It’s the Halloween season and we recently published our big list of places to get your spook on this October. Researching the list made us wonder, “What goes into creating a haunted attraction? How do they do that?”
We visited with three haunted attractions in the region in the hopes of getting answers and understanding how it all works. The Zombie Wasteland, in the lake area, the Rising, in the Waynesville area, and the Haunted Mine, in the Rolla area, were happy to give us some insight into what goes into scaring people.
David Quinn, the Zombie Wasteland creator warned the public to know what they are in for before deciding whether or not to come visit his attraction. Quinn explained the backstory behind his attraction.
“This is a scarehouse; it’s not for the faint-of-heart. It’s a story based on Doctor Woopinshall who was the local hometown doctor and he went mad and started experimenting with bio-hazardous chemicals and things went wrong and the disease spread. As it spread, it took over everybody’s hopes for a cure and the dead started coming back to life including your worst nightmares. Freddy Krueger you thought was gone is no longer gone; he’s back as a zombie. Pennywise from Itwill be here, Jason, Mike Myers, Leatherface all those guys will make an appearance,” Quinn said.
Quinn and his crew have “lots of really cool tricks up our sleeves. We are going to be using some digital special effects which is going to be pretty cool. All the music, everything is created by me--it’s one-of-a-kind, so it’s something you won’t find anywhere else. A lot of my props are created by me--a lot of my zombies, my manually-operated animatronics.”
Quinn described the size of the haunted attraction, saying, “This place is big; this haunted house is going to be about 30 to 35,000 square feet. It’s going to take about 15 to 18 minutes to get through. You’ll get to come in and fight the zombies. You’ll get to see the story start off; you’ll get to go through the battle of the zombies. You’ll get to lose the battle and you’ll have to try to escape. It’s pretty intense.”
The Zombie Wasteland isn’t strictly for profit, according to Quinn, some of the money raised goes to a good cause.
Quinn said, “We are a for-charity. Kids’ Harbor is a safe-house for children who have been physically abused--mentally, sexually. They [Kids’ Harbor] are also the people who take care of human trafficking, which is really shocking on I-44 there’s a lot of human trafficking going on. It’s really bothersome, so to be able to help out Kids’ Harbor is what it’s all about. Half of all the ticket sales goes to Kids’ Harbor.”
Another unique and scary haunted attraction has been frightening people for many years in the Rolla area. Missouri S&T hosts the Haunted Mine every year, offering yet another unique scare to haunted attraction lovers.
Paige Cochran, the executive financial officer for the haunted mine at Missouri S&T, wrote in an e-mail that of all the kinds of haunted attractions, a haunted mine is the creepiest “because of the underground experience. There’s something about being underground, closed off from the exit, ‘trapped’ with all this horror that brings out the best type of adrenaline.”
This haunted mine event signifies an important part in the semester for the Missouri S&T students. According to Cochran, “This event is important to the Mining students because it is our only fundraiser for the entire department. Every organization gets a section of the mine to design, build, and decorate as we progress through the set-up of Haunted Mine. The budget is tight and supplies are limited, although many Rolla businesses help by donating supplies and giving discounts to us when we have more expensive items to purchase. A couple St. Robert businesses offered space to hang our flyers this year. Everyone is always extremely supportive and understanding, making the mine the best it can be. We tend to have around 3,000 people come out every year from all over the state, and sometimes from adjoining states. These patrons will help our students make enough to travel to conferences, competitions, and further their networking and educational experiences.”
The mine transforms into a haunted attraction within a few weeks. According to Cochran, “Set-up this year is around 3 weeks. We start off with bundles of cedar lumber and tarps to create the walls/paths. We also use some of our ventilation panels to create switchbacks, making people wind and twist through the tighter sections of the mine. After we have all the major components built, we add in the decorations and some of the safety aspects, like ramps, padding doorstops, etc. This is the part where the students really get to make their mark, with some of the smaller details that can go unnoticed unless you make multiple trips through. After everything is wrapping up, about 3 days before the opening night, we have a safety inspector come through and double-check our work. There's a lot of paint and tarps and wood slabs to create the security, with smaller details and lighting creating the ambiance [sic].”
The owner of The Rising in Waynesville, Matt Berrine, talked about the costs involved in creating a haunt.
He said, “There’s a lot of things people don’t see. The money that goes into it--how much this stuff costs--the props and stuff that we buy is ridiculous because not everybody buys it. So when you buy that stuff, it may not cost that much to produce the prop, but it’s the creativity and the science behind coming up with it. It’s no different than a car and all the money it takes to do the research--it’s the same thing as that. All the stuff costs a lot of money to buy it.”
People in the haunt industry buy their equipment from a trade show every spring in St. Louis. The show offers some unique props, according to Berrine.
“In March every year is the largest trade show for the haunt industry; since  it’s been located in St. Louis and it’s put on by TransWorld. All the haunters--anyone that is in this kind of business--looks at all the newest stuff that’s just come out--the props, masks, anything, even from insurance for your haunt and everything else that goes on behind it. They come up with everything; you can buy smells and have them put in it--smells like vomit if you want it, cat urine, whatever you want. They have it to make it as realistic as possible,”Berrine said.
There are disadvantages to ordering from vendors at the trade show, according to Berrine. One of the disadvantages is a lack of a guarantee that an order will be filled on time or at all.
“All these vendors set up [at the trade show] and they have their new product line whether it’s a mask company or whatever and they have all their masks out for you to put your orders in and you put your order in. Most of them will try to have it to you before haunt season--before the end of September. Sometimes they don’t always make it and sometimes that’s a battle. I had a battle between a new vendor I never dealt with and you pay half upfront. My order was over three grand. They charge the other half when they finally ship it out to you. Shipping was supposed to be between June and July and in the middle of September I still hadn’t heard from them. That’s the bad thing about the haunt industry--you pay half the money upfront and you have nothing but a piece of paper showing that you did. If that company files bankruptcy or if that company skips town, you’ve lost out,” Berrine said.
The Rising is a haunted house and Berrine was happy to tell us about how they maintain the surprise for people as they are waiting outside in the “q-line,” as Berrine called it, as well as entertain the people waiting to get in.
Berrine explained the experience of the q-line upon arrival, “The q-line is the line when they are waiting in the front. We scare in the q-line. Part of your experience of going to this haunt is to keep you waiting in line. We entertain from the time you get out of your car in the parking lot until the time you get back in your car to leave. I tell my actors that you want to try to scare people, but you’re not going to scare everybody. Not everybody gets scared; some people go just to watch somebody else get scared ‘cause they think it’s funny. If you can’t scare them, then try to make them laugh. We are here to entertain. As long as you are entertained, then we’ve done our job.”
While waiting in the q-line, the Rising maintains the mystery of what awaits the visitor inside. Berrine said they accomplish that mostly with music.
“Our music is all fast-paced stuff like Nickelback, Rob Zombie, stuff that appeals to what we’re doing. The q-line music is to keep the crowd entertained so they can’t hear everything going on back here. If I didn’t have that playing and I had the bells and stuff in the cemetery or the alligators rallying down there, you’d hear it all the way up here. Once everything is on, it drowns itself out and you basically don’t hear the stuff until you are in that spot,” Berrine said.
The secret to scaring people, according to Berrine, is being able to read people. Berrine said you could tell the difference between a new actor and a more experienced one because the ones who have done it a long time “can read people.”
“There’s so much to read on a person when you are scaring them. First of all, whether you are going to get hit. You can tell whether somebody is jumpy, scared and that’s their reaction or somebody who is just being a butthole about it and just wants to hit you. Sometimes you’ll have guys in the line that’s real friends with their wives and they think it’s funny to terrorize them and they are laughing and pointing at their wife or whatever. Sometimes I go up to scare them and the husband is a jealous type and it’s making them mad as can be which, when that happens, they think I am watching her, I’m actually watching him because I think it’s funny so I keep going until I know I’ve pushed his buttons long enough, I just go on to the next one [couple]. They have no idea,” Berrine said.
Berrine said what makes the experience of visiting a haunted attraction fun and scary is the lack of control.
“When you go to a haunt, you are paying not to have any control--we actually have control of you. We have control of you while you are at the haunt--that’s what makes the experience. You have to be overwhelming or intimidating to the customers in order for them to feel like they are really at that kind of experience,” Berrine said.