Treasure Avenue Yard Haunt Goes 'One Step Beyond'
For a full-scale, professional-grade haunted attraction this Halloween, look no farther than Treasure Avenue in Manahawkin, where one family’s front yard is transformed into Ocean Acres’ epicenter of scream-worthy frights and eerie delights.
Chuck Blanchard has upheld his elaborate Halloween tradition for the last 10 years, largely inspired by his grandfather, who was known for over-the-top holiday displays at Halloween and Christmastime. His grandfather’s example, along with his own lifelong love of horror movies, ghost stories and supernatural phenomena, set him on a course of creative imaginings that grow bigger and better every year. Befitting Blanchard’s ongoing aim to outdo himself, the name of the haunted attraction is “One Step Beyond.”
A walk-through mausoleum and graveyard, live actors and computerized characters (try to tell them apart!) and spooky interactive scenes create a complete, hair-raising atmosphere.
“It really is a spectacle,” he said.
He estimated last year’s “yard haunt” drew 500 visitors – at its height, people in line for the mausoleum had a 30-minute wait, the suspense fueled by the shrieks and screams coming from inside. This year’s layout includes a longer, scarier mausoleum experience and additional considerations for traffic flow and the safety of people lined up outside.
A supportive community helps to make Blanchard’s annual event a success, he said – though some neighbors good-naturedly gripe about supplying the demand of the trick-or-treating throngs Blanchard brings to Treasure Avenue.
“It’s getting out of hand, at this point,” he said with a laugh. Having run out of room in his basement, he now rents a storage unit for his props and supplies.
In March, Blanchard starts the designing and planning process for Halloween. To spark new ideas and to develop or improve existing features, his research may take him across the country in search of other large-scale, haunted attractions. Earlier this month, he took a weeklong trip to St. Louis to see three top haunts: The Darkness, Lemp Brewery and Creepy World. Another trip was to Ulster Park, N.Y., home of the Headless Horseman.
Blanchard and his six-man crew began the build on Oct. 18, and they expect to have everything completely operational by Oct. 27. Not only are they set designers, technicians and stagehands, of sorts, but they are also participants in the show itself, dressing up and taking part in the scares. Three of the men, Pat Fay, Charlie Spiker and John Furlong, are retired police officers (two from Long Beach Township and one from Little Egg Harbor) who are happy to contribute their time and talent to the cause. Additional help comes from Brandon Jaekel, Nick Pinto and Al Blanchard, Chuck’s father.
“Everything is from scratch,” Blanchard said, standing in his yard amid the different project components in various stages of completion.
OK, but wait. When he says “from scratch,” he doesn’t mean he built that horse-drawn carriage hearse parked prominently on his lawn, does he?
He does, and he did.
And the disturbingly realistic-looking, fully articulated, bloody, skeletal coachman?
That, too. (Says he lucked out with a combination of red tissue paper and liquid latex that dried into a thick simulation of gore. He will also imbue him with a voice, and a terrifying tale to tell, and accentuate the show with special effects such as lighting, artificial fog and ominous music.)
And the wooden coffin that “comes to life” on a computer-programmed sliding mechanism?
Engineered by hand in his very own basement.
“That’s my Rembrandt, right there,” Blanchard said of the carriage, coachman and coffin display.
The same impressive, homegrown sensibility applies to the detailed foam carvings, the custom musical tracks, the projector screen setup, the maniacal granny, the wandering undead, the creepy creatures lying in wait, the imprisoned psychopath, the laser vortex and other sensory triggers.
As operations manager for an electrical testing company, Blanchard knows his way around a job site – so he draws on his own skills and resources and recruits friends and fellow craftsmen to pull together the know-how to build a miniature theme park from the ground up. As Fay pointed out, each new element they create presents challenges to overcome and puzzles to solve, which only adds to the fun and reward of pulling it off.
“We all lie in bed at night thinking of ideas,” Fay said.
The fun-loving, wisecracking guys are all willing “victims” of each other’s pranks throughout the building process as they try out different techniques to startle and scare.
“We are a bunch of little kids, really,” Blanchard said.
But their biggest fear, of course, having invested so much time and money in the project, is the thought of something going wrong.
“None of us are sleeping at night anymore,” he said, as anticipation builds toward the big day, and all eyes are on the weather forecast, and minds race over the details to ensure no eventuality (such as last year’s unexpected computer crash) is overlooked. Safety shares top priority with the scares.
The production will run Oct. 30 and 31, using Tuesday as a dress rehearsal. Admission is free. Less intense thrills and chills are available in the earlier hours for the younger participants, but parental discretion is advised once darkness falls.
“One Step Beyond” is located at 1075 Treasure Ave., off of Lighthouse Drive in Ocean Acres.