My eyes are opened (or shut in fear) to the crazy, scary Halloween fun I can find… in my neighborhood!

I’m not talking about crazy and scary as in that neighbor who can’t drive or even true haunted houses involving grudges of deceased residents.

I’ve only read about the “homemade” haunted houses in St. Petersburg, FL, but I’m no stranger to these things. I’ve had my share of the sardine-packed crowds at Howl-O-Scream or Halloween Horror Nights (at Busch Gardens and Universal Studios respectively). With Mr. “Shoes” unable to attend my past Halloween excursions this year due to travels yet finally returning to the Tampa Bay area last October 31, I wanted him (and me) to get a new Halloween experience we wouldn’t forget.

Part of the Hellview Cemetery's front lawn
Part of the Hellview Cemetery’s front lawn

Don’t run over the trick-or-treaters! That night, the surrounding neighborhoods were saturated with costumed people taking advantage of the plentiful houses with short driveways. I saw lots of houses—were we lost? Suddenly we saw a rising stack of smoke illuminated by flashing lights, and a line of people waiting to enter an absurdly dilapidated-looking building. We were in the right place.

Even without a lot, parking was never an issue. We easily parked on the streets in front of houses and normally just a block away. Although the lines appeared about 40-60 people deep, Shoes and I never waited longer than 30 minutes. Luckily there were enough costumed freaks running around to keep us amused.

The best part of these houses lies in the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper ONLY lets your party into the house then makes sure you are a good distance away before letting the next party in. No more of that typical conga line at the theme park houses! It was a psychological scare in itself feeling like you were alone yet knowing there were a bunch of ghouls ahead waiting to scare you. Shoes and I were literally holding each other the whole time as we tip-toed from one room to the next. The spacing also allowed us to experience every single scare actor in there. Often at theme parks you’d witness the person in front of you getting screamed at… but you get nothing in that same spot.

Eerie entrance into the Hellview Cemetery haunts
Eerie entrance into the Hellview Cemetery haunts

Since this was run by volunteers, I had low expectations. I’m glad to be wrong. Great first impression with the front cemetery filled with dried up foliage, eerie headstones, and a great, looming archway where you enter. This scary entry was only slightly marred by the very cheery group of volunteers who had set up a table in the hopes of catching donations benefitting St. Jude’s Children Research.

The décor inside was rather simple and honestly I don’t recall much “cemetery theme” inside, but the scares were the most memorable. Each scare was well timed and often had me jumping. During the last half, someone in army fatigue silently followed us—a very creepy method of getting us to walk faster. It felt like every scare jumbled together in the last 10 seconds as we had almost four people coming at us from different directions.

Just from the outside this house screams ‘professional’ complete with a preshow movie. Yet the Radley Orphanage is just the pet project and hobby of a regular guy. The creator is obsessed with detail and he built most of the house himself starting in May.

True the detail inside was excellent! Little things like picture frames or lace on windows really made me feel like I was entering an abandoned orphanage. More of the scares in here were slow and eerie rather than jump-in-your-face AHHH!

Sign from the Radley Orphanage
Sign from the Radley Orphanage – That cloth draped in the back served as the screen for for the pre-show movie.

However my brain didn’t get into the fantasy during a couple scares obviously performed by children. Believe me that silent little 6-year-old rushing out from under a staircase with a mask and knife in hand startled me, but my next thoughts were, “Whoa. That’s a kid! Kids that age can never work in the theme park houses. I wonder if he got pulled from trick-or-treating tonight.” Yes yes, silly thoughts but ones I couldn’t stop.

Although the detail and scares were better in this house (Shoes enjoyed the other house more) the timing could be better. Less than 20 seconds in we ran into another couple. We tried to compensate but overall we could easily hear and see the group in front and behind us. Just as we had weaved through the backyard and then through the orphanage with a pause in the scares, and suddenly we were thrown back outside. Abrupt ending. Awwww. Finished.

Line outside the Radley Orphanage
Line outside the Radley Orphanage– but less than 30 minute waits!

With each house suggesting a donation of less than $5 this is a freaking cheap, low cost, and high value Halloween entertainment. Easily impressionable children probably won’t enjoy it, but teens and adults who’d rather get scared than bump and grind at the clubs will enjoy. Plus no need to pay the $30-$80 admission charged by theme park events. True there’s no thrill rides or shows to accompany, but there’s many perks; shorter lines, all scares to yourself, the option of creating your own fun or eating before and after without spending a fortune.

I will definitely return next year.


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