The Science Behind Haunted Houses featuring Ed Terebus of EREBUS and America Haunts!
The History of Haunted Houses
By: BEKAH McKENDRY
Currently, in the United States alone, there are over 1,200 professional haunted houses, 300 theme parks that operate horror-themed events and over 3,000 charity-run spookshows. But our love of being scared is by no means a recent phenomenon. Haunted attractions have a long history that dates all the way back to our earliest civilizations.
The Egyptians knew well that if you wanted to keep body snatchers away from a pyramid, the best way was to scare the hell out of them. Mazes, moving walls, self-opening doors, traps and the use of snakes and insects were commonplace in preserving treasures and dead royalty. Granted, they weren’t exactly charging admission for these scares, and the public was not lining up to get lost in the snake room, but this is one of the earliest examples of people crafting devices and sets to provoke fear.
The Greeks and Romans also unknowingly seeded the path for haunted attractions. Their folklore is rich with mazes and labyrinths, all filled with monsters. As theater was a vital part of their culture, it stands to reason that these ancients began devising rudimentary special FX to represent monsters and beasts. They also pioneered a number of theatrical devices that would evolve into the spooky elements used in haunts today, including fog, trapdoors, ghostly images and even fake blood and gore. (Fun fact: The ancient Greeks created multiple large-scale special FX contraptions, including the deus ex machina, used to make actors fly, and the ekkyklema, a platform mostly used to reveal dead bodies so the audience could see them.)
The Dark Ages
It’s hard to believe, but this period saw the Christians forwarding the evolution of the haunted house. During this time (around the 1300s through the 1500s), Europe had recently been converted from Celtic and pagan religions to the practice of Christianity, and pageant wagons toured the land performing plays. These were mostly Biblical stories acted out, often including the scarier parts. Though they were intended to frighten folks into staying pious, the attendees enjoyed the scares and gore right along with the morals.
Additionally, this era began the evolution of Halloween as we know it today. Though the holiday was born out of the Celtic and pagan religions, the European masses carried its practices with them as they converted to Christianity. Carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, dressing up in costume and even trick -or-treating were all pagan practices that were carried over. (Fun fact: Originally, people carved turnips to represent sprits and demons on Halloween. It was believed that hanging these carvings outside would protect your home for the night. When the European settlers came to America, they found very few turnips, but discovered that pumpkins grew in abundance and were much easier to carve. Thus, the jack o’ lantern was born.)
Society’s love of horror and the development of special FX continued to grow as theater became increasingly popular. Ghosts, demons, the devil and other monsters made regular appearances in plays, including those of William Shakespeare. (Fun fact: In order to create onstage gore during stabbing scenes, actors used to strap pig’s bladders to their midsections. The opposing actor would stab the bladder and pig blood would pour out, making it look as if the actor was actually bleeding to death.)
People became enthralled with ghosts and the possibility of other realms during this century. Mediums, fortune tellers, spiritualists and conjuring sessions to communicate with the dead became a form of entertainment for the elite, and many clairvoyants became renowned celebrities who were paid top dollar for their services. Magician Harry Houdini set out to disprove the practice, and debunked several famous spiritualists.
The haunt-theme path in the theater continued, including John Pepper’s invention of a setup that, through the use of mirrors, made people appear to be translucent apparitions on stage; this device became known as Pepper’s Ghost. The 1800s also saw the opening of the first wax museum, paving the way for future walk-through attractions that played with the patron’s sense of reality. (Fun fact: That same 1800s obsession with death led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. First published in 1818, the book sees Frankenstein’s monster brought to life through the real-life practice of galvanism—reanimating the dead with electric shocks.)
The Early 1900s
The beginning of the 20th century saw the height of the traveling carnival, and with it the rise of the freakshow. Patrons would walk through these attractions looking at human deformities and other oddities (many of them fake). Dark rides also became popular amusement attractions; these had patrons sitting on a boat or train and automatically moved through numerous scenes (the best-known variation is probably the Tunnel of Love). As amusement parks and family fun centers sprang up all over the nation, many could not afford a big rollercoaster, so some offered cheap fun-houses and haunted houses to pull in patrons. These were often very dark mazes filled with mirrors and loud buzzers.
Around this time, many of the residential houses built during the early 1800s were becoming worn down and dilapidated. To prevent children from exploring these dangerous buildings, adults would say that ghosts inhabited the neglected homes, further fueling the mystique of haunted dwellings.
The first recorded haunted attraction was the Orton and Spooner Ghost House, which opened in 1915 in the United Kingdom as part of an Edwardian fair. At this time, the Grand Guignol in France was scaring audiences nightly with its graphically staged horror entertainment. (Fun fact: The fake blood of the Grand Guignol was made of soap and bugs! It consisted of equal parts glycerin—clear soap—and carmine, a bright red pigment made by boiling and crushing certain beetles.)
1969 saw the opening of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, featuring a spectral sea captain, a ghostly wedding party, transforming portraits and a headless horseman. Walt Disney did not like the idea of putting an old, decrepit-looking structure in the middle of his park, so he took inspiration from San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House and created a lavish mansion with a pristine exterior. Originally, customers were supposed to walk through the Haunted Mansion, but the park staff had problems maintaining their pace and keeping the line moving steadily, so it became a dark ride in which patrons sat in trains (known as “doom buggies”) that carried them through the haunt. (Fun fact: A haunted house was part of Disney’s plan for the park long before Disneyland was built in 1955. In the original pre-construction artists’ renderings, a rundown mansion and graveyard can be seen overlooking Main Street.)
Many haunt owners and even older generations remember having their first spooky-attraction experience courtesy of the Jaycees charity. Short for the United States Junior Chamber, the Jaycees encouraged its young members to put up haunted houses in abandoned buildings or fields as a way to raise money, and the organization became so well-known for these haunts that in 1975, two men from the Bloomington, Illinois chapter, Jim Gould and Tom Hilligoss, decided to write a book about how to create one, detailing makeup FX, scene ideas and marketing strategies . Over 20,000 copies were printed, and Gould and Hilligoss became the first-ever haunted-house experts. They would go on to form The Haunted House Company, one of the first outfits to sell FX, masks, lighting, costumes and marketing materials all in one place . (Fun fact: The two men also created the first-ever Santa’s Village attraction for Christmas.)
As horror movies grew in popularity during this decade, so did haunted houses; most amusement parks boasted a scary attraction of some sort. In 1984, the Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey caught fire, trapping and killing eight patrons. This set off alarm bells across the industry about the importance of safety, choice of building materials and emergency awareness. Haunts were reshaped to preserve the artificial scares but maintain a high level of safety, ensuring that a tragedy like this would never happen again.
The 1990s – Present
Haunts are everywhere, and not just limited to houses; there are haunted hayrides, mazes and scavenger hunts. Most of us have been through multiple attractions, and for many people, this was their first taste of horror. They’ve become so popular that Halloween enthusiasts known as “home haunters” create attractions at home simply for the love of doing it. Haunts are here to stay, and their industry will only continue to evolve and grow into more terrifying directions. Happy haunting!
THE WIZARD OF THE 13TH FLOOR – Populating the Haunt
By CHRIS ALEXANDER
The art of shocking audiences is a balance of well-timed scares and thick, immersive atmosphere—a magician’s trick designed to fool the conscious mind into believing that what it is experiencing is real. And as in horror filmmaking, the special FX artist is also the haunted house’s ace in the hole. Without their illusions, the terror just doesn’t have the same blood-icing sting.
Prosthetic FX designer Evan Hedges knows this, and pours his energy into making sure The 13th Floor is a nonstop sensory smackdown of bizarre creatures, demons, ghouls and other supernatural entities. We chatted briefly with the makeup wizard and caught a glimpse of the weird world behind the curtain.
FANGORIA: Tell us about your background.
EVAN HEDGES: I attended Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program after high school. My friend was going there already, it seemed like fun and I thought, “What the hell, why not? I’ll try it out.” The rest, as they say, is history!
FANG: When did you first realize that FZ was what you wanted to do?
HEDGES: When I was a kid, I always loved creating things out of clay. I used to make all the characters from Saturday Night Live’s “Mr. Bill Show,” and then, just like on TV, I’d take great pleasure in crushing them [laughs]. And my dad would take me to see R-rated movies like RoboCop and The Terminator. I was fascinated by those illusions and always wanted to know how they did them. It became an obsession.
FANG: So you went to school and learned your trade, but how did you end up in the world of haunted attractions?
HEDGES: Believe it or not, Craigslist [laughs]. There was a posting there for a mask maker. So I replied, they liked my work and I’ve been working for The 13th Floor for the past four years.
FANG: What’s one of your favorite gags?
HEDGES: Oh man, that’s a hard one. Everything! I love them all. Recently, I made this zombie baby in a crib that cries. It’s one of those things that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Very psychological…a deep, primal kind of horror comes from that.
FANG: Are you an ongoing staff member, always tweaking your creations?
HEDGES: I’m always coming up with new ideas. I can’t shut my brain off—always thinking of what I can make better and more terrifying. Right now, I’m working on some top-secret haunt stuff. I’d tell you more…but I’d have to kill you.
Scarehouse Zombies invade Good Morning America!
America Haunts Explains the SHOCKING Evolution of Modern Haunted Houses
Big Budget Haunted Attractions Pull Out All the Stops to Terrify Customers
ATLANTA, Oct. 18, 2013 — /PRNewswire/ — As mainstream America embraces a new generation of horror films they are finding the same thrills with Halloween entertainment at America Haunts attractions throughout the nation.
These haunted house owners have taken the task of inducing blood-curdling screams to a whole new level. The America Haunts Association – with more than 35 major haunts nationwide, featured in high-profile mediums like the Travel Channel and USA Today are pioneering today’s modern haunts with Hollywood-quality creature make-up and costumes along with breath-taking special effects and clever cutting-edge scares.
With the popularity of gory horror movies and TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Face Off” combined with the high demand of horror-based video games, the world class owners of America Haunts attractions change up to 60 percent of their properties annually, and consistently implement the newest technology available to keep their guests wondering what is lurking around every corner.
America Haunts is responsible for the terrifying evolution of today’s haunted houses; some of what you will see from its members include:
The Scarehouse (Pittsburgh) – Special 3-D glasses used in conjunction with chroma-altering projections make flat images leap off of the walls at guests!
13th Floor Haunted House (Denver) – Integrated Microsoft Kinect technology with giant animated figures track and interact with individual patrons!
The Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe (Kansas City, Mo.) – Dare to take a thrilling zip line ride from the top of this multi-story haunted house and plummet safely to the parking lot below!
Netherworld Haunted House (Atlanta) – See a giant saw blade cut an actor in half then shoot out into the path and make its way toward the crowd!
Erebus Haunted House (Pontiac, Mich.) – Catch the new photo system that captures a scare in a 3D format like the movie “The Matrix” that allows guests to take the experience home with them and view it from all angles!
The 13th Floor (Phoenix) – The scares start at the newly expanded entrance sequence with motion simulator mausoleums, or mauselvators!
“What’s great about visiting an America Haunts attraction is that guests are given the opportunity to be the stars of their favorite scary movies and video games,” said Ben Armstrong of America Haunts. “Halloween might only come once a year, but the memories last forever.”
For information on locations, hours and ticket prices for these nationwide attractions, visit www.AmericaHaunts.com/attractions.
With more than 30 haunted attractions nationwide, America Haunts delivers fear-based entertainment to more than a million thrill seekers each season. America Haunts has been featured on the Travel Channel and its members repeatedly recognized by Guinness World Records. The organization is committed to providing technical excellence, stunning set design, Hollywood-quality make-up, costumes and actors. Members enjoy nothing more than delivering, a good old-fashioned scare. Visit www.americahaunts.com
America Haunts Reveals the Secrets of the Haunted House Group Dynamic!
What Kind of Haunted House Customer are you?
ATLANTA, Oct. 3, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — So, what do Haunted House visitors want? America Haunts knows.
Today, the association of elite haunted houses that delivers entertainment to more than a million thrill-seekers every Halloween season, revealed what customers crave most is an unforgettable experience with friends and family when visiting a haunted attraction.
Group bonding is critical for a memorable event as excitement grows on the car ride to the haunt and finishes on the way home with stories about who got scared and the crazy stuff they just shared. Everyone in the group plays a role, from The Thrill Seeker to The Brave One to The Ringleader; most of the group’s attention is focused on reactions of their group members, rather than the event itself.
“When getting a group together to attend a haunt, people go out of their way to bring an easily scared friend or a haunted house expert to come along, and constantly watch how they react to the event,” says Ben Armstrong of America Haunts.
The more common roles in a group attending a haunted attraction include:
The Offering: Usually terrified, they are pushed in front of the group and offered to the monsters. They sometimes relish the role – screaming and smiling all the while. Sometimes, however, they just want to GET OUT!
The Offerer: They are often more interested in The Offering’s reaction than what is going on around them. Sometimes they are scared and use The Offering as a shield.
The Brave One: The person who marches on bravely to attain higher status from the group or to test their own fears.
The Thrill Seeker: The most delightful type of patron who screams and laughs at all the right times and is a joy for the actors. Like The Offering, the group fixates on this person and is delighted with every scream.
The Detail Seeker: More excited by sets and props, The Detail Seeker loves haunted houses, but is less scared of the actors and studies every detail in the room. They want to know, “How did they do that?”
The Ringleader: The guest responsible for the group going to the haunt. Often, Ringleaders have already attended the attraction. They relish watching their friends experience the horrors and go to great lengths to convince “chickens” to come along for everyone else’s entertainment. Sometimes they handpick The Brave One to see if they get them to crack.
So what are the roles of you and your friends?
With 35 haunted attractions nationwide, America Haunts delivers fear-based entertainment to more than a million people annually. America Haunts has been featured on the Travel Channel and its members repeatedly recognized by Guinness World Records. The organization is committed to providing technical excellence, stunning set design, and Hollywood-quality costumes and actors. For information on hours and ticket prices on these nationwide attractions, visit www.AmericaHaunts.com/attractions.
America Haunts celebrates Friday the 13th with Top Three hottest trends for 2013 Halloween season!
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Sept. 13, 2013 — While sane folks try to stay home on Friday the 13th, horror fans welcome the day to test their fate. Knowing this, several America Haunts attractions open their doors for the Halloween season today, lying in wait for those who dare seek to challenge demonic spirits and all that scares them.
“Some things that terrify us have rarely changed throughout history, while others fade in and out from our fear radar,” said Amber Arnett-Bequeaith of America Haunts, home to more than 30 of the most terrifying, bloodcurdling scream-inducing haunted houses and attractions in the U.S. “What went bump in the night 50 years ago and horrified our parents may seem like kids’ play now.”
Knowing this, the diabolical creators of these haunted attractions constantly revamp 60-70 percent of their properties to consistently creep visitors out.
“A visit from The Blob may have sent us running when it invaded planet Earth in 1958, but against Freddie Krueger in 1984, you just can’t compare the trouble that’s inflicted inside,” Arnett-Bequeaith continued.
So what scares us today? According to America Haunts, it is:
- Zombies. The blood-drooling undead can induce tears in those who don’t get out of sight fast enough. While Zombie presence has soared in American culture the past five years, it has been part of our twisted entertainment since author William Seabrook introduced the topic in 1928.
- Homicidal Maniacs. Whether it’s Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Zep Hindle or their dangerous copycats. They are everywhere at America Haunts. Just ask mainstay Charlie McFree at The Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati.
- The Devil and his Minions. Whether Blair Witches, Linda Blair possessed, creepy ghostly children or Satan in any form – from dawn until the end of time, demonic spirits alter our peace of mind.
With those panic-inducing thoughts, Friday the 13th is said to be a 20th Century invention, or perhaps that’s just when we discovered it! Test your luck and courage and see if you can make it through America Haunts attractions this Friday. Before you leave the house, remember that on Friday the 13th:
- Alfred Hitchcock would have turned 114 this week
- It is Jason’s day of reckoning
- Some say to avoid cutting your hair or a family member will die
- Others say not to pass a funeral or you may die
Winning means you live to see the 14th!
With over 30 haunted houses and attractions across the country, America Haunts delivers fear-based entertainment to more than a million thrill seekers each season. America Haunts has been featured on the Travel Channel and its members repeatedly recognized by Guinness World Records. The organization is committed to providing technical excellence, stunning set design, Hollywood-quality make-up, costumes and actors. Members enjoy nothing more than delivering, a good old-fashioned scare. For information on hours and ticket prices on these haunted attractions, visit www.AmericaHaunts.com/attractions.
America Haunts Announces Opening Dates for Haunted Houses and Attractions
DETROIT, Aug. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — America Haunts, home to more than 30 of the most terrifying, bloodcurdling scream-inducing haunted houses and attractions in the United States, announced its 2013 season opening schedule.
Starting Sept. 6 at The Edge of Hell and The Beast in Kansas City, Mo., fans will get their first look at the newest crop of monsters and zombies from beyond. Sixteen more America Haunts attractions will open their doors for the season the following week on Friday the 13th (as if that day was not scary enough already).
America Haunts attractions annually lure the bravest souls while providing the most safe, fun and horrifying haunted entertainment. To maintain the standard of excellence in the haunted attraction industry, each venue works year-round to present guests with an even more spine chilling experience than their last visit. Staffs featuring high quality technical crews and talented makeup artists and actors combine to provide thrill-seekers the Hollywood-quality scare they seek.
“Each America Haunts attraction has the ability to either scare you a little or a lot,” said Ben Armstrong of America Haunts. “We have the most fun with those who think that no haunted house is going to scare them. It’s fun to then see them become so terrified they don’t even think twice about leaving behind friends and family to save themselves.”
America Haunts Opening Dates
Friday, Sept. 6
Edge of Hell Haunted House Kansas City, MO
The Beast Kansas City, MO
Friday, Sept. 13
13th Floor Denver
13th Floor Phoenix
13th Floor San Antonio
Bennett’s Curse Baltimore
Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe Kansas City, MO
Cutting Edge Fort Worth, TX
Erebus Haunted House Pontiac, MI
House of Torment Austin, TX
The Haunting of Lemp Brewery St. Louis
Macabre Cinema Haunted House Kansas City, MO
Necropolis 13 Baton Rouge, LA
Nightmare on 13th Salt Lake City
Spookywoods Greensboro Winston-Salem, NC
The 13th Gate Baton Rouge, LA
The Darkness St. Louis
The Dent Schoolhouse Cincinnati
Friday, Sept. 20
7 Floors of Hell Cleveland
Pennhurst Asylum Philadelphia
Saturday, Sept. 21
Headless Horseman Ulster Park, NY
Friday, Sept. 27
Bates Motel Philadelphia
Creepywoods Haunted Forest Baltimore
Georgetown Morgue Seattle
Nightmare New England Boston
Nightmare on the Bayou Houston
Scream Zone San Diego
The Asylum Denver
The Haunted Hotel San Diego
The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park San Diego
The Scare House Pittsburgh
Saturday, Sept. 28
Thrillvania Dallas TX
Statesville Haunted Prison, Chicago IL
For information on hours and ticket prices, go to www.AmericaHaunts.com/attractions
With 30 haunted houses and attractions across the country, America Haunts delivers fear-based entertainment to more than a million thrill seekers each season. America Haunts has been featured on the Travel Channel and its members recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records on multiple occasions. The organization is committed to providing technical excellence, stunning set design, Hollywood-quality make-up, costumes and actors. Members enjoy nothing more than delivering, a good old-fashioned scare. Visit AmericaHaunts.com.