Ocean City resident turns passion for dark rides into North Wildwood business venture

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Haunted attraction on Wildwood ’Walk Haunted attraction on Wildwood ’Walk

NORTH WILDWOOD – NORTH WILDWOOD – Eric Princz considers it a good day at work when his customers leave screaming.
That’s one of the perks of running a haunted house.

 

The 46-year-old animatronics engineer and Ocean City resident has recently opened Morbid Manor, a haunted attraction on Sportland Pier, located at 23rd Street.
Princz said that he fell in love with the boardwalk “dark rides” of Wildwood’s heyday when he was a kid.
“I would ride them constantly and then I would go home and try to reconstruct them in my backyard,” he said.
“My parents were very tolerant of that,” he said with a smile.
The childhood passion turned into more than an adult hobby as Princz made a career out of engineering and designing features for haunted houses and casinos for his company, Creative Design and Engineering, of Upper Township.
Princz said Morbid Manor goes back to those dark rides of the island’s past.
One of the more famous was Castle Dracula, which was open for nearly a quarter century until it was destroyed in January 2002 by a fire set by two teenagers and never reopened.
With the castle’s destruction, the walk-through haunted houses appeared to decline. But Princz said he has noticed a resurgence in the dark ride industry. Last year, Morey’s Piers launched its attraction, Ghost Ship, on Mariner’s Landing.
Princz said he always had plans to open his own haunted attraction and finally got the opportunity last year when a space opened in a former arcade on Sportland Pier. Princz is also finishing work on a classic shooting gallery next door to the manor.
“It was a lot harder than anyone thought,” Princz said of getting the project off the ground. “North Wildwood wasn’t familiar with an attraction like this and there are a lot of hoops on the state level,” he said.
Through it all, he said, the city, the staff and dark ride enthusiasts have been supportive.
The manor opened Memorial Day weekend, nearly a year after Princz undertook the project. The business is owned by Morbid Enterprises LLC, of which Princz is a principal.
“Do people still want these types of attractions in the Wildwoods?” he questioned. “Do they want a good scare or a laugh?”
In Morbid Manor, Princz combined the retro feel of 1970s and 1980s haunted houses with higher tech devices and computer graphics.
“You can’t get too high-tech,” he warned. “Otherwise you get something that so overdone it will miss the root of why dark rides were successful.”
Princz said Morbid Manor combines funny elements with a good scare. There is no over the top blood and gore, he said.
“I want to get somebody laughing and then that’s when you can surprise them,” he said.
Since Princz opened Morbid Manor, he has noticed people reminiscing about the dark rides of the past. Some customers, he said, recognize pieces of the old haunted houses, like Castle Dracula. The griffin that sits outside the front door of the manor was originally from the castle.
“I have a soft spot for him,” Princz said of the griffin. “And surprisingly a lot of other people remember him too.”
Princz said some people remember the fence around the attraction because it was once used at a train ride on Hunt’s Pier in Wildwood.
“They actually take their picture in front of the fence,” he said. “I’m a fan, but that is really something.”
Morbid Manor has 13 rooms with haunted scenes, including the library with a bookshelf that almost topples on guests, a grisly bathroom, a baby room occupied with creepy dolls and a roach infested hallway.
“But what really makes this place is the actors,” said Princz. “They actually came up with the back story for the manor.”
Morbid Manor is the home of Dr. I.M. Morbid, a scientist who was experimenting on patients in his home, according to the story. One day Dr. Morbid disappeared and his experiments took over the manor, Princz said.
A cast of 12 actors play Dr. Morbid’s unfortunate experiments. They maneuver through the maze-like hallways, popping through doorways, looking through picture frame, slam windows and pound on the walls.
Katie Cuniff, 19, of Wildwood, has a particularly bloody-curdling scream. Cuniff was playing the part of a disturbed experiment that haunted the bathroom of the manor.
“I’ve worked in haunted attractions for five years,” she said. “I should be good at it by now.”
“I don’t know how such a big sound can come out of somebody,” Princz said proudly about Cuniff’s screaming ability.
Not to be outdone, Stephanie Fugarino, 19, of Wildwood, has perfected a snarl that can make guests’ hair stand on end.
“I think it sounds like some sort of dinosaur,” Princz said with a laugh.
Princz said the actors arrive a half-hour before the attraction opens at 6 p.m. to get into makeup, pick their costumes for the evening and decide what part they want to play.
“I don’t tell them what role they should be,” Princz said. “I let them have fun with it.”
He joked that sometimes there are fights over who gets to wear the bridal gown or the straight jackets.
Andrea Gallo, 22, of North Wildwood, was the lucky actor who played the bride this evening. When she took a break from terrorizing guests to get a cold drink at a nearby stand, boardwalk customers stared at her warily.
“I was born on Halloween,” Gallo said. “This has always been my thing.”
Even in the summer heat, Oz Garrison, 23, of North Wildwood, said he loves his job in the manor.
For his part, Garrison wears blood red contacts and a demented smile. Sometimes, he stands by the front gate and tries to draw guests in.
“It is great to see those people who want to act all tough and pretend like they can’t be scared get in line,” he said. “Because as soon as that front door closed behind them, they freak out.”
Colleen Kenney- Kittrick, who works as the acting supervisor, may be a familiar face to some guests. Kittrick is involved in local service and school groups, but for her job at the manor she gets to “let loose a little.”
Kittrich said she first met Princz 26-years ago when the both worked at Castle Dracula. When he started working on the manor, Kittrich helped with the design and painting of the rooms and also manages the actor.
“I’m a mild mannered PTA mom by day and a vampire by night,” she said. “Who could ask for a better job?”

For more details, see www.morbidmanor.com.

Haunted attraction on Wildwood ’Walk Haunted attraction on Wildwood ’Walk

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Morbid Manor Morbid Manor

Morbid Manor Morbid Manor

Morbid Manor Morbid Manor


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