The haunt industry needs a desperate wake-up call, a blunt kick in the face to really inject new interest. As we travel to so many haunts, despite what we are told, lines and crowds seem to be down at places which would have once had endless numbers of guests fight to get into their show. As the larger, more powerful haunts continue to grow and expand, the smaller mom-and-pop shows refuse to step outside the box and realize that they too need to modernize. Furthermore, even some of the more mainstream haunted attractions never change, or what change is presented is not really worth additional price or repeat visits. Stagnation and ignorance is a poison in the industry, which is starting to impact crowds at certain haunted attractions really. It is fascinating as to how many haunt owners or managers have no clue or no interest in what their competition is doing and operate in a bubble.
Even when provided new information or ideas there is a reluctance and perhaps a fear of making changes to not only compete within their area but to grow their shows for years to come. When presented with this thought, many haunt operators become defensive, stating that change is costly, and they can’t afford to make any drastic alterations to their shows. What they fail to realize is that changes or alterations can be done with little to no cost. Pure ignorance, perhaps misguided pride and it is difficult sometimes to accept that it is time to make changes. It is time for the industry to evolve, and for those tired, worn out shows, customers are wise to quality shows.
The haunted attraction industry is not easy, and we applaud those who pour their blood, sweat, tears, and money into their shows. We understand the logistics behind operating haunts big and small, but some haunts refuse to realize their full potential. As larger haunts continue to expand, if significant changes are not made and modernized systems not put in place, smaller haunts may go the way of the Dinosaur. It is absolutely depressing sometimes to see haunts just wait until the end, sticking to there so called time-tested methods of scaring which have lost their effectiveness.
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 quite possibly 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.”
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 in execution 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 true 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 not only to 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.
Not all haunted attractions have fallen behind the times, and a few attractions have reached a level of excellence in terms of showmanship and/or haunt operations. From an operational and entertainment standpoint, you would be hardpressed to find a better attraction than Reaper’s Revenge. An indication of a quality attraction is directly related to its word of mouth or groundswell popularity. Every single haunted attraction we have visited so far this season has resulted in the same situation……… While waiting in line, guests around us talk about how good Reaper’s Revenge is, or that this haunt is supposedly better than Reapers Revenge and so on. These conversations are being held regularly across the tristate area. Reapers Revenge is becoming the standard bearer for haunt excellence, and that is due to the level of focus the team of Reaper’s Revenge has for creating a first-class show every single night. Extensive year-long planning is undertaken to improve actor quality, operations and continuously build attractions that prevent the overall package from becoming complacent. People are comparing there haunts to Reaper’s Revenge, and this demonstrates that the massive 90-minute haunt has truly “arrived.”
Brighton Asylum, in Passaic, NJ, is a tribute to horror, an attraction that is so detailed and artistically almost perfect that it is hard to believe the attraction is “real.” An extreme obsession to operate “haunt perfection” drives the success of this long-running attraction, and quality is of the highest caliber. Brighton Asylum is a budget intensive show, and one that is must see each season, but other smaller-scale haunts are doing a fantastic job of presenting a quality show as well this year. For example, haunts such as Massacre Mansion in Scranton, PA, Fear Hollow in Mountain Top, PA, Brokenharts Asylum in Dallas, PA and Horror Hall, in West Nanticoke PA, have created authentic “funhouse” style haunt with such high quality that it is unfathomable that haunt fans are not flocking to these attractions. While sure these attractions may not be as refined as mainstream haunts, but they display a passion for haunting that can be felt in all aspects of their design. Other attractions who perhaps appear on “Buzzfeed” or other nonsense list sites are far from as advertised and the public is starting to wake up.
Halls of Horror, in Palmerton, PA, is the most innovative haunted attraction we have ever visited. A perfect blend of “extreme” and “traditional,” this haunt each season finds new ways to surprise and create a brand new show that is better than the year before. Hotel of Horror in Saylorsburg, PA, Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City, PA, Total Fear NYZ in Deer Park NY, Field of Screams in Mountville, PA, Haunted Scarehouse in Wharton, NJ, Bane Haunted House in Livingston, NJ, Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, in Glen Mills, PA, Circle of Screams, in Dickson City, PA and Pure Terror Screampark, in Monroe, NY are just a few examples of haunts that take their show and quality of performance seriously. Dorney Park each season presents a world-class show that caters to horror fans of ALL backgrounds yet does not cut corners in quality, in fact, Dorney Park’s Haunt is custom built each season, with production values that rival major Hollywood productions. Generally speaking, guests may not realize the work that goes into the “amusement” park haunt, but it should be on your list each year as a must visit. Not all these haunts may be your favorite, and some you may simply dislike but they all have demonstrated a commitment to a quality show, that respects its customers.
For those haunts who need an extra level of motivation to “evolve.” we have free advice for you(or at least a start):
- Promotion: All haunts should have an easy to use well-designed web page and active social media presence. Furthermore, if you advertise, certain scenes and pictures of characters make sure they actually represent the haunt! Also, flyers, professionally done signage, etc. goes a long way towards improving guest perception.
- Actor Training: Scare actors need to understand that yelling “get out,” “die” and “play with me” are annoying, generic and useless. Haunt managers are best served in helping guide actors to understand their roles, understand their scenes and conduct themselves professionally. Spend resources on actors, creating characters that are NOT just people with masks and hoodies on. Quality acting and performances make a show and can help turn a mediocre haunt into an excellent one.
- Professionalism: Professionalism is a key component of haunt success. Every single guest deserves the best show possible. It should NOT matter if the show is “small” or “charity” based those are not excuses. Talking on cell phones, breaking character, etc. should not be tolerated in a show, and demonstrates to the guest that they have wasted their time and money.
- Line Management: Manage lines based on crowds and use in-attraction scenes to prevent “conga line” effect. Do not wait until a certain number of guests line up to start a show, or throw to many people into a haunt at the same time. For example, cramming people onto a hayride robs those in the center of the chance to see the show.
- Set Development: Haunts should strive to use design to maximize the positives of their show. Unique set designs and scenes do not have to be costly, but an understanding of what causes fear. Darkness, sound, and misdirection all build tension and haunts need not light up their rooms like a museum.
- Long Term: Haunts always should be looking to the future while focusing on the present. There is nothing more annoying and generally absurd than when an owner says “wait till next year,” then repeats the same line again. Get your show in order now and a legitimate long-term plan in place!
- Bonus Events: Haunts should look for bonus events and opportunities to co-brand with other businesses. Host special events, concerts, etc. and bring additional entertainment value to each show. Explore new technologies, haunting strategies etc. and display a passion for the future!
We all love the haunt industry and want to see it thrive. Furthermore, we all have a special place in our hearts for those haunts of years past that no longer have the same quality as they once did. Every single show should always focus on the “customer” first, no matter how big or small. We wish everyone a continued happy haunt season, enjoy each attraction and support those businesses that EARN and RESPECT your support!
Note: The original title of this article was “Your Haunt Sucks” based off of funny reactions we have received from “scare-actors” and “haunters” of attractions that have received less than stellar feedback.