Why do some people love to get frightened? What do they gain by jumping and screaming at something moving in the shadows or from a loud noise? For one, surviving a such an ordeal means the brain releases endorphins, which gives you a euphoric feeling after the thrill. Another reason might be to prove their mettle to themselves, or someone else. Finally, some folks just like the blood and gore.
But, what of the frighteners? What of those people who put on a haunted house, hayride, forest trail, or any other attraction that can be turned spooky (traditionally during the Halloween season)? The documentary Family Of Fear seeks answers to those questions. The Stephen Lackey directed film takes viewers behind the scenes of one of the scariest haunted attractions in the country, Arx Mortis, in Killen, Alabama.
Lackey is there from the beginning of haunt season when the actors are being trained, and the sets are being created and follow the haunted attraction through Halloween night; their last day open. Interviewing regular customers and workers alike, he also comes on the heels of what many consider Arx Mortis’s weakest year. Do things improve this year?
Founder Vinny Grosso had started with a temporary haunt location, throwing it up for a few days in October. Having some success, he eventually decided to create a permanent setup, Arx Mortis. Sheri, his wife, understands and encourages him, even if they butt heads about his long absences some days. She states that it was hard at first, but now a rhythm has been found that tends to work.
“…there from the beginning of haunt season when the actors are trained, and the sets are created and follow the attraction through Halloween night…”
The closer to Halloween it gets, the more the parking lot for Arx Mortis tends to fill up before they are even open. On such nights, the actors need to be on top of their game, and the workers hope for all the motion sensors, and the like, to work. But, these are just the facts; the stuff anyone can look up by researching the haunt.
The interests of Family Of Fear go far beyond just explaining what goes into making a haunted house work. No, it is far more concerned with what makes a place like this tick. To that end, Lackey comprehensively interviews an array of behind the scenes employees and cast members. Dillon, for one, has been harassed and bullied and felt great anger towards his aggressors and honestly doesn’t know if he would still be around if not for the haunt.
See, Dillon found acceptance and a makeshift family at Arx Mortis. If he’s having issues that can’t discuss with his family (which is often), he can call Vinny or Sheri, or any of the other people he has met. This sort of support network is not something Dillon has had before and is ever grateful for it. Plus, any outrage which has built up throughout the other 11 months of the year can be channeled and expunged as he scares the customers in the haunt.
“…showcasing why individuals are drawn to create fear, he also highlights a caring family that will support you…”
Another actor seeking refuge is Becca, whose’s parents disowned her, and her principal is not doing anything about the constant bullying and death threats she endures at school. Why is her life so chaotic? Because Becca’s a lesbian. Much like Dillon, Becca has found people willing to help and support her by working at Arx Mortis.
Heather came to work the haunt due to absolute fear. Her first time there, as a patron, was with two friends and her sister. Upon entering the first room, Heather got so freaked out she bailed right then and there. Believing herself to be braver than that, she decided to face her fears. Thus, the next day she volunteers as an actor and is in make-up that night scaring folks.
Family Of Fear highlights several stories such as these and the uniting theme is that Vinny and everyone else at the haunt accepts and supports everyone there. There is also the way in which Arx Mortis empowers its staff to find their voice. Several people talk about how they came into their own by working here and enumerate the ways this lets them get their creative juices flowing.
It is this focus on the human element, not merely the history of horror-themed attractions, that sets Stephen Lackey’s brilliant, absorbing Family Of Fear apart from the other haunted attraction based documentaries (a surprisingly robust subgenre). By showcasing why individuals are drawn to create fear, he also highlights a caring family that will support you no matter what.
Family Of Fear (2018) Directed by Stephen Lackey. Starring Vinny Grosso, Sheri Grosso, Becca L. Young, Dillon Fitzpatrick, Heather Sizemore.
9 Gruesome Frights (out of 10)