NORTH TONAWANDA – Halloween is over, but if you are Mike Raisch, the creepy holiday never ends.
The 27-year-old lives with his family on a quiet, dead-end street in North Tonawanda. Pretty flowers in urns on the stairs and a trickling fountain that greets visitors give no hint of what is in store, nor did Raisch’s pleasant manner and smiling face.
But he delights in scaring the bejesus out of folks.
Raisch, the founder of Dark Labyrinth Entertainment, has been setting up immersive experiences at horror houses for the past four years. This year he has unveiled his latest project in a 6-foot-by-12-foot cargo trailer that will give customers an immersive “ride” on a time capsule to an abandoned world in an all-white room with surround sound, a moving hydraulic floor and effects like little beads that drop down on strings to touch your face like bugs – or in this case an angry beehive.
“Because it is 3-D sound, you will actually hear the bees flying around your head,” Raisch said. There are also water squirts and air and a bright flash, like lightning, wind and rain in a thunderstorm.
And the experience is completely in the dark.
The box truck is set up like a traveling four-seat movie theater. Raisch is currently seeking permission from the Common Council to bring the truck to local festivals and even parties.
He will unveil the experience to friends and relatives this week. The next step will be traveling to Halloween trade shows in the spring. If he achieves success in his business venture, he plans to rent the trailer and/or create more experiences for others.
What else would you expect from a young man who focused on entertainment while getting a self-designed business degree specializing in Halloween entertainment from SUNY Fredonia and who currently is working on his master’s in creative skills at SUNY Buffalo State.
How did you get your start?
Haunted houses gave me the outlet to be creative. The haunted house market is what I’m aiming for. It sounds fun, but everything has a scary twist to it. We don’t focus on blood and gore, but more of the psychological stuff.
Would this type of ride experience be something you could use year-round?
Yes. It is a little more flexible and not strictly Halloween. But it is not rainbows and butterflies. It is a little more intense.
What is your goal? To scare the heck out of people or to make them say “Wow”?
More so option two, but the undertone is scaring people. There are so many people intrigued by haunted houses, but there are others who say, “Nothing is scary to me.” I’m trying to appeal to all of those people.
Is there anything like this around here?
Probably not. I’ve seen things like this at Disney and Universal. It’s where I got my inspiration. We’d actually have people come out of our experience saying that. This is our fifth, but this is the first time we’ve put it into a trailer. Each time we’ve had a new story. The first time, “Project Z,” we went down in an elevator shaft to help the government eliminate zombies and you were used as bait. We’ve worked with District of the Dead and Final Fear venues at the McKinley Mall, where we would set up in a box on the side. Other experiences were “Joy Factory,” which we did at Christmas time. It was kind of sarcastic and whimsical. We turned you into a porcelain toy and sawed you up. The third and the fourth were similar. It was called “Bust a Buffoon,” which was kind of like a carnival game where you could shoot lasers. But there was also a wheel of fear, kind of like “Jumanji,” which would be released into the room. The bees were one of them. We also had spiders, death, insanity.
Had you ever thought of working at Disney or Universal or in the film industry?
I’m open to working for someone who gives me the creative license to do those things and I would be getting paid. I went to a Universal horror night and I enjoyed the environment, and the haunted houses were well designed, but because the crowds were so huge, they cattle you through. They couldn’t do it any other way. My vision is to create a more personal experience.
How long ago did you get started?
I started in fifth grade with my first Halloween set with a posable skeleton. All through high school we set up a haunted backyard for charity. We did it for five years, until I graduated. By the last year we had 60 volunteers and raised $5,000. In 2013 Dark Labryinth became a DBA (registered as a brand – doing business as).
You see this as a business?
Halloween is a business for me because I want to merge fun with work. Halloween is kind of a spiritual thing for me. Growing up I was a weird kid and was bullied for it. I found a haven in the holiday. I was able to be myself, strange or weird, and be accepted at the same time. People are encouraged to be strange.
Did you always plan to make a career in the Halloween industry?
No, actually. I went to SUNY Fredonia as a math education major because that is what I thought I was supposed to do. I wanted to make a life for myself and it seemed like a promising job. The first year they had us out in the field and I decided I didn’t want to wake up early and wear a shirt and tie every day. I didn’t want a job that boxed me in, but I still loved to teach. I just had to rethink what I was doing. It matters that I do what I love and love what I do as opposed to “making a living.” I thought I might have to leave Fredonia, but we actually designed a Halloween entertainment bachelor’s program degree.
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