The sight of a man unloading several caskets onto a handcart and wheeling them into the 263 Marketplace could be unsettling to see, without context. A mortician has not set up shop at the indoor flea market. Instead, it's just part of Steven Reilly's preparation for the haunted village he is bringing to Warminster.
So far this year, the 263 Marketplace has featured a carnival, car shows, a singing competition and a chili cook-off as special events that helped increase foot traffic and keep customers flowing in and out of the indoor flea market.
With Halloween on its way, the marketplace gets to tout its very own spooky tour through a haunted attraction created by Reilly. As he strolls through the 2,000 square-feet of space that the marketplace has roped off for him, Reilly rattles off some of his plans before the village is opened on Oct. 12.
"I think the butcher shop will go there," Reilly points to one booth, "and the autopsy lab will go in that one."
The Bensalem resident has less than a week to install the animatronic creatures, paint and decorate the sets and get the timing right for all of his little surprises. His scares could come from something as complicated as a monster model on a motorized track rising out of a corner to the simple act of a costumed ghoul jumping out form behind a piece of furniture.
"The trick is keeping the surprises unexpected," said Reilly. "There could be a TV in the corner with static on the screen, for example. Everybody is distracted and staring at the TV, and that's when the scare comes out of nowhere."
A lifelong fan of horror movies and haunted houses, Reilly has been waiting years for a chance to make his own mark. In 2005, he purchased a haunted attraction called The Nightmare Village from the Hampton Roads Piranhas Soccer Club in Chesapeake, Va., which used it as a fundraiser. It took him 12 trips to Virginia Beach and back to transport all of the materials. Since then, the equipment sat in storage while Reilly looked for a place to install it.
"I kept trying to find a spot in Bensalem," said Reilly, "but the fire marshal at the time kept finding more ways and new regulations to stop me. The big reason is the fire at Great Adventure in 1984."
Reilly is referring to the Haunted Castle fire at Six Flags Great Adventure in 1984. The deadly blaze killed eight teenagers and cast a dark shadow on the local and state regulatory system that failed to enforce the fire codes and ensure public safety.
A former volunteer firefighter with the Nottingham Fire Company, Reilly is well aware of safety concerns and has made it his number one priority at his attraction.
"All of the walkways will be open and there will be a clear path to the exit," said Reilly, who works full time in the Buck County Department of Weights and Measures. "There will not be any fog machines or strobe lights, out of respect for anybody with asthma or epilepsy."
With less than a week to go before showtime, Reilly is calling for volunteers to help him finish getting the Fright Gallery ready and for anyone who would like to participate in the attraction. Depending on how well the haunted village performs, Reilly plans to bring it back next year and compensate the performers and set builders. He can be contacted at (215) 638-9232.
The Fright Gallery opens at the 263 Marketplace Oct. 12 and runs through October. Hours are Friday, 5-8 p.m.; Saturday, 3-6 p.m. and Sunday 2-5 p.m. Tickets cost $5.