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John Carter

Chris Thelen

 Ghouls and goblins. Caves, graves, dimly-lit corridors and things that go bump—and worse—in the night. Unnerved by the darkness? You’re not alone. John Carter admits that he, too, “gets spooked” easily, but every day he stares his fear in the face when he shows up for work as a haunted house designer. A job that especially for him seems downright, well, unnatural. His approach as a formulator of fright is simple.

“I believe in the good Lord,” says the Augusta area native, “but I just like something like that.”

Right now, the something that Carter likes and works to bring eerily to life each weekend is Plantation Blood, a seven-acre spread in its third year at its south Augusta location. Now through the first weekend of November, Carter will be generating fear and stirring up nightmares at the ramshackle site created by a team of homebuilders, costume designers, make-up artists and a cast of 70 to 100 actors.

For Carter, who as a boy slept with his light on, haunted places run in his blood. Literally.

Beginning with his grandfather, Carter’s family members have been in the haunted house business for 40 years. Likewise, the Plantation project is a family venture involving John’s brother, Brian, who co-owns the business with longtime friend, Mark Jackson. Mike Carter, John and Brian’s uncle, serves as production manager. They really are a scre-um, the Carter Family.

So, where does an interior decorator for pseudo-haunted places look for inspiration? “A lot of these ideas pop into my head while I’m working on it,” says Carter, whose other job is as a landscaper and contractor. “While we’re working I think of [a new idea] or while we’re decorating, and we’ll tear it out to make it more efficient, make it better.”

Carter also credits some well-known horror films for further scary vagaries, like the Jasons, the Freddies and the supernaturals, sounding more like a list of ’50s doo-wop groups. Input from his brother and other crew members aid Carter as well. Sometimes current events can spur a unique scene in the haunt. Ten years ago, when Plantation first opened at another location in Columbia County within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, the team constructed an Osama Bin Laden electrocution scene. “We had people cheering and saying, ‘Let me throw the switch!’ It was a hit,” Carter recalls with a smile.

 Walking amidst simulated skeletal remains and gory body sections, one can tend to forget that haunted houses are a business. Big business, according to the Haunted House Association, a national promoter for the haunt industry. Haunted attractions generate between $400 to $500 million each year nationally, according to HHA. Those are numbers Plantation owners hope to see a portion of one day. Presently, the business draws enough to maintain the property, to make improvements and to continue to expand. All of which is funded by the $15 to $18 fee charged for each macabre tour. Last year some 20,000 patrons, fitting the 18- to 34-year-old national demographic for haunted attraction visitors, visited the dark plantation. This year, the owners anticipate closer to 30,000 guests, who will also spend money on site for concessions, T-shirts and more while they wait to enter the house.

So those looking for crisp fall air, hot cider scents and orange-hued pumpkin patches, stay away from this plantation. It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky. The fake blood is all together ooky. And be careful what you step on, when you pay a call on...the Carter Family.

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