|Scott Stepp at church in family vehicle|
They do own a facility called The Castle (which features an entertainment center and is available to rent for parties and receptions); however, this time of year is particularly busy for them.
|Sign for The Castle|
From the beginning of October through the first of November, they invite guests to tour any or all of the three haunted attractions that make up The Dark Knight’s Terror Trail.
I spoke briefly with Elizabeth Stepp, extremely talented actress/dancer/teacher/and occasional zombie daughter of Scott and Lori Stepp, the proprietors of The Castle and The Dark Knight’s Terror Trail about how their annual ritual began.
|Lori, Scott, and Elizabeth Stepp at the St. Patrick's Day Parade|
Elizabeth said it was a venture between her grandfather Larry Oates, her uncle Mitch Oates, and father Scott Stepp to offer Columbia, SC, a young adult/adult (they advise if you wouldn’t take your child to an R rated movie, don’t bring your child to this event) different, interactive Halloween experience.
Now in its eighth non-consecutive year, The Dark Knight’s Terror Trail began in 1999 as an outdoor terror trail. At that time, they used Karo Syrup and food coloring to create blood, but it was sticky and attracted ants. Currently, they rely on fake blood or paint, which is spattered on the actors, props, and settings prior to the tour and not upon the customers.
Due to family illness, the Terror Trail was not held from 2006 to 2011, but it reopened in 2012 in a vacant indoor mall store and added the Zombie Zone quest. In its present location at The Castle, it gives visitors the opportunity to experience an outdoor trail, a traditional indoor haunted house, and an expanded Zombie Zone, which is both indoor and outdoor. You may buy a ticket to one or all three, and you don’t have to go through them all on the same day.
Each attraction provides a guided tour with at least one and sometimes two guides. While the experience is aimed to scare its visitors, the tours have no nudity, no Satan worship, and only mild curse words, if any. Mitch Oates, who handles promotions and safety, makes sure each group is accompanied by a security person.
Organizing and planning the attractions is a family affair beginning with the prep work by Andrew Stepp, brother of Elizabeth and son of Lori and Scott, who studied Media Arts at the University of South Carolina and now works in the film industry in Los Angeles, California. Along with friend Jeff Driggers, a writer and director at Palmetto Pictures, a motion picture studio in Columbia, Andrew writes an outline of the background stories for the attractions and prepares short movies that lead the visitors into the tour and get them ready for what they may expect.
|Scott greeting guests at The Castle|
|Elizabeth and Scott with friend|
Scott Stepp, a gifted actor and singer who is well known to Columbia theatre audiences, often playing the villain, but sometimes the romantic lead (including Bill Sikes in Oliver, Judd Fry in Oklahoma, Beau in Mame, Oscar in The Odd Couple, Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show, Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun, and Shrek in Shrek, the Musical) along with daughter Elizabeth is one of the tour guides and directors.
(Scott also generously gives his time every other year to play Judas in the St. Paul’s Players’ The Living Last Supper at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, my home congregation. We tease that we had to ask a Baptist to play the role because we couldn’t find a Lutheran to take it.)
|Lori and Scott Stepp|
Lori Stepp, wife and mother, participates in the attractions and in addition serves as costumer. She’s well qualified since she fills that capacity expertly for the productions at Town Theatre in Columbia, one of the oldest community theatres in the country, which has been operating continuously since 1919. While visitors to the Terror Trail are waiting to see the attractions, Joan Oates, Lori’s mother, tells them ghost stories.
|Family and Volunteers|
The Stepps and Oates mobilize sixty plus volunteer actors, backstage assistants, and security persons to create the attractions. While the basics are scripted, the actors also have flexibility to improvise, which makes the performances different each night with each group. People looking to raise money for a local group can earn money by acting as Zombies in the Zombie Zone.
So, if you’re in Columbia, SC, this October, stop by The Castle for a heart-racing treat, with a few tricks on the side. Remember: the family that slays together, stays together. [Thanks to Lori Stepp for the wonderful photos!]
What’s on your schedule for Halloween?