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Long Island haunted house fanatics spend all month chasing the horror

Horror fans at Gateway’s Haunted Playhouse in Bellport talked Wednesday about the many thrills and chills featured at this attraction. Credit: Newsday / David Criblez

Rain is pouring down, the wind is blowing in different directions and the lights are starting to flicker. It’s the perfect October evening to step inside a haunted house. On this night, it's Gateway’s Haunted Playhouse in Bellport. But this is just one of many stops this season for super haunt fans, the Long Islanders who say they spend every weekend going to these live-action attractions seeking as many thrills and chills as possible. 


“It’s better than watching a horror movie because it’s live, therefore, all your senses are involved,” says Al Calienes, 56, of Port Jefferson Station, who actually grew up afraid of the dark. “I like the excitement of being fully immersed in the fantasy. The screen is just two dimensional.”

His wife Lou Calienes, 34, of Port Jefferson Station originally hated anything horror-related until her husband got her involved in the genre.

“I’m the one that jumps all over the place and screams,” says Lou, who notes a severe fear of birds. “I never knew being scared was a form of entertainment until I met Al.”

Riella Viera, 25, of Selden says she scares easy, but actually likes the sensation.

“It’s similar to laughing because it gets your blood pumping and heart racing,” says Viera, who fears anything alien-related. “Going through a live action haunt gives you that horror movie vibe without feeling like your life is in danger.”

Her fiance Tom Zicari, 29, of Selden is more of a tough guy.

“I don’t scare easily,” says Zicari. “I enjoy when the haunters really get me because I’m an adrenaline junky.”

Luke Vander-Putten, 25, of Coram has worked behind the mask as a haunter at Schmitt’s Farm Haunt in Melville, Restless Souls in Huntington and Chamber of Horrors NY in Hauppauge. His fun is seeing others lose it.

“The best moment is getting a real scream out of somebody,” says Vander-Putten. “It’s such genuine excitement and exhilaration. I find it absolutely hysterical.”


As the group enters the Haunted Playhouse, a ghoul gets in Viera’s face - first quietly staring at her, then letting out a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream.
“These actors get in your personal space and make you feel very uncomfortable,” Viera says.

Vander-Putten moves down a hallway, approaching a dark figure against the wall. “I wasn’t sure if it was an animatronic or not,” he says. “As soon as I got up close, it lunged at me.”

Traveling through the spinning tunnel in the gravity distortion room, Zicari is enthralled. “Going in, everything looks fine," he says. "The next thing you know, you feel like you’re about to topple over sideways. It jars your mind.”

Meanwhile a simple scare shocks Calienes as she walks over a foot bridge. “There was this guy down below and he slowly reached up like he was about to grab my ankle. To me, that’s the scariest thing!” she says.

Her husband Al freezes entering a room where all that can be seen are multiple pairs of red eyes piercing through the darkness. “Those eyes were terrifying because you couldn’t tell how big the room was,” he says. “I didn’t know which way to turn. It was very disturbing.”

Having a weakness for getting startled doesn’t bode well for Zicari when he finds himself in the middle of the body bag room.  

“I was pushing past the bodies so I was distracted, then I turned and there was this guy who had to be 6 foot 2 inches tall - at least a head above me,” he says. “I looked at his chest then up at his eyes and that just freaked me out.”

Vander-Putten usually likes to laugh at others' fears--now he’s the victim getting stuck in a hallway filled with bungee cords. 

“I usually love watching people contort themselves to get through,” says Vander-Putten. “But, this time it was me doing it, and that’s not cool.”


WHEN|WHERE 7-10 p.m. Oct. 29-30, 7-10:30 p.m. Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at 215 South Country Road in Bellport

INFO 631-286-1133,


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