Fright Night center of scariest time of the year

Brandon McClements is Pennywise the Clown from the hit movie “It” as Fright Night gets set to open at Brecknock Park in Camden tonight. It will run for three weekends, weather permitting. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

CAMDEN — Halloween has always been the biggest holiday of the year for Ann Marie Kaufman.

It’s no coincidence that her father, Terry Kaufman, serves as the director and visionary behind the mayhem that is Fright Night at Brecknock Park during the haunting season each and every fall.

“It’s funny because when I was growing up, Christmas was never a big thing for us,” Ms. Kaufman said, “But as soon as Halloween came around, that’s when we got excited.

“Halloween is our Christmas. We always get so excited when it comes every year. We get such a kick out of scaring people. It’s fun and it’s great because we get all of these high school volunteers and they come out here and participate.”

Much to the Kaufmans’ delight, it’s that ghoulish time of the year again as the organizers of Fright Night at Brecknock Park, which is put on by the Kent County Parks and Recreation Department, are once again set to serve up the screams when they open the gates to their haunt tonight.

The walk-through attraction will be open from 7 until 10 p.m. (depending upon attendance) on Fridays and Saturdays — a total of six days — until Oct. 28.

Tickets cost $7 per adult victim, with children 5 to 10 years old costing $5. Staff members recommend that parents use discretion when bringing younger children. Children under 18 must be supervised by an adult.

This year’s 27th annual Fright Night will feature some familiar sights, such as Freddy Krueger’s school bus and Jason’s house from “Friday the 13th,” but there will also be plenty of mysterious and creepy clowns at the attraction, taking advantage of the momentum of the supernatural horror film “It.”

“Pennywise (the Dancing Clown) has been a staple for us for at least the last six years,” Ms. Kaufman said. “It seems like no matter how many people see him, they’re always terrified and to have that movie come out this year, I feel like it’s really boosted it up.

“I feel like everyone’s really going to know who he is this year and I think a lot of people are going to be looking forward to it.”

Brandon McClements is looking forward to transforming into Pennywise at Brecknock Park. He said he’s not quite sure what makes clowns seem so creepy.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” said Mr. McClements, from Smyrna. “It’s probably just the makeup, kind of the mystery maybe because they’re always smiling, and you don’t know what’s under that mask or makeup.”

This will be the first time that Mr. McClements will be a cast member in the horror production. He has worked behind the scenes before.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve helped somebody with their own garage-based (Halloween) thing and I was actually a clown and it was fun.”

James Shreves, of Camden, will also be dressed up like a clown.

“Everybody’s afraid of clowns,” he said. “I like scaring people, even when it’s not Halloween. It’s just something I like doing.

“I’m just hoping that everybody has fun and there are a lot of screams.”

Tracy DiSalvo is The Creeper from the movie “Jeepers Creepers” at Fright Night. The walk-through attraction will be open from 7 until 10 p.m. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Most of the madness that is Fright Night comes from the mind of Mr. Kaufman, who is a huge collector of all things scary and much of Fright Night is his personal collection on display.

This year’s edition will contain around 35 different scenes, including the crazy clown house, the butcher shop, toxic waste and graveyard, and will take about a half hour to walk through.

Some may choose to run.

“I really enjoy designing and building all the different scenes,” Mr. Kaufman said. “I pretty much make sure that everything stays up and running all the time. That’s my main job.”

Matt Boller serves as Mr. Kaufman’s right-hand man and is tasked with rounding up volunteers. He has around 60 cast members ready to bring the screams this year.

“We’ve got a couple of new attractions inside the castle this time,” he said. “Terry (Kaufman) redid the barn again. It’s kind of like a ‘Ghostbusters’ theme in the main foyer, so to speak.

“Plus, we’ll have a doctor chopping a lady up, clowns, and plenty of other surprises. Just be ready.”

Just walking around the attraction one can tell there is a great deal of camaraderie between those involved. The cast members all say it’s fun, but it’s also a great deal of work.

“I’ve actually been involved with this since I was 5,” said Ms. Kaufman, 24. “When we first started this, we were actually working out of the Boscov’s Garden Center at the Dover Mall. I remember being out there all the time helping (my dad) set up and now I’m older so I’m a lot more involved.

“I help come up with ideas for scenes, I help with the makeup, I help with getting our volunteers ready with costumes, building the sets, fixing the fixtures … easily from the beginning of September until the middle of November I’m out (at Brecknock) almost every night.”

Ms. Kaufman said planning for Fright Night starts in late June or early July every year.

The barn is a fixed structure in the park and is used for storage most of the year. But every other part of the attraction is either reassembled from the previous year or built from scratch to keep things fresh.

Freddy Kreuger will be back at Fright Night again this year. (Delaware State News file photo/Marc Clery)

“Building the scenes is the big part,” Mr. Boller said. “Manning all the scenes is a constant challenge and then tearing down is the worst part, because then you know you have to wait another year. It’s just a lot of fun. I enjoy the heck out of it.”

As an added benefit, the event also raises money for a charity every year, usually a veteran-affiliated one. It usually raises around $3,500 per year.

Ms. Kauffman said she just hopes people come out and help celebrate her version of Christmas.

“We encourage people of all ages to come out,” she said. “You’re never too old to be scared.”

And go figure, it all begins on Friday the 13th.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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