Residential haunted house is a real scare

Mike Etoll has been a haunted house lover his whole life. The East Side haunt he’s created packs an impressive punch, especially for being in a detached garage. (photos by Patrick Larkin/Review)

A creepy troll greets visitors of the haunted house.

Skeletons surprise a guest at the haunted house.

A spinster sits in the gory butcher's room.

A decrepit looking skull is just one of a plethora of fine-crafted creepy items at the haunted house.

Mike Etoll, with a died green goatee, has loved haunted houses his whole life.

Garage comes to life for Halloween spectacle

Mike Etoll, proprietor of the East Side's own residential butcher-shop-themed haunted house, might be considered by some to be an eccentric, an oddball, or a quirk.

That's probably just fine with the man, who confidently wears a goatee that's dyed green.

"I contribute to society by frightening poor little children," he jokes.

He's in his fourth year of hosting a very elaborate haunted house in his buddy's garage on the East Side at 1444 E. Reaney Ave. Dubbed "The Butcher Shop: House of Gore," Etoll is very proud of the place.

With professional animatronics, special effects, realistic gory limbs, real pig eyes, fog machines, terrifying masks, creepy lighting, and more, there's a lot of detail packed into the small haunted house.

Etoll, who lives in West St. Paul, describes it as a classic, old-style haunted house, relying on artistic details to attain its effect.

And it's scary to boot -- Etoll claims it's spooky enough to cause at least one person to pee their pants every year. And the actors, he notes, manage to spook people without touching them, as they keep a strict no-touch policy.

Etoll changes up the scenes every year, and has been lucky to have a willing gang of volunteers pitching in as performers and to run the thing. His mother staffs the entrance, charging people $7 and getting them to fill out a waiver. A slew of friends and a couple of neighborhood kids act in the production, while his wife Eva helps keep everything in order and also acts in the house.

"It's (Mike's) obsession, but I've grown to become equally obsessed... almost," Eva says with a grin. "It's really fun to scare people."

Pulls fright-seekers from afar

The Butcher Shop: House of Gore has it all - scary people of both genders; an animatronic, lifelike old woman in a rocking chair; professional quality masks and props; strobe lights; a photo of an exhumed man; a very life-like John Wayne Gacy, known as the killer clown, and more.

It attracts thrill-seekers from throughout the Midwest, as well as special-effects fanatics who come to appreciate the fancy robotic puppets, and the refined artistic touch of the place. Last year there were about 1,800 visitors, Etoll says.

Haven Schuck and Melinda Kulp came from Marshfield, Wisconsin, on a date to check out Twin Cities haunted houses, and stopped by the haunt on Reany Avenue.

They said they were impressed with the level of detail, especially considering the thing is run out of a modest-looking detached garage.

The actors managed to get a few screams out of the Wisconsinites as they walked through the decked out garage, exposed to gory butcher scenes and surprise spooks.

East Sider Shawn Murphy, who plays the butcher, the star of the show, loves those screams and is happy to help out with the production.

Every October he wipes his calendar clean and devotes much of his free time to the production.

Murphy recalls with wonder a moment when he was truly frightened as a kid -- on Halloween he was trick-or-treating when he noticed an eerie, monkey-like creature. He assumed it was inanimate, but alas, the monkey jumped up and scared him half to death. He ditched his bag of candy and ran away, not looking back.

Murphy is hoping he can provide similarly spooky but fun memories for today's kids

Murphy adds that on a few occasions, he's managed to frighten people so much they've actually hit him. He recalls with amusement being backhanded in the face by one scared patron.

Since he was young

Mike Etoll traces enthusiasm for horror, gore and fright to an event he experienced as a young boy.

He was at the Minnesota State Fair's midway area with his uncle, who sent him alone into a creepy, dark, haunted house ride.

It scared the young Etoll. He had nightmares, and the gory imagery of the carnival ride played over and over in his head. But rather than being traumatized, Etoll says the fright inspired him.

His mother, Deborah Etoll, reports her son has been drawing monster pictures his whole life and was a huge fan of the TV show "The Twilight Zone."

He created his first haunted house at the age of 10 in his childhood bedroom, and he's been doing them ever since in houses, art galleries, and now in his friend Brett Kuscienko's East Side garage.

Kuscienko says he devotes his garage to the haunted house year-round. He says it makes him feel like a contributor to the neighborhood. He also likes to tell kids that the haunted house is a creative expression, and something they could learn how to do one day

No love for candy

Contrary to what most folks might assume, Etoll is not exactly a Halloween enthusiast, despite his love for haunted houses. He says the commercial nature of the holiday is off-putting, and claims he never much liked candy, even as a child.

"I would run this any time of year," he says. It just happens that the time most people want to walk through a haunted house is around Halloween.

More than a cheap thrill, Etoll regards his haunted house as an art form, much like the rest of what he creates. He earns a living as an artist, doing science fiction films, editing video and painting.

Etoll calls The Butcher Shop: House of Gore artistic expression, an experimental art exhibit.

"(The haunted house) really helps people subconsciously deal with their fear of death," he says.

"I'm kind of death-minded," he adds. "Against my will -- I love life, but even as a kid, I feared death."

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him at @ESRPatrickLark.

For a fright ...

The Butcher Shop: House of Gore is open from 5 to 11 p.m. every night through Saturday, Nov. 1.

The haunted house is located at 1444 E. Reaney Ave.

Admission is $7. All patrons must sign a waiver.

The haunted house is in its fourth year. The design changes every year.

For more information about the haunted house, visit


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