Haunted house under construction in Easthampton mill building not for children, faint of heart

Last modified: Tuesday, August 05, 2014
EASTHAMPTON — A man in a lab coat embroidered with the name BioMedCorp greeted a Gazette reporter Thursday at a door off the lobby of the Button Building on Union Street.

If you haven’t heard of BioMedCorp, that’s because the company doesn’t really exist. It is the fictitious human cloning research laboratory that business partners Jeremie LaPointe and David Spear have dreamed up as the storyline for the haunted house-like Halloween attraction they are creating on the building’s first floor.

“Basically, you’re here to tour BioMedCorp,” LaPointe, 37, said Thursday while explaining the scenario. But as soon as a group of visitors steps out of the lobby and inside an elevator Spear built, they’ll start to suspect that something has gone horribly wrong at this laboratory. “You should be shaking at the end.”

LaPointe and Spear did not want to give away too much about their “haunt,” as they call it, before it opens for the Halloween season on Sept. 27. But they’ve spent countless hours and thousands of dollars planning, building and animating many of the “scares” by hand, right down to the giant lunging head of an unnamed, fanged creature. LaPointe, of Granby, said he is a sculptor and carpenter, while Spear, 47, of Palmer, is a whiz at anything electrical or mechanical.

They joined forces in early 2014 to create DementedFX Inc. and started building scary things in their garages. Since they signed the lease on the 7,500-square-foot space five months ago, they have used 1,500 two-by-fours and 350 slabs of Sheetrock to create a maze of hallways, laboratories and offices. While actors, enormous puppets, and other moving things will make visitors jump, LaPointe and Spear have also carefully planned the different environments throughout the haunt so that lighting, sound, smell and even temperature will heighten the creepiness.

“We’re not gearing this toward younger crowds. You’re not going to bring a 5-year-old in here,” LaPointe said Thursday after a tour of the space. Even the toned-down matinees on Saturdays and Sundays for younger crowds are probably not suitable for anyone under 13, he said.

“We don’t want to traumatize anyone,” Spear added.

The haunt will be open Thursdays through Sundays from Sept. 27 to Nov. 2. Then, LaPointe said, DementedFX will continue to lease the space and start work on next year’s haunt, which will have a new theme.

They have invested about $200,000 in the project, which LaPointe said has mainly come from their savings, home equity and personal loans. If they sell $20 tickets to 10,000 visitors over the six weekends, they’ll break even, he said.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for 18 years,” LaPointe said.

He studied sculpture and special effects at the University of Massachusetts, he said, and has built puppets for Broadway productions and sculpted on projects at Six Flags and Mohegan Sun. Creating a creature-filled haunted house sounded like a fun niche, but he never found the right location and partner until this year.

The Valley has lots of college students, as well as teenagers, who he said are more likely to look for an over-the-top Halloween experience.

“The fact that no one has done anything like this in this area is crazy,” he said.

While the area offers small haunts in homes, spooky hayrides, and Six Flags’ Fright Fest, the closest “indoor haunt” like BioMedCorp is in Worcester, LaPointe said.

Even the seasoned haunted house-goer will see something new at this research lab, he said. “We’re going for something different, something people haven’t seen before,” he said.

“Most haunts don’t have a storyline,” he said. “Here, you’re walking through a storyline. You’re not going from the witch room to the clown room to the butcher room. And no one’s ever going to break character. We want to stay true to the experience. It’s all about making people terrified.”

They even have a creepy website, www.biomedcorporation.com, with photographs of smiling scientists and mysterious, vague promises that the research work “will make history.”

Building an attraction

LaPointe and Spear said they got some strange reactions when they told people in the community about the haunt.

“I don’t know if people thought we were joking at first,” LaPointe said, but now people seem excited at the prospect.

They first convinced their landlord, Button Building owner Kevin Perrier, that they knew what they were doing. With the help of Porth Architects of Easthampton, they drew up plans that met building codes and eventually got permits from Building Inspector Joseph Fydenkevez. Their neighbors in the building were not initially thrilled with the idea of having a haunted house on the first floor, but LaPointe and Spear are careful not to run noisy sound effects during the day or track fake blood on the lobby carpet.

They finished construction in the space that formerly held Landry Furniture last week with the help of several friends and Lane Electric of West Springfield. “We’ve been living here,” Spear said.

Most of the work takes place after 5 p.m. because they both have day jobs — LaPointe owns a finished carpentry business and Spear works for a company that assembles and installs automatic doors.

Spear said they have bought some scary things from online companies, such as pneumatic pieces that animated by pressurized air, which most haunted houses use, he said.

But the big puppets LaPointe sculpted and Spear wired and welded together move more smoothly and can interact with people in the room, he said.

“With a person operating it, they can be much more realistic,” Spear said.

LaPointe said he could not ask for a better a partner than Spear, whom he met years ago when they both worked at sign and design companies. “I try to deal with the sculpting and construction, we collaborate creatively, and Dave takes care of the electrical, mechanical and lighting stuff. If you can think it, mechanically, Dave can build it,” he said.

They have six weeks to finish the haunt, from furnishing the fake offices to filling the hospital beds with human-like things.

It will take about 20 people to run the haunt each night, LaPointe said, so DementedFX will probably hire about 40 people to work for the season. They will range from the people running the puppets to those selling the tickets and doing security.

They think that word of mouth and their social media presence will bring in a lot of customers looking for a truly terrifying Halloween attraction. Within the first nine days of the DementedFX Facebook page being online, 26,000 people had viewed it, LaPointe said.

“The response we’ve seen is that everyone is excited,” he said.

The hype is building, and they expect people to start lining up at the Button Building Sept. 27.

“This will be better than any haunt,” LaPointe said. “And next year, it will be even better because we’ll have more time to build it.”

For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.dementedfx.com or www.facebook.com/dementedfxinc.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.