I am one of those odd birds who finds being scared fun. In fact, over the years I’ve become something of a scary-attraction connoisseur. It took until I was 22, but I finally made it to Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park, California, in 1998. As a die hard horror fan from a very young age (I somehow saw Poltergeist and The Exorcist in the same night at age six) my excitement was off the charts. I wore my favorite Hellraiser shirt and raced through the maze-filled attraction in a frenzy. I felt like a kid.
This was during the era where Knott’s was still referencing popular film and TV properties, and at one point in the night I was chased by a butcher knife-wielding Pinhead. Since I was familiar with the Hellraiser story canon, I knew that the Cenobite leader didn’t need the assistance of kitchen tools to get the job done, but, hey, it was still a fun time.
Two years later, I found myself working at Universal City Walk (a nightmare of the retail variety) which afforded me some perks — namely, a discounted entry to Halloween Horror Nights. This was my first time visiting the Universal Studios event, which had been held off and on at the park since 1986. The highlights that year were an original maze designed by horror master Clive Barker, and a memorable take on Rob Zombie’s only good movie (that’s right, I said it!) House of 1000 Corpses.
I quickly learned there was an ongoing rivalry between fans of Knott’s and Universal. The former had the size and scope down while the latter was able to pick from their own horror movie library and bring to life some favorite genre icons.
Over the years, my own haunt preferences have swung back and forth (like a corpse dangling from the rafters), but Knott’s has really been delivering the goods in recent years. Their consistently creative mazes and their new Fright Lane option — which gives visitors a collectible Skeleton Key granting access to exclusive rooms — boost the event into a whole new stratosphere.
If roller coasters are your thing, the park remains fully operational once the sun goes down and each scare zone helps keep patrons on their toes. My focus, however, has always been the immersive maze experiences. The standouts this year included “Trick or Treat,” “Black Magic,” “The Tooth Fairy,” and one of the new additions for 2015, “Paranormal Inc.”
That’s not to say that Halloween Horror Nights hasn’t been delivering the terrifying goods. Universal Studios in Florida has been on top of their game and are delivering again this year with the return of the classic American Werewolf In London maze, as well as a house dedicated to the age old battle of two genre titans: Freddy vs Jason. While those two are worth visiting, this year’s “25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem” attraction is an absolute must-see. It also helps that the park supplies alcohol as the L.A. location is bone dry. I hit up the West Coast attraction a few weeks ago and, while it didn’t feel quite as engaging as it had in previous years, the mazes for The Walking Dead, and Halloween were solid with Insidious being the best of the bunch.
Aside from the big amusement park events, some of the best horror experiences around are provided by weird and wonderful independent haunts. Two years ago, I discovered an amazing gem called Big Worm’s Sherwood Scare. It’s family owned with all proceeds going to Cystic Fibrosis research and is, by far, the most creative and frightening attraction I’ve attended in the Los Angeles area. Unfortunately, they have gone dark for 2015 with a promise to return next year. But one unique experience that has not disappeared is the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, which is really unlike anything else offered in the city.
Every year, the attraction takes over the old zoo at Griffith Park and attendees are transported to another time and place. As the title suggests, the main aspect of the event is the hayride which lasts approximately 25-minutes. Here, a bunch of people are towed around the spooky backdrop of the vacated zoo as different scenes inspired by genre classics and horror stories play out around the visitors. This year, the Boogeyman is said to be roaming the area — but I can’t help but think of one year, not too long ago, when a beautifully deranged scene inspired by 1973’s The Wicker Man took place.
Aside from the main attraction, The Haunted Hayride also offers three mazes: The In-Between dark maze, the House of Shadows, and Trick Or Treat. There’s also pumpkin carving for the kids, a merry-go-round, and a circus sideshow attraction.
Here are a few more favorites:
Sticking with the creepy hayride motif — because cornfields and forests are inherently spooky — the Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses has been going strong in Ulster Park, New York for the past 23 years. Along with a one-mile long hayride through the scariest terrain the location has to offer, there is also a corn maze, a “magic-illusion” circus side show, and a few mazes with welcoming titles like “Glutton’s Diner & Slaughter House,” “Slither’s Pet Shop,” and “Dahlia Blood’s Manor.” A new attraction finds the event hopping on the escape room bandwagon by delivering “a real life escape experience” called “The Great Room Escape.” While it doesn’t sound as extreme and intense as events such as “Blackout,” the attraction is said to provide an interactive experience with immersive scares throughout.
It is pretty safe to say when a bunch of celebrity horror geeks rave about a Halloween attraction like Pittsburgh’s Scarehouse, it’s worth traveling for. Known as one of the best Halloween attractions in all of America, the Scarehouse has received a glowing seal of approval by the likes of Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim), Mike Dougherty (Trick R Treat) and Elijah Wood (Maniac, Lord of the Rings).
This year, they have once again teamed with Legendary Entertainment in bringing multiple attractions to life including: “The Summoning,” “Krampus: Come All Ye Fearful” — which is a tie-in with Legendary’s upcoming Krampus film — and “Trick R Treat: Hallowed Grounds” (because it ain’t officially Halloween until Sam shows up). If you’re feeling brave, we can’t forget about The Basement, which offers a more intense 35-minute long “hands on” experience. And, ahem, when I say “hands on,” I mean people are going to put bags over your head and…it’s kinda odd…
The Dent Schoolhouse
In a statement that is probably unsurprising to no one, there is a haunted schoolhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio. While that notion is creepy enough on its own, a haunt called The Dent Schoolhouse fills this decrepit establishment for learning every Halloween season. This attraction follows the story of a murderous janitor who haunts the halls. If the concept of traveling back in time to revisit those weird, and possibly horrifying elementary school days of yore doesn’t get you, it may be worth noting that this haunt is inspired by Freddy Krueger’s origin story.
The Pennhurst Asylum opened its doors in 1908 in Spring City, Pennsylvania, and acted as an institution for “the feeble minded and epileptic.” The facility was notorious for the horrible treatment and torture of its patients and permanently closed in 1987. It’s been alleged that Ryan Murphy used Pennhurst as an inspiration for Briarcliff in American Horror Story: Asylum, and for good reason.
This place is f*cking scary.
So, of course, some geniuses turned Pennhurst into it’s own Halloween-themed haunt because why would you not!? The facility features a few major attractions on its grounds including “The Dungeon of Lost Souls” which grants visitors a close up perspective on the institution’s practice of human experimentation, “The Tunnel Terror” which puts attendees underground to explore the 900 foot-long labyrinth of catacombs and swamps, and “The Ghost Hunt” which is a self-guided tour where visitors — armed just with a flashlight — will explore the allegedly super-haunted Mayflower Dormitory. Good times.
The 13th Gate
If snakes, swamps and voodoo is your bag, then head on over to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for The 13th Gate. This “extreme horror” experience has been going strong for the past 14 years. Here, visitors will be taken on a journey through a real life Louisiana swamp filled with real-life snakes (why’d it have to be snakes?), a voodoo show (which will probably feature a Papa Midnite type of dude), a bunch of hidden passages to sneak through, and, uh, a prehistoric ice cave.
Adding to the murderous fun, the 13th Gate comes with a sister attraction known as “Necropolis Haunted Cemetery.” This is a 40,000 square foot outdoor New Orleans style graveyard. After entering these sacred grounds, guests are guided down a staircase into more underground catacombs where zombies, monsters, vampires, and, hell, maybe even pizza rats all come out to play. The mission here is to find an alternate escape route to make it to the graveyard up top where the terror is sure to continue.
Did you know Michigan houses more Halloween haunts per capita than any other state in the union? One event in particular has been consistently delivering innovative and unique scares to the public for the past 15 years. Erebus, named after the Greek God of primordial darkness, is located in Pontiac, Michigan, and up until 2009 held the Guinness record for America’s “longest walk-through haunt.” How long? About half a mile. A half mile of complete horror.
New attractions to the event come with ominous titles like “The Dungeon of Dread” and “Undead Dolls Quarter.” With over 7,000 people unable to make it all the way through the event since it opened in 2000, chances are Erebus just might succeed at freaking you the f*ck out.
House Of Torment
House of Torment sounds like a kinky underground bondage club, but, in actuality, is the oldest haunted house attraction in Austin, Texas. This is one of those haunts that continually hit best-of lists every year and, by the sound of it, 2015 will be no different. The event’s three new attractions that premiered this fall are “Blackthorne District: Realms Collide,” “Cursed: The Coven,” and “Slaughterhouse: The Feeding,” which I’m sure will smell just delightful.
But wait, there’s more! House of Torment has branched out and a new location has popped up in Chicago for all you Cubs fans. The new location has brought two attractions with it: “Contagium” and “The Abandoned.”
Since 2009, The Cutting Edge Haunted House in Fort Worth, Texas, has held the Guinness World Record for longest walk-through attraction which clocks in at just under an hour to escape…err…complete. This haunt takes place in an abandoned 100-year-old meat packing plant because of course it does. Cutting Edge is located in a neighborhood of Fort Worth locals refer to as “Hell’s Half Acre,” which is ominous-sounding enough. And then there’s the detail that real meat packing equipment is used in the two-story attraction to help process human meat for consumption and now I’m reminded of A Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2.
I think I need a minute.
Known simply as The Darkness, this is one of the longest running events of its kind in St. Louis, Missouri. Once a two-story building, one should not only expect floating floors, moving walls, and a bunch of scary-ass clowns in the new “3D Haunted House Terror Visions,” but also a frightful experience implementing a plethora of over-the-top and innovative effects including “over 200 animations, 75 CGI effects, hundreds of zombies, monsters, man-eating puppets, and animated effects that grab and bite customers.” Yes, that’s right, you’re getting bit, y’all!”
If ever there was a name for an attraction fit it perfectly, it’s New England’s own Haunted Overload. We started this list with an outdoor haunt so why not end with one? Once again utilizing the frightening landscape that nature has supplied, the creators of the event use their own handmade sets, throw in some towering monsters, and bring it all together with a strong lighting and sound team that help to transform this forest into something from your worst (or best) nightmare.
It’s also worth noting that this outstanding attraction, which has made it on the top of many best-of lists this year, was dubbed “America’s Scariest Haunt” by ABC’s Great Halloween Fright Fight which has helped further promote this consistently scary good time.
If you’re looking for something creepy that’s a bit more low key, travel with Paula Froelich (A Broad Abroad) to the home of jazz and Voodoo, aka “America’s Most Haunted City.” What better way to take in the deep culture than with a psychic as your guide?