Nightfall returns to Old Tucson Studios for 28th year of haunts
Old Tucson Studios is stripping its Wild-Western roots in exchange for zombies, ghosts, gargoyles, chainsaw clowns and moss men for another season of fright. Welcome to Nightfall.
After months of planning, building, script-writing and rehearsing, Tucson’s spooky attraction opened its doors Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. and will stay open until Halloween.
The haunted, desert ghost-town known today is very different from the spooky storyline eight years ago.
Nightfall first began in 1990. Back then its sole existence rested on the shoulders of a fictional character: The disturbed Dr. Jebediah Hyde, the caretaker of the Goulliard Asylum for the Perpetually Insane, who performed vile experiments on his patients.
According to Rob Jensen, film and entertainment production manager for Old Tucson and murderous clown Pappy Scrap, after 20 years of the same story, Old Tucson Studios decided to switch it up.
Now, Nightfall is a very popular haunt in southern Arizona, with a variety of shows, amusements and activities for all ages.
“It offers something for every kind of sensibility,” Jensen said. “You want to get scared? We’ve got that. But if you don’t want to, you just want to celebrate Halloween, we’ve got that for you too.”
First, there’s the opening ceremony in the Terror Square, where gargoyles with Boston-esque accents poke fun at visitors and crazed clowns comedically murder mimes.
Later, attendants can watch live, original horror shows, including "Ranchero Motel," in which a demon hunts for souls at a western motel, or the comedy "Adios! Part Dos," in which willing participants can take part in “machine-aided mind reading and manipulation.”
This year’s haunted attractions include “Nightmare Infirmary,” “The Seven Deadly Sins,” “Iron Door Mines” and the infamous “Rattlesnake Gulch” — a dark hike through treacherous deserts haunted by witches, moss men and cannibals. And for the little kids, “Trick or Treasure” invites children under 12 to dive into pirate-infested waters and meet mermaids.
“The Strange Family Circus”, where attendants can witness 20th-century glass-chewing and sword-swallowing, is also in town on Fridays and Sundays.
Attendants can also shoot zombies and meet with local psychics, all the while getting spooked by the Nightfall inhabitants.
“It’s a haunted town; it’s not just a house. There is an atmosphere here, an ambiance, that is really special,” said Precious the Cat. “I’m a haunt fanatic, and this is one of the only places that I know that is not just a haunted house, but a whole town.”
Precious, whose actor wishes to remain anonymous, works four jobs to pay the bills. He is a school teacher that hails from New York, but in the summer and autumn months he is Precious the Cat, a Nightfall character that earned quite a Facebook following in the past few years.
Most employees at Nightfall say they have at least one thing in common: their favorite part of their job is scaring the thousands of people that tour the town every night.
“The best part is getting the reception of the audience. Whether it’s laughter, screams, shock — bringing out those emotions people don’t always feel throughout the rest of the year,” Jensen said. “Nightfall is time to step out of the box of the Wild West we have here at Old Tucson and have a little more fun, to get kinda bloody and gory and play with fire and explosives.”
According to Joe Biscroe, executive chef at Old Tucson Studios and chainsaw clown, despite the crazy nature of Nightfall and preparing for it, playing a character is a great stress reliever.
“I like screaming at people. It’s a great way to let out tension,” Biscroe said. “I still [am the chainsaw clown] on Sundays, when I have time.”
Biscroe began working at Nightfall ten years ago as the chainsaw clown. Four years later, he took a job as a dishwasher at Old Tucson and became head chef within two months. He says it was one of the most influential decisions of his life.
“I was an IT manager for 10 years. I made a lot of money, but I hated my job,” Biscroe said. “Now I make less money, but I love my job. I would much rather love my job than make a lot of money.”
Nightfall offers a unique experience that changes a little bit every year, so attendants experience something new year after year.
Unlike most amusement parks, it is relatively affordable. For only $29.50 plus tax attendants can experience nearly every attraction in the town for as many times as they would like with no additional fees.
“We want to scare people, but we want to interact with them too and give them a good time,” Precious said. “[We] want people to have a fun, authentic, memorable experience.”
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