In a city where churches rival strip joints as downtown's dominant denizens, a fascination with the supernatural and the occult is no surprise. That's only one reason every September dozens of scary attractions—anything from spooky corn mazes to school-parking-lot "trunk or treats"—start to dot the local landscape like jack-o'-lanterns.
Of these, the biggest and most lucrative are the haunted houses, many of which have converted rundown expanses of industrial blight into makeshift mausoleums stocked with masquerading ghouls, zombies and victims of science gone astray. There's gold in them thar graves: A line of 1,000 people one weekend night before Halloween can bring in as much as $15,000, not to mention swag sales of glow sticks and T-shirts.
Thousands of Middle Tennesseans have been indoctrinated since childhood into the joys of the fake-cobwebbed factory corridor, the strobe-lit attack of pimply part-time zombies, and the obligatory ersatz Leatherface. In the world outside, there are plenty of real things that make you want to run screaming—but the fake ones at the charnel houses below will let you get it out of your system. These are some of the area's most reliable repositories of gut-munching, head-chopping and brain-eating:
Death Row—Sanitarium of Slaughter: Pimping sodas and hot chocolate out of a blood-spattered ambulance, this bloodbath promises 80,000 square feet of fear—much of it given over to mad scientists practicing their home-surgery skills on unlucky stiffs. Forget the dude dressed as Leatherface: The dimly lit corridors give off evil vibes galore. Watch for live autograph signings in October featuring Tony Moran (the original Michael Myers), Bill Johnson (Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2) and several supporting players from the 1978 Dawn of the Dead. Admission is $10. Opens Sept. 12. deathrowhauntedhouse.net 41 Harding Industrial Drive, 833-1433
Death Valley Haunted Woods: For 16 years, this little slice of hell in Hendersonville has terrorized church groups and Scout troops with attractions such as the infamous Chainsaw Maze. A sinister swamp shack and a processing plant where the meat you smell may be your own are just a few of the hair-raising scrapes awaiting the unwary. Admission is $15; open Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Sundays starting Oct. 5. deathvalleyhauntedwoods.com 769 W. Main St., Hendersonville
Demons' Den: If nothing else, Antioch's asylum of the abyss has the most convoluted backstory of any haunted house in the city: a Lovecraftian saga of extra-dimensional horror that places the last of the ill-fated Webb family at the mercy of skeletal Jack X. Beware bat-like Barnabus, avoid the waiting room of Dr. Diabolic, and if Nurse Feratu puts on her rubber gloves, run. Coupons available online—and dig the phone number. Opens Sept. 14. demonsdenhauntedhouse.com 881 Bell Road, 731-6660
Fallout III: Apocalypse: Want a glimpse of your hometown as a postapocalyptic wasteland? You know, besides Hickory Hollow Mall? Pass through the portal of this downtown Thunderdome and emerge years later in the future, where military personnel will debrief you on the grim events of Dec. 21, 2012—and hopefully protect you from the hideous mutants within. Billed as "Nashville's Story Driven Haunted House," this ambitious abattoir sucks patrons into a narrative involving secret experiments on Nashville's radioactive population. We always knew that thermal plant was a bad idea. Opens Sept. 25. myspace.com/nashvillehell 211 Sixth Ave. S., 255-2105
Monster Mountain: Totally worth the haul out I-65 to Millersville, about 20 minutes north of Nashville, this fest of free-range fright has quickly developed a rep as one of the coolest haunted houses in the South. A mayor welcomes you to the ravaged town of Cavern Hills, then seals your escape route—plunging you toward attractions such as a disco of the undead and a Cannibal Kitchen where today's special is you. Carny-horror aficionados are still buzzing about the gag that requires patrons to walk directly into a burning house—one of many ingenious effects that raises Monster Mountain to the top of the zombie heap. Admission is $15; open Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to midnight. monstermountain.net 273 McMurtry Road, Millersville, 569-FEAR
Scream Creek: Listen—is that the sound of massacred Shawnee villagers, back to claim their vengeance in scalps? Or maybe it's the sound of hayriding grade-schoolers at Honeysuckle Hill Farm, which converts part of its vast Springfield acreage every fall into corn mazes, pumpkin patches and other Halloween attractions. At night, though, it's not for small children, as the hills have eyes. A $15 ticket gets you admission to Scream Creek, a "Flashlight Maze," and a grown-up hayride by the light of the eerie moon. Opens Sept. 14. screamcreek.com 1765 Martins Chapel Church Road, Springfield, 382-7593
Slaughterhouse: Now in its—whoa—22nd year, the anchor of Bloody Sixth Avenue serves up headbanger horror and gore galore to a throbbing soundtrack. Careful which one of the dreaded octagonal 8 Doors you open, as the residents might include an impressive mechanical creature or a pit full of tormented souls. (Or they might include heavy rockers Helmet, who filmed the video here for their song "Gone.") Admission is $15. Opens Sept. 19. slaughterhouse2K.com 423 Sixth Ave. S.