Something wicked this way comes (again) to Surrey
by Andrew Fleming
In most places of business, causing your customers to scream at the top of their lungs and/or or run away in a panic would be considered a potential firing offense.
At Potters Farm and Nursery, it's par for the course, albeit only for the month of October.
The Newton garden centre has once again been transformed into a sprawling, terror-themed entertainment complex featuring the latest in alarming animatronics, spine-chilling stagecraft and terrifying trained actors to scare the proverbial pants off of visitors. Now in its fourteenth season, Potters House of Horrors is one of the biggest haunted houses in the province, rivalled perhaps only by Fright Nights at Playland, and typically sees around 20,000 visitors a year.
This year will likely see even more after management decided to expand with a kid-friendly area. L'il Haunters is the brainchild of longtime Potters employee Roman Kuzhlev, a Russian immigrant and one of the primary set designers for the annual Halloween show.
"It is good because now we have something for kids so the whole family can come," said Kuzhlev, who saw the need for a less-scary haunted house after seeing children's frustrations at not being allowed to join their parents in the main haunted house.
"Normally the kids just go to the pumpkin patch but they are always attracted to the main haunted house we do but it is really too scary," he added in thickly accented English. "Too many things like blood and gore. We modified our approach to make it less scary and more goofy. By doing things like sticking googly eyes on skulls, it makes them less scary for the little ones."
L’il Haunters offers two mini haunted houses for children 12 and under — the Mystic Village and Spooky Castle — that contain no animatronics, actors or things that go bump in the night. A special private room is available for birthday parties or other events, and children aged three and under and their parents/guardians get in for free.
Potters owner, Ed Holden proudly describes Kuzhlev as a "mad Russian genius" who helps make the Potters House of Horrors an annual must-attend event for Surrey thrill-seekers.
"Roman was a teenager when he and his mother emigrated here from Russia 15 years ago and he brought with him an entirely different perspective on creativity," said Holden. "With a truly brilliant child-like mind — although not childish by any means — and an astounding ability to envision design sets through the eyes of a child, Roman has done masterful work on our haunted sets for over a decade. We are ever-so-grateful that ours was the first door he knocked on in his search for a career in his newly adopted country."
But while the scares are few and far between in L'il Haunters, it's bloodcurdling business as usual in the main complex, which is often too much to take for fully grown adults who should rationally understand that they aren't in any actual danger from zombies, vampires or weapon-wielding killer clowns. A sign at the ticket booth warns that "people with weak hearts, those who faint easily, pregnant women and kids that frighten easy," and Potters employee Heather Gibbons said staff are kept busy as "chicken catchers" who help escort overwhelmed visitors from the maze through special emergency exits.
"Last year we had over 300 and we actually have a lot of men who can't make it all the way through," said Gibbons. "We've also had quite a few women who claimed they wet themselves. It is pretty scary but it's a really fun event."
Potters House of Horrors runs nightly rain or shine until Halloween at 12530 72nd Avenue, one block west of Kwantlen University, although it's closed to the public Oct. 3-6 and Oct.10. L'il Haunters opens at 4 p.m. and the regular show for adults starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are non-refundable and are available for purchase in advance, online or at the door. Visit pottershouseofhorrors.com for more information.