Saturday, July 7, 2012

Haunted Attraction Spotlight: Haunted Appalachian Caverns

My yearly Halloween experience is not complete without visiting some great haunted attractions. The past several years I've been out of state visiting some great attractions that are rarely accessible, but this year we've decided to stay local and make a circuit of our area attractions. Our goal is to visit as many attractions within a two-hour drive as possible.  I thought I would begin highlighting some of the attractions that we plan to visit and I've started with the Haunted Appalachian Caverns in Blountville, Tennessee. I've recently had the pleasure of corresponding with the owner of Metcalfe Studios, Rob Metcalfe who is contracted to be the director of haunted operations at Appalachian Caverns.

The Interrogation 

•Rob, first I want to thank you taking the time to do this interview and sharing more about Haunted Appalachian Caverns. Would you mind sharing a little history of the attraction?

Haunted Appalachian Caverns has been in business for last 7 years.

(Take directly from the attraction's website)

Haunted Appalachian Caverns has a long history of getting the screams whether that be from the real ghosts that lurk on the property even before the caverns were opened as an attraction, or the haunted cave put on every October. In the past we've done themed events like Pirates, our Silent Hill inspired : The Abyss , the CarnEvil Klowns / The FUNHOUSE, or the NEW Cave Hill Asylum. The New director of the H.A.C. Rob Metcalfe is bringing a one of a kind haunted attraction to the Tri-Cities area. Metcalfe has had many years’ experience in the haunt industry. So Join him as he turns Haunted Appalachian Caverns into the scariest haunted attraction in the Tri-Cities Area.

• Tell us about your new theme for this year.

The theme for this year is Cave Hill Asylum and here is it's story:


In early spring of 1968, Dr. Homes with his wife Karen and his 9 year old daughter Emma were camping on the land he had acquired from his parents. Every spring they camped here. Emma decided to go exploring in the woods this time and as she ventured into the woods she discovered a cave entrance. Excited about her discovery Emma ran back to the camp to tell her parents what she had found. Dr. Homes and his wife followed their daughter back into the woods to see this cave for themselves. He cleared away enough of the overgrown weeds and vines to get into the cave. After venturing a few feet, he determined it safe for his family to enter. As they continued to trek through the passages they discovered the many chambers hidden within the cave. Emma splashed around in the pool of water located the bottom of the cave. Dr. Homes was fascinated by the cave and realized that it provided him with a perfect natural layout that could easily be transformed into an asylum but not just any asylum a secluded asylum that he would be free to work on his experiments.

With the help of his old colleague Dr. Josef Heither, construction began on the asylum. Steadily the chambers were transformed into cells, laboratories, and offices. After months of work, the construction was finished and in October 1969 Cave Hill Asylum was founded and soon grew to become the forerunner of modern asylums.

Many patients were inmates transferred to the facility for treatment. Having arrived in orange jumpsuits, traditional inmate attire, both doctors agreed the bright orange was appropriate for the dark zones of the cave where the inmates were to be kept. Distancing themselves from the patients the staff referred to them only as Inmate followed by their assigned number.

Before his life at Cave Hill Asylum, Inmate 1 was a prominent man in a small town who owned his own carnival, Jabbo’s Fun House. He was a comical clown that children and parents loved. Jabbo the clown captured the smiles of all the children and spread the laughter with his acts. His carnival was always bustling with people so at first his behind the scenes act went unnoticed until he could no longer contain his urge to kill and he turned his Fun House into a House of Blood. Dr. Homes worked personally with Inmate 1 helping him bury they evil clown within him. The therapy showed promising results for the once comical clown and after several months of treatment sessions Dr. Homes thought it would do Inmate 1 good to perform his clown act for Emma. Once a week Emma watched the acts from outside Jabbo’s locked cell. Inmate 1 and Emma seemed to have formed a bond so she visited him every day as he continued to improve.
The asylums newest inmate was a challenge for the doctors, they worked for months with varying treatments yet nothing worked. Inmate 83 was mute. Neither doctor could determine the source of his silence. Dr. Homes was not going to let this patient be his first failure. He spent most of his days in his personal lab in the deepest chamber of the cave, trying to discover a treatment for 83.

In February of 1970, Dr. Homes started noticing behavioral changes in his wife Karen. These changes were all too familiar having witnessed the very same as a boy. She began experiencing periods of withdrawal. Dr. Homes would often find her huddled in a dark corner mumbling, to no one. At times she had violent outbursts toward her daughter. Dr. Homes kept Emma away for her own safety. He feared that yet another of his loved ones would fall into the grips of insanity. He and Dr. Heither stopped concentrating on Inmate 83 and worked night and day to find a cure for Karen. Nothing seemed to work and she continued to get worse. The two doctors tried everything they knew and still nothing succeeded.

Then on Halloween of 1970 while Dr. Homes was in his personal laboratory he realized that in order to cure her he would have to remove the evil but when he did that he would need to replace what he took from her. He needed access to normal humans so he could take their parts and place in his wife. The only way to do this was to take the organs and blood from already deceased people. The donated bodies provided him with the vital parts he needed.

He believed that with the use of a high voltage electric shock that he would be able to revive the sections of the dead brain he would place in his wife. He was going to test his newest theory on one of the inmates but decided that he would tell his wife the good news first. He went to his office to tell her and when he opened the door, there she was. Her delicate figure swayed from side to side, as she hung from the ceiling. In a fit of insanity she had her hung self with the braided tie back from the curtain. He was horrified by what he found. The grief stricken Dr. Homes rarely left his lab.

On Halloween 1973, the third anniversary of Mrs. Homes death, Dr. Heither came bursting into Dr. Home’s office shouting that he had found Home’s daughter Emma drowned in the pool of water. Inmate 1 had somehow gotten out of his cell during one of Emma’s visits to see his clown act and had snapped, the evil clown in him surfaced and he had forced the child under water until he felt the life leave her body. From that day forward Cave Hill Asylum was never the same. Both Doctors were devastated by these tragedies. Over the next few years they let their duties slide. The asylum fell rapidly into a state of chaos and disrepair. They stopped giving proper care to the inmates and left them with barley enough food and water. The Asylum became a breathing graveyard where the devastated Dr. Homes stayed locked in his laboratory creating unimaginable treatments that amounted to nothing more than extreme torture. No one in the asylum saw daylight for years. The inmate’s mental conditions worsened. They had heightened states of aggression and delusion. Many of the inmate’s swore they saw Emma wandering through the Asylum on the anniversary of her murder.

One day Dr. Homes and Dr. Heither noticed something different about Inmate 83. Inmate 83 was cowered down in the corner of his confinement mumbling to himself. The memories of seeing his wife do the same thing before she hung herself came flooding back to him. Dr. Homes saw the opportunity to cure Inmate 83 and save him from the same fate as his wife. The two doctors moved him into the experimental lab where they began working on him. His screams never reached the outside as they began sawing open his scull soon the noises subsided as they began to remove sections of his brain and reattached donated healthy sections of brain.

Are these two Doctors qualified to say that someone is insane or are they insane themselves? Cave Hill Asylum waits for your arrival to discover for yourself the fate of Inmate 83.

• How big is your haunt and what is the average time it takes a customer to go through the attraction?

The haunt takes you through the same path as the Walking Tour of Appalachian Caverns and then we will take you through another constructed haunt across the street. It should take someone anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour (not counting line time) depending on how fast you run when we scare you. 

• I've visited haunts that send customers through by groups consisting of strangers and haunts that send their customers through only in groups that came together, how does your haunt do it?

We put through groups of 8-10. If your group has that many people you go together and if not you will be with strangers who, hopefully, will be friends after this experience.

• Does the haunt offer concessions, souvenirs, etc?

We will have Concession, The Appalachian Caverns Gift Shop, green screen photographers, and the rock climb wall and during Press Night we will have the U.S Military and the Marsh Blood Bank blood drive. This will not be all that we have as we are still in talks with people.

• Does the haunt perform cue-line scares and/or how do you entertain your customers while they wait to get in?

Yes there will be occasional cue-line scares and we will have a video running before you go into the cavern that will show all of the Cave Haunters episode, talk about our sponsors, and the rules of the haunt. The rules will play every other video. Even though we will have them posted we are very safety minded and want to make sure everyone has a good safe time.

• What can customers expect when they brave the Haunted Appalachian Caverns?

We are striving for a quality theatrical production. We have the best make-up artists, sound designer, scenic artists, set designers, and actors from the local colleges. Customers can expect an awesome time where they will be scared by props, gore, distractions, actors, and a variety of other tools that have been refined over the years.

• Does the haunt have special policies not found in most haunts such as the actors being allowed to touch customers? 

Our policies are standard for the haunt industry, but we have a few special rules that deal with the cavern. These are not our rules, but Federal Law.

• Do you and the crew make your own props, by them, or a combination of both?

A combination of both. Our designers have come into this project with such enthusiasm and skill that we have moved from buying all of our props to making them. 

• Does building the haunt inside the caverns pose special problems?

We are not allowed any permanent structures in the cavern, nor are we allowed to modify the cavern walls in any way. With this in mind everything becomes a problem solvers dream. Also the damp conditions make safety and electrical items a constant concern.

• What are your plans for the growth of the attraction? Is there something that it’s missing you want to add in future?

 At this time our plans for this attraction is following the path we have laid out. Eventually we would like to build our attraction to one of the biggest scare parks in the nation. A scare park is multiple haunts in one location (similar to Netherworld).

• Our area is not very well known for our haunted attractions. What do you think it would take to put Northeast Tennessee on the “haunt map?”

I would love to put East Tennessee on the “haunt map” but it will take a cooperative effort between all of the haunts in this area to accomplish something that awesome. I would like to invite all the other haunts to contact me so that we can create a reputation that will help this area skyrocket onto that map.

• When I visit your attraction this year what would you like to be going through my mind as I’m leaving?

We would like for all our customers to be thinking that this was the scariest, toilet paper, inducing haunt that they have ever seen while at the same time thinking they need to come back, do it again, and bring all of their friends.

• What other haunts out there do you look to for inspiration?

Power House of Terror (Toronto, Canada), Frightmare Manor (Talbot, TN), Frightworks (Knoxville, TN), Ruby Falls Haunted Cavern (Chattanooga, TN), Netherworld Haunted House (Norcross, GA), Dead Man’s Farm (Lenore City, TN), The Dent School House (Cincinnati, OH), Knotts Scary Farm (Buena Park, CA), Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls (Philadelphia, PA), Halloween Horror Nights (Orlando, FL). This is a list that could have gone on and on so I just hit my top ten.

• Are the cast and crew comprised of paid employees, volunteers, or both?

 The cast and crew are all volunteers.

• How many actors are in the haunt and do they receive actor training of some kind?

We have yet to have auditions, but we are expecting a minimum of 100 actors. We do have an actor training program that all actors are required to attend and a rehearsal schedule. We know we have the best actors in the Tri-Cities and this is our way of helping them continue to stay at the top.

• Would you like to name certain cast and crew members as the backbone of your operation?

Adam Honeycutt – Sound Designer/Right Hand Man/Owner (Honeycutt Sound Designs): He has put me in touch with others who have turned out to be fantastic and has added to the haunt by coming up with awesome ideas. He has also competed in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival as a Sound Designer and a Stage Manager. He has won awards for his work in the theatre. He has won awards from Northeast State Community College for his work.

Derek Smithpeters – Make-Up Artist/Actor/Owner (Make-Up Madness with Derek Smithpeters) – His make-up skill is beyond compare and without him this haunt would look like someone smeared jelly on the actors. He has competed in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival as a Make-Up Artist and an Actor. He has won awards from Northeast State Community College for his work. He also introduced me to Adam Honeycutt.

ETSU Patchwork Players – These are top of the list actors in this area and without them this production would look like an elementary school performed it.

Richard Curtis – Scenic Artist/Actor/Owner (Curtis Custom Creations) – He is an award winning artist that has competed in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). He has won awards from Northeast State Community College for his work.
Hunter Roberts – Actor/Host of Cave Haunters – Graduate of Radford University, student at ETSU, former host of the Hunter Show, and former wrestler (The Fighting O’Malley’s).

Reagan Williams – Voice Actor/Actor – She called one day and offered her services. After speaking to her we put her in touch with Honeycutt Sound Designs and she has become one of their main voice actors.

We would like to thank:
a. The Staff of Appalachian Caverns for all of their help and cooperation.
b. The Michigan Girl Scout Troup that help during their camping trip to Appalachian Caverns
c. Allison Wallace for helping when she can and for her photography work.
d. The rest of the wonderful people who show up and help with the builds.
e. We would like to thank our sponsors for without them this would not be possible:
i. Pepsi
ii. Celebrate Studios
iii. Honeycutt Sound Designs
iv. Metcalfe Studios
v. Raze Props
vi. Curtis Custom Creations
vii. Crime Core Records
viii. Appalachian Caverns

• You’ve begun to upload build videos on You Tube of the haunt progress this year and even started a podcast (*note: podcast intended for a mature audience*). How did you come up with these ideas and what was the reason for doing so?

This is an excellent promotional tool that also provides people with the knowledge of how much effort really goes into a production of this kind. It also helps us to network with other haunts on a national level.

• How do you promote your attraction other than Facebook and You Tube? (radio, TV, newspapers?)

 Radio ads (94.9), Posters, Flyers, every newspaper in a 100 mile radius, and event pages on any website that will allow us.

• Is there a one haunted attraction responsible for your interest in professional haunting?

 Ruby Falls Haunted Caverns really opened my eyes to the professional haunting business.

• After working in the industry, does anything still scare you when you go through a haunt?

 Yes, a good startle scare will get me every time (especially when I am paying attention to the production and not where I’m going). 

• Can you share a favorite Halloween memory?

The first time I ever went through a haunted attraction (Myers Corn Maze in Greenville, TN) I was scared and excited all at the same time. I wanted to go through over and over just so I could figure out how they did their scares.

• If someone wanted more information on the attraction, pricing, etc., how would they contact you?

Our website has all our information ( You can also call us at 423-323-2337.

• Are there any other links you would like to share in association with Haunted Appalachian Caverns or Metcalfe Studios? 

I want to thank Rob again for taking the time to do this interview. I'm really looking forward to making my way over to the caverns this year and will make sure and blog about my experiences there. 

I want to thank Colonel Shofer and Charmaine Clancy for being the newest trespassers in The Hollow. 

I also want to mention that I will be restricting blog posts to once a week (I had hoped to blog twice a week) since starting a new college session. 

Thank you to all my readers!