It's a frightening scene - The Explorer: El Sol

It's a frightening scene

But there's a mellow maze, a children's area, too

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Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:28 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Whether you are afraid of the dark (nyctophobia), clowns (coulrophobia), crawling through a furnace (pyrophobia) or even going to the doctor's office (iatrophobia), Tucson Screamers' haunted houses are sure to frighten you.

"Phobia" is a collection of four experiences — two haunted houses, a non-scary 3-D maze and a free children's area. It is the brainchild of former Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr., and is an idea set in motion years ago.

Sutton, who is the director and part owner of Phobia, has always loved Halloween. Years ago, he turned his own house into a haunted house.

"Halloween is my favorite holiday," Sutton said. "Kids in my neighborhood always came over and asked what I was doing this year. So (making haunted houses) has been a long-time thing for me."

Now, years later, Sutton manages a 40,000-square-foot haunting at Foothills Mall, in the former location of Linens 'N' Things. Sutton orchestrates 60 to 100 volunteers while up to 500 people travel through the two haunted houses at any given time.

The two haunts, Asylum and Voodoo, take an expected 15,000 to 18,000 thrill-seekers in October though mazes, rooms and scenes filled with items intended to scare, startle and haunt. Phobia closes after Halloween, this Saturday.

All of the money earned beyond expenses is donated to the volunteer actors' charity or non-profit organization of their choice. Large groups of volunteers are from Canyon Del Oro and Marana High School's drama departments.

Sutton arranges the safety meeting before the night begins, while all the actors get into costume. He reminded them on what to do in case of an emergency, or if something in their room breaks. He also reminded the actors to scare the guests, but not to corner them. That's when humans' fight or flight instincts kick in.

"By a show of hands," he asks the group, "how many of you have ever been hit by someone going through?" Nearly half the actors raised their hands.

Though it isn't common, being hit is an occupational hazard. Sutton reminded the actors it is OK to break character if someone is too scared or gets confrontational.

Now behind the scenes, Sutton isn't out scaring people as much as he likes. He is making sure props are working, volunteers are scaring the visitors, and visitors are getting a quality experience at Phobia.

Sutton's longtime favorite character to dress up as is Michael Myers, the fictional character from the "Halloween" movies. The costume consists of a jumpsuit, a large knife and an expressionless white mask.

When he gets the chance, Sutton likes to work the lines outside to try and get a scare out of the thrill-seekers before they head into the haunted house.

"You can just stand there," Sutton said about scaring people in line. "All it takes is for one person to see you and everyone starts noticing you."

Within the one of the haunts is a room lined with knives, pots, pans and a table filled with assorted meats and swinging limbs hang from the ceiling. John Benedict, one of the partners in the operations along with Sutton and Matt Gordon, is wetting down the plastic guts and limbs with a little water to give it that extra fresh and disgusting look.

Benedict currently works as a crazed butcher who comes out from behind a faux-wall, just as people think nothing is going to happen in the butcher's room.

Within his room, he can hear the air blaster that hits visitors with a blast of air on their legs just outside his room, giving Benedict a cue when guests are coming. Little sensors throughout the labyrinth let the actors know where the people are, so they can scare them at just the right moment.

"Timing is everything," Benedict said. "I wait until that moment when they feel safe and that nothing is going to happen, then I jump out at them."

During the other months of the year, Benedict is a commission-based artist who does metal work and sculptures.

Phobia will be open Wednesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Saturday noon to midnight.

'Phobia'

Wednesday, Thursday: 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

Friday: 6 p.m.-11 p.m.

Saturday: Noon to midnight.

1 Haunt: $10 per person; both Haunts, a 3-D maze: $20 per person; VIP to both haunts, front of the line access and $10 in arcade tickets: $30 per person.

Foothills Mall, the former Linens 'N' Things space.

7401 N. La Cholla Blvd.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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