It’s been too long!
Well, the pandemic did one heck of a reset for us here at TheFright.com but we are back and heading off to Midsummer Scream 2022. We are frightfully excited to see all the new things this year. There’s going to be a ton of exhibitors and we just can’t wait to see all the walk-throughs in The Hall of Shadows!
We can’t wait to overload on horror & all things Halloween, Very soon, we’ll have more to share here on our site! See you there!
This year we had the unique opportunity to go to both Six Flags Fright Fests in California; Fright Fest Discovery Kingdom and Fright Fest Magic Mountain. Both parks put on a pretty good show, but we have to admit that one of them was a little better than the other.
Park Entry Differences
The main difference between the parks is definitely cost. A regular ticket to entry into to Magic Mountain (no mazes) is currently about $93 whereas Discovery Kingdom is about $73. Oddly, parking at Magic Mountain is $25 and Discovery Kingdom is $30. But none of this matters if you have a membership with parking, which we recommend.
Not all Fright Fests cost the same!
We were very surprised to find out the cost differences between the two parks. It’s a HUGE difference! Magic Mountain only charges $20 for their Fright Fest maze wristband while Discovery Kingdom was a whopping $40! If you want the front-of-the-line VIP wristband, it will cost you an extra $15 at Magic Mountain and $10 extra at Discovery Kingdom. We only recommend the VIP pass on the heavier days, closer to Halloween.
Parking & meal passes are covered with the same pass!
We were delighted to find out that our membership passes with the parking add-on at Magic Mountain covered our Discovery Kingdom parking, too! Once in the park (admittance already covered with our membership) we were again pleased to find out that our meal pass and souvenir cup that we bought at Magic Mountain, also worked at Discovery Kingdom! As Six Flags pass membership holders, we were able to use a special coupon from our membership app that gave us a great buy one, get one free deal on our wristbands for the Magic Mountain Fright Fest maze wristbands.
This deal was only good on the first & second weekends of Fright Fest.
All the mazes were great!
Overall, the mazes in both parks were really good. They both offered 6 each. Our favorites were Magic Mountain’s Condemned & Nightmare Manor at Discovery Kingdom. We noticed that Magic Mountain’s scare actor performances were noticeably much better this year. Discovery Kingdom’s were pretty much at the same performance level. We did prefer some of the themes at Discovery kingdom more, but were a little disappointed at how many of them felt a little too short.
Discovery Kingdom had very unique experiences
The one-of-a-kind maze that you could only have at Discovery kingdom was really cool! In their Captian Bloat\’s Shipwreck of Horror maze, their huge shark aquarium exhibit was part of the maze! We also really enjoyed the carnival antics of Carnevil. We also loved the small theme park charm that Discovery Kingdom had.
Magic Mountain was still our favorite!
The scare zones were great at Discovery Kingdom but the mazes were just not quite as good as Magic Mountain’s. Once you add in the fact that you will have to pay double for the full Fright Fest experience at Discovery Kingdom, it’s clear that you will get more for your money at Magic Mountain. Don’t get us wrong though; we still think Discovery Kingdom’s Fright Fest is very worth while!
This year, Midsummer Scream in Long Beach, CA, really outdid themselves! The extended their newly famous horror & Halloween convention to include the entire convention center! Everything Halloween & horror you could imagine was there!
Fun for all ages!
This time we decided to take the kids along to get a different perspective of the event. Many have been asking, “is this event ok for kids?” we can thoroughly say, “YES!” Besides the seemingly endless rows of exhibitors, the kids had a great time at Paranormal Pixe’s Pumpkin Patch. This kids area featured all sorts of fun, including a Magician, a classic marionette puppet show, storytelling, coloring, and lots of balloon animal fun!
Black Cat Lounge
The kids also got to enjoy the very popular Black Cat lounge where they got to pet and play with rescue kitties in a very special room, set up just for them. Kitten Rescue had so many little cuties in there! It was just too much! Kitten Rescue is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization dedicated to saving homeless and abandoned cats and kittens. As much as we wanted to take one home, we had to leave them there, this time. It was good to know that many of them found their forever home.
This year Midsummer Scream had over 300 exhibitors & vendors! This year is the 50th anniversary of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and the very Imagineer that invented the “Doom Buggy”, Bob Gurr was there! He told us that his secret to success was to always say, “Yes, I can do that!” and then figure out later how to make it happen. It was truly a magical moment and honor to meet him.
We also ran into an awful lot of Ghostbusters on the convention floor! Universal Studios Halloween Horror nights is featuring a new Ghostbusters maze this year. We heard the buzz from many at the convention that they were looking forward to the maze and the upcoming sequel! We can’t wait, either!
Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights
We caught the presentation on Saturday for Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights and the “taste of things to come” from Creative Director John Murdy did not disappoint. John announced another ’80s horror gem at HHN, Creepshow! John showed off some images of HHN’s walkthrough maze concept art and elevations. We were delighted to see 3 favorite stories from the George Romero & Stephen King film chosen to be brought to life! The walkthrough will feature Father’s Day, The Crate, and They’re Creeping Up on You. Along with those 3 classic stories, it will also feature some of the new stories from the 2019 Creepshow on Shudder, from executive producer Greg Nicotero (of The Walking Dead).
John also promised some great new scare zones and lots of creepy new stiltwalkers! We loved last year’s Holidayz in Hell scare zone. This year, it becomes its own full-fledged walkthrough attraction.
2 Days Just Isn’t Enough, Anymore!
We aren’t’ sure how Midsummer Scream will outdo what we saw this year; add another day? We are really looking forward to next year. If you can make the trip, we highly recommend starting off your Halloween season off early an right at Midsummer Scream. You will not be disappointed.
Hobb’s Grove Has A Little Something For Everyone
We took a short trip to a local haunt in the San Joaquin Valley. Hobb’s Grove is really out in the boonies, just outside of Fresno. It’s actually a perfect location for a classic down-on-the-farm type of haunt. We hadn’t been to Hobb’s Grove in many years. It’s still a great place to go get a good scare! We love the park-like courtyard with fire pits and classic carnival food vendors. Hobb’s also includes a Tarot card reader and a really great Halloween store that had some very unique items!
4 Attractions, Good Scares!
We came on Halloween weekend, on a Sunday, so suffice it to say; it was busy! We decided to only do the Haunted House and the Haunted Forrest. We have heard good things about the other 2 attractions but for the cost, we didn’t feel like it was going to be worth it. Hobb’s puts on a pretty good show, but they are pricey for what they offer. For $42, you can do all 4 attractions, but you have to wait in some seriously long lines. The front of the line pass gets you right in, at the front with no wait, which is great but that runs you $10 on top, for each attraction. We decided to pay the extra to skip the lines, and we have to say, it was worth it.
The forest was our favorite! Lots of really super creepy places and some really great scares! If all you do is one attraction, this one is the one to do and it’s worth the trip there, just for this one! We really liked the various environments that you encounter; a graveyard, a cave, a voodoo camp, and much more.
The Haunted Forrest was such a great maze!
We especially liked the hillbilly camp that you encounter where you are held in individual rooms and are kept in a total black-out for just a little while. The lights flash, you see something in the window. Another flash or two, then total darkness. Out from nowhere, a monster appears in the room with you and dashes out the other side. It was simple, but a fantastic scare! The other best part was a laser swamp that we saw a smaller version of at The Depths, at Knotts. We also love that this attraction was so long! Very worth your money!
The haunted house was pretty good. It included a storybook motif that we really enjoyed. There were a couple of notable things along the way. We really liked the giant dragon head. We loved the multi colored doors. Our favorite part was the Caterpillar puppet that you encounter in the Alice in Wonderland section, just before the vortex tunnel (or rabbit hole?). The maze takes you in and out of the house several times. We liked some of these areas better than what was in the house. There were great actors throughout Hobbs but the house left us feeling like there should have been some better special effects. It includes stairs to a second level, but up there, they seemed to miss out on some great opportunities for some fun effects; a floor drop, walking over a bridge, or perhaps something like the abyss illusion that we saw at Fright Fest. This attraction was good but not quite worth the entry plus the front of the line pass.
Should you go?
If you live near Fresno or Visalia, you should definitely go! If you are coming from further away- maybe. If we lived in Bakersfield, we would say it’s worth skipping Scare Valley and make the drive up, just to see the Haunted Forrest- it’s that good!
Bakersfield’s Scare Valley had some good scares!
We deiced to hit up a smaller haunt closer to where we live and tried out Bakersfield’s Scare Valley. This haunt was put together by the same folks that once made Talladega Frights, over on the west side of town. They sold that property and have moved over to the new Track House Karting facility (formerly BKE), near the new BLVD complex off Buck Owens Blvd. You enter through Track House (which looks like a lot of fun, by the way) and wander on through to the back after buying your wristband at the Track House sales counter.
What was it like?
The theme of the haunt is something like an old hillbilly farm house. Think, Deliverance. The line queue certainly did a great job building up the right feeling. The entrance to house looked pretty good. We loved the smoke machine, lighting, and giant spider on the wall. Inside we found some really good scares, right from the start. The actors did a good job staying in character and creeping us out. We were impressed with the fact that they had quite a bit of great details in their sets, too. The vortex tunnel that they have inside was probably one of the best effects they had. The idea is that the house has trapped you and taken you into some sort of hillbilly hell. It was a good maze, overall.
Lots of room
We were really happy to see that there was a lot of space for the haunt; this location definitely has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, this is where we were just a little let down. The haunt is pretty short. For the price, we think we could have gotten a bit more time in the maze. We are very hopeful that next year they will take advantage of the space and really give us more. This is their first year there and it can be tough to go big, right after a location change. Hopefully, the maze is more full of monsters nearer to Halloween, (which it should be) and you will have a better experience.
Was it worth it?
Well, that depends. We went on a Sunday, opening weekend so there were hardly any people in line and that was really nice. Our thought was, although it’s pretty good, it’s a little short and it’s not quite worth the full $15 price. We recommend getting the Groupon or using their own discount from their web site and go right when they open to avoid waiting an hour for 5 minutes of a scare. If it’s the only chance you will get to go to a haunted house this year, you should definitely check it Bakersfield’s Scare Valley. Like we said, there were some really good scares inside!
Warner Bros Studio Tour Horror Made Here raised the bar
We were blown away with Warner Bros new horror experience this year! This is only the third year for Horror Made Here and we have to say, we were very impressed. We got the Losers’ Club VIP passes (a clever nod to “It”) and we were really glad we did for a few reasons. First, you get 2 free alcoholic drinks and at up to $16 a drink, that can save you a lot. Next, you get a free “It” printed photo of yourself. You also get a ride on Devil’s Drop, and of course, you get front of the line access!
It rained on us, but not our spirits
If anything the rain storm that blew in made the whole night even more magical. The weather started out with some autumn gusts and rolling thunder. The real lightning strikes from above gave Horror Made Here on the Warner Bros backlot the perfect feeling. We managed to get through a couple of mazes before the rain started. At first it was a light sprinkle but as the night went on, it really started to come down. We were really glad we had the VIP passes to not have to stand in the lines and get drenched.
The Conjuring Universe
This maze was a little different than what we were used to. We were taken by a “paranormal” guide from one section to the next, where we were held in each room or area for just long enough for something terrifying to happen. This was very effective in really building up the suspense. There were some exceptionally good scares in this maze. They really made us jump. Utilizing one of the backlot practical set houses allowed for amazing detail throughout. This one has the very Annabelle doll from the films and she is every bit as creepy, if not more, in real life! This was a great attraction! Don’t miss it!
It Knows What Scares You
This was the maze we all came to see and it certainly did not disappoint us. Pennywise was waiting for us throughout and what we really liked was how he interacted with us so much! Pennywise himself presented us with the infamous 3 doors of scary. He showed us what was waiting behind them for us, one by one. But it’s not just Pennywise that will terrify you. We were caught off guard by Georgie a few times where he really got us, too. We loved the immersiveness of this one! Stephen King would be proud. Be sure to see it!
Such a great maze! This one was not so much scary but it was still really fun to experience, none the less. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum and has invited you to come see what he’s done with the place. We’ve seen a few live characterizations of the Joker and we have to say, this was the best we’ve ever seen. The makeup was truly amazing! It was also so much fun to see Two-face, The Riddler, and Harley Quinn inside. The acting was really top-notch. I really wished there was a permanent attraction like this at Six Flags! It was really that good!
The Exorcist: The Forbidden Screening
We want to be clear that this is not a maze, but it was a fantastic experience that was every bit as good (if not better) than a traditional walk-through. This experience combines clips from the original classic and a barrage of effects in the theater that will scare the hell out of you! There were so many details in this experience; we don’t want to give anything away, but be sure you look around as you watch. You could tell that a lot of horror love went into creating this amazing immersive encounter! Absolutely don’t miss this! It was our favorite!
Nightmare on Camp Crystal Lake
Freddy AND Jason at the REAL Camp Crystal Lake! The “campy” jokes from the shuttle driver had me a bit worried that our tour of Camp Crystal Lake was going to be a bit cheesy, but we couldn’t be more wrong. Once we got off the shuttle, we walked strait into Camp Crystal Lake. It was really like walking right into the movie. The rain made the whole experience all the more real, too! A nearly 7ft Jason tormented us around the woods while Freddy lurked around corners inside the buildings. There were some seriously great scares in this walk-through. One of the best was a set of hanging bodies in the cabin. Be sure you go with a group of screamers on this one; it will make the tour all that much more fun!
When you get off the shuttle from Camp Crystal Lake, you end up at Studio 48. This is Warner Bros usual studio tour gift shop but it also has an exhibit hall you absolutely DO NOT want to miss! Just for Halloween, Warner Bros has added many Tim Burton favorites in the exhibit hall; items from The Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, & Beetlejuice, just to name a few. There were many other actual movie props and costumes as well; even a very special one you would have found on Elm Street.
Fangtasia, Devil Drop, & the rest of the backlot was a horror playground!
We took a little time to enjoy the rest of the backlot between mazes. Fangtasia was great; a perfect place for some great photo-ops. We will say the drink prices were crazy expensive, but the drinks were good. This is where having the VIP pass is nice to save some dough. We played a few games in the Lost Boys arcade; a wonderfully nostalgic ’80s arcade that included wanted posters all over, just like the movie. There were some really nice touches on the backlot that included a projection of Audrey 2 in the second story above the Little Shop of Horrors gift shop. Be sure you catch Bette Davis and Joan Crawford wherever you can! They were a delightful riot to interact with! We saved the Devil’s Drop Tower for the end (because the lightning earlier had shut it down). It was a great scream to end the night!
We can’t wait for next year!
Warner Bros Studio Tour Horror Made Here is not cheap! The premium you pay is what keeps the whole event more exclusive but also the level of acting, set details, and effects superior to other haunted attractions. Weather you pay for the regular admission or the VIP pass, we still say the whole experience is well worth it!
A fantastic Halloween and horror event!
This year, Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights is a true frightful feast for your eyes! If you are looking for the ultimate experience where your favorite horror movies and shows come to life, this is the place to go. Not only does Halloween Horror Nights bring horror from the screen to life in amazing detail, they change all of their walk through mazes each year. They do bring back a lot of the same characters but usually, the mazes are very different, each time.
Go in early
The main reason we get the early entry tickets (2 pm) is to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and check out The Wizarding World of Harry Party before it closes. It is not a part of the event so we like to slip in a little magic before the horror. The other reason to go in early is some of the maze lines open early. This is the only way to do this event… take our word for it.
What was different this year at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights?
You can LEAVE THE PARK one time. In the past, this was not an option. It’s nice to be able to leave the park to eat or drink or check in to your hotel. We did all of these things. There is a time, between 7-9 pm, when the park can get really full. People with early entry are in the park and at 7 pm, everyone else start to flood in. The lines get long during this time. Later in the evening the lines will get short again and you will be able to get through the line queues at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights much quicker.
If there was anything we were dying to see this year, it was the Stranger Things maze! If you want to see this and all the mazes in one night, this is where the early entry ticket is a must. With it, we were able to get in line early for Stranger Things. Be sure to get down to the lower level by 5 PM because the attraction will open by 5:30 PM. This is the most popular maze so this is pretty much the only way to get through it quickly without a front-of-the-line pass.
It had all the feels
The maze definitely included all of the elements you would expect; Will’s abandoned bike in the woods, the mysterious facility that kept Eleven captive, Hawking’s Middle School, and of course, The Upside Down. Everything in the maze was very well done. You could tell that a lot of love went into every detail of this attraction. It was so good, in fact, we wonder if they might make this a permanent attraction, like they did The Walking Dead.
Just one thing…
Our only complaint is that although The Upside Down was fairly well done- it was far too small! It was roughly 12 feet high to give some height to the trees but the whole room’s footprint was probably only about 16′ x 16′. We were really expecting this part of the maze to be enormous. You didn’t really get to walk through it, in an immersive way, like you might expect; it was mostly just along one wall. We might be too harsh here because the rest of the maze is really, really good, but seriously, I think we speak for the fans here, “We wanted more!“
This was a pretty faithful recreation of a horror favorite. Trick ‘r Treat had one of the best facades of any of the mazes. (Speaking of which, Stranger Things had absolutely NO FACADE!) There were plenty of great scares but the best part was the perpetually vomiting kid on the stairs. So gross and yet so fun to watch! The werewolves are great, even though they looked reused from American Werewolf in London. Over and over you can expect the Voodoo doll faced Sam to keep you on your toes throughout the maze. This one is in the lower lot but you will probably want to hit it on your way back from down the hill.
Poltergeist turned out to be our second favorite maze at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. It was very popular with everyone else, too so be sure to get to this one, right after Stranger Things. The static playing on the TV with Carol Anne’s little hands on the screen was such a haunting scene to see in real life! There’s a great projection effect they use with the static screen that we are pretty sure you’ll get a great scream out of! When we walked into the kitchen, it felt exactly like we were in just about anyone’s kitchen we had ever been in during the ’80s.
We don’t mean to make too much of a thing out of this, but it was really so well done, it felt like we went back in time. It added to just how creepy everything in the maze felt. They did such a great job recreating the “mirror” scene- very freaky. The best part is near the end with a barrage of the dead in open, standing caskets. You have no idea which is real or a dummy and it’s terrifying all the way through! This maze is so good! Don’t miss it!
Our most favorite of all the mazes takes us back to the classics, Universal Monsters! Here is where you get to see all of Universal’s classic monsters come to life! Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Phantom of the Opera, and even The Invisible Man, are all waiting inside for you! There were amazing scares throughout this maze and lots to look at, too! These are really all the “classic” monsters that we think of, when we think of horror & Halloween. You could really tell that Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights put a lot of love and care into this maze. A really awesome and supersizing scene they incorporated was from The Invisible Man; all done with black-light effects. It really looked like he was invisible! The monster payoff scene at the end of the maze (we won’t give it away) was amazing and one of the best we’ve seen HHN ever do!
The First Purge, The Horrors of Blumhouse & Halloween 4 were all pretty good. If you have the time, you should check them out. Each one of them had some really good stuff, but honestly not too much that was notable. We did really like seeing all the different ways the victims got “Unfriended” in the Blumhouse maze and Halloween 4 had some really fantastic sets, that were faithful recreations from the film. All throughout these mazes, you are sure to get some good scares from them, too!
The tram was fun, as always. Universal revisits Hollywood Harry, a clown infamous for terrorizing the backlot. We love the story build up on the tram and the best part is when you get off and walk right into a band of freaky dog-faced assailants that chase you with chainsaws! You will also get to venture through the REAL Bates Motel set and can have your picture taken on the porch of the REAL Psycho house with Norma Bates, himself. The walk-through at the end has some good scares, too. Watch out for those clowns!
Your favorite part?
If you were lucky enough to go this year, we want to know; do you have something that was your favorite part of Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights? Please tell us in the comments below!
A little hit & miss
We’ve always enjoyed Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest but this year, we were honestly a little disappointed. Not to say though, that there weren’t some bright spots. We started our night by getting our maze wristbands then heading over to the new Metropolis area and had a beer at the Metro Park Pub. We recommend going on a Sunday and not bother buying the Flash Pass, as the lines will be fairly short (unless it’s the last week of October).The weather was perfect and we were ready for a good night of fright. We decided to head up to the front where there are 3 of the 6 mazes in the park. This is a great strategy to start there first and get those mazes in while the lines are short.
Condemned, Forever Damned.
We were really impressed with this first maze we hit up. This had a lot of really great distractions that led to some great scare opportunities. They were really short staffed on just the second night (on a Sunday) of Fright Fest but they were able to pull off some great scares in here- very impressive. We loved the projection effects of bugs scurrying around and there’s a great “gotcha” where someone is waiting for you in a cupboard, in just the right place. For the claustrophobic, there’s a great “alternate” path you can take to push your fears to the edge.
And here’s were our disappointment starts… This was a really great maze like 10 years ago, when they first put it in. There was pretty much nothing done to this maze to even try to update it. It’s the same as it ever was. We like the concept, but seriously, why can’t you change it up to make it different Magic Mountain? It would be great to see the giant statues animated somehow with some simple puppetry. And the giant spider could use some serious help to be more terrifying. You won’t miss much by skipping this one.
So this one was kind of like the old Vault 666 maze from last year but it was really not better at all. In fact, we really liked the old Vault 666 maze. All this one seemed to be was a really terrible tie-in to a b-horror movie that Six Flags got conned into to promote. I’m actually curious to see the movie just to see how much this maze had absolutely nothing to do with it. To be fair, we did see some of the stuff in the trailer in the maze but not much more than a couple of rooms where they really seemed to miss an opportunity for a good scare. You can skip this one too, if you like. Ride Goliath in the dark, instead.
Sewer Of Souls
This is the second completely new maze in the park and it’s definitely worth your time! We love the 3D mazes in general but this one had some really good surprises. There is one room that uses a projection effect that works really well to convince you that you are about to fall into an abyss if you step off of the edge of a very precarious path. It’s a fun maze with some originality and a few good scares; go check it out.
Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising
This was another one that Fright Fest has kept each year for a while and this time it was actually quite a bit better. We aren’t sure what was done differently with the layout, but it felt much more confusing (in a good way) and paced out well. It also felt like a longer experience. We love the apocalyptic scenes mixed with the great scares from all the zombies and other mutated monsters in this one. Plus, there’s huge fireballs being blasted the whole time, and that’s always awesome to see!
This is one of our favorite mazes Fright Fest has kept around over the years, and in this case, we like that they do. Mostly because the building they set this up in lends itself well to the beautiful large interiors they have created for this Victorian era haunt. We really liked the projection effects throughout. We love the carriage and various other authentic props you will find inside. The Attic was especially impressive. It was a great maze overall but almost nothing in it had changed from last year; a little disappointing that they couldn’t change up a room or two. We also felt that it was a little under stocked with monsters. Perhaps on busier nights it would be better.
Fright Fest’s Scare Zones LOOKED great and we were delighted to see that there were two new ones– except that 3 of them were empty of monsters when we got to them! Yeah, so apparently the last hour of the night, all the monsters come up to the front. Well perhaps that makes for a great send off to the crowd leaving but it makes for a terrible experience in the rest of the park. We really can’t understand why at least a few monsters couldn’t have stayed behind in the scare zones. We missed out on 2 of the scare zones because of this. If we had known that this would be the case, we would have made sure to hit up all the scare zones earlier. This fact is not printed anywhere on their materials, so be sure you know about this, before you go. We reached out to Six Flags Magic Mountain to let them know about this so we hope they fix this issue before you get there, or at least before next year.
Worth it? Well, just barely
We would say that if you are already a season pass holder or member, you should definitely come see Fright Fest. If you bought your admission just to see this though, you might not feel that you got your money’s worth. We really think that Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest should really consider investing in a couple more new mazes. It seems like there really should be about 8 instead of 6 to offer a bit more variety. The scare zones are fine, as long as they keep the monsters in them. The rides in the dark are great; so if nothing else, skip a few of the “meh” ones we listed here and go ride a few of those; Goliath and Batman are fantastic in the dark!
There’s a ton of gimmicky websites out there that try to sell you the secrets of how you can make your own haunted house or haunted attraction (and make a gazillion dollars). I would like to share with you some real, first-hand knowledge I gained through the 10+ years I worked on haunted houses. I’m doing this completely free, simply to benefit all the haunted houses and haunted attractions out there, to hopefully make them that much better. I learned a lot along the way. There are so many things you never think about until you start putting things together. I hope what I share with you here will help steer you clear of the many pitfalls of the business.
Haunted houses are never as easy as you think, or think about the second time, or ever.
Before you take on the task of creating your own haunt, whether it be for some kind of small club as a fundraiser, or a giant, multi-maze attraction, I’d like to warn you that there are two main things you will need that you will never have enough of; time and money. Be ready to spend much more of those than you think you will right now. Hopefully, what I can share with you, will help mitigate that issue. There is one other thing you will need at all times to get you through it; an absolute love for scaring the hell out of people. This is isn’t absolutely everything to consider, but these are the main “not so fun” things you should be on top of before starting in on your own haunt:
- Non-profit/Charity partners
- City Ordinances, Permits, Fire Safety & Inspection
- Obtaining Materials/Construction
- Alternate Profit Sources
- Be ready to do it better next time
This is probably the most obvious one. You need to secure a good location for your haunt that can not only accommodate your attraction, itself but also offer plenty of room for parking and be easy to find when driving there. I used a small meeting hall in the middle of town a few times then eventually used the town’s fairgrounds. A perfect place would be anything like that, right next to an interstate. Pick a familiar place, close or in town that is easy for people to find and if you can, keep that same location each year. On the inside, ideally, it should be a large open building with lots of grounded electrical outlets everywhere, no leaks in the roof, and have decent bathrooms available for your actors. You should check the breaker box, make sure things look sound and make sure you have plenty of breakers. Here’s where I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a good licensed electrician to help you out. You probably will not be able to afford to pay them (at least not for everything) so that’s where the charitable part comes in, they either need to be a good friend that will help out in the name of your partnered non-profit or try to find a local company that could become a sponsor, in trade. As much as you can, use their expertise to ensure you don’t have any electrical risks or problems. Also make sure you have restrooms for your patrons, outside of your haunt. Hopefully, those may already be part of the facility or you will need to think about renting portable toilets.
Here’s the part you will certainly need to take advantage of if you don’t want to spend an absolute fortune for everything. If you can bankroll a full commercial haunt, go for it! I was never able to go that route, although it was my plan to get there eventually. I’ve talked to a couple of owners of large local, commercial haunts that have been around for many years. Interestingly, they said they were just barely able to break even each year and they still had to live off a “day job”- they really just did it for the fun.
Working with non-profit organizations can save you a ton!
So to save yourself on money, find one or several charities that you can partner with. In my case, I partnered with the local community theater and high school drama departments for actors. We had a contract where they would get a portion of the presale and door tickets. The presale was a great deal for them. They sold a 2-for-the-price-of-one ticket and got to keep a portion right off the top. I also invited any other local fund-raising non-profits to sell presale tickets. I also teamed up with the local youth center, where they built a hay maze for little kids. They got to keep whatever they made on the maze and also sold presale tickets to my haunted house. In some earlier years of the haunt, I teamed up with a local high school building trade class to help with construction. The added benefit of getting multiple groups in the community involved is that you will get the word out about your haunt.
Of course, besides trying to save on costs, you are still going to need some serious capital to pay for your haunt. You should do all you can to get as much stuff for free, but the one thing that you won’t get free (at least not enough) is advertising. You need some local business to sponsor your event. Pretty much every dollar I got from my sponsors went right back into advertising. I had to bankroll the rest of my costs myself and crossed my fingers that I would recoup the funds from the haunt’s ticket sales. This was certainly NOT the way I wanted it to go. I would have loved to have been able to sell more sponsorships. This is one of those areas I know I should have done better on. Perhaps the better approach on this one is to find a good advertising firm to help you, but watch out, ad firms are notoriously shady. If you can get them to help you sell the sponsorships and handle your advertising on a commission from the sale of those sponsorships, then at least it’s no money out of your pocket. There’s also a tremendous added benefit of not having to deal with coming up with all of your own promotional materials and managing everything that goes with that. I probably spent half of my own time on sponsorships and promotion, instead of more time building my haunt. Don’t do that.
This may not be the case for you, but I was fortunate enough to already have my own production company, specializing in commercial video production. My day-job was making local TV commercials, but I also did a lot of graphic design, web sites, and other similar types of digital media. I made all of the promotional materials for my haunt; the sponsor packets, the TV spots, the radio spots, the signage, etc. This gave me a ton of creative control and saved me some money, which was great, but again it robbed me of a lot of valuable time that I could have spent on the haunt, itself.
As I mentioned before, I spent almost all the money I got from my sponsors on air-time for the local radio and TV commercials. I learned that radio got me a much better response. One year I spent about $1000 on radio and $4000 on TV. The next year I inverted that, spending $4000 on radio and $1000 on TV. My attendance went up roughly 50%. Of course, there were other factors that made that attendance rise, but I think the majority of that huge increase was that radio was much more effective.
Now it’s all about the millennials and their Facebook & YouTube
That was almost 20 years ago and now advertising is completely different. If I were doing the same haunt this year, I would be spending almost all of my advertising budget on Facebook, Google, & YouTube ads. This one is kind of a no-brainer. Your main demographic for a haunted attraction is teens and millennials. They have their eyeballs glued to their smartphones 24-7. You obviously need to have a constant social media presence, a good web site (specifically designed for mobile, no Adobe Flash) and be offering coupons. I would highly recommend using Groupon and sell tickets directly online (at a discount). All that said, I think buying a little bit of time on local radio might go a long way (maybe even a remote) especially if you have a local radio station that plays music that your demographic listens to.
Insurance is an absolute necessity and can cost you a lot more than you might expect. Most places that you can rent will usually expect you to carry a million dollar liability policy, during your operating hours. This can cost $1000 to $3000, or more, depending on the size of your haunt/event and how many days you are open. Even if your haunt is small, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT open to the public without this one covered. Check with your local county laws and city ordinances, as well to know for sure what is required. One way you can save some money here is if the location your haunt occupies is owned by one of the charities you partner with. In many cases, their own liability insurance can cover you, but make sure to check with their insurance to be absolutely certain you are covered. The last thing you want is for someone to get hurt in any way and not have insurance to take care of their injuries, or worse yet, come after you and everyone involved with a lawsuit.
Security is another necessity to which how much can vary greatly, depending on how big your haunt/event is. On some smaller haunted houses I did, we managed to have some off-duty officers volunteer their time. On larger haunts, I had to hire a security company. In all cases, I still had to have a good number of backstage personnel on radios (with earpieces), keeping an eye on things, simply to observe and report. (If you are lucky, you may be able to trade some security services for sponsorship.)I have a bit of a pet peeve on seeing security inside the haunt, by the way. It takes away from the experience in such horrible way if every 15 feet, your patrons see some guy in a bright yellow t-shirt that says SECURITY (actually seen that done). Understandably, that makes for a good deterrent but I don’t think it’s worth it. I found having black curtains all over my mazes that my security could watch from, was plenty effective. They could always step out to make their presence known if they spotted potential trouble makers.
You will always have troublemakers; be ready.
A lot of larger attractions use video surveillance. I think as cheap as you can get a security camera setup these days, even for smaller haunted houses, that’s a very smart way to go to help watch out for troublemakers and protect yourself and your actors. I can’t tell you how many times I had to pull a group out of a haunt that was deliberately destroying our props, hitting our actors, etc. Every time (and I mean every time), without fail, the group would lie about the incident and often even go as far as to try to accuse our actors of harming them. If you ever have anyone get combative in that situation, you will want to be sure to have trained, adequate muscle to help you get them out of your haunt as quickly as possible. When you do have to pull a group out, it’s always best to never discuss the situation as to why until you are away from everyone else in a safe location where you can have them exit the property. If you have video and the incident is serious enough, you may choose to press charges. Certainly posting signs that you will prosecute as a deterrent, is a great idea. You’ll have to post that they are being recorded anyway, so why not? Also, don’t forget about security when no one is at the haunt! I have had some very minor thefts occur. It almost never happened during construction (we often built morning and night, almost 24-7) but we did have some incidents where thieves broke in when the place was locked up in the middle of the night, between openings. Cameras would be good in that situation, but you may have to result to some 24-hour security, as well.
City Ordinances, Permits, Fire Safety & Inspection
Before you do anything, you need to make sure your haunt will be in compliance with state laws, local county laws, and city ordinances. Making a few phone calls to your local city hall can get you a lot of quick answers, but you need to check with local officials to make certain you are in compliance. There are some specific laws that regulate haunted attractions, and of course, those laws vary from state to state, county to county, and even by city. It’s entirely possible that your town has outlawed temporary walk-through attractions.
Fire safety is everything
In California, the state my attraction was in, there was some regulations that were mostly related to fire safety, as they still are today. The most recent of those regulations can be found through the California Building Code site and the ICC website specifically. Many of these rules in the California code are taken from the national guidelines, so your state’s regulations will likely be very similar. There is a lot to read through but some of the important basics are this:
- Submit a site plan showing your maze(s) floor plan and where everything like exits, fire extinguishers, electrical shut-offs, escape routes, etc. would be needed to be known for fire safety.
- All decorative materials (anything fabric or cloth-like) must be either inherently fire retardant or sprayed adequately with fire retardant.
- No open flame inside (no real candles)
- A sufficient number of working smoke & fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and no smoking signs must be present.
- All extension cords must be UL listed (grounded plug).
- Only use UL listed power strips (with a built in breaker), kept off the floor, & never have one power strip plugged into another, you must run another cord from the receptacle.
- You must have a fire inspection, prior to opening, but after all construction.
- It’s not listed in the link above but you need to have a minimum walkway width of 36″ anywhere in your maze (your local ordinance minimum width may be more).
Find a fire marshal
It’s a good idea to find a fire marshal at your local fire department and have a talk with them long before you even start putting your haunted house together. They will likely have a guideline document of some kind already made for you to read through. (Orange County has a nice one.) My fire marshal was always especially concerned with any kind of fabric used and how my electrical was run. Just a grounded extension cord is not always good enough. Make sure you have a heavy enough gauged wire for the length and load you are running.
Notify the police
Besides what’s going on inside, make sure you have any permits covered for the noise you are making on the outside. I had to get a permit to amplify on the weekends because my city required it for anything making loud noises in the city limits, past 10PM. The amplification permit was filed with the police department. Although not required, it was a great thing to keep a dialog with the local police to let them know about my event. They often came by during my event and during construction to check on things. Their presence always went a long way to deter criminal activity.
Be sure you cover everything you can!
Once, I was faced with a permit catastrophe that cost me a lot of money when the dates of my event were not properly submitted to the city. In my town, there is a simple public event form that you have to submit several weeks before your event, in order to avoid paying a $400/day fee to operate. Even though I had submitted my event, something was left incomplete on the form and it was never approved. No city official bothered to notify me, of course, but luckily I found out about it before it was too late (I think I remember calling, asking about something else when it came up). I had to go to the next city council meeting and beg them for an exception which graciously, they did. I thought I was out of the woods. Unfortunately, I trusted the same city official, that helped me with the form in the first place to fill out the dates for the event. She inadvertently filled in the previous year’s dates, which were 2 days less! I still had to pay the city $800 for those days, plus hire extra security to be compliant with the added regulation that other type of operating permit required. I have to tell you, it almost felt like the city was actually trying to shake me down. My advice is to have all of these types of things in order, WAY before you do anything else. Do all that you can to be best friends with your local fire department, police department, and city government.
Use a good calendar app (Outlook is still my favorite) and put everything you can think of in it. Make sure you place all of your permit deadlines in it and mark them in red! Try to make deadlines for yourself for the months and weeks leading up to your opening. Ideally, you can be working on a lot of things, months ahead of time. Schedule time for when you are going to work on a particular effect, prop, etc. and make a deadline for it. I got to the point where I was planning and building new effects and props, right after the last haunted house was over. You are also going to need to make sure you have all of your actors scheduled correctly for each night and each shift. I did what I could to hand this off to the partner charity that was handling the actors, but I often had to cover this myself, as well. Make sure you have everyone’s contact info and a copy of the actor schedule on you (or in your phone somehow).
Again, if you can get sponsors for your event, this is where you can save a ton. Get a hold of roofing companies especially, early on (like months ahead, if possible). Often they will be tearing out old roofs with OSB and various paneling. It won’t be any good for permanent construction, but it can make for great materials for temporary walls. Once I scored a ton of 12″ thick 4’x8′ Styrofoam insulation panels. I was able to use them to make all sorts of props and stone wall features. My local lumber yard allowed me to buy culled 2x3s and 2x4s at a huge discount. I want to say I got about 60-80 8′ 2x3s for just $100. Many of them were bowed and had to be cut down, but for a lot of the temporary structures we were putting together, they didn’t always have to be straight.
Don’t be afraid to ask for ANYTHING
If you are really lucky, you may be able to get a construction company to provide materials and labor in trade for sponsorship. Over the years I had lumber yards, roofers, contractors, plastering companies, and other types of builders trade out and donate a lot. It’s sometimes amazing what you can get if you just ask. Some of the things you build will probably have to be metal, so you’ll either need to be good with metalworking or partner with someone who is. I can weld and fabricate things myself, but I often used the help of friends and family who had their own shops that could build a lot of the custom items I needed. I had a local shop teacher build a full-scale cemetery gate. My father and uncle built a rotating tunnel and bridge out of their shop. I’ve seen those go for $10,000+ online. We were able to build it for under $1000 of materials.
Alternate Profit Sources
Here’s something you should definitely be thinking about, early on. You should remember that you are going to have a lot of people coming to your haunt and they will probably spend money on more than just admission. Here are a few things you should think about having around for your patrons to buy, outside of the haunt:
- Food & Drink vendors and/or food trucks
- Glow sticks, glow necklaces and other light up toys (These are super cheap to buy and you can mark them WAY up!)
- Halloween related merchandise
- Pumpkins (I sold these leading up to the opening. I made a little bit but found it was a good way to help promote my event.)
- T-Shirts (Also give away t-shirts early on, as part of a contest to win a VIP ticket package, $15 per entry.)
- In-haunt scare photos
- Carnival Rides (if you have space)
Be sure to plan for the time and labor it will take to tear-down, clean, and store everything. You are probably not going to be able to just keep everything in the garage so have a lot and/or building that you can rent the rest of the year, to store your stuff for next year’s haunt. Ideally, you might have a secure fenced-in area that you can get in trade, again from one of your sponsors. You could build a temporary shed out of some of your materials to store items that you will need to keep out of the weather in said lot, but a real storage shed or separate storage unit will obviously be best. Whatever the cost of this storage, be sure that you have that planned out and figured into your costs of your haunt.
Be ready to do it better next time
It’s very difficult to do because you will be so busy, but do all you can to take the time to document everything you can during the whole process. If you can’t write it down, take a video with your phone, or at least a picture. The more you can go back, after the event and go over the things that went wrong, the better. You will be exhausted, but the best time to make notes of the most important things that you won’t want to forget for next time will be freshest in your mind, right after the last day. Probably the easiest way to keep from missing stuff is to make your own private video blog of sorts on your phone. Force yourself to review all of those clips, right after the haunt is over and write out a couple of pages of bullet point things to remember/improve.
Disclaimer: This is simply advice on making haunted houses, it’s nothing official or legally authoritative. Anything you do in creating your own haunted house, haunted attraction, or the like is entirely your responsibility. TheFright.com is not liable for anything you chose to do with this information. Use it at your own risk. Read our terms and conditions, as well.