New Attraction Hopes to Scare Visitors, Benefit Children’s Charities

By Roger Yale

For The Sun News


On October 7, the Myrtle Beach Mall will become the home of a new attraction that aims to scare and challenge patrons while benefiting three local nonprofits.

Coastal Haunts [www.coastalhaunts.com], an ambitious project covering nearly 11,000 square feet in a space next to Bass Pro Shops, will feature two separate haunted components and three themed escape rooms – fueling the visceral need for a good scare and the challenge of finding clues and solving problems – all under one roof.

A portion of Coastal Haunts proceeds will benefit three local children’s charities: Caleb's Dragonfly Dreams, St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the Barnabas Horse Foundation.

Three locals got together to make this a reality.

Entrepreneur Todd Cartner of One Spot Media in Myrtle Beach said he has been doing haunted houses since he was nine years old, starting in an old house on the property that he lived on when he was growing up.

Cartner is also event director for the Myrtle Beach Highland Games.

“I have always loved haunted houses, but I don’t like the blood and guts stuff,” he said, adding that he has never been big on the macabre, preferring to rely more on scare tactics and special effects.

He said he has been helping out with haunted houses in other areas for years and really wanted to bring one to Myrtle Beach.

He partnered with Shellie Rabon of the Mythical & Medieval Fest and local businessman Blaine Garren.

“I retired from the Horry County Fire Rescue and Blaine retired from the Myrtle Beach Fire Department, so he and I have known each other for years.”

Rabon is also founder/director of Caleb’s Dragonfly Dreams. She said her organization ran the Kids Glen at the Highland Games.

“Todd and I became friends and we both liked haunted houses. We decided to do a haunted house that benefits the charities in the area,” she said.

Garren said he has known Cartner for 25 years. They became friends through emergency services and have done a couple of business ventures together.

Garren is a businessman and Realtor. His real estate company, Whitestone Properties, is in the same building as Cartner’s One Spot Media.

“He walked in one day and said something about doing a haunted house to benefit children’s nonprofits. I said, ‘Sign me up.’”

Garren’s role with Coastal Haunts is primarily the meat-and-potatoes of construction.

“Todd came up with the designs and layouts – and a lot of ideas on the scares. He tells me what he wants and I build it,” he said. “That’s kind of what I do. Shellie does a lot of the creative stuff – the detailed painting and things like that.”

Although they have had occasional help from volunteers, friends and family – the three of them have been working constantly – putting in a great deal of sweat equity.

“It’s the three of us doing the work,” he said. “We have had some people help us, and we appreciate all the help they have done. It’s been quite an adventure.”

Garren has high hopes for attendance.

“We hope that everyone within a hundred-mile radius will come. We know that’s probably not realistic, but I would love to see at least ten thousand people,” he said.

The three nonprofits are required to furnish Coastal Haunts with five cast members each night, according to Cartner.

“That allows us to have extra staff, and then they get the bulk of the proceeds,” he said.

Garren is a longtime supporter of Barnabas Horse Foundation, a nonprofit equine-assisted therapy program. He asked founder Sue McKinney to partake in Coastal Haunts.

“Our program depends on the support of our community as well as fundraising, so we saw this as a great opportunity to promote Barnabas in a fun environment and make some much needed money for the program,” she said. “We will have approximately 35 volunteers participating and they will be doing everything from ticket sales, concessions, line management, and acting. Barnabas expects this event to be well attended for several reasons: It's new, it’s inside - including the waiting line – and it is not your traditional blood and gore haunt with scary clowns or someone chasing you with a chainsaw.”

Caleb’s Dragonfly Dreams organizes events for abandoned, abused and neglected children in Horry County, and St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s mission is to fund research to find cures for childhood cancers.

Other organizations are encouraged to help out too, allowing them to benefit the charity of their choice.

“This could be a church group, a grocery store chain, a doctor’s office, a fraternity or sorority,” said Cartner. “They can bring 15 or more people to come and work as extra cast members, and then we give them 10 percent of the door on the nights they work – but they have to work a minimum of two nights.”

Planning for Coastal Haunts started in April, and Cartner can company took over the space on July 1.

“It’s just under 11 thousand square feet, and we have 362 walls that we built – and all of these are 4x8 panels. We have had some help here and there, but pretty much the three of us have been the ones here all of the time working, coming up with designs, decorating. We want it to be as realistic as possible,” he said.

One of the haunts, “The Black Hole,” is close to 3800 square feet.

Other components of Coastal Haunts include the other haunt, “The Asylum Nightmare,” as well as the escape rooms “The Boat House,” “The Laboratory” and “The Carnival.”

Ticket pricing is tiered and runs anywhere from $5.00 for a single, three-minute escape room to $50 for a Fright Pass, available for the Asylum Nightmare.

“Our Fright Pass is a bit more expensive because there is more work involved on our end,” Cartner said. “You can go online and order a Fright Pass for a family member, friend or coworker - and you will get an email that has ten questions on it about that person. We get that information and share it with the haunt, and when they come through with that pass, we really get those people. It’s definitely a fun way to get to somebody – or just want to scare them good.”

The Fright Pass must be ordered online prior to midnight the night before.

Safety is the number one concern at Coastal Haunts.

“We have great emergency exits at all hallways – and every room will have somebody in it that has a two-way radio to communicate with each other. If there is a fire for any reason, we know how to evacuate, and that’s why we only allow for a certain number of people to come through each time.”

Cartner added that each actor is put into a zone and they are required to make sure each room is clear before they come out.

“If for some reason there is a medical emergency, there are people here that are firefighter/EMTs that know how to handle those until emergency personnel get there. We will be taking the local fire department and EMS through here – both with the lights on and with the lights off, so they are familiar with it,” he said, adding that there will be fire extinguishers in every other room – and staffers have been trained on their proper use.

Cartner said that the Myrtle Beach Mall welcomes Coastal Haunts to its lineup.

“They want us here,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we’re even looking at doing a day in October where we can have a costume contest here – and then vendors can put out can put out candy or whatnot – for the kids coming through.”

Myrtle Beach Mall general manager Joe Perl said he feels that Coastal Haunts is a good fit because it ties into the entertainment component.

“Today’s shopping centers see entertainment as a key part of the overall merchandise mix,” he said. “Mall retailers such as Carmike 12, Carolina Improv or Atlantic Stage all play a role in this. Even stores like Bass Pro are considered retail entertainment. We are very excited that Coastal Haunts chose Myrtle Beach Mall as its location and look forward to seeing the thrills of the guests as they go through the haunted house.”

For more information, visit www.coastalhaunts.com.