Some New Yorkers get into the spirit of Halloween with cotton ball cobwebs, witch hats and elaborate trick-or-treating displays. Then there’s Jim Faro. The Queens native, now a co-partner in the haunted house attraction Blood Manor, first got into the Halloween game by transforming his humble Long Island home into a seasonal, neighborhood-wide landmark. His annual spooky displays were so over-the-top that they attained legendary status, enough to convince him to turn fantasy into reality with a bold business plan: to create one of the first haunted houses in the heart of Manhattan. Joining forces with two fellow Halloween lovers, Mike Rodriguez and Jim Lorenzo, the team did just that. Now Blood Manoris one of the city’s top scary attractions, attracting thousands of guests each October to its ghoulish space in SoHo (163 Varick St., through Nov. 2). With the 2013 season in full swing, we took a few moments to catch up with Jim between costume changes to learn more about the origins of Blood Manor, the secret to scaring the pants off of tough New Yorkers, and even what celebrities have been known to stop by for a good scare.
Why do you love Halloween and from where did this interest stem?
I always liked horror movies as a young child. I thought it must be really fun to explore a haunted castle. Now I like to recreate atmospheres that I thought were creepy and cool as a kid.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in Queens. I am an attorney in “real life” and now live in Floral Park, N.Y. My partner Mike Rodriguez grew up in Brooklyn. He was an office manager in a law firm at 30 Rock. He lives in Florida. My other partner, Jim Lorenzo, also grew up in Brooklyn. He is an event planner and lives in Long Beach.
Fill us in on the origins of Blood Manor.
Basically, Mike and I were home haunters. We decorated our houses and had large Halloween parties. We did not know each other. One night Jim Lorenzo passed by my house, and I was outside. He saw the decorations, and he told me he was doing a party and asked if he could rent some of my props. We became friendly and then met Mike the next year. Jim was running events for a place in NYC, and they had an empty floor to use. It worked, and we were there on 27th Street for six years.
Is this your full-time gig or a side project?
Well, it really has become a job that requires lots of time. Not full time, but between planning new rooms, marketing, etc., many months are spent to put the show on.
It’s hard enough to find a decent studio apartment in Manhattan. How difficult is it to find and maintain the right space for Blood Manor?
Not easy. When we had to move in 2010, we looked at many, many places. Sometimes the spot was not right for us and sometimes we were not right for the place. We are a very unique tenant, so the space has to be just right.
Since most haunted attractions are associated with cornfields and hayrides, what other challenges do you face in an urban environment?
Size is a challenge. I would like to have an additional 1,000 square feet. However, in the approximately 5,000 square feet we have, we’ve constructed an attraction that is really first-class. The other challenge of an indoor haunt is atmosphere. As I said earlier, creating a space where people forget they are on the second floor of a building on Varick Street is a challenge. Once you enter Blood Manor, we never want the mood to be broken. Outside in the cornfields, God provides most of the scenery and atmosphere. It is pretty creepy in the woods at night.
Your actors are known for never breaking character. How do you recruit and keep dedicated cast members?
We use Craigslist and word of mouth from cast members. The people who are drawn to us are those who love Halloween. Like us, you have to have a love for this to make it work as a business. The actors who we keep have a passion — they love scaring people.
What do you look for in the characters you hire?
Someone who is not afraid to go outside the box to extend themself and not worry about how they are perceived by others. Of course, they also need to be energetic and reliable.
Any famous actors (or soon-to-be-famous) ever take a job at Blood Manor?
We have had a few of our cast do bits on some TV shows.
Blood Manor has been around for nine year now. How do you keep it fresh and exciting?
We try to make a certain amount of changes each year, so the entire attraction is different every few years. We also use new actors or new props in rooms that we do not change to keep it fresh. Attention to detail is very important, and we do that decor, costumes and make-up.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen audience members do while touring the house?
When someone gets into the first room and has to run out right away. Also, many times, visitors fall right to the floor in a corner and just cower.
How do you feel about the Pennsylvania outfit Shocktoberfest’s offering of a “Naked and Scared” haunted house tour?
Fraught with danger.
What’s the creepiest character or scene that stands out in your mind?
I really liked when we recreated the Buffalo Bill character from Silence of the Lambs. The actor was awesome.
Is there any idea you’ve had that you just haven’t been able to turn into a reality?
A few. Most have to do with the height of our ceilings. You really need 15 feet to do something effective from above.
There are a lot more haunted attractions in the city then when you started. Do you check out the competition and welcome the new players?
Halloween has become big business. Since we do not really get time to see too many other places, we concentrate on what we do best. In fact, many people who are Halloween junkies visit more than one haunt. We have been here nine years, but I think we have to wait a few more years to see who is left standing.
Have any famous New Yorkers or celebrities come through since you started?
Too many to remember, but here are a few examples. Elvis Duran and the Z morning crew are big fans and have visited several times. Kyra Sedgwick, Lil’ Kim, Curtis Granderson, Jaleel White, Gloria Estefan, Fran Drescher, the Jonas Brothers, plus several of the Knicks and Giants have stopped by. Most recently, the cast of Orange is the New Black just came a few weekends ago.
Once the final group walks through on November, do you start planning for next year right away, or do you head off for a Caribbean island?
We do need to sleep for a few weeks, but right after Thanksgiving, we are already thinking of the next year. In fact, 2014 will be our tenth anniversary, and I know Mike already has some very expensive ideas!
Any favorite Halloween films or classic horror movies to get you in the spirit?
Actually, there are two scary movies for me. The original Night of the Living Dead in 1968 when I was young and The Exorcist both really creeped me out.
Finally, zombies or vampires?
Find out more about how New Yorkers are making it in the big city with our Cool Job Q&As.