Alligators, swamp snakes and voodoo priestesses aren’t usually a big threat in Connecticut, but they’re invading a corner of Lake Compounce this fall.
The Voodoo Swamp is the newest feature of the Haunted Graveyard this year, where creator Ernie Romegialli plans his 19th season of Halloween-themed horror for tens of thousands of adults and older children. Visitors can expect a 45-minute walk through a maze of haunted house-style sets with ghouls, zombies, vampires, hatchet-murderers and most any other ghastly character imaginable. About 200 young actors and actresses in makeup and costumes spring out from dark closets, behind doors or under tables. The Haunted Graveyard launches its 19th season on Friday, and will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through Oct. 29.
A team of carpenters, painters and electricians is working to complete the props, decor and animatronic monsters in more than 150,000 square feet of space. Most of the 2016 scenes are back for another year, but Romegialli has retired the Zombie Forest in favor of the all-new Voodoo Swamp.
“I was at a trade show in New Orleans in the winter and that got me thinking about the swamp. I’ve been on swamp tours before, and when you travel in New Orleans you see all the old cemeteries — that’s how I came up with this,” Romegialli said.
Visitors will encounter a voodoo priestess along the way, and probably Baron Samedi, the towering voodoo priest character made famous in the James Bond film, “Live and Let Die.”
“I liked that character, I liked that movie,” Romegialli said.
Romegialli has been putting on Lake Compounce’s Halloween show for more than a decade.
He first created a small Halloween-themed display outside his Middletown home in 1991, he said. Eight years later, the crowds grew so big that he moved the operation to Lake Compounce. Most of the buildings stay up all year in the northern end of the park, but all of the decor is packed away every November.
Romegialli, 71, doesn’t say how much the attraction has made for him, but has said it’s not a huge amount considering the 11 months a year that he works on it.
“We take December off, I don’t talk to anyone and we don’t do anything,” he said. “But this time of year, I haven’t had a day off in six weeks. The phone is always ringing. I’m most creative when we’re behind (schedule).”
His company, Graveyard Productions Inc., reports that it has contributed more than $1 million since 1999 to diabetes research nationally. The operation needs 18 makeup artists each night, along with safety supervisors, managers in each of the major haunted houses, and crew to keep watch on the line of waiting guests that forms every night.
Visitors are divided into groups that leave at preassigned times, working their way from one set of horrors to another. Over the years, the sets have ranged from a Mayan temple to a sawmill. This year features The Catacombs, a cemetery, a spirit-infested pumpkin patch, a haunted dairy and a slaughterhouse.
The park is offering a Boo Brew Fest on Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. with 10 Connecticut-based craft breweries and Lake Compounce food. The brews on the menu include Two Roads, Thomas Hooker, Back East, Stony Creek, City Steam, Olde Burnside, Broad Brook, Half Full Brewery, Firefly and more.
Guests who are 21 and older with an adult combo ticket — which covers rides and Haunted Graveyard admission — will get one flight of locally brewed beer.
Lake Compounce opens at 5 p.m. on Haunted Graveyard nights and intends to have 17 rides available. Kiddieland and Crocodile Cove Water Park will be closed.
“The Haunted Graveyard is rated PG for Pretty Ghoulish, and is not intended for small children or adults who may be frightened easily,” the park notes.
LAKE COMPOUNCE HAUNTED GRAVEYARD runs weekends through Oct. 29. Lake Compounce will open at 5 p.m. during each night of operation. The Haunted Graveyard will open at dusk. 186 Enterprise Road, Bristol. Starting at $22.99. hauntedgraveyard.com