It's a (scary) family business . . .
PUBLISHED: 13:02 30 September 2014 | UPDATED: 13:02 30 September 2014
Lucy Etherington finds Suffolk's very own Addams Family a real scream
Most of the year – besides owning a rather lovely stately home – the Phillips are much like any other happy, hard-working family.
But for the month of October, dad Patrick, mum Judith and their eldest son and daughter who now live in London, drop their ordinary everyday lives and take to scaring the bejaysus out of people for Scaresville, one of the most popular Hallowe’en events in the East of England, if not the UK.
“There’s no gore or horror film cliches,” Scaresville creator Patrick explains, gleefully. “We’re far more inventive when it comes to terrifying our guests.”
They must be doing something horribly right, as the event, which started with just 350 visitors, now takes 1,000 – 1,500 a night and, as the website proudly proclaims, has won a Screamie Award (no idea what that is, but it sounds impressive).
“People come back every year,” says Patrick.
“One girl came back four times in 12 days!”
Groups of between eight and 12 follow a map through dark woods, creepy gardens and spooky outbuildings at Kentwell Hall, Long Melford and encounter . . . what exactly?
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” says Patrick, sounding uncannily like Vincent Price – who, it turns out, was at Kentwell Hall in 1968, dunking alleged witches in its moat for the cult horror Witchfinder General.
“The point is to be shocked, surprised and ideally frightened out of your wits, so I can’t give anything away.
“We use similar tricks and illusions as magicians and conjurer. We also like to constantly reinvent the shocks. One year quite a few people said to us: “I’m so pleased you didn’t have any clowns. I’m absolutely terrified of them.” So next year we made sure we incorporated some clowns. It’s so helpful when people betray their deepest fears…”
Visitors to the Haunted Village can expect around 40 scares. “We try to hit them hard with the first one, so that we crank up their anticipation for the rest.”
The tour lasts at least an hour, after which quivering punters can steady their nerves with an alcoholic beverage at Bar-Baric, or some tasty morsels at the Catacombe Café.
And if shaking with fear isn’t for you, you can always sign up as one of the 90 ‘Scarers’ who take part in the event.
“Some people get a buzz out of scaring rather than being scared,” Patrick shrugs.
Yes, the kinds of people I wouldn’t normally want to meet in a dark wood at night. However, I can also see how being a Scarer must be brilliant fun. You can sign up on the website, and then if you’re lucky to be recruited (assuming they have some kind of policy for weeding out genuine psychopaths) you are trained in September at the Scare Academy (I kid you not), which is run by family members and offspring.
“It’s not an easy job being a Scarer. Sometimes, when people are petrified, they lash out. We have had one incident involving a scarer being punched.”
When I ask if they have a top Scarer, Patrick says proudly, without a moment’s hesitation, “My wife, Judith. She’s a natural.”
To be fair, Patrick and Judith are no strangers to dressing up and getting into the spirit of things. They have been running top notch re-creation events at Kentwell Hall pretty much since they began painstakingly restoring their beautifully eccentric Tudor mansion 1971. Their Tudor Days and Dickensian Events have been drawing locals and tourists for years, while the grounds include a topiary and maze which (to me, anyway) are reminiscent of those in Stephen King’s infamous horror The Shining – especially late at night to the tune of various distant screams.
The Haunted Village in the grounds was devised six years ago as another way to fund the running of Kentwell Hall, which despite its reputation as a ‘genuine’ haunted house, is out of bounds for this particular event.
“I went to a conference about running a scare event,” Patrick recalls. “I wasn’t expecting anything, but it was the most wonderful thing I’d ever been to. I was instantly hooked. The first Scaresville was quite a modest affair, but people were bowled over by it. It’s grown so much in a very short space of time.”
Scaresville is definitely not for children, Patrick stresses, or indeed
for those with heart conditions or nervous dispositions – it’s all on the website, so make sure you’re up to it. Yet he has been surprised over the six years he’s been running the event at who scares the easiest.
“Groups of women tend to scream the loudest,” he says, grinning. “We love them. They especially enjoy laughing at their friends when they jump out of their skin. However, we have found that groups of teenage boys are much easier to scare than anyone.
“Men generally don’t like to show they are afraid. Yet three years ago, we had a dark tunnel Scare and within five minutes of entering, two men were so frightened they pushed their girlfriends to the ground, jumped over them and ran out! They returned the following year and made it round the whole course!”