The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride (Bates Motel) is an iconic haunted attraction, the forefather to the modern haunt industry as one may know it and still in many regards the “standard-bearer” for haunt excellence. Closing in on thirty years of operation, Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride have evolved into an almost “automated” show, one that is efficiently run, relies heavily on massive set designs and animatronics with less emphasis on scare-actors to create the show. “Larger than life” is a great way to describe the design philosophy of all attractions at the Bates Motel, especially the famous “Haunted Hayride,” which indeed is the “star” and best attraction featured on the property. What is somewhat frustrating is the larger scale overall lack of massive changes or upgrades to the attraction over the past few seasons. We understand the economics associated with upgrading or adding attractions, but as a fan, Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride’s design team is likely one of if not the best in the industry when they build a new scene or add to an attraction. Each season the attraction adds or revamps a few scenes, and those changes are so impressive we only wish they were done on a larger scale to give an entirely fresh feel to the attractions at Bates Motel. It is almost a “tease” to see such fantastic scene and prop development on a scene to scene bases, and we hope to see more improvements and changes as the attraction will celebrate its 30th year. After seeing the new improvements this season on a smaller scale (which is still far more significant in size than most haunted attractions) we were reminded quickly of the talent behind the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride’s creative and design endeavors.
Once again one of the best haunted “scare parks” you can visit, it seems as though the attraction has been injected with new energy, and hopefully will leave us shocked once again next year as the legendary attraction turns 30! Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride is STILL an industry leader and a first-class haunted attraction that holds even greater potential to dominate the industry for generations to come. Every single aspect of operations from art design to management of customer service is undertaken at the highest level of professionalism and serves as a positive industry model on how to operate a “haunted attraction.”
Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride feature three major haunted attractions, the “Haunted Hayride,” the “Revenge of the Scarecrow Haunted Trail” and “Bates Motel” indoor walk-through. While waiting for each attraction, guests can visit concession stands, engage in a new “Zombie Hunt” maze, “ax throw,” partake in a short escape room or take a “coffin” ride, and purchase merchandise. Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride have always been a leader in giving guests a great “customer” experience and a reason to stay an entire evening at the attraction with multiple activities that complement the three core attractions.
The Haunted Hayride
“Haunted Hayride” is the centerpiece of the Bates Motel attractions and is an action-packed experience featuring some of the most impressive set designs, and large-scale animatronic props in the industry. The mood is set as the wagon enters a familiar “Dragon’s Mouth,” featuring an encounter with a massive fire-breathing dragon, to the opening theme from Batman 1989, and the attraction has added a multitude new scenes and changes to its classic set pieces. From animatronic giant dinosaurs to dragons, the life-like movie quality monsters are at times awe-inspiring and create a sense of immersion within a farm quite unlike any other hayride we have ever visited.
The numerous actors of the “Haunted Hayride” aggressively touch, grab, and are hidden effectively throughout the trail. The scenes and sets themselves are of the highest quality, featuring pyrotechnic displays and diverse themes that captivate guests. Iconic scenes such as a “moonshiners” farm to the pure insanity of the “Darkwoods State Hospital,” to a massive “pre-historic/ Jurassic Park inspired” themed set, the scenes are creatively designed, feature intricate details and soundtracks that are specific to each story told by the attraction. The design of the hayride overall has not changed much from last year, with changes made primarily to a “Gas station explosion scene” and enhancements to the “Bates Motel” Zombie infestation experience.
We are also hoping that more actors get added back into the attraction as at times, it felt rather lifeless and automated. Furthermore, while still scene-specific, the sound system is transmitted by a wagon-bound speaker system, and while a few scenes have additional sound effects it would vastly enhance the classic scenes if the sound was built into each set itself. Despite these minor areas of potential improvement, “Haunted Hayride” is still one of the best, most automated, and immersive attractions in the industry and really stands out in terms of the large-scale size, scope, and design of the set pieces and use of massive animatronic props and monsters.
“Bates Motel” is a classical, vintage haunted house walk-through attraction that is filled with detailed scenes, high-impact scares, and a “funhouse” feel in a traditional sense. Heavily augmented by technology, interactive rooms, and endless surprises, the “Bates Motel” is designed to the highest quality, with a realistic representation of what a “haunted house” can be. Classic scenes such as a library, blood-soaked bathroom, grotesque kitchen, “hunters display”, and the outdoor greenhouse are still featured and are highly detailed sets that still set the standard for indoor walk-through attractions. “Bates Motel” has moments of claustrophobia in which talented scare actors taunt and torment, and some hang from walls are lifted into the air, etc. as the “Bates Motel” is a special effects fan’s dream. We have never witnessed such a gory use of animatronics, from smashing heads spewing blood to the creative use of computer-generated images the technology implemented into the “Bates Motel” enhances the vintage experience. The automated scenes and animatronics induce effective startle scares, along with talented scare actors, which again are far more hands-on and interactive than previous years. In a small group environment, the scares and details generated are heightened, and we were indeed able to appreciate the quality of this attraction. So much time could be spent just exploring this classic, detailed attraction that, despite its familiarity and age, the attraction still holds up as one of the best “haunted houses.”
Revenge of the Scarecrow Haunted Trail
“Revenge of the Scarecrow Haunted Trail” has received numerous upgrades over the past two seasons to create a fresh experience. While some of the traditional scenes (hillbilly family, a snake house, and perhaps a house of spiders) can use change and upgrades, overall, the additions to the attraction have moved this once tired attraction in a positive direction. A brand new (two season old) “church” like facade, leading through a lengthy bat-infested tunnel transform the farm-environment of the Bates property and lead into a trail that by and large is action-packed. For the first time in many seasons, we found scare actors more effectively hidden as evil “scarecrows” and were utterly blown away by a brand new “circus/clown” scene that we only wish was longer.
Cautiously hidden amongst the cornstalks lies one of the creepiest, eerie yet inviting “clown/circus” scenes we have ever seen in a haunted attraction. A scene that is clearly inspired by “Stephen King’s It” married with a vintage circus theme, the realism yet surreal nature of this scene is a reminder of the talent that is responsible for creating this iconic attraction. From unique art design to realistic representations of a “sewer” the entire experience has a “wow” factor that is augmented by a disturbing soundtrack and scare-actors that are hidden entirely amongst the props and animatronics. This one scene/set alone left such a positive impact on us that we found our enjoyment of the rest of the attraction (which features again very similar scenes as previous years including a violent butcher scene, chainsaw escape, etc.) to be heightened. Some of the more interactive and creepy actors were featured in a “graveyard scene” and what is a staple of Bates attractions, actors flew from above and at times appeared out of nowhere in creative startle/surprise scares. We were that impressed by this new set and hope that the trail continues to receive upgrades, and new themes in line with the quality of the brand-new circus/clown set next season and beyond. What can be improved is the pacing of the groups within the attraction. Despite only eight people in line, and no one in site the staff herded all eight people into the attraction. Luckily once inside groups decided to pace themselves cautiously to see the entire show but there is no reason to pile in that many people unless necessary as it completely ruins the potential scares.
Two cardinal sins of haunted attractions should be avoided at all costs; 1. Guests should not be forced into attractions in unnecessarily large groups unless there is a need due to overcrowding and 2. Guests should NEVER be forced to sit in the center of a hay wagon or against the back wall where they cannot see any scenes or interact with any actors. People pay their hard-earned money for a quality show, and time management should take into account for large and small crowds while maximizing show quality.
The Final Word
When motivated and hungry, the creative and design team of the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride can bring to life lifelike scenes and themes that transform an entire farm into a fantastical, horror-filled nightmare. Perhaps a sleeping giant, the success of this attraction has been challenged by a growing number of competitors, all of which to some degree are inspired by the attraction’s design and operational model. Seeing the vast improvements to the hayride over the past two seasons, and the brand-new scene featured in the cornfield, we were reminded that this industry juggernaut should not be taken lightly and perhaps has been reinvigorated by the growing competitiveness and quality found in the industry. Catering to a broad base and operating almost every night during the week in October, Bates Motel aims to cover all the bases in terms of “Halloween entertainment” and continues to successfully accomplish this goal.
While the “Haunted Hayride” may be the overall most impressive, centerpiece attraction undergoing several massive changes over the past few years such as a breathtaking “Jurassic Park inspired scene”, brand new “Darkwoods Insane Asylum”, post-apocalyptic “Madd Maxx inspired scene”, enhanced zombie-infested “Bates Motel/Zombie infestation scene” and this season a vintage 1960’s era exploding “gas station” (along with classic scenes such as a “graveyard/burial”, and “PA Mine Shaft” among others), this season the design team once again focused on enhancing the “Haunted Trail” walk-through attraction (which last year featured a brand new church-like facade). We were told that the circus-tent was removed, and a new “vintage” themed clown/carnival scene added, which at first, we did not anticipate being anything special, but as mentioned previously, left wanting more.
Historically we have always found the “Revenge of the Scarecrow Haunted Trail” attraction to be the weakest at Bates Motel, but after visiting this season, our opinions have vastly changed, and it ended up being our favorite attraction of the evening. The quality of enhanced scene design undertaken last year, and especially this year with what is best described as a vintage evil circus that is also a movie-quality tribute to the movie “Stephen King’s It” demonstrates the fantastic creative and design abilities of the talented team behind The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride. While not an actor “heavy” event, those actors featured are exceptionally well trained, play their defined roles perfectly and rarely break character ensuring that each guest gets a quality show and presentation. Professionalism and quality operations have always been a hallmark of this iconic attraction, and again Bates Motel focuses on giving the guests excellent value for their pricing model. We hope to see continued upgrades and changes to the “Bates Motel” attraction itself in the future and are excited to see what the attraction’s design team has planned for next year’s 30th anniversary!
We would like to thank Cosimo Mariano De Rita, for the hospitality and access to this legendary show along with visionaries Randy and Ben Bates.