Halloween entrepreneur: Years of collecting, months of planning and one month to make money

For people who find their pile of Halloween decorations getting nearly as large as their Christmas collection, check out Matt Dunn. He has been collecting Halloween decor for 24 years, since he was 10. “I’d decorate my parents’ house, the backyard, the front yard and the garage,” he said.

Dunn turned his obsession with gore and ghouls into one of the country’s best haunted attractions, Scream Town, located on 30 acres of rented field in suburban Minneapolis.

HauntedAttractionsOnline.com voted it No. 4 on its list of the nation’s 13 best haunted houses. Haunted Attractions magazine listed it as a “must see” among the country’s 31 best haunts of 2015.

With more than 120 scenes on the Scream Town acreage, Dunn needs thousands of electrical cords and hundreds of gallons of fog juice each season.

“If we ever had to move, I think we could fill a semi just with extension cords,” he said.

Not for the fainthearted, Scream Town is meant for adults only. “If guests aren’t screaming, it’s not working,” Dunn said.

For many Halloween revelers, the debauchery means a few hours of preparation and a night or weekend of partying. For Dunn, it’s a vision, a dream and about nine months of work to scare the bejesus out of his guests.

About half his income comes from year-round work as a magician. Work on Scream Town, which is open Oct. 1-30, starts as soon as the snow melts and the ground is thawed.

“I think about it all the time,” Dunn said. “It’s an absolute addiction. I’m making notes, taking pictures, going online for ideas.”

In March, he attends a Halloween trade show in St. Louis to buy props and equipment. In more than 20 years of collecting items, he estimates he’s spent more than $300,000. A few of his props have survived from the early days. A mannequin of a woman in a hearse was in his parents’ front window, along with some gravestones and a skeleton.

“I like authentic. I want real bones — Hollywood-quality props,” he said.

By spring, he’s planting corn for the cornfield, cutting the grass and building sets. With so much of his annual income stream coming from one month, Dunn also has to worry about Mother Nature, which can quickly make a mudslide of his creation.

Unlike a haunted house or an amusement park, Scream Town has a country cornfield setting. Some online reviewers have commented that they realized they weren’t on the usual trail of terror as they drove their vehicle across a field to park.

The space includes eight attractions: Oak Blood Forest, Crop Spawn, Circus Asylum, Ludicrous Labyrinth, Meltdown at Sector 666, Redneck Resort, Phobia House and Abandoned.

Dunn won’t tell guests which five phobias they will experience in the Phobia rooms with one exception — being buried alive. “They always say something like, ‘Just tell me if it’s spiders. I can’t do spiders.’”

Dick Cohn, who operated seven Spirit Halloween locations in the Twin Cities until he retired last year, said, “Scream Town is one of the greatest outdoor haunted events that I’ve seen in the country.”

Cohn said he used to lose some of his employees on Halloween weekend because they wanted to work at Scream Town. Dunn’s strength, Cohn said, is that he has the advantage of being in the same location every year — and adding to it. “Some of the others do the same thing every year,” Cohn said. Scream Town is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Dunn said Scream Town is different from its competitors in that it is not a theme park.

“We’re in the middle of a field,” he said. “If people see a raccoon or a possum, I tell them these animals are not on a leash.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune | Tribune News Service

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