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“If you told me 30 years ago that I’d be running a haunted trail, I would have laughed in your face.”
As he reflects on the success of his Williamston corn maze, Best Maze, Mark Benjamin jokes about how he — a man with no particular interest in the macabre — ended up with the marquee horror trail in Greater Lansing.
Best Maze’s “Trail of Terror” gained its fame due to its high production value. The winding trails are raked into a smooth path, and the scares are supplied by professional animatronics and top-shelf props. Benjamin travels around the United States seeking the spookiest options available — he makes it a point to adorn the “Trail of Terror” with television and film-quality equipment.
This year’s “Trail of Terror” is a third of a mile long and, along with the props and animatronics, includes multiple twisting turns, a healthy dose of fog, strobe lights and shacks, as well as a spinning vortex tunnel.
Opened in 2001, Best Maze was originally dubbed Maze and Market, but made the switch to reflect the influx of positive feedback.
“The customers kept telling us, ‘Dude, you have to change your name to Best Maze,’” Benjamin said. “People told us it was the best maze they’d been to, because of the way we take care of our paths.”
Though unwilling to give much away in print, Benjamin promises returning visitors will be treated to something entirely new.
But if cornfields aren’t your bag, you can always visit Michigan State University’s campus for the annual Haunted Auditorium attraction.
Each year, MSU theater students transform Fairchild Auditorium into a concert hall of terror. Previous years have seen themes range from hospitals and sleepaway camps, but this year’s producers, theater students Rachel Aho and Shelby Deraedt, have settled on a carnival theme for the 10th anniversary — thanks, in part, to clowns once again becoming a hot topic in the horror realm.
This year’s Haunted Auditorium is offering three different routes, instead of just a single cohesive experience. The disturbing carnival also includes the addition of three escape rooms.
“We tried to make the routes and escape rooms entirely different, while also keeping a cohesive carnival theme and making everything as scary as possible,” Aho said.
More than 100 students work on the auditorium each year, some tasked with designing an individual room, others using their acting talents to terrify guests.
One of Deraedt’s favorite tricks, from her own time as an actor in the Haunted Auditorium, is listening closely for visitors’ names. When she’d overhear one, she’d pass it along to the other actors, so they can whisper — or shriek — that person’s name as they approach the next room.
“When people hear their own name getting called by these random people, that’s pretty scary for them. Seeing their reaction after that is pretty fun,” she said.
With all the new additions and changes, Aho is confident that the Haunted Auditorium has taken the scare factor even further.
“I’d say the last two years were about a 7.5, this one is going to be a 9,” she said.
Not a horror fan himself, Benjamin didn’t initially consider adding a separate Halloween-friendly trail. But people demanded it, and Benjamin sought to create a product that would live up to the standards set by his original maze.
“The customers wanted it, and if we were going to add a haunt, it had to be good. We couldn’t let a poor haunt ruin the original maze’s reputation. And we’ve kept improving it,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin makes sure the haunt stays fresh by routinely swapping the props and animatronics.
“It’s much easier to keep things the same once you get the animatronics built into your haunt. Since we have to take everything out of that field every fall, so we can replant the field the next spring, we might as well change it.”
Best Maze “Trail of Terror”
$15 for Trail of Terror, $20 for combo tickets with Corn Maze Friday & Saturday nights through Oct. 28 Sunday nights, Oct. 21, 28 Tours begin at dusk Friday & Saturday, Tickets on sale on-site until 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, Tickets on sale on-site until 9 p.m.
Combo Tickets on sale on-site each day, until hour before haunt deadline Cash Only Not recommended for children under 12 Best Maze 3803 Noble Road, Williamston www.bestmaze.com
MSU Haunted Auditorium
$10 Oct. 27, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Oct. 28, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 31, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Fairchild Auditorium 542 Auditorium Road www.theatre.msu.edu 517-355-6690