Jeremy Hastings has made a business out of things that go "bump in the night."
A sudden loud, unexplained noise ... A flickering shadow in the corner ...
Have such old-fashioned scares been overtaken by the slasher genre?
Hastings doesn't think so. "I took inspiration from other veterans in the haunted-attraction industry," said the 26-year-old entrepreneur. "You can do without the blood and the guts and the gore and be amazed at the creepiness and how impactful it can be."
Hastings remembers well the moment he was inspired to open his own haunted place. When he was 20, he was reading an issue of Hauntworld magazine, an industry publication for haunted house owners and operators. "I read an article about a farm in North Carolina, and the similarities between that farm and our farm was incredible," remembered Hastings. "I hopped on a plane to North Carolina."
The farm turned out to be Spooky Woods in High Point, N.C., run by Tony and Donna Wohlgemuth. "Within 45 minutes of being there, I was out to lunch with Tony and he was telling me everything I needed to know about opening a haunted place. I saw a lot of myself in Tony. It was really inspiring to me," Hastings said.
Upon returning to Minnesota, he was armed with a passion and a plan. He was already helping with his parent's PineHaven farm, a popular north-metro destination for pumpkins, fall festivities and old-fashioned farm fun. At the time, there was an existing haunted hayride being run on PineHaven by a third party.
"I was a bit frustrated in the fact that I thought it could be done better than it was," said Hastings.
First, a haunted cornfield
He decided to try his hand at his own haunted project. He built a haunted cornfield attraction on the farm, and it gained instant popularity. So last year, Hastings and his haunted crew launched their first Dead End Hayride attraction at the PineHaven Farm. It's now in its second season and growing in popularity.
Hastings' passion is obvious as he talks about the project, and it's evident in his staff as well. At 26, Hastings is the oldest of his crew.
"My makeup artist is 25, general manager is 23, show manager 23, lady who does admissions is 22, graphic designer is 21, web person is 23. ... We're all just really young." He added that none of his staff is allowed to drive the tractors, since his insurance agent reminded him that they aren't over 25 yet, so they aren't covered by the policy.
But that's a minor detail, according to Hastings. Many of his crew are his lifelong friends.
"We're all really excited about it," he explained. "I try to find actors who love to scare people, not just who want the job and collect a paycheck. People who really get an adrenaline rush from scaring people. Most of us, being younger, don't have families of our own, so we put a lot of time towards it. I've got such loyal friends."
This uncanny ability to get his friends excited about his venture started at a young age, said his mother, Sue Hastings. She said she noticed a tinkering ability as well in Jeremy, her second of five children.
"He was 15 years old when he helped his dad, John, build our pumpkin canyon," she said. "That was one of the first big things they did for the farm. We're still using it today."
Jeremy -- who has a full-time job as a machinist along with helping his parents on the farm -- also keeps the farm's animated pieces in good repair, and he's created some of the farm's attractions. "He built the dragon, and he's still the only one that can operate it," Sue Hastings said.
It's been exciting to see Jeremy's plan come to life, she added. "It is so cool to see someone so committed and believing in their dream, and able to convince a lot of close, good friends to help him. It's pretty special."
But is it all show, or are there some real haunts on the farm?
"We do catch weird things happening sometimes," said Jeremy -- like some spooks that just don't seem to want to call it a night when the crew goes home.
"I remember one night we had killed all the power to the cornfield, but there was one light that stayed on in the field for 30 seconds, then flickered out.
"Now that's weird."
Kelly Jo McDonnell is a Twin Cities freelance writer.