There are very few windows inside the offices of Murarik Motorsports in Philipsburg — and if it had been an otherwise bright and sunshiny day outside that might have mattered.
As it stood, the skies were a dull, dark gray attributable to the clouds of rain that had rolled in overhead, fog optional but present nonetheless.
If there is such a thing as haunted house weather, it was this extra layer of unobtrusive ambiance, like classical music playing in the lobby of a fine hotel or the smell of must in an antique shop.
Regardless of whatever exquisite set dressing Mother Nature may have provided, Bub Murarik had her beat.
Murarik is no stranger to the artificial chills and thrills of Halloween. For the past four years he has hosted a free haunted house at the car dealership he operates in Philipsburg, a maze of ghosts and goblins all in service of that primal, almost masochistic, human desire to be scared half to death.
Call it an emergency test of the fight-or-flight response, call it crazy, call it good old-fashioned fun — whatever it is, Murarik takes it seriously. Thirty to 40 actors will be spread throughout each room of the house, which have all been independently wired for sound so that the appropriate creaks can elicit the right shrieks.
“You think it would be the kids that are scared,” Murarik said. “But it’s the 40- to 50-year-olds that are wetting their pants.”
It’s more altruistic than it sounds.
Last year, Murarik’s little shop of the horrors was visited by nearly 1,600 people in two nights and generated $5,600 in donations to charity.
Prior to the event, people can log onto the event’s Facebook page to nominate recipients for donations or put pen to paper and send a letter to Murarik himself.
In years past, the money has gone to organizations like the Rowland Theatre, Christmas Crusade for Kids and Pets Come First. This season, Murarik has decided to divide the money between multiple entries.
“We can’t pick favorites,” he said.
Even if they could, who has the time?
Last July, while the rest of Centre County was preoccupied with fireworks and outdoor picnics, Murarik was already quietly preparing for Halloween.
When he first opened the doors to his haunted house almost five years ago, Murarik inherited a collection of props and decorations from a haunted alley that volunteers used to set up in Philipsburg.
A coffin here, a man-sized cage there…
Motifs started to emerge. There’s a dilapidated hospital wing, an insane asylum and even a butcher shop, all rendered down to the slightest detail, from the blood on the table to the fake knives dangling from the ceiling.
“We keep the Halloween store in business, that’s for sure,” he said.
Excess supplies are stored in the bathroom, where the toilet looks slightly out place surrounded by shelves of plastic skulls, a prop spell book and a pile of skeletal arms.
Murarik’s brother, Nick, helps him carry all of the dead weight. The decorations can be torn down in a day, but breaking them out of their boxes and arranging them into a suitably scary tableau? That takes months of prep time.
“I know how long it takes, and I still have to work,” Murarik said.
Despite his prowess as very specific kind of decorator, Murarik still has to put food on the table and that means selling cars. The haunted house helps to get his family’s name out into the community but not much else.
The benefits here are of a much more visceral nature.
From his desk, Murarik pulls up a photo from last year’s event on Facebook. He’s in a devil costume and twin machines are shooting jets of fire into the air on either side of him — but the real focal point is a woman, her gaze transfixed, hands in the air and mouth hanging open in a look of perfect terror.