ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – Dressed up heavily in clown makeup, Jason Widger said he instinctively knows which people in the crowd have a phobia about clowns.
“You have to find out who that person is, who is afraid of clowns – and go after them,” he said.
Anthony Narvaez understands that phobia. For reasons he can’t quite explain, he gets a bit freaked out when he sees clowns making animal figures out of balloons. There’s no particular reason that makes him uneasy, Narvaez said, but it simply does.
“That’s the whole thing – I don’t understand why clowns are scary,” he said.
But knowing that he’s got his own anxieties about clowns, he said, helps considerably with his current role as part of The Petrified Forest – to ensure that the folks who come through this haunted cornfield in Altamonte Springs get what they paid for: terror, as only a really scary clown can deliver.
“If you see them tick, play on it,” Narvaez said. “At least you know why I’m here – to scare the crap out of you.”
Billed as “A Haunted Scare Trail,” The Petrified Forest, located on State Road 436 in Altamonte Springs just before the intersection of U.S. 17/92, has been scaring people for years now every Halloween season, inviting in large crowds to brave the haunted house and the terrors that await behind it.
Open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. – just as darkness sets in – through the first weekend in November, The Petrified Forest just keeps getting bigger and better, said Trish Smith, co-owner of this scarefest.
“We have built it up a lot more,” she said. “We’ve become more detailed with our sets.”
They also try to do something different every year, said co-owner Kim Clark, so patrons who have been here in the past few years won’t find it predictable.
“There might be one of two things we’ve done the same,” Clark said.
“I work here and it still scares me,” said Sylvia Viles Vicchiullo, who directed this year’s Forest. “The clowns like to freak me out.”
There’s quite a lot that goes into it, she said – including 19 sets in the field, and some very elaborate makeup.
“The makeup people here, I am amazed at what they do,” she said.
Likewise, Vicciullo said, many of the performers have done Petrified Forest in past years – and know from experience exactly how to scare those patrons.
“A lot of them have done it before,” she said. “It’s a different way of performing. There are techniques on how to scare people.”
One of the actors, who said he goes by the nickname Hatchett, is performing in Petrified Forest for the second year, and said there are a lot of familiar faces in the cast.
“It’s one big family,” he said. “It helps out, too, because a lot of the characters tell people about it, so they come to it.”
There’s a definite party atmosphere outside the haunted house, where food and drinks are sold and D.J. Joanna Cowart plays music – suitable to the theme of The Petrified Forest, she added.
“I have creepy music,” she said. “I pretty much have all kinds – the normal scary stuff, like Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ “
As the scares get delivered, so the crowds keep getting larger, Clark added.
“We had a real good crowd last night,” she said. “Everyone had a blast.”
The ticket booth stays open until 11 p.m. To learn more about The Petrified Forest, call 407-468-6600.
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