As legend goes, Missy Mae Lively and Billy Joe Tate of rural Fruitland didn’t heed the bad blood between their two families. Mindless of the rift, they fawned over one another, and, like any sensible lovers with ancestral vendettas, they decided to elope. But when Billy Joe never showed up to tie the knot, his jilted bride lost control.
Since opening its ghostly grounds to the public in 2011, The NC Haunted Farm in Henderson County has fed off this narrative, and with great success. Guests waiting in line for the 50-minute walkable scare can spot Missy Mae herself, dressed in her ragged white bridal gown and drifting idly through cornfields and darkened paths in search of her long-lost beau. Still, staff on the farm are traditionally mum when it comes to key details like: Where did Billy Joe go? If he died, who killed him? And what caused the family to be at odds in the first place?
This Halloween, though, the mystery will be unmasked (partially, at least).
“The Lively family is larger than what we have revealed,” says spokesperson Daniel Ballard. Diehard fans might remember Mama Lively — a stern dowager whose sinister grimaces always warrant a few screams. In former years, she’s lurked in a room with blood-splattered wallpaper, getting up from her rocking chair only to lunge at passersby.
Other kinfolk, like Little Jacob, keep to a lesser role. The little boy is depicted in a sepia photograph, and his tragic early demise has shadowy causes, as was often the case in harsh olden times. His very presence increases the sense of psychological horror, however, and though his backstory will not be released in the foreseeable future, guests can expect to learn more about two new characters: Bubba and Clarence Lively. Gnarled Bubba is the “resident mutant,” says Ballard. Clarence, on the other hand, is a gadget guy. “He likes his machinery and he likes to torture. That’s his MO,” explains Ballard.
Both men tie into this year’s new haunt. Though farm staff are hesitant to kill the mystery, they admit that the installation was inspired by the season’s theme — “It Came from Beneath” — and that it will finally answer questions regarding Billy Joe’s untimely disappearance.
Several of the haunted house’s vignettes break from the twisted family tree. Some scenes play off universal fears, featuring demented blood-hungry dentists and grinning homicidal clowns. (Sprinkles — the so-called “boss hog” or clown ringleader — is always a crowd favorite.) Other spots are more disorienting than deranged. There’s a dizzying vortex tunnel and a device Ballard calls the “claustrophobia bag,” essentially an inflated corridor guests have to squeeze through.
But compared to similar seasonal attractions, the farm crafts its menace without over reliance on horror-movie tropes or immense gore. Guests offering online reviews typically throw “terrifying” and “creative” into the same sentence. It’s a balance, and as with most enduring scare dramas, it works because it’s character driven. As Ballard notes about matriarch Mama Lively, “She’s not a frail old woman — she’s formidable.”
The NC Haunted Farm is located at 624 Townsend Road in Hendersonville. It runs October 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 30, and 31; and November 3 and 4. Open dark until midnight on weekends, dark until 11 pm on weekdays. $25/general admission. A “Lights Out Night” with glow sticks happens October 26 and 30 ($30). $3 parking. Cash only. For more information, see nchauntedfarm.com or check out the venue’s Facebook page.