Neon lights and frights: DarkWood debuts 3D mind maze in 17th season

Page News and Courier

LURAY — The subjects are menacing, but before it goes dark, under bright house lights, it's almost cheerful ― bursts of colors and florescent swirls.

It all changes when the lights go out just before 7 p.m. and the monsters depicted on the walls and the actors who portray them come alive behind a pair of 3D glasses.

DarkWood Manor's latest attraction invites viewer's to enter the mind of a mad scientist.

A few hours before showtime, a group of actors meanders outside Luray's Halloween attraction, sitting on hay bales and awaiting a Domino's delivery driver. For the actors who will soon take to the makeup chair to become unrecognizable, it's the fun of fear that lures them here but the camaraderie that keeps them coming back.

“It's hard to not call people here your family,” says 33-year-old Aaron Sours, of Stanley. “We take care of each other, if someone needs an ear to listen or a ride.”

That reminds him, he says, pulling his phone from his pocket to check for a text message. The longtime DarkWood actor has promised a friend a lift at 5:30 p.m.

On Sunday afternoon, Sours slouches back in a folding chair at the entrance to his mind. Since joining the DarkWood family more than a decade ago, Sours has become a fan favorite, often depicting a variation of a mad scientist.

He joined as a crew member, hiding behind a wall and pushing a button that triggered a coffin as thrill-seekers made their way through the winding 17-year-old attraction. Sours was shy, says DarkWood's mastermind Louis Brown, that he never expected him to come out from behind the wall and into the shadows of the award-winning haunted house.

“That's a really cool thing to see through this ― people coming out of their shell,” says Brown. “He was so shy and quiet and now he has his own attraction.”

Thirteen years after joining DarkWood and never having missed a single night of fright, DarkWood's latest addition is centered around the character that Sours portrays.

At Doctor Brain's 3D Mind Maze, visitors to the haunted house can double their cheers and fears. The brand new attraction in a building adjacent to the DarkWood dwelling features several-thousand square-feet of neon lights and frights in a twisting maze of florescents.

“Being here has been the most empowering and encouraging thing I've ever participated in,” says Sours. “I remember taking speaking classes in college and thinking, 'I sure do hope I never have to do this again.'

“Once you finish your first season [at DarkWood], it's something you look back on and think, 'Wow, I did that.'”

Just before 10 p.m. on Sunday, the final guests enter Dr. Brain's mind maze, giggling as they cross through a kaleidoscope of swirling lights in a “vortex” that evokes a dizzying sense of movement.

“Step on up ― everything you need to know is in my mind,” Dr. Brain says in a squeaky voice a few octaves higher than Sours'. “You're just in time for my latest experiment, where the party never stops ― 'cause it's in my mind!”

A further venture in reveals neon-splattered creatures and colorful surprises lurking overhead, underfoot and behind every sharply-angled corner. It's a different flavor of fear than the scares next door at the manor, where “Season of the Witch” has transformed the dimly lit macabre dwelling.

But that's the fun of fear, says Brown.

“There are so many scary things in life,” he says. “A lot of times I have to turn off the TV, turn off the news. These are things you can't laugh at. But at a haunted house the fear is often instantly relieved by laughter.

“It's a release that you don't get from your day-to-day-life fears ― disease, mortality, wars, loss,” Brown continues. “The imaginary fears, their cathartic in a way.”

As the night's final thrill-seekers continue their journey into the mind of a mad scientist, Sours stands in his lab. On the wall beside him is a large red button ― a running joke amongst the DarkWood Family and a callback to Sours' early days when he was too scared to scare.

It doesn't serve any real function, he says, as the lights dim and neon glows ― or does it?

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