So you went to Scare-O-Winds and still have some be-hoozis that wasn’t scared out of you.
Relax. But not too much. Various “haunted houses” open their creaky doors every autumn. They proliferate like mushrooms.
And then you have Tony Cooke, a 52-year-old in rural Lawndale who is the horrormeister of Haunted Pyramids, an attraction that has four haunted houses at one locale for one price.
The site – about 55 miles northwest of Charlotte – is not your ordinary scare fair, according to those who love spook houses. While there are many high-quality contenders within a easy moonlit drive of Charlotte, websites devoted to such attractions in the Carolinas rank Haunted Pyramids among the best.
The dark secret to the Lawndale horror’s success? Cooke and his companions have worked in the motion picture industry, building sets as well as destroying them with special effects. And choice remains that can be salvaged often find their way here.
The most ordinary part of Cooke’s résumé is a long stint playing bass for Billy “Crash” Craddock, a multi-decade rockabilly/country musician more popular in Australia than here and whose hits include “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door.”
He also owns Broncos, a country-music club in Gastonia.
The rest is on the scary side.
Tony Cooke, his sibling Greg, and their childhood friends Ray and Larry Bivins operate what many haunted house websites peg as one of the best in North Carolina.
That started in 1998 when they tricked up the old Cooke family chicken farm – Greg owns it – into a spook house called the Haunted Pyramids. It doesn’t look Egyptian; it more resembles something Norman Bates’ country cousins might own.
Their macabre roots run deep.
Tony Cooke long ago did set construction for Earl Owensby, the Shelby filmmaker who made straight-to-drive-in features. Cooke later did special-effects work on “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth,” “Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice,” “Asylum” and the “Banshee” series.
The Bivins brothers also went into that field. Larry Bivins is special effects coordinator for “Outcast,” the Cinemax exorcism drama filming in the Rock Hill area.
Cooke, also a special-effects technician, stages mayhem for “Outcast.”
What happens to sets and such when an area production is done? The Cooke brothers remove and reuse discarded props and set walls. Unlike the doctor in “Frankenstein” and the grave openers in “The Body Snatchers,” they have the OK to do this.
The pieces are hauled to the Haunted Pyramids grounds and reassembled.
It crawled from the past
Tony Cooke describes the old family farmstead in October like this: “It’s at least 200 feet off the road, down an old gravel road. It’s kind of spooky driving into this place if you’re not familiar with it. You go around a little curve and there’s this beautiful haunted house with laser lights and beautiful, scary music.”
The effects created at the original Haunted Pyramids were such that customers were loathe to leave. Cooke: “It caught on to the point that there was a four-hour wait all night long. We were tired of working until 4 a.m., so we added more attractions to shorten the lines.”
Haunted Pyramids begat – at four- to six-year intervals – Monster Manor in 3D, Clown Town in 3D and then The Asylum.
Cooke is reluctant to say which is scariest. “That’s a tough question. Haunted Pyramids is the biggest, but Clown Town is the creepiest. Asylum is a short but intense haunt. And 3D adds a whole different element.”
Um, chainsaws? “We use at least eight every night,” Cooke says. “We also use fires outside buildings for displays. We have some pretty big tricks up our sleeves. Ray Bivins is licensed for even bigger things than I can do.”
There are 60 volunteers working there each night it’s open, doing everything from handling the parking lot to running the gift shop. The boo staff of about 50 scares those who enter the old Cleveland County farmhouse and the three structures.
The Cookes’ parents would be proud. Especially their dad.
“Our parents did a lot of fundraisers for the Kidney Foundation – music variety shows, and then haunted houses. You can blame them some for our scaring people.
“Mom told me that before I was born, that for one haunted house dad and another man caught some bats and tied them onto fishing line – so the bats wouldn’t get away when they were used in the house.
“You could get into trouble doing that nowadays.”
Of his early film inspirations, Cooke says “The Exorcist” came first. But Freddy Krueger of “Nightmare on Elm Street” notoriety became a favorite.
“He had a quick wit and physically looked awesome,” Cooke recalls. At Haunted Pyramids, “We still do a Freddy room to this day.”
Where is it located? You’ll find out when you get there.
Here are more noteworthy attractions, all an easy drive from home on a moonless night.
Archdale: Kersey Valley Spookywoods, near High Point and just off I-85, is a family farm that started a haunted house in 1985 that has grown into one of the most acclaimed scare sites in America. Nine attractions are covered with admission, including two with a haunted circus theme, a mansion, asylum, corn maze and a tram ride. Open Friday-Sunday evenings through Halloween, plus Nov. 6-7 and 13. Not recommended for 12 and younger. (PS: If the place looks familiar, it’s because – by day – it’s Kersey Valley Zip Line, which came along after Spookywoods.) Details: www.spookywoods.com.
Hiddenite: Camp Fear – voted scariest attraction in North Carolina by fans of hauntworld.com – is a 45-minute stroll through a woods full of a “multitude of creatures and twisted psychos.” Open Friday-Sunday nights (plus Oct. 29) through Oct. 31. Details: www.campfearnc.com.
Statesville: Midway Wicked Woods, spooking folks for 20 years, describes its operation as “an outdoor event with 15 different buildings with scares inside.” At what is ordinarily Midway Campground, walk through a graveyard, a 600-food maze and the Vortex tunnel. Keep your eye peeled for Wicked Willie. Friday-Saturday nights through Nov. 1 (plus Oct. 18, 25, 28 and 29). Details: www.midwaywickedwoods.com.
Pilot Mountain: Hacker House – one of the “25 Must-See Haunts” touted by Haunted Attraction magazine – is a tad northeast of Winston-Salem. Its six attractions involve legends concerning the involving people who owned the Hacker family property over the centuries. Bunny’s Playtime? That’s the domain of a monstrous family pet. Open Friday-Saturday nights through Oct. 31. Details: www.hackerhouse.com.
Rockwell: Boogerwoods, a guide-led attraction off I-85, includes visits to the Mine Shaft, Zombie Meat Packing, Boogerastic Park and other scary areas. It has been in operation 38 years. New for 2015? Small Engine Repair (expect chain-saw hijinks). Open the evenings of Oct. 22-24 and 29-31. Details: www.boogerwoods.org.
Bishopville, S.C.: Kreepy Hollow spotlights a two-mile horror-filled hayride, a graveyard and two-story haunted house. Open Thursday-Sunday nights through Nov. 1. Details: www.kreepyhollow.net,
Gaffney, S.C.: Field of Screams poses the question, “What’s lurking in the corn after sundown?” Let’s just say the six featured creatures on its website include a pair of demented clowns, two nasty looking scarecrows, a “vampiric imp” and a werewolf called Trix. Open Friday-Saturday nights through Nov. 1. Details: www.fieldofscream-sc.com.
Blacksburg, S.C.: The Fear Farm offers 8,000 square feet of indoor terror. Open Friday-Saturday nights through Oct. 31. It closes around 11:30 p.m. “or until the last victim is served.” Details: www.scfearfarm.com.
Cowpens, S.C.: The Wompus Wood Haunted Trail is a 35- to 45-minute stroll through a 16-acre tract populated by various critters and gobblins including a wompus – a creature of Cherokee/Southeastern folklore said to be a giant and fierce feline whose arrival is said to predict really bad things. Open Friday-Sunday nights through Oct. 31 (plus Oct. 22 and 29). Details: www.wompuswoods.com.
Lamar, S.C.: Just west of Florence, Haunted Hills of Lynches River is an after-dark experience now in its 14th year. The haunted hayride stops midway on its two-mile trail... at the haunted house. Open Fridays-Saturdays through Nov. 1. Details: http://hauntedhills.angelfire.com.
Haunted Pyramids, 2745 Toney Road, Lawndale (near Burns High School) is open Friday-Saturday nights through Oct. 31. Admission – $22, cash only – includes admission to Haunted Pyramids, Monster Manor in 3D, Clown Town in 3D and The Asylum); 3D glasses provided for Monster Manor and Clown Town). Details: www.hauntedpyramids.com.