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The freaks come out at night at TerrorMania

Most students, employees and volunteers working behind the scenes of Tom Savini’s TerrorMania in Monessen call the haunted attraction their second home.

Gary Mandarino often calls it his first.

Although he lives a few miles away, the Monessen native does his best work at night.

“I get a lot of phone calls during the day,” Mandarino said. “At night when I’m here by myself is when I get most of my stuff done.”

After endless hours of tinkering with his original creations such as a mechanized autopsy table and a mannequin with a stake coming through its chest, Mandarino calls it a night and retires to the padded cell with a bed usually reserved for a psycho woman who lunges at visitors and yells, “Ruuuuunnnnnnnn!”

When exhaustion sets in, all Mandarino cares about is a place to rest his head. Mandarino isn’t scared of haunted houses.

“It doesn’t affect me that way,” he said. “It kind of bothers me because I can’t appreciate the full impact that this place has on someone as a new person walking through here because I’m so used to it.”

As TerrorMania’s production manager, Mandarino gets paid to scare people.

It’s a far cry from his last job where he was selling cars at his family’s Chrysler dealership.

“I never used to watch horror movies until they hired me a year ago to build this place,” Mandarino said. “I was 47 years old at the time. You know, it was a career change for me.”

In its second year, TerrorMania has opened its doors once again for another frightful fall. The venue, located along Route 906 in downtown Monessen, is open 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays and 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 1.

It’s located in the former Giant Eagle building.

Mandarino said he used to do his grocery shopping there for years and admits it was weird at first when he first started building the haunted house.

“Now, to me, it’s TerrorMania. The Giant Eagle ghost is dead completely now,” he said.

Organizers promise this year’s TerrorMania will be “bigger, better and a lot more terrifying” than last year.

“This place has definitely got the ambiance, that’s for sure. We feel we’re at least in the top five in the country for haunts,” said David Armbruster, merchandising director.

Armbruster boasts that last year was so frightening that more than 100 people lost bladder control.

This year, they’ll be selling Depends right on site. “They’ll be for sale, but if anyone actually comes up and buys them we will be very surprised,” said Armbruster, adding it’s more of a gag than anything.

Those who went through last year can expect something different this year.

“Almost every room inside the entire venue is brand new,” Armbruster said.

One of the new attractions this year is a scare grounds with vendors reading tarot cards and selling items such as leather goods, incense and refreshments.

Visitors can also feast their eyes on a display of Tom Savini’s personal collection such as the original Frankenstein, Predator, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Alien and Pumpkinhead. Savini — who teamed up with Douglas Education Center in Monessen to offer a special makeup effects program — is a makeup artist best known for his work in Hollywood on horror films that include “Friday the 13th,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Creepshow.”

As visitors enter the venue they will also be able to view artwork from Savini’s students in display cases.

Then it’s off for a chilling visit to 11,000 square feet of terror sectioned off into areas with names like the spider room, the toxic cave, the monster barn and the blood bath room.

For those who make it all the way to the end (There are exits throughout for those who can’t take anymore), there is a store, which is also new this year. The store will feature some items made by students, masks, costumes and safety glow sticks for trick-or-treating.

Linda Kahl, a student of the special makeup effects program at Douglas Education Center, will be trying to “scare the crap out of people” by acting psychotic during the event in the padded room.

Kahl is one of 18 actors and 20 volunteers who will help out during TerrorMania. She’s using the opportunity to earn externship hours toward her degree.

Like many other students, Kahl came to Douglas Education Center from out of state. Kahl, of Houston, Texas, said she’s excited about the possibilities that await her upon completion from the program. She said her own plans change almost daily, but she said options include making action figures for a toy company, molding prosthetic limbs, doing restoration at a museum, doing makeup for movie companies or theaters or working at an amusement park.

“You can do all kinds of things. that’s why I came here. That’s why I chose that,” Kahl said.

The continuous influx of talent and ideas from students at in the special effects class at Douglas, paired with Savini’s reputation, may give TerrorMania life beyond the Halloween season, Armbruster said.

“We’re trying to open up 365 (days a year),” Armbruster said. “There are a lot of attractions that are open 365 days a year which are very similar to what we have here.

“We want to have the best haunt going,” he said. “We want everybody to know that this is the premier place to be.”

Another goal is to market products made by students and employees of TerrorMania.

“My job here is to make products and come up with ideas that helps us to have a manufacturing surplus here that we can use to create jobs,” Armbruster said. “We have three or four different items in this haunted house that are being test -run right now.”

Tickets for the haunted house are $13.50. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Inc., which owns the building. The rest of the profits go back into TerrorMania.

According to Armbruster, the attraction was visited last year by 15,000 people.


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