ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – There’s a place in Altamonte Springs where people have been known to scream in terror. No, it’s not the fight for a parking space or the long lines at the Altamonte Mall, but an open field on State Road 436.
For those who think the Halloween season is about getting your blood pumping as you nervously walk into the darkness, then quite a few very scary folks are waiting for you to take the terrifying stroll down a “Haunted Scare Trail” known as A Petrified Forest.
Located just before the intersection of U.S. 17/92, this attraction has been scaring people every Halloween season for years now as a highly popular Halloween Community Event. The main attraction is the two Scare Trails, which are both quite long and feature uniquely themed rooms and scares lurking everywhere.
Not surprisingly, as A Petrified Forest has built up a loyal following of folks in love with a good scare, this attractions has grown over the years. This month, it features not just the ghouls waiting to jump out at you, but also an entire night of entertainment with live bands on stage, food concessions, and even Backstage tours (and the chance for you to do some of the scaring as well).
Freeline Media reached out to Sylvia Katherine Viles, the director of A Petrified Forest, for her thoughts on why folks love getting scared, what she does to motivate her performers to be their scariest, and why this is truly a must-see event this month.
Freeline Media: Since A Petrified Forest has been around for quite a few years, are you under pressure to constantly be scarier than the year before?
Sylvia Katherine Viles: I wouldn’t say it’s a pressure to make A Petrified Forest scarier every year as much as it’s a desire to bring a better show every season. Throughout the year I attend conferences and conventions to keep current on the latest trends in haunting.
FM: Without giving anything away, can you give us some hints about what’s new this year?
SKV: Oh, I’ll share one of my new personal favorites we’ve added this season. It’s our sliders — we’ve never had them at A Petrified Forest and it’s such fun to see the reactions of guests as Lollipop and Professor Bubbles work the Que lines and other places in A Petrified Forest. You never know where they’ll pop up.
FM: When you’re auditioning actors/performers, how do you judge who is going to be scary?
SKV: What I look for most is the willingness to release inhibitions and not be afraid to look foolish. When you take away the lights, costumes, and sets we are a bunch of people being goofy in the forest. If they are willing to let go and embrace that concept, we can help train you to scare.
FM: We live in troubled times, with events like the mass shooting in Las Vegas forcing us to confront real life horrors. Why do you think people enjoy being scared when it’s not real?
SKV: Basically, the reason you stated. There’s the idea of the controlled scare. You know nothing is going to happen, but you crave the adrenaline rush. Haunted houses, roller coasters, horror movies, etc., give us that rush. We know nothing is going to happen so we allow ourselves the ability to be “scared.”
FM: One final question: Tell us why A Petrified Forest is a “Must See” event this season.
SKV: As a fan of Halloween long before I ever worked for A Petrified Forest, I loved going to any haunt I could in Central Florida. Halloween Horror Nights (at Universal Studios) is still a family tradition. A Petrified Forest is a must see event because we are an independent haunted scare trail. The experiences you have with us are different for that very fact. Being outside gives us challenges and advantages to our haunt. I encourage haunted house fans to not only come see us but to visit all the amazing haunted attractions. You can never have too many, in my opinion. We love to go on A Petrified Forest group outings to visit our fellow haunts. Many haunts/one haunt family is truly our belief.
A Petrified Forest is at 1360 E. Altamonte Drive. To learn more, call 407-468-6600.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the terrifying book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..