Mesa’s Scarizona Scaregrounds returns for another spooky season

Photo courtesy of Scarizona Scaregrounds

By Robert Gundran

October 10, 2023

The Scarizona Scaregrounds in Mesa are open every weekend and on select weekdays leading up to Halloween.

Scarizona Scaregrounds sits just off the Loop 202 Freeway in west Mesa, a stone’s throw away from the Salt River. Once October rolls around, the grounds come alive with actors dressed up like killer clowns and chainsaw-wielding serial killers.

Allen Thompson, director of operations at the Scarizona Scaregrounds, works from sunup until well past sundown during spooky season.

As the Scaregrounds approached its opening weekend of the season, Thompson told The Copper Courier that success is all about getting everything right, from setup and lighting to sound, makeup, and costuming.

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“I’m part of the whole operation,” he said. “I’m asking people if they have everything they need, and if they’ve hooked everything up. We … keep a list of what is working and what isn’t working.”

Thompson said during Halloween season he’s working close to 20-hour days.

“I think the most difficult part is getting everything finished up in time to open,” Thompson said. “All the permitting processes and building out the grounds, alongside the set design and work. Once the first night is done, people understand the timing and know how to get into their spaces.”

Naturally, one of the most exciting parts of working at a haunted attraction is seeing the result of the work you put in—the fear on every patron’s face as they walk through the haunts.

“Once you’re open and see people coming out, and you hear them screaming, people are just out there having a good time,” Thompson said. “Especially after COVID. Life is pretty stressful, so it’s nice to provide an experience where people can come out, have a good time, and let their guards down. We enjoy the happiness of being scared.”

Pandemic Scares

Thompson has worked with Scarizona Scaregrounds for 27 years. He noted working through the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most interesting challenges he faced in his time there.

The Scaregrounds were open in October 2020, as were many other haunted houses. They offered a drive-thru option for people who didn’t want to be near crowds during the height of COVID.

He said the pandemic taught him how to run the Scaregrounds in a better way, and that he learned how to operate the production better for staff.

For example, Thompson said, before COVID, Scarizona had four haunted houses with separate tickets for each. Post-COVID they moved to a model where one ticket gets you access to everything.

“It’s a lot less work on the ticketing team, and the website team, and the people at the door to figure out what wristband people had,” he said.

Keeping the Scaregrounds High-Quality

Thompson added that with the price of goods getting more expensive across the board, he wants the Scarizona Scaregrounds to offer the highest-quality experience possible.

Crafting a horror attraction is like any other artistic endeavor—you bring your own ideas to the table while looking at what others are doing to know what you can do better and see where you can draw inspiration.

Thompson said he tries his best to go to a haunted house in Chicago every year. “A guy there has been doing it for almost as long as us, and it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen across the country.

He added people from the Scaregrounds went to Knott’s Scary Farm in California recently to see what others in the industry were up to.

“Talking to others is a great way to learn. My first go-to is talking to others at national trade shows to figure out what they got going on, and we’re always watching scary movies,” he said.

The Scarizona Scaregrounds are open every weekend and on select weekdays leading up to Halloween. Head here for its schedule and ticket prices.

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  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

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