MUSCATINE — Getting locked out of the house by his older sisters after watching “American Werewolf in London” mostly turned Troy Philpott off of scary things.
“I don’t even watch horror movies,” he said.
Which is surprising because Philpott, or "Stinky" as he has come to be called, has been operating Stinky’s House of Horrors for the past 20 years, scaring visitors and collecting food donations for the Freezing for Food campaign, distributed by the Muscatine Salvation Army. By his estimation, Philpott and crew have collected two tons of food each year on Halloween for the last 10 years.
"I do it because, obviously, I enjoy it," he said.
The haunt has only grown each year with new gory scenes that Philpott has built himself.
He thinks that's one of the reasons people keep coming back.
"A lot, I think is the startle effect," he said, "the exhilarating rush that they can get, and they can do it while they're eating candy."
The house will include an extreme slaughterhouse, execution chamber and clown house featuring large neon spray painted posters of menacing clowns donated by the artist.
Even though the house is small, Philpott said the attractions are pretty extreme. The clown house used to be the first room guests would experience, but he said that was causing a back up in the line because people were too frightened to go through. It's been moved to the end. He said if volunteer actors aren't sure how to scare the next person that comes by to just "do whatever you think is creepy."
"As someone that doesn't seek out horror movies, I wonder what that says about me that most of these ideas come from my own head," he said.
A dungeon room will feature Krampus, the half goat, half demon who punishes naughty children at Christmastime, according to European folklore. Philpott said there will even be steel cages for misbehaving children.
"Volunteer children," he clarified.
Even though he wants each person to "have their own personal scare," Philpott likes keeping the house family friendly for all ages. He said that most of the children who visit are brought by their parents, with "hundreds" of families visiting each year.
Philpott said he keeps having the food drive with the haunted house because he sees a need in the community and said even some of the volunteers that work at the haunt need assistance from the food pantry sometimes.
"You don't always see it with your own eyes," he said. "It does exist."
Growing up in the Southend, Philpott said the Salvation Army was an organization he knew in the area, but he didn't quite know what it did for the community.
"Once I was introduced during the holiday season, I was hooked," he said.
This year, he is introducing a new "ax-press" pass to entice visitors to donate more. Guests who bring in a case of food, or 12 cans, can move ahead in line. Philpott hopes that’s a draw for people as waiting in line may take an hour to an hour and a half.
He said access to the haunt at 911 E. 11th St. will start around 6 p.m. after the actors are in full makeup and everything is in place.
"You bring us a can of food, you get to go through," he said.
Philpott, volunteers and visitors aren't the only ones dedicated to the attraction. He said a woman donated 15 boxes of Halloween decorations this year and much of the other material used in the house were recycled from other projects. He said dry ice was donated and so was food for the crew. He makes his own prosthetic.
"I like building things. That's my thing," he said. "If I can build it, I'll make it."
Moving the haunted house to another building is an idea Philpott has been tossing around for the future. He would like the raise more money to purchase more food to donate by having the haunt open more than once per year. But he likes having control over the whole operation.
"I think it's going to be a good year," he said.