Home Community Behind the haunt: months of effort built into Realm of Darkness

Behind the haunt: months of effort built into Realm of Darkness


Ben Hurst and Dalton Polomis have been hard at work for five months and the big payoff comes tonight: the sweet sound of those first terrified screams.

Quality haunts don’t come easy.

The Realm of Darkness haunted house in Kaukauna will begin its 2019 season tonight at 8 p.m. As the first visitors creep in nervously and dig their hands into the people in front of them, it marks an end in one respect for the attraction’s creators. 

Before the fake blood, there’s a lot of sweat. They began their work in May, and now it’s time to enjoy.

“It’s entertaining for both of us,” Hurst said. “We like building, we like being creative and at the end, scaring people is fun.”

One macabre month to most is a full-time hobby for the pair.

Hurst and Polomis each did haunted yards as youngsters. They have been working together on perfecting the scare since hastily assembling a haunted woods while in middle school. 

The sophistication of their productions has grown steadily ever since. Each room has its own sound setup. The visuals will have visitors on edge and some interesting scares were built right into the floors and walls.

They aim to get all the details just right.

Earlier this week, rooms still had power tools and paint cans sitting about. They’re both students of Fox Valley Technical College and every minute that didn’t go toward learning this week went toward preparation. 

Polomis suspected the tweaking and perfecting would continue right up until the doors open.

Those who attended last year will have a 100 percent different experience this year. 

It’s a point of pride.

“This isn’t as big as some other haunted houses,” Polomis said, “but there’s no one else that does it all from scratch every year.”

There are certain classic elements that can’t be forever retired.

“We’ll do certain rooms again,” Hurst said, “but we’ll change the way we do it.”

And they’re always planning.

While building out the haunt, new ideas always surface. Occasionally, they’re too big to incorporate for where they’re at in the overall project.

Suffice to say, plans for next year are already well underway.

Realm of Darkness began in Hurst’s garage. Last year, they moved to a bigger space behind Rico’s Family Restaurant along Wisconsin Avenue.

They have some aims beyond quality.

They want to stay affordable.

Polomis isn’t dismissive of the larger productions that often come with high ticket prices. They put a lot of work, artistry and technology into what they do. But he and Hurst wanted to give fright seekers a quality experience at a price that isn’t prohibitive to families.

Until recently, there was no charge — they simply asked for a charitable donation. 

They’ve since gone to $5. They wanted to improve their show, but as they’ve grown, they also thought it was important to get insurance.

Charity is important to the pair. Again, they’ll ask visitors to chip in a little extra that’ll go toward holiday meals for families in need.

The planning and building was the first phase of fun. Freaking out the masses is the second.

Polomis said neither facet of the haunted house gig has gotten old. 

There’s a sense of accomplishment in seeing the rooms finished — and how they’ve grown from earlier years.

“It’s kind of cool to step back, take a breath and say, ‘look at what we did,’” Polomis said.