It’s haunted house season in New Jersey! The people who run the most terrifying houses of horror around the state are putting the finishing touches on their creations before they invite this year’s
victims guests inside. Among the people responsible for adding nightmare fuel to the season is Jennifer Condron, owner of the Bane Haunted House in Livingston.
“To me, a haunted house is not about props, it’s not about scenery, it’s not even about the actors,” says Condron. “It’s just about going into a place you’ve never been before, where it’s dark, it smells funny, it’s crazy sounds and you’re by yourself, and you’re not sure what’s gonna happen next. … That’s what really freaks people out. The unknown.”
She and her staff, consisting of family, friends and veteran actors, train the cast of about 65 actors how to be scary. “For example, being scared is not just about going in a haunted house and having someone talking to you, but having things being whispered around you, having your name called out, moans and groans and things like that, is what we teach them. How to be stealth.”
How did Condron learn the trade? She was born that way. “My birthday falls on Mischief Night. My whole family has always loved Halloween. So this is just something, it’s in me, I was born with it, I’m a great actor when it comes to scaring people. When I was younger, I would walk down my stairs like ‘The Exorcist’ and scare the crap out of my brother, who was younger than me.”
She takes pride in Bane’s DIY aesthetic – nearly everything in the house is handmade – and the reliance on people over props. “We do not use a single animatronic. … I don’t believe in the air props, things like that, to me it’s not scary because it’s fake. But having a live person standing behind you, you’re not sure where they are, that’s what’s scary.”
Scary enough to cause injury. To the actors, that is. “Every year it seems like one of my actors comes out and he has a bloody nose or a punctured lip. People always fight back. It’s a flight-or-fight thing when you get scared.” During rehearsals, she says, actors are warned this might happen. “Knock on wood, it hasn’t been anything serious. … As a matter of fact, last year, a young lady had her keys in her hand. … I walked in through an emergency exit, and she just popped me in the eye with her keys.”
In fact, Bane is so scary some people don’t even make it through the door. “To my knowledge, we have the highest quit rate in the tri-state area. … I have people who pay me money, and come to my front door and do not go in. I’ve been to hundreds of haunted houses. I’ve never seen someone pay money, go to the front door, and then bail. They bail constantly.”
Technically, Bane is not for kids under 10, though Condron suggests parents use their best judgment; an 8-year-old who can handle it can come on in. But Condron does offer “Happily Haunted” sessions on Sunday afternoons, in which the lights are on and there aren’t any actors. With kids, she says, you have to be mindful of loud sounds and dark corners. There can’t be blood, and not too many pop-out scares. “If they can see what’s coming, it’s not as scary.”
Tips For Would-Be Haunters
For those who would like to do some scaring of their own, Condron has some advice: “Act naturally. Don’t overdo it. Do not talk,” because it will calm the person down. “It’s all about, just feel what you feel at that moment, and what scares you. If something scares you, it’s probably gonna scare someone else, too.”
There is one thing, though, that you should never do. “Never say ‘Boo.’” Condron warns her employees that if they do, they’ll be fired on the spot. “‘Boo’ is not scary. ‘Boo’ is funny.”
Bane Haunted House opens Oct. 2 and runs through Nov. 1. General admission tickets are $24, and Happily Haunted tickets are $8. For info, see banehauntedhouse.com.
New Jersey is full of haunted houses. Most aren’t for kids, but call ahead for more info. Several are outdoors, so check the weather before heading out.
Marlaina’s Haunted List
- Brighton Asylum, 2 Brighton Ave., Passaic
- Haunted Scarehouse, 105 W. Dewey Ave., Wharton
- The Dark Carnival, 136 Atlantic City Blvd., Bayville
- Brookdale Haunted Theater, Brookdale Community College, 765 Newman Springs Road, Lincroft
- Nightmare at Gravity Hill, Cicconi Farms, 1005 Farmingdale Road, Jackson
Top photo and Gallery photos, courtesy of Bane Haunted Attraction.