HOUSTON -- Want to see something really scary?
Drive along the inbound feeder road of Highway 290 just past West Road. Turn right on the narrow dirt road that crosses the railroad tracks and leads into the woods. Then stop, if you dare, at the complex of haunted houses called Phobia.
Six weeks before Halloween, this collection of dilapidated buildings cluttered with the bloody bodies of the dead and undead echoes with the screams of thousands of teenagers drawn to its gruesome attractions. But when Phobia opens this Saturday night for its sixteenth spine-chilling season, the wicked truth will be that the home of this haunted house is doomed.
Phobia sits frighteningly close to the Northwest Freeway, which is about to undergo an expansion. So the Texas Department of Transportation is forcing the owner of the haunted house to sell his property.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Paul Nacol, the owner of Phobia. “And it’s an awful lot of work to get relocated to open for next season.”
Oddly enough, the state says it doesn’t even plan to build a bigger freeway on the property. Instead, it plans to use the land for mitigating flood control.
“We do have to set aside areas for detention,” said Karen Othon, a TxDOT spokesperson. “And this particular location has been identified as a detention pond.”
Phobia morphed out of an aborted plan between Nacol and some college friends to shoot a horror movie, he said. They never made their movie, he said, but they wound up starting a seasonal business that employs between 250 and 300 workers every Halloween, many of them outfitted in gruesome make-up and costumes soaked with fake blood.
Nacol readily admits the Northwest Freeway needs to expand and the state needs to reserve land like his for flood control.
“It’s not that I’m not happy,” he said. “I’m concerned because I need them to get the project started.
“We’ve been in discussions on this for months now, for years,” he said. “And now the project is moving forward and it’s time to get rolling, because I need to relocate. It takes so long to build this scream park out.”