CASA GRANDE — From the music and the screams to the blood-splattered rooms and cast of lurking, creepy characters, every element of the FreakShow Experience is designed to deliver a spine-tingling, heart-thumping fright to all who dare walk through the door.
But it’s all in good fun.
For visitors, the 10- to 12-minute stroll through the haunted house should feel like being in a horror movie, said Cristina Bustos, who co-created the Halloween venue with her husband, Daniel Bustos.
“It’s all about getting the adrenaline flowing,” Cristina said. “There’s a lot of screaming and gory scenes but people love it and we want them to have a good time. This is not a traditional haunted house. It’s theater-based.”
The Bustos, who live in Casa Grande, love Halloween. They also love entertaining.
Daniel works in the construction industry but is also a rapper who performs in a rap-meets-heavy metal band, Da Beast & Da Decipelz. The group has produced several songs and videos and often performs in the Phoenix area.
In creating the FreakShow Experience, the couple wanted to bring a new seasonal entertainment venue to Casa Grande while giving area actors a place to practice their craft. The actors are as crucial to the FreakShow Experience as the try-not-to-miss details in each room.
“We have about 40 actors in the show as young as 9 and as old as 75,” Cristina said. “We wanted an atmosphere where they can come and have a good time and be themselves.”
This year is the second of operation for the FreakShow Experience.
“Last year, we had 1,000 square feet (on Cottonwood Lane),” Daniel said. “The space we’re in now is 7,000 square feet, so we have a lot more room to work with.”
Visitors to the FreakShow Experience travel in small groups through a maze of rooms. They begin in a small entryway designed as a parlor where they watch a video that sets the scene. The entry room is as far as some dare to go.
“We’ve had people watch the video then decide it’s too scary and run back out the door,” Cristina said.
The interior of the space is set up as a house. There’s a parlor, bedroom, kitchen, music room, long creepy hallways and even a mock backyard. But there are a few elements that aren’t found in most homes, including a walk-in freezer, torture chamber and chapel.
Daniel and volunteers did the interior construction work, transforming the former store into a not-so-homey house and designing a safe maze for visitors.
“We had to comply with fire codes to get a permit to open. And certain effects we couldn’t use, like the fog machines, because they set off the smoke alarms,” Daniel said. “There were a lot of challenges. Opening up almost didn’t happen.”
The Bustos have been married for 21 years. They have six children ranging in age from 2 to 19. The older three children are involved in the FreakShow Experience. The younger children — all three are adopted — are not old enough to be involved. But the entire family enjoys Halloween.
“We’ve always been a family that entertains on Halloween,” Cristina said.
The family often visits regional Halloween experiences such as Fear Farm, Nightfall at Old Tucson and 13th Floor and they wanted to create a venue that rivaled those in other, bigger cities.
They designed the FreakShow Experience with an anti-bullying message.
“We’re all freaks here,” Daniel said. “Some of our actors have been teased and bullied for being into cosplay or acting. Here, we have an anti-bullying atmosphere and it’s a joy to give people a place to be who they are.”
FreakShow Experience is working to establish a partnership with the national anti-bullying organization Don’t Be A Monster, which uses monsters and horror-related characters in awareness assemblies at schools and youth organizations. While the Bustos are only about midway through the 2019 Halloween season, they say they’re already thinking ahead to 2020 and contemplating how they’ll modify and update the experience for a new crop of fright-seekers next year.
They’re also considering expanding to other holidays.
“We’d love to put together a haunted Christmas experience,” Daniel said. “Our goal is to grow bigger and bigger every year.”
The FreakShow Experience is in The Promenade at Casa Grande shopping center, 1004 N. Promenade Parkway, Unit 138. It’s open Friday through Sunday beginning at 7 p.m. through Halloween. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children. For more information, call 520-858-6600 or visit the Facebook page, The FreakShow Experience.