With just 45 days until Halloween, haunted houses, spooky hayrides, ghost tours, zombie walks, cemetery séances and other panic-producing destinations across the country are gearing up for what’s known as “haunt season” — the only time of year that people willingly pay money to be scared.
You could call it terror tourism — and it’s frighteningly big business. Haunted attractions are a $6 billion dollar industry and growing, according to the Haunted Attraction Association and for hundreds of thousands of folks across the country, visiting a haunted attraction is as much a fall tradition as eating pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.
This season, the association is predicting successfully dark days ahead. Owners and operators are utilizing state-of-the-art special effects, audio-animatronic creatures and Hollywood-quality makeup, masks, costumes, lighting gear and sound equipment to create unique experiences that put attendees in the center of the action.
“These aren’t like any haunts you’ve seen in the past five years,” says Patrick Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association, in a press release. “With innovative thinkers and modern technology behind them, our members have reinvented the 2013 Halloween season.”
Rick Pierce, owner of The Dark Manor, (www.darkmanorproductions.com), a haunted destination in the Baltic section of Sprague that draws thousands of visitors from throughout New England each year, says special effects and illusions continue to evolve and improve. His attraction, which includes both an indoor haunted house and outdoor graveyard and haunted village, features scores of actors, thunder, fog, animatronics, a terrifying sound track and plenty of fake blood.
“We’re continually changing and updating,” he says. “People love to be scared and that’s exactly what we do.”
In fact, some of the Halloween happenings are so frightening, they carry warnings on their websites. The Dark Manor is not recommended for visitors under age 13, pregnant women or anyone with a heart condition. (The attraction schedules several tamer matinees for smaller kids.)
Trail of Terror, an outdoor haunted venue in Wallingford, (www.trailofterror.com), also posts warnings on its website, advising those with asthma, heart conditions, vertigo, seizures and respiratory conditions, or pregnant women to avoid the attraction. Children under 10 are discouraged; those under five are not allowed.
Haunted attraction themes are affected by popular culture, says Pierce.
“Haunted trends change,” says Pierce. “Classics like Frankenstein and Freddie Kruger are always popular, but these days, zombies and other undead characters are big.”
With “Sleepy Hollow” premiering on Fox this fall, haunt-goers can also expect to see plenty of headless horsemen.
If you’re planning a trip to a haunted destination, be sure to check the website for discount coupons and confirm hours, ticket availability and age recommendations before you go. Some events sell out in advance and outdoor attractions often close in inclement weather. A number of websites, including www.hauntedhouse.com, www.hauntedattractionassociation.com and www.hauntworld.com, feature listings of haunted attractions across the country.
New England has a number of popular haunted tourist destinations.
>>An estimated 250,000 visitors visit Salem. Mass. during October for psychic readings, haunted houses, cemetery tours, costume balls, witch trial reenactments and other Haunted Happening Festival activities. (www.HauntedHappenings.org).
>>Spooky World and Nightmare New England, (www.nightmarenewengland.com), is a huge Halloween scream, er, theme park on the banks of the Merrimack River in Litchfield, New Hampshire. The park features six different haunted attractions, (including one where visitors get shocked by electricity), along with a midway featuring zombie paintball and Tarot card readings.
>>Haunted attractions take place in abandoned asylums, cemeteries, old factory buildings, camps, farms, and parks. The Asylum of Horror, (www.asylumofhorror.com), housed in an old mill in Fall River, Mass., bills itself as “the next level in ultimate horror.” Also in Fall River, the Factory of Terror, (www.factoryofterror.com), located in an abandoned factory building, features 30 frightening rooms, secret passageways, underground tunnels and a recreations of Lizzie Borden’s bedroom.
Closer to home, Connecticut haunted happenings include the following:
>>Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours at The Mark Twain House. Offered on Friday evenings in October, each hour-long tour explores dark chapters from the Clemens family’s history and Victorian traditions involving Spiritualism and death and visits area where people have had unexplained encounters with the paranormal. Recommended for ages 10 and up Reservations required: $20 for adults, $13 for children 16 and under. (recommended ages 10 and up). Information: www.marktwainhouse.org or 860-280-3130.
>>On Cedar Hill’s Haunted History Lantern Tour, Friday, Oct. 25, from 6 to 9:30 p.m., attendees visit the final resting places of some of Cedar Hill’s notable and not-so-notable residents. (Character actors share some true-yet-darker-tales.) Admission is $12 and reservations are required. Recommended for those 13 and older. Information: 860-956-3311.
>>Visit the Dark Walk Haunted Camp Tour and Haunted House in Andover and you’ll hop on a bus and “Head Off” to camp. The attraction was featured in “Haunted Attraction” and “ScareWorld” magazines. Tickets are $22 online and $25 at the door. Dates and information: www.darkwalk.net.
>>Nightmare On Wolcott St. in Waterbury is an 30-room haunted house featuring actors, strobe lights, fog and other special effects. Admission is $10. Information: www.nightmareonwolcottstreet.com.