Spend Friday the 13th on the Hollow Hills Haunted Hayride with the man behind the movie

By Matthew Young, RealWV

2023 is a very special year. We have been graced with not just one, but two Friday the 13th’s! And while the first was a welcome treat, even though it landed in January, the second comes today – right smack in the middle of the bestest month of the year! 

A typical October brings all the spooky fun that comes with Halloween. However, when you add a Friday the 13th into the mix, the holiday is catapulted from trick-or-treating good times, to bone-chilling awesomeness overload. But I bet you didn’t know that West Virginians have a unique opportunity to celebrate Friday, October 13th the way it’s meant to be celebrated – an opportunity not afforded to anyone anywhere else in the world…

Because Mountaineers are just the swellest, we have the chance to spend the best day of the best month with the godfather of the horror movie, the swami of the slasher flick, the guru of the grindhouse feature – that’s right ladies and gentleman, we get to spend Friday the 13th with the legendary Taso Stavrakis, also known as one of the principal architects behind the Friday the 13th film franchise!

Taso, along with Dawn Kieninger, are the owners of and creative masterminds behind the West Virginia Renaissance Festival. Located just outside of Lewisburg in Greenbrier County, the festival transports thousands of attendees each June to a medieval world of knights, fairies, and magic. In order to assist with the suspension of disbelief, Taso utilizes the decades of knowledge and experience he’s gained as an effects artist, actor, and stunt performer on films such as Dawn of the Dead, Pirates of the Carribean, and The Mask of Zorro, as well as the hit television series The Walking Dead. 

What’s that you say, if the Renaissance Festival happens in June, how can we spend Friday, October 13th with Taso?

Well I’m glad you asked. Each October, the grounds of the West Virginia Renaissance Festival are transformed into the Hollow Hills Haunted Hayride – a family-friendly holiday activity which provides just the right amount of spooky fun for your little monsters, while still making use of those Hollywood-level props that the most seasoned haunted attraction connoisseur demands. 

“The Halloween season seemed obvious to us years ago when we started the park here,” Taso told RealWV. “In 2020, Dawn came up with the hayride. We had a handful of workers stuck here because of COVID, and there was nothing else going on in town. Everything was shut down, and Dawn felt bad for the kids because they had no Halloween activities to do.”

According to Taso, a “haunted hayride” had always been a planned addition to the couple’s yearly offerings – even before the pandemic made public gatherings impossible. Contained within the fairground’s property is a portion of the old Midland Trail, which if the legends are to be believed, is ground-zero for West Virginia’s haunted history. 

“There’s lots of ghosts,” Taso said.

In addition to the hayride, the attraction also features a newly-expanded haunted maze, and all the carnival games and activities you know and love from the Renaissance Festival. And for those particularly chilly autumn nights, a cup of hot chocolate or hot cider will warm up your tummy guts quicker than a witch’s brew. 

And if you’re still not sold, please endulge me as I regale you with a very cool story that Taso shared – the one in which he assisted with the facilitation of Mr. Kevin Bacon’s on-screen death in the original Friday the 13th…

“Stabbing Kevin Bacon was pretty fun,” Taso said. “It was fun until I almost choked on the blood.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the scene in question, allow me to set the table. Kevin Bacon, whose head is protruding up from a hole in a bed, has the rest of his body under the bed along with Taso. A tube is running up Bacon’s neck where the fake blood will come out of to complete the effect. Taso will be working the pump which the tube is connected to, controlling the flow of the fake blood.

And, action…

“My lap was getting wet,” Taso said. “I looked down and saw that the tube had come off the pump. So instead of shooting out of his neck, all of the blood was spilling out in my lap under the bed. I knew we could only do it once, so I just grabbed the tube, stuck it in my mouth, and blew as hard as I could.”

The brilliance of the scene – a scene which has been exhaustively mimicked and emulated for now more than 40 years – was the result of Taso’s quick thinking when faced with a fortuitous equipment malfunction. 

“That’s what gave it the arterial spray – the realistic look,” Taso noted. “Then I had to go wash my mouth out because part of the original formula included Kodak photoflow, which is highly poisonous.”

What’s that you say, where did Taso wash out his mouth?

Well I’m glad you asked. Ki, ki, ki, ma, ma, my man washed his mouth out in the actual Crystal Lake. 

If this doesn’t get your blood pumping for Halloween shindigery, nothing will. You have the chance to celebrate Halloween by spending Friday the 13th with the guy who made Friday the 13th. What are you doing reading this still?

The Hollow Hills Haunted Hayride, located at 23439 Midland Trail East, is open from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening throughout October. 

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