Ulster Park’s Headless Horseman Hayrides & Haunted Houses is one creepy place: The fright fest has consistently placed among the nation’s top 13 haunted attractions in HauntWorld Magazine’s annual rankings. Located on 45 acres in Ulster County and featuring a hayride trail, corn maze, midway, and three haunted houses, the attraction showcases some impressively high-tech illusions — but its real scare power comes from its flesh-and-blood workers. Here, co-owner Michael Jubie and veteran Horseman performers Dave Berman, Rob Corsino, and Joe Guarente spill the bones on how they create such a spooky setting, year after year.
Performers at Headless Horseman are encouraged to avoid the grunts, groans, and “Rarrr!”s that fill your run-of-the-mill haunted house in favor of “I know where you live!” and “I’ll be in your back seat!” — threats that can nestle themselves in customers’ heads for hours. “Anything that makes them carry the experience with them all the way home,” Jubie says, “is a home run for us.” Event organizers switch up themes, sets, and characters every year to guarantee new thrills and chills; this year’s themes include a twisted fairy tale and a science experiment gone horribly wrong.
Scare-mongers at Headless Horseman want to ensure you get to know the ghouls terrifying you. If Berman spots a couple walking together, he’ll follow them, wait until they’re forced to let go of each other’s hand for a split second, and then pounce. “I’d just happen to be there, escorting [the woman] for a little while through the corn maze before she realizes a demented scarecrow’s holding her hand,” Berman says. “There were probably a lot of divorces because of that.”
Want to really frighten a friend or loved one? Tell a ticket collector at the entrance who you’d like to see startled, and soon every actor on the premises will know. “We’ll pass the name and description along through the haunted house, so everyone knows that Billy’s coming along and he’s wearing a Yankees hat and a red sweater,” Corsino says. “Then he’s just a target for the next 15 minutes of his life.”
Jubie and his wife Nancy (who also run a T-shirt and embroidery business together) employ more than 250 people at Headless Horseman, and will begin working on next year’s themes soon after the clock strikes midnight on this Halloween. For their part, performers attend monthly acting lessons throughout the year to sharpen their scaring skills. But they don’t mind. “I’ve been doing this stuff since I was a kid, basically,” Guarente says. “Now I can get paid for it.”
Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses Open Sept. 20 & 27, Oct. 3-5, 10-12, 17-19, 23-26, 29-31, & Nov. 1-2. Call for reservations. $29.
778 Broadway, Ulster Park. 845-339-2666 or www.headlesshorseman.com
There are plenty of ways to stay scared silly this Halloween season. Here’s a small sampling of Halloween events in the area — for a complete list, click here.
The Haunted Museum of Unnatural History Oct. 20-21, 27-28, 31: The museum dresses up seven of its rooms with hordes of horror-filled surprises. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Oct. 31: 4-9 p.m. $6.
Empire State Plaza, Albany. 518-474-5877 or www.nysm.nysed.gov
Legends by Candlelight Spook Tours Oct. 17-18, 24-25: Take a candlelit tour of the museum and grounds and hear about ghosts and spooks from the museum’s past. $10, $4 children.
1 Clermont Ave., Germantown. 518-537-4240 or www.friendsofclermont.org
Kevin McCurdy’s Haunted Mansion Through Nov. 1: Now 31 years old, this attraction offers up its classic haunted house as well as Horrorwood Studios and Castle Nocturne, both new this year. Call for prices and schedule.
Sheafe Rd., Wappingers Falls. 845-297-2288 or www.thehauntedmansion.com
Massacre Mansion Haunted House Through Oct. 31: This spooky scene features a haunted house, dark maze, and wolf trail. Fri.-Sat. 7-11 p.m., Sun. 7-9 p.m. Call for prices.
348 Sunside Rd., East Durham. 518-634-2541 or www.blackthorneresort.com
The Forest of Fear Through Oct. 26: Get lost (and scared) in a haunted house and other attractions. Opens at 6 p.m. Call for tickets.
600 Rte. 17A, Tuxedo. 845-351-5171 or www.theforestoffear.com
The Haunting on the Hill Featuring House of Horror, Forest of Fear, and Psycho Cemetery. Call ahead for reservations.
Rte. 22, Patterson. 845-878-4100 or www.thunderridgeski.com
Family Farm Day Oct. 19: Come with your family and enjoy hayrides, farm animals, and other activities. 1 p.m.
2000 Frost Valley Rd., Claryville. 845-985-2291, ext. 205 or www.frostvalley.org
Legend Weekend Evening Event Oct. 18-19, 25-26: Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman rides again! Call ahead for reservations.
381 N. Broadway (Rte. 9), Sleepy Hollow. 914-631-8200 or www.hudsonvalley.org