Tempe man’s haunted house spooks visitors for ninth year

DEAD SERIOUS: Tempe resident Richard Stoudt works in his front yard while decorating his lawn with ghouls and corpses in preparation for “Terror Nights.” (SERWAA ADU-TUTU | THE STATE PRESS)
Published On:
Friday, October 23, 2009
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Demented babies, werewolves, spider webs and zombies have decorated Richard Stoudt’s home every October for years.

A step beyond everyday, run-of-the-mill Halloween decorations, these frightful frills are part of Stoudt’s own haunted house.

The 43-year-old Tempe man first had the idea to host a professional haunted house at no charge in his Tempe home nine years ago, and has done so ever since.

This year, in response to noise complaints from neighbors, his exhibit “The Haunt” will be a new haunted-yard attraction called “Terror Nights.”

“People who enter our haunted house are usually freaked out about who’s going to scare them next and don’t really look at the detail,” Stoudt said. “This year we are going to give them a rare chance to see some of the rare detail of our set without having to worry about getting scared.”

This year, visitors can expect to see a graveyard, haunted library and chamber of the living dead, along with frightening characters like Michael Myers from the “Halloween” films.

The display will be open Oct. 29 to 31 from 6:15 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 511 E. La Donna Drive in Tempe.

Over the past decade, Stoudt has spent more than $20,000 on set equipment in an effort to compete against other professional haunted houses.

“We’ve put a lot of work and detail into our set, and I think that is one of the things we are different in compared to most of the horror houses,” he said.

Stoudt’s self-proclaimed obsession with Halloween began when he was young — he recalled walking home from school a different way every day just to see how his neighbors decorated for the holiday.

But it wasn’t until he was 12 years old that he thought about building his first haunted house.

“When I realized I was getting too old to trick-or-treat, I got a whole bunch of refrigerator boxes and made a maze out of it … that’s kind of how it got started,” he said.

When he got older, Stoudt took his fascination for the movie “Halloween” and brought the character of Michael Myers to life. For every Halloween from 1984 to 1989, he dressed up as Myers, played music from the film and scared off trick-or-treaters who would visit his home just to catch a glimpse of him.

He decided to take his desire to spook people to another level when he built haunted-house mazes made out of cardboard boxes in 1990, and family and friends soon joined the Halloween tradition by helping Stoudt open “The Haunt” in 2000.

Stoudt said he wanted to design a haunted house that was unique but also affordable.

“Nobody is doing what we are doing,” he said. “We get scares in a different way than other people do, and we are confident that we’re going to put on a show that nobody else is doing.”

Comments from some of the 2,000 people who come through his haunted house every year motivated Stoudt this year to take the project to Mesa Riverview, an open-air shopping center in Mesa, but financial problems have delayed his plan until next year’s Halloween.

Next year, he plans to have two houses — “The Haunt” and “Dead House,” a house with a zombie theme, and will charge $12 to enter one haunted house or $16 to enter both, Stoudt said.

Stoudt’s daughter, Jessica Nelson, 22, said she has helped her dad with the haunted house since she was 6 years old, playing a goblin and a witch.

Celebrating Halloween has become a family tradition, and she said she is looking forward to expanding his haunted house to the Mesa shopping center.

“We’ve been doing a professional haunted house at my dad’s house for a long time now and it’s been getting a lot of recognition,” Nelson said, “but [next year], it’s going to get the attention it deserves.”