Haunters Against Hate was established in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting in 2016 and raises money for LGBTQ+ organizations. Earlier this year, Haunters Against Hate became a nationally recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. This past July 30-August 1st, Haunters Against Hate launched their first in-person event at the Crowne-Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky. Maximus Bryant went to the event recorded his conversations he had while on-location. Featured in this episode: Paul Lanner, Free Mom Hugs, Lifeless Creations, Wicked World, and Trent from The American Horrorplex.
If you’re bummed about missing this event – good news! Haunters Against Hate’s in-person event returns July 8-10, 2022.
Paul Lanner of Haunters Against Hate
Max: “Maximus here, I am on my way down to Louisville, Kentucky for Haunters Against Hate: The Event. Now, this is the first time that this event has been put on, and I know Paul has been very excited about it based on the postings on the Haunters Against Hate page and his own page. There’s a lot of excitement for this event and I’m excited to go down, see some panel discussions, see the vendors, see some old friends, meet new friends, and just have a great time.
I thought there was no better person to start this off with than the man himself, Paul Lander.
There are vendors everywhere in this wonderful hotel, and it looks fantastic. We’re here on Friday. It’s just getting going. How you feeling so far?”
Paul: “I’m feeling actually more relaxed than I thought I would. Everyone’s having a good time, set up, and it’s just flowing really nicely, which makes me very happy.”
Max: “So is there anything in particular that you’re definitely looking forward to?”
Paul: “I’m looking forward to the Cruella make-up competition. Five competitors have to create their own version of Cruella Deville – one makeup artist with their model. Proceeds from this event are going towards LBGTQI+ youth organizations. I haven’t decided which ones are going to receive the funds yet. I’m doing research. I want to definitely give to Just Us at the Oasis Center again at Nashville, because they’re great supporters of Haunters Against Hate. So I like to give back to them. And possibly, I want to give back to the Living Room, which is based out of Portland, Oregon. Which I’ve helped before and they need funds desperately.”
Max: “I love that you keep looking out for different charities to look out for.
You have been selling the Book of Haunters and I’m seeing signs saying some of these books are already sold out.”
Paul: “Yes. I’m very happy about that. Come on by the booth. I have a myriad of different brands of t-shirts. I have one that features Lori Cardille from Day of the Dead, and she will be here tomorrow if people want them signed.”
Max: “Wonderful vendors. Haunted houses are even going to be open, Malice Manor and American Horror Plex are open for you. So many people just came together for this event. So, I can’t say congratulations to you enough. And after this event is over, how can people continue to learn about your organization and the works that you’re doing?”
Max: “And I feel like I need to read his shirt: ‘Haunters Against Hate, because hate is the scariest thing of all.’”
Paul: “That’s very true.”
Caitlyn of Wicked World Haunted House
Max: “Several haunted houses are making their presence known on the show floor here at Haunters Against Hate: The Event, and one of them is Wicked World. I get the esteemed pleasure of speaking with Caitlyn from Wicked World. This is audio, so you all can’t see, but Caitlin looks amazing, in the haunt sense. She’s got the teeth in, got the makeup, and the distressed costume. What are we doing, zombie?”
Caitlyn: “No, this character is actually called ‘Rat Mother’. She is like a ghostly trash baby.”
Max: “Ghostly trash baby. That’s wonderful. It looks fantastic. And there’s a lot of great characters walking around.
You are here on behalf of Wicked World. Can you share some information about you all and what you do?”
Caitlyn: Yeah, we are located in Nicholasville, Kentucky. We are the longest running haunted attraction in central Kentucky, if I’m not mistaken. We have three different attractions on our property and our owners also own an escape room in Frankfurt, Kentucky.”
Max: “Did you open for last season?”
Caitlyn: “We did. We wanted to make sure we were being very careful, just to be safest, because it was difficult times with all of that. So yeah, we opened.”
Max: “Is there a theme to the haunt or is there a story behind it?”
Caitlyn: “There is. The attractions themselves actually have separate backgrounds and lore to them.
The first one, Nightmare Haunted House, is actually a story about a girl named Sarah Johnson. Sarah Johnson was basically a very mentally disturbed little girl – trigger warning, abusive past, and things like that. As you go through the haunt you go through her little closet and it takes you into her nightmare world.
Then we have our haunt called ‘The Hunted’ which is a zombie laser tag attraction – which is really cool. Then we’ve got our third one, which is ‘Valley of the Dead’. That is basically an abandoned, ghost town type situation, and the main spooky dude of all of that is our character, Earl.”
Max: “How long have you been with a Wicked World and what is your role?”
Caitlyn: “If I’m not mistaken, this’ll be my seventh season with Wicked World. I’m an SFX makeup artist. I act with Wicked World as well. I’m a co-manager for the marketing team, and I also co-manage the marketing for Capital Escape.”
Max: “Have you all decided when you are going to open yet this year?”
Caitlyn: “We most commonly open the second to last weekend of September, so I’m sure it’ll probably be the same this season.”
Max: So second to last weekend in September, Thursday through Sunday. I hope I get to visit some time! Just, you got to promise to be nice to me.”
Max: “Fair enough. All of you are here at the event, and you all are dressed up. Are you going to wear different costumes throughout the weekend?”
Caitlyn: “We will be. A decent handful of us decided we either wanted to bring characters from different Book of Haunter’s books or characters we’re going to be doing this season. So yay!”
Max: “Any other fun tidbits about Wicked World or the crew or anything like that, that people should know?”
Caitlyn: “The only thing I can really add to that is that we love our owners. Dean and Jeremy are amazing, and we thank you for everything. And our actors are just fabulous people, our crews, fabulous people, and we couldn’t be luckier to have the family that we do.”
Max: “Shout out to the people, the actors and everybody, at Wicked World.
So if people want to find out more about Wicked World, where can they find more information online? If there is an online presence.”
Caitlyn: You can go to http://www.2scary.com.
PJ of Lifeless Creations
Max: “Maximus here on the show floor of Haunters Against Hate: The Event. I am so excited to be able to speak with PJ representing Lifeless Creations.
Can you tell them what you do? What do you make?”
PJ: “I make handmade masks and costume accessories.”
Max: “Can you talk about your inspiration for the look?”
PJ: “The way that I go about designing these masks is ‘a basement serial killer’ – something that’s very crude, not super creative, just blank in a way.”
Max: “That’s what’s really cool about them is that there is a simplicity to it, but when you add that little bit of detail to it, you create this character. I would say ‘basement serial killers’ – definitely the way I would describe them. What else do you make besides masks?”
PJ: “We make costume accessories and wax melts”
Max: “What’s your favorite scent here?”
PJ: “My favorite scent? Probably ‘Haunted House’ or ‘Hay Ride’.”
Max: “Yeah, there’s a bunch of cool ones here. There’s one called ‘CarnEvil’, ‘Buried Alive’, ‘Hay Ride’, ‘Red Rum’. You’re just all over the board here with scents and masks – and even make the clacker noisemaking gloves.”
PJ: “Yeah, those are a lot of fun. I just started making those.”
Max: “If people want to learn more about Lifeless Creations or to see some of your stuff, what are some of the social medias or websites that they should go to check you out?”
Christie of Free Mom Hugs
Max: “Maximus here on the vendor floor of Haunters Against Hate: The Event. I am speaking with Christie from Free Mom Hugs. Is this an organization? What is this all about?”
Christie: “Yes, we are a national organization. We have chapters in every state. We are advocates for the LGBTQ community, and we attend events and are active in the community to support and give hugs.”
Max: “When you’re going about supporting them, in what ways does that manifest itself?”
Christie: “We generally do not hold our own events. We generally support other events. We come in to Pride Fests, and anywhere we’ve been invited. We do also keep track of bills in the legislature that we want to support or that we want to not support.
We also are advocates and active in the Trans Wellness Summit. Just trying to get good information out there, be supportive, and give hugs to anybody. We are all inclusive, race, sexuality, gender identity, religion or no – just trying to share the love.”
Max: “Now, your shirt does say ‘free hugs’. You stand by that?”
Christie: “Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We have an unlimited supply and we’re all professionals.”
Max: “So the chapters – is it organized by state or is this a Louisville chapter?”
Christie: “We are organized by state. Robyn Parker is our state chapter leader for Kentucky. Then we have area coordinators. I’m the Frankfurt area coordinator, but then we have Lexington, Louisville, we’ve recently added Owensboro and Bowling Green, and we’ve recently added Richmond and Berea. So we are expanding – and exponentially it seems like. The more love you give the more it multiplies.”
Max: “Absolutely. So you’re spreading awareness. Do you also take collections?”
Christie: “We are a nonprofit. Donations generally go to the national organization, the umbrella, and then they are granted to us for specific education and that kind of thing.”
Max: “Wonderful. So here’s a bit of a curve ball for you, Christine. This is a Haunters Against Hate event, first word being ‘haunters’. Do you like going to haunted houses?”
Christie: “No, I’m a weenie. I don’t like them.”
Max: “Have you ever been to one?”
Christie: “Yes. Oh, yes. I’ve been – of course that’s always a date thing. No, I’m not much on it, but it’s fascinating to see it with the bright lights, and the care and the detail that people put into their costumes is just amazing.”
Max: “Are there certain websites or social medias that people can go to learn more about Free Mom Hugs?”
Christie: “Yes. FreeMomHugs.com is the national website Free Mom Hugs on Facebook, and then of course, state chapters are on there as well. . I’ve talked to people from Kansas, from Oklahoma, from Wisconsin today, and so I’ve directed them toward their state chapters, and then it goes from there.”
Trent of The American Horrorplex
Max: “I get the pleasure to speak with one of the most friendly haunt owners I know. Tent from The American Horrorplex – one of the newer haunts in the Louisville area, if I’m correct.”
Trent: “This will be our third season at our current location. Before that it was ‘Seventh Street Haunt’, and we were there for about six years. I’m not a newcomer to the show, but the haunt is still on its infancy.”
Max: “How far back do you go?”
Trent: “Many moons. When I was 14 years old, an old man with slicked back hair, not a tooth in his head, came into a little gas station to buy cigarettes and he goes, ‘you’re a big old boy, you ever wanted to work in a haunted house?’ Yeah. Who doesn’t want to work at a haunted house? So I got hired by Phil Granger. He hired me into being an electrocutioner as an actor, and then I helped build and create. I helped create three or 4 haunted houses before I ever opened my own.
Basically his last haunt, ‘Cycle of Mania: the Theater of Terror’ in Clarksville, 2012 – it burned and he lost everything. Anybody that’s in the haunt business has the haunt family, and from that day I said, ‘I got to keep everybody together, I’ve known these guys for years’. With my mom, my mother-in-law, and myself, we opened up the Seventh Street Haunt, and we’ve been going ever since, and this will be our ninth year, 10th season.”
Max: “And it’s been the last three years as ‘The American Horrorplex’. So for those that aren’t familiar with it…”
Trent: “Shame on them.”
Max: “Your actors were so hyped”
Trent: “Oh yeah. They love to put on the show. They absolutely love it. My husband, Matt Clayton, he’s the acting director. Part of the midnight ritual, as it is: ‘who are we? And what are we?’ And we have a certain chants for that, and it just really gets everybody going.
You know that you’re part of something bigger than yourself whenever you go into those walls, and it’s just something really gets you going.”
Max: “Do you recommend some kind of ritual?”
Trent: “You’d be a fool not to. I have worked for other haunts and been to other haunts where before they go in, it’s just ‘everybody have a great night’, and they kind of meander in. But with us, it is ‘get the blood pumping’, jumping up and down. I’m not saying that it’s perfect, but I did take tips from Alan Hopps on how to do that. Alan, thank you.”
Max: “It was a really fantastic show. But still there are those that haven’t, seen it yet. So what can you tell people about the American Horrorplex?”
Trent: “1946, our building was built as a secret government experiment. You can look into operation Paperclip – that is a real deal thing that our building was involved in. Basically where they bring doctors and scientists from Germany after world war II to continue their work. Our building happened to be where they would take their the mental patients and continue that work.
There was a massive fire in our building in 1966, and as we’ve gone through and cleaned things up and started building the haunted house, we have found artifacts from that actual fire and all their experimentation; photographs, medical equipment things that were in the furnaces that probably shouldn’t have been there. That is all on display in a museum that we recently built before you go in.
And you will learn the secrets of Dr. Bracken and Dr. Hart and what twisted minds that they have and what they did to the patients inside those walls.”
Max: “So the theming has continued that story.”
Trent: “And whenever you arrive, if you look at the architecture of the building, you’ll see ‘Hart’ in the stonework for whenever they took that over. So look up ‘Operation Paperclip’, and the history behind that.”
Max: “At this point, how much of the building does the haunt occupy?”
Trent: “We’re actually in a space that has four separate buildings. The haunted house is in one of those buildings, it’s about 13,000 square feet. The rest of the area that’s there on the property is another 40,000 square feet. Each one, at the moment, is being rented out to tenants, but hopefully with the expansion of the haunted house and business we will be able to continue to grow into those spaces.
So we have room, we just got to make sure that all of you all come to visit The American Horrorplex.”
Max: “It sounds to me if people come to visit this year, and then the year after, there’s a chance that, with the expansion coming, there’s always something new to see, all the time.”
Trent: “The thing is, every year we build onto the story. So the first year you realized that you were in a mental hospital and that there were experiments going on. The second year, you found out that those experiments involved flesh ‘Lumpkins’ and parasites that actually bored into the human body, and could be controlled. This year, what happened with those parasites? How long have they been in the patients and what are the side effects?”
Max: “At this point we are at the end of July. What are you all focusing on?”
Trent: “What we’re working on is, we went from six pneumatics animatronics last year to just over 20. We redid our costuming. We have redone a lot of the looks just to build on that new chapter of the storyline.
We’ve also expanded onto the outside of the building, and we’ve got scenes outside now in that a big courtyard area. With 2020 being that year where there was no interaction with people, we’re hoping for 2021 that our queue area, whenever you walk in the door, you are immersed. You are interactive, you are part of the show as soon as you walk in. There’s things that touch, things to look at, things to listen to, all that stuff. So you can get two years for one.”
Max: “Don’t take these actors lightly.”
Trent: “Absolutely, they’re wound up.”
Max: “They are. They get very hyped. Do you have any other kind of like a special training for the actors?”
Trent: “I’ll tell you, our cast – there are 63 people it takes to run that entire show, from sales, security, the actors, make up. 63 people, and every year I only have to replace maybe four or five of those people. I have got a huge return cast every single year, and most of them have been with me for 5, 6, 7 years.”
Max: “Can you share a retention secret?”
Trent: “Anybody will tell you, you can go back into that room, ask any actor, any haunt owner, they will tell you: I am extremely cheap. I don’t pay a whole lot. I’m one of the least paying people in town, but I make sure that whenever my staff gets there, whatever they need, I can provide it. Make sure that there’s food, there’s water, there’s drinks. There’s a big hoo-rah, at the beginning of the night, that has a large part to do with it.
It’s just treating everybody like they should be. My grandpa, whenever he was raising me, he goes ‘Trent, you need to be as good to people as you can’, and that’s what I try to do. They’re as good to me as they ever could be. I will tell you, I know of other haunts that they hire somebody because they just fit this costume, or that they have that look. I take a lot of people’s misfits, the ones that get turned down from other haunts, they come to me and they feel accepted. We can make a costume around your size, you can create a character for you that you feel comfortable with doing. Another thing that we do is I make sure that everybody gets at least two 15 minute breaks throughout the entire night. Breaks are a big deal, and that’s as good as I can be.”
Max: “I totally agree. We’re here at the Haunters Against Hate event. What can you say being a part of this event, or even for Haunters Against Hate?”
Trent: “If you get a chance to read on the website of Haunters Against Hate, how it all started, I was kind of the catalyst for Haunters Against Hate. What it really boiled down to was, I did not feel comfortable with the haunt review team that had been coming through.
I’m not going to say that my score should have been better or worse, but it always seemed like there was some kind of bias there. For me to be able to be a part of this and help create what it is now, where we’ve given tens of thousands of dollars to charities, and people saying that this organization has saved lives, it’s a big deal – and that’s part of why the American Horrorplex does so well too. We take in everybody, there is no judgment. Everybody is a person through Haunters Against Hate and through the American Horrorplex. I’m just so proud of being able to be that. I’ve had many of my staff come to me and come out to me, and say, ‘Travis, I couldn’t have done this without you.’ One of the performers on stage tonight, I met four years ago and she said, ‘Travis, I’ve always wanted to do this, but without encouraging me, I could have never been a drag performer.’ I’m just glad that I can be a part of somebody’s life that way.”
Max: “Absolutely. It touches people very deeply, and, I don’t know, has there ever been a haunter type event that incorporates LGBTQIA+ type?”
Trent: I don’t think as focused as we are. That’s the best I know – and I’ve been in the business for over 20 years. I can’t think of one. If there is one, I do apologize. We are really in there with Drag Queens, Kings, non-binary, all kinds of allies, and gay and lesbian owned businesses.”
Max: “So you have the coming season coming. Do you know your dates already?”
Trent: “September 17th through October 30th Fridays and Saturdays, and that’s from eight until two. Tickets are $25. You can get them online, you can get them at the door. I take cash, credit card, your first born – anything like that. Then after that, we have a big event coming up on the November 5th and 6th.
We’re working with Wicked World Scare Grounds, and they’re going to bring ‘Rotten Rampage’ up, which is a laser tag event, and we’re creating something extremely special for that in our haunted house to where it’s very first person shooter, video game, trying to accomplish things as you go through the haunt, without being mauled by zombies.”
Max: “And the fact that you’re teaming up with another haunt for it.”
Trent: “That’s what it’s about. There’s no reason that somebody should say, ‘my haunt’s better than everybody’, because they’re not. Everybody is skinning the same cat. We work so close with everybody in this area, and far away. Fred Hern over at Hell’s Dungeon, helped them get started and I love working with people.”
Max: “Where can people find you on social media?”