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‘Fright at the Fort’ features Stephen King scares

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‘Fright at the Fort’ features Stephen King scares (edge photo by Benjamin Tremblay)

PROSPECT - Stephen King fans rejoice – one of our area’s most hallowed Halloween events is bringing the works of the master of horror to life this year.

The 19th annual “Fright at the Fort” features many of King’s most loved stories, taking shape in the massive granite stronghold of Fort Knox.

When the terrifying tradition began 18 years ago, Leon Seymour was the mastermind behind everything “Fright at the Fort.” When Seymour passed away this summer, his longtime position as Friends of the Fort Director became vacant.

Maine native and military veteran Dean Martin began work as Director on Sept. 1, only six weeks before the event was slated to begin. He took the time out of his very busy schedule to speak to The Maine Edge:

“Everyone was saying ‘We usually have (fill-in-the-blank) done by now,’ implying that we are WAY behind. With about five to seven relentless staff and volunteers, we were able to put 12 King rooms and most of the classic Fright at the Fort fare together in only two weeks before our first show.”

On opening night, event staff hustled about and prepared to welcome their first guests of the year. By 5 p.m. there was a substantial line of people patiently waiting to enter. There were grandmothers, children, college students, moms and dads - just about everyone.  It was cold - about 40 degrees - and our bodies were not yet accustomed to the near-freezing temperature. After a short wait, the line began to move and you could hear the collective sigh of relief.

Underneath a large inflatable monster, event staff gathered groups of six people and sent them towards the Fort. Each group was led by a guide who wore a yellow raincoat and held a red balloon. Those of you who are familiar with “IT” will recognize the costume as Georgie Denbrough. Georgie led my group down a rock path about a quarter-mile in length. Along the path was the deathly still Penobscot river to the east, and the looming granite fortress to the west. It was now dark. Nobody in the group spoke. The guide led us to a doorway, told us to enter, and left.  

There was no light inside the fort except for small green and red floor lights set near the stairs and the occasional strobe light. A thick fog engulfed each and every hallway and staircase, down into the deepest depths of the Fort. In addition to the darkness, the fog made any attempt to maneuver with confidence nearly impossible. Instead, you walk forward putting one foot in front of the other up a dimly-lit set of stairs or down through a winding hallway.

During the dark and fog-filled trek guests will encounter many of the terrifying characters they have seen in previous years at the “Fright,” the classic madman with a chainsaw (with the chain removed, of course), and a plethora of characters and scenes from the Stephen King universe. Scenes from “Pet Sematary,” “Children of the Corn,” “Salem's Lot,” “IT,” “Misery,” “The Shining,” “Cujo,” “The Green Mile,” “Carrie” and more make their appearances. All told, the tour lasted around 15 to 20 minutes.

Will the experience leave you quivering in terror, unable to grip your car keys, insert them into the ignition and drive home? Probably not. Is it a terrifying voyage into a chilling dreamscape that will forever haunt your nightmares? Not really.

Don’t get me wrong - there are some genuinely scary moments along the tour, but ultimately, it’s just different from watching a movie or reading a book. The experience that a viewer has, say, watching “The Shining” is inherently different to the experience the viewer has observing a real-life interpretation of it.

According to Martin, meeting guests’ expectations was the biggest challenge he and his crew faced.

“The biggest challenge is staying true to the book/movie to meet the guest’s expectations. This is live action, no second takes or director calling ‘Cut’ to reshoot the scene. Three and a half hours of first takes having to match the audience’s image and having the details everyone remembers while on a nonprofit budget.”  

All told, the 19th annual “Fright at the Fort”does proper service to King fans and provides enough spooks to satisfy those who have been to the event in the past. The kids will have a good time, too. More than 2,500 people attended the event on Saturday, making it the most-attended opening night to date.


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