There's something disconcerting about a pig-faced man dressed as a circus ringmaster. Especially with swine flu on the rise.
"A little H1N1 never hurt anybody," the rotund hog-man said, with a gleam in his icy blue eyes and an emphasis on his Ts. "I make a mess when I slaughter."
The pigmaster's true identity is Tyler Barnett, one of two culinary school dropouts who have teamed up to open Lexington's newest haunted attraction, Screampark, in a warehouse on Manchester Street, in the Distillery District.
Four nights a week through Oct. 31, Barnett, dressed as his pig-man alter ego, Barnibus Rhynes, will be snuffling up to Screampark visitors, freaking them out as they prepare to visit his domain.
"He is like the carnival barker ... or a ringmaster in a circus," Barnett said of Barnibus. "He draws the people in."
Barnett and his business partner, Eddie Embry, hope Screampark will draw as many as 800 visitors a night.
Even though Halloween is a month away, Screampark is one of several spooky holiday attractions already open in Central Kentucky.
A 40,000-square-foot indoor haunt, Screampark is three attractions in one. The Abyss is a pitch-black maze where visitors must feel their way out. The Castle of Fear is intended to evoke a Gothic castle and includes a 3,000-gallon indoor swamp with a mausoleum maze.
"Insanity," which seemed to be the most popular attraction among visitors on a recent Saturday night, is a chaotic labyrinth of chain-link fencing, strobe lights and deranged criminals.
"It's like you're in an asylum and you're trying to find your way out before the inmates get you," said Grant Landon, marketing director for Screampark.
Screampark goes more for inducing anxiety in its visitors than grossing them out with blood and guts, he said.
"There are no chain saws in there," Landon said. "We don't follow the traditional haunt clichés."
Embry and Barnett began planning Screampark in June 2008, and they began construction inside the warehouse in May. Embry said they spent last fall visiting other haunts around the country.
"We wanted to bring something special to Lexington," he said. "We wanted to bring an event, not just a haunted house. And I think we pretty much accomplished it."
Adriana Clark let out a shriek as she left Screampark, with Acumulus Souls, a tall, thin, cloaked character, looming over her shoulder.
"We got lost in Insanity," she said breathlessly. "I was just running for it."
One member of her group, Rachael Radcliffe, said she fell down in her effort to escape the inmates.
"I was like, 'Leave her, leave her,'" Ryan Sexton said with a grin. "I don't know how they knew my name, but they kept saying my name."
Sexton and Radcliffe said they often visit other haunts in the region, sometimes traveling as far as Ohio for a good scare. They said Screampark compares favorably.
"I thought it was pretty good," Sexton said. "I think Insanity was the best one."
A group of Henry Clay High School students agreed.
"I really almost peed on myself," said Jazmine Hall. "It's fun. It's crazy."
CLARIFICATION: Neither Albert Tyler Barnett nor his son Tyler McKay Barnett, both of Georgetown, are the Tyler Barnett quoted in this story.