Nightmare Forest: Brandenburg’s Forest of Fear
By Noah Wullkotte
Nightmare Forest in Brandenburg, KY is one of the best known haunted forests in Greater Louisville. We speak with owner and operator Jason Weber who tells us all about this very popular and frightful destination.
Can you give us a little history on Nightmare Forest?
Nightmare Forest started in 1992. It was originally ran by Metro Parks. Around 1996 Nightmare Forest became the professional event it is known as today. Nightmare Forest has been located at Otter Creek Park (now called Otter Creek Outdoor Recreational Area) for the majority of its history.
Why do you think Nightmare Forest has been so successful for over 20 years?
First and foremost I believe that the quality of Nightmare Forest is what has kept it running so long. We are also constantly keeping up with all of the advancements in the industry to make the experience as real as possible. Also we constantly change a large portion of the event every year. We have a really strong core group that has been with us for several years.
How do you decide which horror movies you’ll recreate?
There are a number of ways we decide. We don’t only choose movies that we all like. For instance, one year we did Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The majority of the crew thought it was the worst Halloween movie made. We really try to get the fans involved in picking the movies as well. After all this event is for the fans. We took Nightmare on Elm Street out for a couple of years because we had felt that it had been done for too long. That was a mistake. We received so many complaints and it was crazy. A vast majority of our crowd complained asking “Where’s Freddy?” Freddy has remained at the event since. We basically keep an open door policy on selecting scenes. Anyone from our actors, our core crew, the fans, and even my neighbors can suggest movies for us to recreate. We will then watch the movie multiple times and see if there is a scene that can fit in the event.
How do you decide which scenes are kept and which ones are removed?
This is an easy one. It’s customer reaction. We have around a dozen people that hide in the woods doing two things. 1.) Watch the actors to ensure that they are staying in charactor and basically doing their job. 2.) Watching the customers to see how they react to our scenes. Doing this over a series of 12-14 production nights gives us a really good idea to the customer favorites.
Where do you find most of your actors and what do you look for in an actor?
We generally keep at least 50% of our actors from the previous season. From what we have heard, nationally in the industry this is a relatively high average. We also have a “Wanna be a monster” link on our website that gets hundreds of applications a year. It is extremely tedious to go through each application and applicant to choose which actors we feel are the best fit for the scenes in Nightmare Forest for that season.
What is the Watch-N-Drivein and why was it added to Nightmare Forest?
The Watch-N-DrIvE In is a unique event that is designed as an old abandoned drive in theater complete with old cars. This is also where you wait in line to get into our main event Nightmare Forest. So this is essentially an event where you can’t get away. As far as the reason it was added….we just want to offer our customers the most bang for their buck. We also added Nightmare Harvest (a haunted corn field) this past year. It was a HUGE hit. We didn’t raise our price a penny. We are considering adding yet another event to the list for this season, but who knows.
What’s your most popular scene and why?
That is a tough one. I think that this past year it was our finale which we called “Zombie Town” located in the “Trail of Terror Zombie Apocalypse”. We basically build a “main street” in a town taken over by zombies. There was a junked car fitted with a flame thrower that shot a 16 foot flame (we had to restrict it because of the trees) and then a horde of zombies attacked you from every angle. One of the most effective scares I have seen (right up there with the infamous chainsaw scare).
What’s your favorite horror movie and why?
I would have to say Friday the 13th. First off I love the fact that the movie is for the most part possible to happen in real life. I mean there really could be a guy after you armed with a machete. Also the fact that it is based in the woods at a park is awesome to me. That is one of the great things about this event. We are in the woods. If anyone showed up and walked our trail any time even now in the dark, it can be scary. This includes all the sounds of the animals (the coyotes seem to get closer and closer every year), the still silence of the night, or the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere. It’s eerie before we even set foot on the place.
Tell us about your flashlight tours and what people can expect.
Flashlight tours have been a relatively new advancement in our industry. Really it is for the fans that want a whole new taste of the event. We have amazing lighting at Nightmare Forest. But on flashlight night we give one flashlight to a group of 6-8 people. You are then sent on your way to maneuver the trail with just that light (we space the groups out further apart so no other groups flashlight can help). The event is still fully armed with actors, animatronics, fogs, etc. The only difference is it is a PITCH BLACK trail. It’s a really unique experience.
How is Nightmare Harvest different from the typical haunted cornfield?
Nightmare Harvest is not about being the “largest cornfield” nor is it a cornfield designed to keep you lost for hours (although it does have a wrong turn or two). This event just like any other at Nightmare Forest is geared fully at scaring you. So this event is not geared toward the kids at all. Also Nightmare Harvest stays true to the “farm”, or cornfield” theme. We aren’t putting movie scenes in the corn since it is truly a psycho farmer’s corn field.
How has the haunt industry changed since you first got involved many years ago?
All I can say is comparing my first year in this industry to today is WOW. First off the technical advances are insane. Marketing has changed dramatically with the internet. The animatronics get more realistic every year. I mean everything has just changed.
When does construction start for the different haunts and when is it usually complete?
Being at a state ran park is a challenge for us. We have about 4 weeks on site to construct the event. What we do is pre-fab (or build in advance) at another location that we own in the off season. We have already started construction if that gives you an idea.
Why do you think haunts are such a popular form of entertainment?
I think there are multiple reasons. One is the curiosity. That is what got me to go to the first haunted house I had ever went to. I wanted to know what could they possibly do to scare you. Also getting scared is an adrenaline rush. I mean people come out panting, breathing heavy, even just run out and realize it’s finally over and just lay on the ground for a minute. They just screamed their tail off through the entire event and they come out with “I made it” type of attitude. Haunts really are just a blast to go through and I personally think that everyone should try it at least once.
City Blood would like to thank Jason Weber for agreeing to do this interview. For more information on Nightmare Forest, please visit www.yournightmarebegins.com.