Haunted houses of Tampa Bay

Murder House will be open through Halloween. ORACLE PHOTO / COURTNEY COMBS

This is the time of year when the dead rise from the grave to haunt amusement parks across the country.

From Busch Gardens to Six Flags, willing victims are shelling out the big bucks to be scared out of their pants in winding mazes filled with ghosts and ghouls. But those with a slightly lighter wallet or a distaste for crowds need not worry about missing out on all the fun.

Home haunts pack scares into more intimate settings that give haunt and horror fans the opportunity to have a unique and personal experience while running for their lives down blood-soaked hallways.

Murder House

It looks like an unassuming neighborhood — until you reach the house with a hearse parked on the lawn. Welcome to Murder House, the heart of the “Thrill Kill” zone.

Murder House opens its doors every Thursday through Saturday from dark to 11 p.m. and will keep scaring until Halloween. Victims must be 18 or older to enter without being accompanied by an adult.

“We’ve actually been really busy the first two weeks, but we expect it to get even more busy toward the end near Halloween,” said Shane Downs, creator of Murder House. “Everybody has been giving great feedback, and that’s what has pushed me to do even more this year and make it a better experience for everybody.”

This year is Downs’ second year doing Murder House. He began preparations in early September and said he will continue to add to the house all the way up to closing night.

Murder House, located at 9048 Hickory Cir., Tampa, does not have an entrance fee but Downs said he asks guests for a donation that goes to benefit his charity of choice, Big Cat Rescue.

“Back when I was a kid, instead of going trick-or-treating like all the other kids … I chose to stay at the house so I could scare the other trick-or-treaters,” Downs said. “We would decorate the house with a graveyard scene, it wasn’t nearly as elaborate as what we’re doing now, but as a kid I just fell in love with it.”

Downs is looking to open a permanent haunt in Tampa that will remain open year-round and will expand on his “Thrill Kill” universe.

Radley Haunted House

For the past eight years, the ghosts of the cursed Radley family have been returning to their St. Petersburg home to frighten away unwanted guests.

This year focuses on the nightmare-ridden sleep therapist Dr. Elias Radley, who unwittingly releases Somnus, the god of nightmares, in an attempt to relieve himself of his bad dreams. He creates a machine he believes will be the cure – its power source: his patients.

The good doctor is long gone but the machine is still running, and Somnus and the spirits of his victims still remain locked inside the Radley house.

“I think the concept of a home haunt is unfamiliar to many; there are not a lot of them in central Florida,” said Ricky Brigante, one of the minds behind the haunt. “It’s great to see people coming out of our experience expecting one thing and getting something 100 times better, and that’s what we aim for.”

The house is the creation of Cody Meacham, whose parents’ house served as the original decoration-covered venue. Over time, the haunt grew and evolved; this year Radley Haunted House is more than 1,500 square feet to walk through.

Radley Haunted House is open on select nights from 7:30 to 11 p.m. at 3900 19th St. N., St. Petersburg. The creators of Radley ask their willing victims for a $5 dollar donation to help cover the cost of materials and labor, and a portion of all proceeds goes to the Cancer Research Institute.

“The other thing about a home haunt is nobody has any idea of what to expect because anybody can put up Halloween decorations,” Brigante said. “You might think, ‘I’m going to somebody’s house; it’s going to be some stuff from Party City and ghosts hanging around,’ and things like that and they get there and they realize that we aim for professionalism, and they’re just blown away.”

Preparation for Radley Haunted House begins almost as soon as the season ends. Brigante said Radley is a passion project and always on his mind.

“It’s quite a process,” Brigante said. “It was an ongoing conversation for many months. Originally, it was a completely different idea then it moved into an idea similar to this. This is actually the first time Radley is having a two-part story. This is the prequel to next year where we’re planning even bigger adventures into this world.”

The house takes several minutes to walk through and Brigante said they try to give attendees special attention, something he said is harder for the bigger theme parks to do.

“The goal is to give you some personal attention this Halloween season — in a way that a theme park can’t, by bringing tens of thousands of people every night,” Brigante said. “We don’t have the conga line through the haunted houses, we send small groups or you can even go through by yourself if you like and hopefully leave screaming and running out the other side.”