character DevelopmentWardrobe i.e. “Fabric Wizard”) along with Mike Grenfell (Technical Advisor i.e. “Prop Ninja”) all work their usual 9-5 grind only to hit the haunt for another 4-6 hours a day preparing for the next season. Together with Eric Lonski (make-up director) and Mike Ashley & Jeff Kistler (lead contractors), they hope to bring enough nightmares to quench the thirst of those willing to test their mettle with what The Shallow Grave has to offer.
With a third attraction in the designing stages, The Shallow Grave crew hopes to continue to push the envelope and feed the cravings that have been neglected for so long. Central Florida is becoming quite the hot spot for haunted houses as of late, and that can only mean good things for the industry. The Shallow Grave offers 2 attractions, and in 2015 (which is only their 3rd year), they will have Haunted Hills: The Rage and ADHD (Attention Deficit Haunt Disorder). “Haunted Hills is home to our beloved Thaddeus Van Buren, and unlike Halloween Horrors Nights or Howl-O-Scream only 6 or fewer at a time are subjected to our brand of torment,” informs Joe.
Haunted Hills - The Rage:
You will be dropped off outside the Van Buren two-story farmhouse next to the once quiet uneventful old cemetery. As you approach the porch of this playground from Hell you can see the living dead roam back and forth in the upstairs windows from the front yard. Enter the foyer and make your way through the house that holds so many evil secrets, as you lumber through the Van Buren house you will witness the havoc that Thaddeus wreaks on his victims as you try to keep from becoming one of them. Make an effort to survive where he prepares the meals or follow the stench of rotting flesh to the blood stained morgue and see where evil thrives. Thaddeus is everywhere in this old house. If you happen to make it through his abode, you still must trek through his backyard, work sheds and graveyard. Make your way through a fully themed environment of an 18thcentury, above-ground graveyard complete with fully scaled tombs and crypts laced with oversized monsters and enough walking dead to make the most seasoned Call of Duty player nervous.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Haunt Disorder):
This is a completely different drink of water for your haunt thirst. ADHD is a litany of nightmares experienced by the few victims that escaped the wrath of Thaddeus Van Buren, but never truly escape his grasp. It’s a phobia based haunt that blends all things: fear of being choked, snakes, spiders, clowns, serial killers and a dash of Voodoo. Then, sprinkle in a zombie or two, and ADHD is sure to have something for everyone. ADHD was added in 2014 to rave reviews and is a nice complement to the rustic, classic horror movie feel that Haunted Hills offers.
At Shallow Grave the scares are plenty yet the prices are way more competitive than the big parks. For the price of their parking alone, you should instead attend The Shallow Grave. Plus the length of attractions at The Shallow Grave haunted houses will blow away any competition. In fact, the Haunt per minute is equal to about 6-8 of the big guys individual events, so do yourself a favor and take the plunge into The Shallow Grave this Halloween season! www.TheShallowGrave.com