Innovation in the haunted attraction industry is often driven by the unseen and often scoffed at work of those pioneers who challenge the concept of what a “haunted” attraction can be. These mavericks defy the traditional boundaries of horror-infused entertainment, striving to skew the lines between reality and fiction. Haunt enthusiasts, and the public is becoming aware of the diversity and in some cases the disparity that exists within the industry. Major haunted attractions have the resources and power to dominate markets, while small “mom and pop” shows must rely on their traditional core fans to drive business. Evolution and change within the industry are ushering in what probably can be considered a “boom period” for quality attractions. More and more haunts are focusing on tailoring their shows based on guest reactions, focusing efforts on “scare actor” training, character development and design. The days of random actors walking around in store-bought masks are quickly coming to an end as each attraction understands the need to create a first-class show. Our reviews and continued analysis of the industry will always focus on each event or show’s quality. Logistically, some haunt reviewers or the public leave negative comments on a haunt based on factors that are beyond controllable. For example, even the best line management systems are stressed during “busy” season as haunts approach Halloween yet customers seem to expect instant service. It is important that any haunt fan is provided the best information that helps them judge where they should spend their money, as well as understand the challenges and dedicated work that goes into the creation of what one can consider “horror art.”
As we approach the 2017 season, it is important that we appreciate the innovators that take on the challenge of creating immersive horror, that broaden the horizon of what haunts can be, and respect the professional operations of those attractions worthy of your dollar.
Not all innovation has to be “immersive” in nature but haunts such as those operated by Fringe Media, and Halls of Horror, push the boundaries beyond typical expectations. Founded on the idea that horror fans deserve a more personal experience, each of these unique haunts incorporates a sense of reality that at times challenges guests to complete attractions and face their innermost fears. These attractions, sometimes grouped into a classification known as the “extreme” haunt, are hands-on, they require guests to remove themselves from comfort zones, and embrace the notion that they are no longer in control of their destinies. The powerful social messages conveyed through these “immersive” events blend the performance art of the haunt industry with psychological introspection.
The tristate area is a treasure trove of haunted attractions, and the ever-growing industry is quickly on the verge of blurring the lines between the “traditional” haunt experience and one which would be immersive. Immersive horror theater shows, and “extreme” haunts typically frowned upon by the major players in the industry are now influencing design and style decisions. So many major haunted attraction owners will downplay the impact of such innovative haunts, yet it is almost impossible to ignore the influence these places have in the ever-evolving industry. There will likely always be a place for the “traditional” haunted attraction, but we are now approaching an era when guests can truly be immersed in a “horror movie” come to life. Innovation drives change, and change is sometimes “scary,” and many of the personal, interactive experiences guests will encounter this year will never give credit to the pioneers who have moved the industry into a new era. Psychological, visceral horror generated by the challenging questions posed by these more immersive experiences, cultivate genuine fear, one in which each guest must make decisions based on their own preconceived notions. This is the beauty of the haunt industry, as no other entertainment avenue has the potential to not only entertain, but to help guests confront their darkest versions of themselves. “Extreme” or “immersive” shows are not truly violent escapades but designs aimed at bringing out of their comfort zone, and the spirit of the design process can be immediately felt. If these niche attractions did not exist, it is likely the industry itself would still be considered a novelty.
The haunt industry itself is far more complicated than what the public may realize. From an entertainment standpoint, the days of the traditional “boo” haunt are slowly going the way of the Dinosaur, as seasoned horror fans seek out new experiences. Immersive, or firsthand experiences are what drives a haunt’s grassroots success, as word of mouth can play an influential role in a haunt’s reputation. Large mainstream haunts such as Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary have started exploring ways to create immersive horror experiences within the context of their traditional, large-scale shows. Furthermore, these unique, sometimes more mature experiences are even making their way into the most unexpected of attractions. For example, Dorney Park’s “Haunt,” has toyed with the idea of allowing guests to pay an extra fee to partake in a more personal, interactive show. It is entirely possible if it was not for the “immersive horror movement” that these changes and emphasis on providing a personal experience would not be a priority. The tristate area has some of the best, and diverse haunted attractions in the world, and competition fuels growth.
From a mainstream standpoint, 2017 is likely the year that truly highlights the amazing work completed by haunter in the tristate area. Transworld’s Legendary Haunt Tour will be featuring what quite possibly are the three-best overall haunted attractions anyone could ever visit, our personal favorite Reaper’s Revenge, the legendary Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, and another world-class haunt Field of Screams. Industry recognition is a major hallmark of quality attractions and some of the best are featured in the tri-state area.
While we have viewed so many “top ten” lists plastered over haunted attraction social media web pages, we feel it is unnecessary to produce such a list based on fictitious or bought votes. Furthermore, we have never subscribed to a system where we rate a haunt based on extraneous factors (i.e., food vendor quality). Our review/content creation focus has always been on three factors; professionalism, show quality, and attraction design. We understand the immense challenges that go into operating haunted attractions, budgetary, and staffing constraints, and we always try to avoid comparing haunts to one another. The haunt industry is a complicated business and one that is driven by passion, and it is important to consider all factors of a show’s execution before publishing a review. Therefore, instead of listing a false “Top 10” list, we will once again briefly define our favorite attractions to visit and provide a brief rationale as to why we look forward to their shows in 2017. Of course, this list is subjective, and it is likely we will find more enjoyable haunts this season, but this provides at least a solid framework of which attractions should be considered this season.
Reaper’s Revenge Haunted Hayride
Halls of Horror Blood Experience
Hotel of Horror and Altered Nightmares
Field of Screams
Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary
Dorney Park Haunt
Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride
Total Fear NYZ/Fringe Horror
Circle of Screams
Frightworld America’s Screampark
Bane Haunted House
Pure Terror Screampark
Elysburg Haunted House
Massacre Mansion Haunted House
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