For thrill-seekers desiring to look fear in the eye, the Halloween season is eagerly anticipated. Across the country, haunted attractions aim to provide the most intense, heart-thumping experience to spook these gluttons for terror. A look into the 2010 season reveals some hits and misses of this past year and sheds light into new ways haunted attractions will inspire horror in the future.
Terror Behind the Walls, at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pa., has been frightening visitors for 19 years. The penitentiary, which once housed Al Capone, was abandoned in the 1970s and its dilapidated feel is just right for setting the creepy tone the staff has in mind.
Brett Bertolino, assistant program director for operations and special events, attributed a successful 2010 season to several new features. “We added an ‘escape’ show this year. While guests were waiting in the queue, the lights would go out and an inmate would escape. The actors performed this choreographed show before the guests entered, so it was unexpected. People didn’t want to move forward in the line, so as not to miss the show,” Bertolino said. There are plans to build upon this experience for the 2011 season, with a new attraction at the entrance.
“We also offered a VIP experience this year,” said Bertolino. “For $99, guests could take a private tour of the prison, ushered by a tour guide. Afterward, VIP guests headed to the front of the line for the haunted house.” The VIP experience was sold out most Friday and Saturday nights, allowing the penitentiary a way to bring in money other than just admission to the haunted house.
Bertolino said an area to improve upon is marketing. “We have to figure out the best way to spend our money to promote an eight-week season. I am not sure we marketed early enough this year, as we had a slow start. We have to look at attendance data and analyze if it is best to spend more earlier or later,” Bertolino said.
Also in Pennsylvania is Horrorfest, in Yardley. General Manager Dave Fleming said the best part of the past season was the great weather. “The last two years were rough with weather, but this year was fabulous,” said Fleming. “People came out to enjoy stage shows and bonfires. School kids came to our teen dance party and the support of the schools really helped spread the word.”
Horrorfest customers have said they would love to see some change, so the theme of the haunts will be updated in 2011. “Right now we have four individual haunts, but, going forward, we plan to have one overall theme to our attractions,” Fleming said.
“We also want to continue to fill the family friendly niche. We want to be scary, but also want your kids to feel safe coming here during the day to pick pumpkins. Our barn haunted house is our scariest feature, but the other attractions, while spooky, are still family friendly,” Fleming said.
In Baton Rouge, La., those searching for a fright can visit the 13th Gate, where owner Dwayne Sanburn and his crew are constantly looking for new ways to terrorize visitors. With professional make-up and scenic artists, each haunt and character are designed to look as real as possible.
“A hit this year was our sunken submarine with attack squid,” said Sanburn. “We love to think outside the box and to keep it fresh. We are constantly redefining ourselves.”
Social media also added to a successful season. “We’ve been concentrating more on Facebook and Twitter to gain more attention. MTV held a contest this year to find the scariest attraction in the country and we had to solicit votes through social media sites. This avenue really helped us and it was fun to watch our votes increase,” Sanburn said.
There is always room for improvement and, next year, Sanburn said he will move the box office away from the haunt, to lessen the crowds. Also new for 2011 will be a New Orleans-style cemetery, where guests will see a voodoo fire show that raises the dead and then they will walk 13 steps down to an open grave. Finally, they will come upon a crypt they must navigate to find their way out.
Patrick Barberry, general manager of Legends of The Fog, in Aberdeen, Md., began plans for this fright fest in 2006. The attraction, featuring four haunts, rests on the Barberry family’s Aldino Sod Farms, owned and operated since 1974.
“Our 2010 season was amazing, due to great weather,” said Barberry. “Last year we lost five nights because of rain.” In addition to fantastic weather, Barberry attributed the successful season to some changes made to operations. “Our haunted hayride is the most popular attraction, so, in the past, the line would be 90-120 minutes long. Then, later in the evening, the two haunted houses would get slammed with traffic. We had to find a way to eliminate this hassle,” stated Barberry. “This year, guests could proceed through our haunts in a sequential pattern. This eliminated the extreme wait times of the previous year, giving us an increased customer approval rating.”
Plans for 2011 are already underway. “There will be a big rebuild for our hayride and we are also looking into adding another haunt. Plans for a great two to three hour stage show are also in the works, to entertain guests while they are waiting in the queue. They can also come back to enjoy the show after they’ve gone through the haunts,” Barberry said. Back in 2000, Bruce Stanton created a spooktacular haunt right in his own yard. It became so successful, he eventually moved it to a community center and then to a 25,000-square-foot space at the Janss Marketplace in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where it still stands. Currently, Stanton utilizes 8,500 square feet of the space, but has plans to add a new attraction for 2011, which will grow the space by another 1,500 square feet.
“The third haunt for next season will be a haunted house, called Blood Manor. We already have a Victorian-style haunted house, so this new one will be more of the blood and gore style,” Stanton said.
A huge hit in 2010 was the new insane asylum. Said Stanton, “We were able to get into the space earlier this year, so we could pay much more attention to detail. We also were more actor-driven this year, which really helped intensify the scare. The actors could read the audience and knew just how to evoke that fear.” Stanton also added more entertainment in the queue this year and that was a huge benefit as guests did not mind the wait as much. “We pride ourselves on the intimacy of sending in small parties at a time. With the entertainment in the queue, guests are much happier about the wait.”
This year, Thousand Oaks had a bit more drizzle than usual, so if there was one downfall to the 2010 season, it was weather. Unfortunately, that is out of anyone’s control, so luckily for Stanton, the screamingly brilliant detail, skilled actors, lighting and sound effects were terrifying enough to keep crowds rolling in, despite the weather. –