Nick Francis and Max Simon are frightening guys. You wouldn't know it from looking at them, with their clean-cut appearance. But when October rolls around each year, these two cousins have one goal in mind: scaring the hell out of you.
They know apple-cherry varnish perfectly mimics mass quantities of blood, and that hiring actors and paying them ensures they'll keep showing up to work weekend after weekend.
That's because for the past two years, Francis, a 19-year-old Toledo native and sophomore at The Ohio State University, and Simon, a 17-year-old junior at St. Ignatius High School, have raised more than $16,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation by delivering some chilling Halloween scares. Two years ago, they staged the Hell's Gate Haunt in Toledo, before unleashing The Fear Experience at North Olmsted's Soccer Sportsplex. Along the way, they figured out they had a knack for the business.
"We can actually make it work," says Simon. "We can make it a success and do a good haunt."
This year, Francis and Simon have relocated The Fear Experience to North Olmsted's Great Northern Plaza in vacant space next to Best Buy. The $13 admission gets you access to two haunted attractions — one with the usual scares and another billed as "the asylum" — as well as an accompanying Halloween festival with bands and food concessions. An extra $5 will give you a taste of the sounds, smells and feeling of being buried alive. You can even invite friends to watch your brush with death via Facebook thanks to an online video stream of those who dare step inside the casket.
"It's not just gross-out, and it's also not just psychological," Francis says. "It's more a nonstop scare. ... If they've walked more than 20 feet without an actor getting in their face, that's a problem."
Francis has been creating haunted houses in one form or another since he was in fourth grade. The moment he knew he'd outgrown amateur status was when a haunt he staged at his family's home in 2008 drew 500 people. He entered it in a Good Morning America contest for the nation's best Halloween display — a "huge deal," he says — and was chosen as a finalist. Although he didn't win, his family put their support behind his and Simon's scare tactics.
There has, however, been one rather large side effect of the haunt business: four semis full of equipment that's covered in flame-resistant chemicals.
"If we ever want to get rid of it, it will be impossible to burn," says Simon. "We'll just have to hide it in someone's yard and hope no one sees."