Screemers in Vaughan takes the art of terrifying to the next level
By Karen Bliss
In the 28 years since Andrew Gidaro’s parents started Halloween haunt attraction Screemers, competition has emerged from the catacombs in the Greater Toronto Area, some quite elaborate, but the general manager of the roam-at-your-peril park says his is “Scarier. Much scarier.”
He did not follow that with a maniacal laugh.
Featuring seven “mazes” and 120 actors, the titles of the haunts are dead giveaways as to what lurks inside — Carnival of Carnage, Winter Horrorland, Zombie Prizon, Skull Castle, The Darkness, The Haunted House and Slasher Wax Museum — and show the extent Screemers goes to ensure frights for every fear.
There are also amusement rides on the Midway of Horrors, blood and gore at the The Kill Show, and liquid courage at Vampire Lounge, to get a “stiff” drink, plus on-site food trucks (if you can hold it down).
“Each haunt we send you through in groups of four or five so it creates more individual experience in each one,” says Gidaro, the general manager. “Each haunt is bit different. There’s pitch dark, there’s 3D, there’s slasher museum, which is more classic. We have one that’s a winter Christmas theme, which is a weird paradox for Halloween, but it’s like Santa gone wrong. So there’s just a little bit more diversity in what we have to offer.”
Located at Assembly Park (80 Interchange Way), across the street from Vaughan Metro subway Station, there is also free parking. Open 7 p.m.-midnight, admission cost ranges from $39.95-$44.95 with option to purchase a “fast pass” ($14.95 or $20). There are also discounted tickets on deal sites, like Groupon. Screemers is not open every day so check the website for the schedule.
It is not recommended for kids below double digits, although it seems tolerance for scary stuff has changed over the years. The Exorcist and Alien are mild compared to slasher films and what’s recreated for TV drama, like the recent Jeffrey Dahmer series. Screemers, accordingly, has upped its gore game.
Says Gidaro, “When I was a kid, we used to go the Halloween conventions down in the U.S. Halloween down there was massive, whereas in Canada everyone went trick or treating, but there weren’t really haunted houses. It was rinky-dink relative to what they do down in the States. Over time, it’s become what it is in the U.S. now here.
“Now, you have Wonderland’s [Halloween Haunt], which came into the market about 12 years ago and Casa Loma [Legends of Horror] and ourselves and there’s all kinds of house haunts. It’s grown. I’ve even noticed in my own neighborhood, the minute that calendar flips to October 1st, you see decorations everywhere. That’s what they have down in the U.S.”
(He does decorate his own home, incidentally; he has a reputation to keep.)
Screemers is a walk — or run — at your own pace attraction. Gidaro says it takes a good 90 minutes to go through all seven haunts, but you can stay as long as you like.
“We have a horror magic stage show called The Kill Show, where they do ‘live kills’ — guillotine and an impaling and stuff like that — and splatter the audience with a bit of blood. There’s midway rides included in your admission, so take your time and go on some of those. So it’s a full night. You could be here two-and-a-half hours. It just depends on what experience you wanna make. Even when you’re taking a break, there’s actors in full character roaming around, at line ups and when you’re sitting at the bar.”
Some of those actors have been with Screemers for as long as 10, 15, even 20 years.
“They live for this month,” Gidaro says (we think he meant “die”).
“They have full careers, full time jobs, and they come back and do this at night just for the month of October for the 17 nights that we’re open just because they absolutely love it,” he says. “Our motto for our staff and for the whole site is ‘the scare is everywhere.’ We tell them ‘Even when you go the bathroom, you stay in character at all times.’”
Karen Bliss is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Billboard, Rolling Stone, Pollstar and others. She has interviewed thousands of musicians, including Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Eminem, Shania Twain, Metallica and Michael Bublé.