Haunt Hoppin at The Funhouse in Bluff City
BY JOE TENNIS BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | Oct 8, 2015
BLUFF CITY, Tenn. – Crawling out of a tiny tunnel, you land in a pit of balls, losing your balance.
Then you scurry down some stairs in the dark.
But don’t worry. A cast of clowns soon surround you. Some are real. Some are animated.
Oh, but don’t get too scared: None of them are presidential candidates.
Yet all appear to have a tale to tell – even if they just laugh and laugh and laugh.
Like Chris Kastner. He’s a big, hearty and funloving fellow blessed with a chuckle that appears warm and friendly.
Unless, of course, you might hear that same chuckle from Kastner on a night when he’s dressed in costume, standing among the shadows or in a black light, just itching to get closer and closer and closer.
Nobody touches you inside the cramped quarters of The Funhouse, a haunted attraction operated by Kastner on the back roads of Bluff City, Tennessee.
“But we can get very close – if I can breathe on the back of your neck,” Kastner said. “I’ll get some people, right here behind them, like I’m licking ‘em … and they’ll just freak out.”
‘Humor and horror’
Kastner knows how to scare people. At 34, he’s taken his chops and props across Sullivan County for seven years, staging spooky spectacles at sites like the old Haunted Auction of Bluff City and the Appalachian Caverns near Blountville.
This year, he presents The Funhouse, an old-school-style carnival attraction that stands outside Kastner’s Dinosaur Park near Chinquapin Grove. Living here on his grandfather’s 13-acre farm, Kastner makes a living building animated, creepy creatures. He also operates his Dinosaur Park, a tiny tourist attraction that survives on a shoestring – with donations.
As a two-dimensional artist, Kastner found that few were interested in his projects. “But I do three-dimensional art,” he said, “and everybody loved it, so I just kept building it.”
At The Funhouse, all must enter and exit through the mouth of a clown.
Inside, Kastner’s volunteer crew of creepies and crazies numbers 15, he figured – “unless I missed somebody hiding in a wall somewhere.”
Among the roster is Rusty Cox, a 1992 graduate of Sullivan East High School. Cox dresses like a pirate for fun – whenever he’s not operating a printing machine at a nearby box factory.
Also in the pack is 22-year-old Tenecia Bowers, a 2011 graduate of Sullivan East. “I scream,” said Bowers, a blood-stained showgirl.
Kastner, in turn, is a 2002 graduate of Sullivan East. And he’s quite a veteran of making girls cry and guys stand alarmed, shocked that they got “got” while in the dark recesses of a physical place – or state of mind.
“We have a lot of fun mixing humor and horror,” Kastner said.
Long ago, before going pro, Kastner simply set up stuff in his yard, trying to scare trick-or-treaters.
“We spent all month setting it up – for just one night.”