the years, Nick Trahanas and brother Jim got more involved in
their father’s business, eventually taking the reins. Toward the
mid-1980s they reassessed Flying Witch and decided that it was
time to add more stunts.
“The ride was designed for just
the original European stunts, so we had to improvise quite a bit,
building a platform here, or utilizing a crevice there,’ recalls
Nick. “Then there was the issue of getting new stunts.”
At the time, there were still many
companies producing stunts. But Nick had his own vision of the
“cast of characters” he wanted to inhabit Flying Witch. Over the
years, he had paid close attention to animated displays exhibited
at the annual IAAPA trade show. From this, he literally began
sizing up what could fit the ride’s available spaces. For instance,
Nick said he was impressed by a displayed figure that could rise
from a seated position by compressed air. He didn’t want the exact
same stunt, but visualized three different stunts, repeating the
same motion, at strategic points in his ride. He purchased the
framework for one and used it as his guide to create two others.
One of Nick’s “seat-risers,” the
character Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies, appears
early in the ride. The second, a creepy old man, taunts riders
just before they made a rapid descent from the top floor. And
a third, a decaying corpse, rises from the ground midway through
Nick’s other vision - a man struggling
to free himself from the inside a sarcophagus - also came to life.
After he purchased a sarcophagus, he created the victim using
the foam torso from a T-shirt display.
‘’I figured that the thrashing
motion would really tax the apparatus, so why not use light material
to create the victim,” recalls Nick.
The showpiece of the ride, in this
author’s opinion, is the third-floor graveyard scene. It consists
of a skeleton rising from his coffin, another popping out of the
ground, a corpse wiggling free from his grave and a decomposed
soul rising from the dead. The lighting effects are superb, as
is the sound bite, which I’ll touch on later.
For other new displays, Nick continued
to be resourceful. He resurrected the guillotine scene, which
had been put in storage by his father years ago. He redeployed
the pistol-shooting brigande as an executioner, hanging a man
in a three-piece suit. He situated his man-in-the-sarcophagus
stunt in a torture room, which included an original European-made
mummy, two victims in cages and a disemboweled man on a torture
Most of Nick’s new stunts would
be animated by an air compressor, hidden in the first floor workshop.
Next on the agenda were the sound bites. Nick had purchased some
early model digital sound repeaters would proved to be troublesome
during the recording sessions. But in the end it all worked out.
“We used my youngest brother Phillip
for most of the sound hits,” recalls Nick. “He always loved doing
voices, so this was his 15 minutes of fame.”
Phillip recorded a dead-on impression
of actor Collin Clive’s famous, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” line
in the original Frankenstein movie. The sound hit plays over the
graveyard scene. For the guillotine execution scene, Phillip
voiced the bony executioner’s scream of “Off with it!” He then
bit into a carrot for the sound of the blade severing the victim’s
head. In providing the taunts for the creepy old man, Phillip
simply said, “Bye-bye!” and cackled at the riders as they descend
into the unknown.
And there were some guest appearances
during the recording sessions. When asked to say something scary
into the mike, Nick’s employee John Jones yelled out, “I need
your brains, ha, ha!” This proved to be a perfect sound bite for
the corpse that appears midway through the ride, giving riders
the impression that he’s a brain-eating zombie from Night of
Living Dead movie series.
This year (2003) Nick and his older
brother Jim added some sound bites once used in the older rendition
of their Zombie Castle dark ride (formerly Laff In The Dark) across
the midway. They replaced most of the wooden panels along the
sides of the track and they replaced the old compressed air trunk
lines with galvanized pipes. Finally, they replaced the power
trains and brakes on the entire fleet. A year earlier they had
replaced every car motor.
“It’s not all fun and games, especially
when it comes to maintenance,” admits Nick. “You won’t believe
how much time I spend on the phone and online trying to find parts.”
But with hard work comes comic relief. “When John Jones said his
line, he had us in stitches,” Nick recalls.
And Nick is quick to mention the
day he brought back some of his stunts from upstate New York where
they had received some finishing work.
“I had them in the back of a pick-up
with a sheet covering them,” recalls Nick. “When we stopped at
a gas station a corner of the sheet folded over, so quite a crowd
gathered around, thinking I had corpses back there.”
Editor's note: Don't be too concerned about our stalwart investigators.
They were found unharmed, exploring another dark ride and wondering
where they'd left their gear. But that's another story.
The author would like to thank:
"The Super Trahanas Brothers", Nick and Jim, for allowing
us full access to Flying Witch
and for operating not one but two of the finest dark rides in America.
All photos by Bill Luca, George LaCross and Nick Trahanas.
Laff In The Dark/www.laffinthedark.com