For the last four years, the artists of 400 West Rich have put on a Halloween event called "Fear Hundred," which began as a haunted house and evolved into a Halloween-themed art show. Now in its fourth year, the event features a collection of specifically created art, drawing inspiration from the carnivals and freak shows of old, hence the title "Fear Hundred 4: The Mystery of the Haunted Carnival."

For the last four years, the artists of 400 West Rich have put on a Halloween event called “Fear Hundred,” which began as a haunted house and evolved into a Halloween-themed art show. Now in its fourth year, the event features a collection of specifically created art, drawing inspiration from the carnivals and freak shows of old, hence the title “Fear Hundred 4: The Mystery of the Haunted Carnival.”

Last year’s art had a horror theme, and the broadness of the genre allowed for any number of interpretations. This year’s theme still allotted the artists a number of points for inspiration, but brought it all together in a more cohesive manner.

“Last year a lot of the art we got was stuff that already existed,” said Tona Pearson, co-organizer of this year’s event and member of Art Party, a collective with a studio at 400 West Rich. “[This year] they had to purposefully address the theme. I think it’s an experiment where everybody has to reach into their suspensions of disbelief, the spellbinding atmosphere that we had as young people [on Halloween] and bring that out in a more realistic thing for people to view. It’s the inside of people’s minds and their interpretations of what that means.”

The artists responded with enthusiasm.

“We have several artists, myself included, who have gone completely out of their normal media and are doing completely new things just because they were so excited by the idea,” Pearson said, alluding, in part, to her own “werewolf lady” created using felt made of human hair.

Pearson’s studio-mate W. Ralph Walters curated the art for this year’s “Fear Hundred,” while Pearson and her husband Randal focused on the performance aspects, which include high-flying feats by Movement Activities Aerial Dance, “hypnotic undulations” from Sacred Shimmy Belly Dance and local band Mummula, who perform in full-on mummy garb.

Walters is particularly excited by the art this year. The theme is the key.

“That’s the most interesting aspect about [the carnival and this art inspired by it],” Walters said during an interview at 400 West Rich. “It’s not fake, but embellished. Everyone did something that was either an interpretation, or insinuating it’s real, or it’s something, like I did, that’s clearly [inspired by the] fake. Everything blurs those lines. And that’s what carnival was.”

It’s quite the collection of art — anomalies and curiosities abound as subject matter, while the medium is similarly diverse. A mixture of two- and three-dimensional pieces brought about feelings of whimsy, wonder and fright, just like being at an actual carnival. (Alan Reeve’s small-scale outhouses with sideshow freaks acting somewhat normally particularly standout.)

The art, though, is only part of the attraction.

“We want it to be like a carnival, but one that’s slightly askew … making it slightly more fantastic and spookier than the actual carnival,” Walters said. “Last year, it was an art show with performers. This year we wanted to blur the line between the two.”

Carnival barkers will point out the art like carnival attractions, while jugglers and costumed sideshow freaks will abound, Walters said.

While “Fear Hundred” is obviously about giving people a bit of a scare, only now through art instead of a traditional haunted house, this year’s event plans to deliver those frights in a new way.

“What makes a sideshow spooky is not that it’s something truly horrible, but just seeing things that you normally don’t see,” Walters said. “It disturbs you only because you’re not used to it. It has far more to do with your own tolerance and experience than what you’re actually looking at. I like that it’s a completely human element and completely up to the individual as to how unnerved they’re going to be by a sideshow freak. In old carnivals you make what you want to see.”

Whatever you “want” to see at “Fear Hundred,” you’re sure to be spellbound by the pure spectacle of the art. And definitely the atmosphere it creates.

Photos by Meghan Ralston