Each year for 10 years Justin Smith and his family have opened their home to the public for free in the hopes that they hear at least a few screams.
If they hear laughter and see smiles, that's good too.
Smith, 27, has been running a homemade haunted house out of his parents' Plymouth home since middle school. The Benilde-St. Margaret alum and substitute teacher has even coaxed long-time friends and now his own students to become a part of the fun.
During the years Smith has collected a gathering of actors and others to help with all aspects of the haunted house experience aptly named "Disturbia in Suburbia."
The two-story home at 12215 60th Place North, is tucked away in a seemingly quaint suburban area of Plymouth near the Maple Grove border between Highway 169 and I-494 off Bass Lake Road. Looking at the front and back yard you would never know how it transforms once a year.
Since 2000, the haunted house has expanded and changed themes. It has brought in hundreds of people each night its open and is usually open a few nights including Halloween. Smith said he gets people from all across the metro and besides a few different media outlets who do brief stories leading up to the weekend before Halloween, most people hear about from word of mouth.
To keep things new and interesting the theme is carefully chosen and more props and ideas are tossed around to bring everything up a notch. This year's theme is the "Sunnydale School For Children." (And yes, that is a nod to Joss Whedon for those Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans.)
Everyone involved from set designing to acting to preparation are all volunteers many have been collected from friends and family over the years or those who simply love being a part of the scary fun.
The house has been broken up into several areas for people to move through safely and efficiently. It takes about 20 minutes at a regular walking pace to get through the entire haunted house experience. People start on the side of the house, move through the backyard and go through the garage before they exit.
"With each area you move through we try to make it progressively scarier," Smith said. "We've only used the backyard one other year and people really loved it."
There are what Smith calls "bail out points" or other exits that volunteers direct people to when they can't handle the entire experience or must leave the line early. Volunteers use walkie-talkies to communicate to control traffic and to monitor if anyone is giving the actors trouble.
"Sometimes we get some teenagers who run through the first time and then know where we are when they go through it again and try to point it out," Smith said.
The props and sets are created carefully so they are not only practical, but also reusable and safe. Most of the materials are bought off of Craigslist or donated from businesses like novelty shops and other individuals in the metro. Smith said putting it all together has been relatively inexpensive and usually adds up to more than $200 a year. Construction work began Sept. 23 this year and much of the work gets finished up the week before opening night.
"It usually takes about a month and a half to create it all and less than a week to tear it all down," Smith said. "We are adamant about keeping everything safe for everyone, using reinforced walls for the different rooms and have safe, clear walking space."
Smith keeps in constant contact with his volunteers providing instructions to the actors who are the key part of creating the entire frightening experience. He has about 22 to 24 helping him out this year, many of the actors are high school age this year. This is the year with the most volunteers so far.
"I tell them doing this is like setting up a joke," Smith said. "You want to set up each room so it builds a suspense. You want that 'gotcha' moment."
He groups his actors in pairs or three to each room so they are spread out and be at different places where people won't expect them. Actors never touch anyone going through the haunted house and there have been no accidents or trouble with people being too scared or getting injured, actors or anyone else.
Smith and his volunteers always let people know the experience is a scary one so those who have any health issues or don't do well being scared should not go through.
"I'm very picky when it comes to make up, costumes and scare tactics we use," Smith said. "When you do a haunted house you live and die by how the space is set up and how well your actors do. It all has to work together and be effective."
Smith has been looking for the creepiest music and sounds to go with this year's theme and mixing it himself. He lives on the west side of Plymouth with his wife Lindsey and their son. His entire family has been supportive of his Halloween hijinks.
"My wife loves Halloween too and my mom Karen loves it," Smith said. "My dad has been really supportive and it's very much a family affair."
The haunted house has been so successful that Smith and his father David are looking into bringing it to a new location in the future and having it for a longer duration. They may rent or purchase a warehouse space in the metro to do a bigger and better version seasonally, he said.
"My father is a businessman and we have business license and have T-shirts to sell now," Smith said. "We're looking at a warehouse space in Golden Valley for next year. We're taking this year to contact investors and make sure everything is done right."
Right now donations are accepted, but there is no charge to be in the haunted house. If the Smiths expand and move to a warehouse location there would most likely be a small admission fee of a $1.
This year the house is open 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, Sunday, Oct. 28, and Halloween night, Wednesday, Oct. 31. Admission is free.