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Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride

Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride
Where There’s Always Vacancy

By DAVID McKENDRY

Back in summer 2008, while working as a freelance videographer for FANGORIA, I was invited down to the National Haunters Convention in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania—a glimpse into the latex, gears and gadgets behind the scary-attraction industry. After a fantastic education, I and many other conventioneers were taken on a half-hour bus ride to the towm of Glen Mills to experience Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride. As the sun set, we were loaded onto flatbed trailers hooked up to tractors, and conveyed into an indoor/outdoor haunt like none I had ever seen before. For this magazine, I revisited the terror and spoke with owner Randy Bates, a man who ‘s spent decades in the industry and has a lifetime ‘s worth of experience scaring the hell out of you.

FANGORIA: Were you a horror fan as a child?

RANDY BATES: Not a huge one, but I did enjoy the old classics like One Step Beyond and Chiller Theatre. I was, however, in love with scaring people. Most children’s games, like tag and hide and seek, usually ended up with me hiding and waiting for an unsuspecting victim.

FANG: What do you recall about the first haunted house you ever attended?

BATES: One of the first was Dracula’s Castle in Salem, Massachusetts. It was several years after we had opened our Haunted Hayride, and my wife and I were in town for a Halloween gathering. The haunted house was very small, with only three rooms. The detail was lacking, and it was pretty dark. There was a scene with stone walls similar to a dungeon, and a coffin on a raised dais; the only actors were a young woman who followed you through the event, whispering in your ear, and the guy in the coffin. As you can imagine, we were not that impressed.

We decided to sit outside and watch other customers’ reactions coming out of the place; to our amazement, they emerged laughing and high-fiving each other. This small show led directly to the addition of the Bates Motel later that year. Having operated the Hayride for five years, jumping into a haunted house was pretty easy.

FANG: What initially inspired you to open the Haunted Hayride?

BATES: For 10 years, we had been running hayrides to a bonfire for groups like fraternities and sororities, the Boy Scouts, etc. A local farm had been doing a charity haunted trail and was attracting large crowds, but they were only open the Saturday before Halloween. The farmer stopped this operation, as the customers were destroying his property. We decided to try something similar, but do it with hay wagons. At the time, we had no idea how vast the haunted-attraction industry was, and pretty much developed in a vacuum.

Small family farms are always looking for a way to increase income, and this seemed like a good way to start. It was also a way to have fun with friends and family, and was a social event for the first few years.

We started the Haunted Hayride in 1991 with a staff of 35, four wagons and 25 actors. We were only open for five nights, but by the end of the season, we saw the potential. At first we had a shoestring budget and a group of talented artists, carpenters and newbie actors; over the next several years, attendance grew dramatically, and our staff and budget did as well.

In 1996, I attended the TransWorld Halloween trade show in Chicago for the first time. It was a real eye-opener, and, armed with new props, masks and ideas, we opened Bates Motel that fall. Our concept was to load the customers in the back door, and then scare them out the front doors right into our courtyard. This way, people waiting in line for the hayride, or enjoying food from our concession stand, would see how scary the haunted house was and buy a ticket to go through it. It turned out to be one of the best ideas we had; people were falling over themselves trying to get out of Bates Motel.

In 2000, we decided to open a third attraction. By then, our attendance was close to 40,000 customers each season, and we were looking for ways to increase revenue. So we planted a two-acre cornfield, cut out a maze path and added scarecrows, small sets and about 20 actors. It was an overnight success.

One of the defining features of our attractions is the extensive use of pyrotechnics. In 1992, my friend Mike Hearn joined our build team. He has a long background in HVAC, and was the one who first brought the custom-made pyro to Bates. It was in a witch scene and involved a huge cast-iron cauldron that, when triggered, began to bubble furiously and then exploded into flames. It was pretty cool having water catch fire, and amazed the crowds. That was just the start—the following year, we built a 25-foot-tall fire-breathing dragon, and lit the front of our hayride facade with propane torches. Now, after 22 seasons, there are pyro gags throughout the hayride.

Another feature we’ve incorporated is the use of custom soundtracks. Every scene involves high-end audio equipment, including a movie-like track built into our hay wagons. All of our animatronic props have big sound effects choreographed with the head and jaw movements, adding incredible realism. Today, our attractions have evolved into highly detailed rooms and sets, and larger-than-life set pieces on our hayride.

FANG: Without giving too much away, what do you consider your most mind-blowing effect?

BATES: Each year we try to come up with new features for all three of our attractions. There is always a “wow” factor built in, and we try to produce great scares with them. Several years ago, we built a large, dilapidated Zombie Mall with six storefronts and ghouls everywhere. This year, we’ll be upgrading this scene with fire effects, and construction of a motel on the opposite side of the trail.

We will also be adding several more prop effects to our 200-foot-long cave. Our haunted corn maze is being upgraded with a 60-by-40-foot clown tent, as well as makeovers to several of the existing scenes. For Bates Motel itself, we’re remodeling the last room to ensure the best scare before the final exit.

FANG: How do you generate and implement ideas for your haunt?

BATES: One thing that truly makes our place successful is the incredible team we have working year-round to produce the best show we can. Our core group includes set designers, artists, welders, construction professionals and light and sound experts. We typically begin planning in January; then, after attending the Halloween trade shows in March, we start construction of the new scenes. Our planning sessions usually involve a few simple, fresh ideas, and then the group begins work on the details: how to light the scene, how to manufacture it, how the scares will be incorporated, how it will be painted or distressed, what materials we need, etc. Drawings are then sketched and plans made for construction. It’s a long process, but very rewarding, especially when you start with a small drawing of a scene, then build it and see the final result scaring the heck out of your customers.

Have no reservations about visiting www.thebatesmotel.com.

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