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Posted Date: 03/6/2015

Top Trends in Haunts

Dorothy Creamer, Editor

he haunted attraction landscape is always evolving. Nowadays, eliciting true fright from guests is even more challenging as the competition becomes ever-fiercer and attendees expect more realism and technological show-stoppers than ever before. To sift through where the industry is headed, The Nightmare Zone queried haunt operators as to where they are investing dollars and what they are implementing for 2015. Their responses provide a clearer picture of what next-gen trends are really worth the time and money in order to truly have an impact.

Video Elements Enhance Entertainment Value
Incorporating video into haunted attractions has been gaining ground in recent years. In addition to projected effects that create ambiance and realistic haunted scenery, many operators are looking to expand the technology to keeping guests entertained prior to entering the haunt.  “Last year, we tested broadcasting video on the exterior of our building,” says Bob Tuer, owner of Fremont, Ohio-based Haunted Hydro (www.thehauntedhydro.com). “One thing we continually look at is what is going to give patrons the biggest bang for their buck. We realized that some of our patrons come with other people, but they don’t want to go into the haunt with them. We put together an independent movie to show on the side of the building and the response was tremendous.”

Tuer explains that the video diversion wasn’t just popular for the “cowards” as he affectionately calls them. “We were initially targeting the people who didn’t have anything else to do while waiting for their friends, but we came to realize that a lot of our patrons like to sit down between the haunts and they loved the video.” For 2015, Tuer plans to take the concept and do three.  “It involves a lot of video production and creativity because we don’t want to use copyrighted material or stock footage,” he reveals. “It’s not something we charge for, but it’s a huge added benefit.”

Interactive Haunts Push Extremes
Interactive experiences are nothing new for haunted attractions, but what is new is the level of immersion. Attendees often crave complete participation and want to feel like a part of the event. “We are always looking for creativity with an interactive nature,” Tuer admits. “In order to separate a haunt from others, you have to push the limits.”   

Testing the boundaries has led to a new wave of haunts that strive to tamper with the comfort level of guests. “More intense customer interaction is definitely trending,” admits Harold Lacks, owner of Creepy Hollow Haunted House (www.creepyhollowhauntedhouse.com) in Rosharon, Texas.   

Extreme haunts are emerging as a popular trend with many operations embracing tactics that involve more touching and the invading of personal space.  

One haunt that has experimented – and seen success – with more extreme concepts is Shocktoberfest (www.shocktoberfest.com) in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. To offer patrons an immersive experience, Shocktoberfest has developed several different attractions. These include its Prison of the Dead Escape, where guests are loaded onto a prison bus like actual inmates and an evil warden tries to incarcerate them. The Zombie Revenge Hayride recently added a paintball element to make it a more interactive experience. “Guests are given paintball guns and in certain areas are able to shoot live zombies that are attacking them,” explains owner Patrick Konopelski.

In Shocktoberfest’s “Unknown” section, the haunt preys upon man’s number one fear – the unknown. “We take a look at different phobias and utilize a lot of high-tech, three-dimensional, immersive effects,” Konopelski explains. “Visitors will get wet, hear crashes, and people will jump out and scare you. This is duplicated with different fears throughout.”

Shocktoberfest took this concept a step further and offered an extension called the Naked & Scared Challenge, which dared guests to go through the haunt totally naked. “It wasn’t designed with a sexual connotation,” Konopelski explains, “it was about the fear of exposing oneself to be as vulnerable as possible to heighten the level of fear and increase our ability to scare.”

Konopelski admits the scheme was perhaps a bit too aggressive and after getting feedback from the community, in 2014 revised the concept to be the “Almost Naked & Scared Challenge.” After signing a waiver, guests go through the haunted house in their underwear.  

Breaking Free from the Norm
Taking interaction another step farther is the allure of escape events. With the popularity of attractions like Escape the Room (www.escapetheroomnyc.com) in New York City, haunts are finding a demand from guests for an element of puzzle solving. Escape the Room is an interactive game where teams are locked in a room that is actually a puzzle. The teammates must find hidden objects, figure out the clues and solve the puzzles to ea their freedom within 60 minutes.

Rebecca Rose, from Eagle Hollow Haunts (www.eaglehollowhaunts.com) in St. Lincoln, Nebraska recognizes that “the escape room seems to be getting a lot of attention.” Rose reveals that in addition to adding queue entertainment, the haunt is looking to add an escape attraction for 2015.

“I think a lot of haunts will be tinkering with the escape room,” concurs Sean Norman of Wells Township Haunted House (www.wellstownshiphauntedhouse.com) in Brilliant, Ohio. “We’ll be adding a 3D escape zombie challenge for 2015.”

Konopeslki cautions that as haunts evolve it will be interesting to see how operators tread that thin line between haunted house and other sort of attraction entirely. This is especially true as haunts continue to add interactive elements. “When is it a haunted house and when is it not,” Konopelski questions. “When does it become laser tag or paintball with a haunt theme?”

Why to Offer Wi-Fi
“Something we’re starting to look at – that really hasn’t been done at a lot of haunted houses yet, but restaurants are doing it – is offering free Wi-Fi,” says Justin Hill, creative director of Portage, Indiana-based Haunted Hills (www.hauntedhillshospital.com). “While attendees are waiting to buy their tickets they will be able to access the Inteet. The idea is that then they can go to our website and see all of our promotions and venues, read our haunt’s story, read about our actors and icons – because a lot of them have their own backstory as well.”

Hill believes this strategy will help attendees be more involved and invested in the show. The Wi-Fi rollout gives guests something to do while they are waiting in line. “It’s something else we can offer to make customers happy,” Hill continues. “The thing about the haunted house world – it’s about scaring, but it’s also about entertaining. If a customer is annoyed by the time he walks in, he’s not going to be scared. You have to keep them happy in order for them to be scared.”

Lighting up Scares
Lighting has always been an integral part of haunted attraction scenery, from either the lack of it or creative use. The Bates Motel (www.thebatesmotel.com) plans to implement several new technologies in 2015, including LED lighting that is coupled to digital lighting technology. “The LED lighting is low-voltage and a lot less power is used,” explains owner Randy Bates. “It’s a bit more expensive, but will really enhance the show.”

Additionally, Bates plans to implement new computer controls that will allow operators to tu lights on and off while people are going through the haunt so they can’t see what’s ahead. They will also be able to control different scenes and use lighting as a distraction for a scare.

Smartphones =Smart Marketing
Savvy haunters are looking for ways to connect with current and potential guests through their smartphones. Marketing programs targeting mobile devices are driving sales as the next generation of guests are constantly tethered to their devices. “I think mobile smart devices are the future and we are exploring new avenues and apps for these devices,” admits Bates. The Bates Motel recently upgraded its website to be mobile friendly. Now when a guest visits the site on a smartphone it automatically transfers to the mobile version where the guest can buy a ticket right on the phone and join the line for entry.

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