If you thought Plymouth was free of zombies, ghosts and other haunting creatures, think again. Justin Smith, owner and operator of Disturbia in Suburbia (an independent haunted house attraction based right here in Plymouth), has been bringing the spook to our fair city for more than 10 years.
The impetus for such a seasonal attraction was simple: When Smith was in middle school, he and his buddies were trick-or-treating in Plymouth when one of his neighbors refused the boys candy, citing they were too old to be out celebrating a children’s holiday. Stricken then (and now) with Halloween fever, Smith says he loves Halloween too much to not do anything—the result was a haunted house run out of his parents’ home.
“I enjoy theatrics, entertaining and being a prankster,” Smith says.
His mom Karen says Justin began scaring when it wasn’t “cool” to go trick-or-treating. Imitating the scarecrow Karen decorated her front porch with for years, Justin acted dummy-like until the opportunity to scare presented itself. Looking back, Karen says hearing people scream is probably what “sealed the deal” for her son.
Smith, who turns 27 October 3, first opened his exhibition to the public in 2000; 12 years later, it still runs out of his parents’ house. Last year more than 500 people visited the self-made haunted home in the two nights it was open—more than 100 of those had to be escorted from the house prematurely, allowing Smith and his team to feel confident they did their job well.
“If customers are talking, they’re not scared. We want people to scream,” Smith says.
Hearing Smith talk, you’d think creating a spook-tacular “choreographed maze” is some easy feat. Think again. Since the theme changes each year, planning begins around January for that year’s haunted display. Past themes include a mental asylum, a carnival and a haunted hotel; this year’s theme is an orphanage with the feature attraction “Sunnydale School for Children.”
Together the mother-son Smith team brainstorm ideas for floor plans and scour sites like Craigslist.com, looking for items they can use to transform the garage and parts of the backyard into a terrifying experience. In addition, Smith watches foreign and American horror movies he describes as “pushing the edge” for research.
Fear, like “Disturbia” and “suburbia,” is relative, or should we say relatives. “It’s a family affair,” Smith says. Dad David Smith is outside greeting visitors and controlling the amount of people entering the house. Karen acts as a rational voice, ensuring the house is appropriate for all ages and not just adults. “We both get so excited,” she says, “but we both have to be realistic and safe while having fun.”
There were two years that production of Disturbia in Suburbia halted when the Benilde St. Margaret’s grad started at the University of Minnesota. Smith returned to his haunting pastime his junior year at the suggestion of his girlfriend (now wife) Lindsey, who stars as an actor in the attraction.
Unlike other Halloween attractions, the actors in Disturbia in Suburbia do not touch guests as they make their way unguided through the house. Still you can expect dark lighting, loud noises and a limited use of animatronics (projected images).
“There is no ‘cure all’ when it comes to scaring people,” Smith says. “I don’t fancy clowns, but I’m not afraid of them. But [some] people are really unnerved by clowns.” Chris Stephens, one of the Smiths’ friends who helped create Disturbia in Suburbia and a veteran actor in the attraction, says Justin is very good at startling people. “He’s become very adept at timing,” Stephens says.
What started as a community effort has become a long-term goal for Smith. After making his parents’ house the holiday attraction in town, he still attributes the success to people who come through, adding he does it as an “act of love.”
Future plans for Smith include opening a year-round, indoor haunted house with an interactive maze and commemorative (think: “I survived Disturbia in Suburbia”) T-shirts. “If you survive, you can get a T-shirt,” he says with a mock-evil laugh.
For the Brave
12215 60th Pl. N.
Free; the Smiths accept food donations for Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church