Flesh and blood
Reno’s Slaughter House haunt is a family affair
When Eli Kerr founded Fright Fest Productions, which hosted its first haunted house attraction at the Silver Legacy in 2006, he pulled out all the stops.
“We had vendors in there and entertainment and fire performers and food,” he said. “We had a kids’ haunted house. We had an alien paintball shoot.”
Kerr, a professional magician who’s been entertaining audiences in Northern Nevada since his teen years in the early ’90s, actually owned all of the requisite parts for the haunted house before he’d ever decided to build it—set design materials, Halloween props for which he’d traded magic props and performance work, plus a warehouse space to store it all.
He also had his family.
“Eli, one day, said, ’I’m going to build a haunted house,’” recalled his younger sister, Katie Kerr. “I said, ’All right,’ and then we started building it. I was there, every day, with his drive and ambition—and long hours. We’ve just always been that way. We’re a really close family. He works so hard, and you can’t help but be working right next to him.”
Katie is Eli’s onstage assistant in his magic show. They’ve been working together since high school and even went on the road together with a traveling stage show. With her background in production management, Eli said, he knew from the beginning that having her help was “just a no-brainer.”
Twelve years later, Katie is still involved. She handles most aspects of production for the haunted house—called Slaughter House and now in its fourth year at the baseball stadium—and oversees nightly operations, with help from a sizable crew.
And Katie isn’t the only member of the family who pitches in. The Kerr siblings’ parents often travel to Reno to help watch kids during the event’s annual, month-long run. And then there’s Heather Kerr, Eli’s wife. When the pair started seeing one another in 2012, she quickly found herself swept into the family—and the haunt.
“I think I was just here every day and jumped right in and started building,” she said. “I became part of the process—made sure he ate, got some sort of sleep.”
Heather also does the books for the business and manages the “the duffle bag of receipts and paperwork” Eli brings home.
Even the couple’s son Eli V—now 6-and-a-half (and the half is quite important to him)—likes to play a role. His most recent bit has been as a zombie.
“I scared everyone that came!” said the younger Kerr, who reckons his portrayals have been among the year’s more terrifying. (If you buy it—because the notion of tiny undead people is something you’d never considered but are now terrified of—you’re not alone.)
Last year, he made a few appearances as Chucky.
“He was all about—with his red hair—being Chucky, so we brought him a couple of nights to play around,” Eli said.
Reflecting on the last 12 Halloween seasons, Eli admitted that, for years, he wasn’t sure how long Slaughter House would last. Before finding a long-term home at the baseball stadium, then called Aces Ballpark, now Greater Nevada Field, the event jumped from venue to venue, including the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, several years at Meadowood Mall, and a stint inside an underground location at Second and Sierra streets.
But when representatives from the ballpark reached out four years ago, it was with the offer of a multi-year partnership. The new home base—and the security of a contract—put the family business in a position to continue growing.
“It just keeps going, keeps getting bigger,” Eli said. “And more people keep showing up. Now, it’s just become this thing that I plan the rest of my year around, really, whereas, in the beginning, it was something, like, ’Maybe we’ll do this next year, maybe not.’”
The family that slays together
It really isn’t hyperbole when Eli says he plans the rest of his year around Slaughter House. His first meetings for this year’s haunt took place in February.
It isn’t too surprising considering the event now relies on an average of 150 people, including security guards, set designers, builders, costumers, makeup artists and actors. Some of them—like makeup consultant Jeremy Trader, effects specialist Matt Petrovsky, and Katie’s right hand man in operations Richard Sloane—have been with Fright Fest since the beginning. They’re people the Kerrs say they think of as family—and, over the years, their numbers have grown.
“That’s the best part,” Eli said. “We start with a group of people who are just kids in high school and whatnot, looking for something fun to do, and then they just keep on coming back. They start contacting us in January and February, wondering about it, asking questions about—because they really look forward to the fellowship they have. … As they get a little older, their younger brothers and sisters become a part of it.”
Slaughter House has even served as the backdrop to a number of budding romances over the years.
“There have been a lot of marriages from people who have met and worked together here, and boyfriends and girlfriends,” Eli said. “Yeah, it’s quite the social experiment, really.”
And as the extended family continues to grow, so too does the haunt. By early October, the Kerrs had already packed and delivered eight semi-trucks worth of materials to the baseball field. Eli expects he’ll soon need to buy another semi just to keep up with the volume of props and set materials. It’s planning for the next season, really, but it’s already underway.
“We already have ideas for next year that we just can’t implement this year—time-wise or budget-wise,” Eli said. “We’re always trying to think of something different.”
In the meantime, there are still more Halloween-related details to attend to—both inside and out of the haunt.
“We make time to take little Eli trick-or-treating,” his father explained. “And he’s got a bunch of costumes, you’d imagine—dinosaur costumes, and he’s just got some many outfits.”
The younger Eli chimed in to say he’d like another new one this year. But his old ones will be of use, too. Eli V and his parents recently welcomed a new member to the family—Edison Avery Kerr, born Oct. 7.