MANSFIELD — Vic Amesquita remembers the “good old days” of haunted attractions. Black walls. Strobe lights piercing the darkness. A CD player blaring loud music.
Simple. Effective. Primitive.
That old-school approach won’t cut it at a massive, modern haunt like Blood Prison, set on the sprawling grounds and inside the towering walls of the gothic former Ohio State Reformatory.
The haunt opens its month-long run on Friday night. All tickets are for specific times during the evening and must be purchased online.
Make no mistake. Haunted attractions are a big business these days. There are more than 1,200 haunts across the country these days, according to AmericaHaunts.com, an industry that generates between $300 and $500 million annually.
“I remember those ‘good old’ days. But it’s just to the point now where people expect to see all kinds of big stuff, especially when you come to a big place like us,” said Amesquita, entering his seventh Halloween season running the annual haunt.
“Guests want to see something they’re not gonna see in a normal haunted attraction, a home haunt. Everybody’s doing it, it’s not just me. There are many great haunted attractions all over our state, let alone the country. You have got to keep thinking bigger to keep the pace,” the Crawford County resident said.
High walls, high expectations
With general admission tickets starting at $35, Amesquita and his crew, joined by a cast of more than 100 actors, relish the fact guests have high expectations when they come to a building dubbed “Dracula’s Castle.”
Construction at OSR began on its 40-acre site in 1886 and was not complete until the prison opened in 1910. It remained an active prison, with the world’s tallest free-standing cell blocks, until it closed at the end of 1990.
Fear is a primal instinct among people. Haunt operators like Amesquita love to feed off that fear — and the fun that comes with it.
“Don’t get me wrong. There are some people out there that are legit scared, like they’re going to get hurt or killed, you know?” Amesquita said.
“But I think the majority of people that want to come and have fun know that nothing’s gonna happen to them. But they also know that there’s going to be something that’s going to scare them.
“So it just gives them that excitement that they are kind of maybe living on the edge a little bit … without living on the edge. I think that’s what it is. That and there is just a lot of horror movie fanatics that just kind of want to see something in front of them, rather than on a TV screen,” he said.
“They want to see it unfold right in front them.”
(Below is a photo gallery featuring images from a portion of Blood Prison, a annual haunt at the former Ohio State Reformatory on Mansfield’s north side. The haunt opens on Friday and is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Oct. 29.)
Something old, something new
Running the OSR haunt is a year-round effort for Amesquita and his small crew. They visit conventions and professional scare events around the state and the country to stay on top of what’s new in the industry.
(Of note, Slipknot front man Corey Taylor took two contest winners through the scaled-down Blood Prison during the Inkcarceration show in 2023 to raise funds for his foundation that benefits military veterans first responders. Caution: Some profanity during the video below.)
Amesquita takes good notes at places like the annual TransWorld’s Halloween and Attractions Show in St. Louis.
“Every year there’s just something there that you’re like ‘ Holy bleep, how did they do this?’
“It’s important to go to other haunts as well — not to steal ideas, obviously, but to get inspired by what you see there, to maybe do something that would work for you that might be inspired by that,” Amesquita said.
Amesquita learned at the knee of a master. He made his fright bones working for Bob Kurtzman, a Crestline native and Hollywood movie producer, director, screenwriter and special effects czar.
Blood Prison infirmary, chapel new in 2023
New in 2023 is a total facelift to the east cell block with a new Blood Prison infirmary and also a chapel, as well as new pieces to the west cellblock’s apocalyptic area.
“We basically built the hospital inside (the cell block area). You’ll still be able to see the cells. But it’s all right in front of you — different rooms, surgery rooms, autopsy rooms, stuff like that.
“We built a brand new Blood Prison chapel. It’s completely enclosed, with new facades and everything,” Amesquita said.
Also new this season is “Beyond the Scare,” which allows guests to tour the haunt during daylight hours with no actors to scare them.
“It’s just basically a guided tour through the haunted attraction for the people who are just a little too scared to come at night,” Amesquita said.
Those tours will be open seven days a week from Sept. 30 through Oct. 29. Amesquita said tickets for that tour will be sold through the OSR website.
“Everything on the tour basically came from me. We went through and I told them everything about the haunt and how we built it. It’s a collaboration, but it’s also something that we’ve been getting a lot of requests for. And so finally this year, we said let’s do it,” Amesquita said.
A human touch remains the key
The props and toys set the stage at Blood Prison. But Amesquita knows its the 120-plus actors, led by the 6-foot-7 Warden’s Widow, that provide the scare juice.
Like operating the haunt itself, hiring actors for the Halloween season has become almost a year-round effort, competing for talent across the state.
“If you have a big roster, like I have 150 people, and it trims down to 120, I’m still doing great. So we hire pretty much, I would say, eight months of the year,” Amesquita said.
With big scare attractions at Cedar Point, Columbus and Cleveland, Amesquita knows the market can be tough. But he has an old prison, the site where “Shawshank Redemption” was filmed, as his ace card.
Does OSR provide the best site for a haunt?
“Absolutely,” Amesquita said with a laugh.
“Anybody would say that. Anybody that does a haunt is like ‘I’d love to have your building.’ Look at it. I mean, it’s just gorgeous. It looks like Dracula’s Castle. It’s gothic. It’s huge, you know?
“You can go anywhere, but you’re not gonna find a facade like we have for sure. I mean, other states, there’s other prisons that do haunts, but in Ohio, we’re probably the best venue. That’s my opinion, of course,” he said.
Blood Prison details/ticket information
Blood Prison is at the former Ohio State Reformatory, 100 Reformatory Road, on Mansfield’s north side off of Ohio 545.
The haunt opens Friday, Sept. 29, and will be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening through Oct. 29. Gates open each evening at 6:45.
Tickets start at $35 and must be purchased online. These are “time tickets,” meaning guests will select a time to visit the haunt, reducing the lines and wait times. Order tickets here: https://theohiostatereformatory.ticketspice.com/blood-prison-2023.