People like to be scared. We love roller coasters, scary movies, and Ouija boards. But, we only truly enjoy fear when it is couched in a safe environment. In that context, the elimination of that doubting voice in your head, the sharpening of your reflexes, and the rush of adrenaline that accompany terror can be euphoric. This is why scary mazes, haunted houses, and ghostly prison events are so popular. In 2013, NBC reported that haunted houses were a 300 million dollar per year industry. Their popularity has spiked in the years since.
Haunted attractions manufacture fear. They begin by breaking down our desire to remain rational and force us to react to stimuli, overpowering our better logic. The best haunted houses do this seamlessly and beautifully.
What follows aren’t the sort of strip mall scare mills run by community organizations and staffed by people who thought pretending to be an undead clown was better than spinning a “FLATSCREEN TV” sign like a baton. These are the kind of big-budget horror-fests with staff sociologists (seriously, at least one of them has a PhD holder on staff as a “scare specialist”). They are looking at the science of fear and devising ways to trigger panic and terror in your brain.
Read through this list and then make plans for a horrifying halloween of your own.
Knotts Scary Farm (Buena Park, CA)
This is the classic. Theme Park Insider (yes, that’s a thing) declared it the “first, largest, and longest running theme park Halloween event in the world” in 2010, and argued that all other Halloween events at theme parks are copycats. In fairness, Knotts has been operating their Scary Farm even since 1973, so the others do appear to be creepies-come-lately.
For the camp, hit up Elvira: Mistress of the Dark’s show (this is her final year with Knott’s) or the Farm’s other show “The Hanging: Fake Noose” (yes, there is political “humor”). But, if you want the scares, hit mazes like Dark Ride, The Pumpkin Eater, Red Barn, Voodoo, The Tooth Fairy, and Paranormal Inc. That’s not even all of them. There are a lot of mazes, filled with actors committed to freaking you out.