Professional Haunt Providers
And The Future Of Halloween Attractions

As Observed At The International Association of Amusement Parks
and Attractions' 1996 Show

The Halloween haunted attraction scene has changed greatly since the early 1980's, when I first became seriously involved in it. Insurance and code requirements have transformed what was once a jolly hobby used as a tool for fund-raising by civic groups, into a serious business. For-profit and non-profit varieties alike are involved in the same game.

Small operators and annual charitable haunts are beginning to face serious commercial competition, but the quality of this competition is currently uneven and varied. It will not be long, however, before quality of show becomes an important consideration. In the past, any haunt that had a decent location and publicity could draw a crowd, despite the quality of show. This is still true, to a degree, at present. Nevertheless, the future will likely bring demands for improved show elements on small operations, as advanced entertainment technology becomes more widely available and affordable.

As the Halloween haunt phenomenon continues to grow across the country, more and more vendors will incorporate in order to profit from providing services and products to the industry. Those which offer prefabricated, turn-key haunts, are also likely to increase in number. The quality and variety of products offered will improve and diversify quickly.

The growth of this industry is exciting to watch, and at the 1996 IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) show, several providers were present with their displays. The manufacturers of complete haunts showed their floor plans and elevations. Each of these companies quickly pointed out that they had the expertise to be certain that their product would meet local fire and building codes, so that the purchasing operator would not have this to worry with.

It is good to know what's out there, so you can plan and react as the changes come. Here's a quick look at a number of the professional services presently being offered, in both the areas of design and supply. Most of the haunt providers I spoke with wanted to sell me a complete package, but when questioned, allowed that they also sold component parts.

The ubiquitous Elm Street Hauntrepreneurs offer 5 different haunt packages that they will erect on your property, as well as custom design service. Of all the booths I visited, theirs had the least in the way of active display, presenting mainly graphics and descriptions. The representative was very businesslike, and only seemed interested in talking to serious buyers. Their client list reads like a who's who of amusement facilities offering annual Halloween events, which might explain their attitude.

Their stated approach to haunt design is "High Startle and Low Gore." Offering packages ranging from a 5-room kiosk ( well-suited for a shopping mall) to a åScream Park' package, they pack as much content as possible into a space, using a tight, twisted maze design. The firm designs its attractions to appeal to a general audience, and to produce maximum traffic flow. In fact, capacity-per-hour ratings are provided for each unit.

Other vendors seemed more anxious to show their wares to anyone who seemed interested. Among these were:

Halloween Productions, Inc., "Creators of Haunted Theme Parks," offered 3 basic packages - The Crypt, The Asylum and The Haunted Mansion. Each is offered in three sizes - 1350, 2400, or 4000 sq.ft., and is optionally available as a completely automated unit. The normal versions require a cast ranging from 3 to 20 members, depending on size and complexity. Like Elm Street's, their haunts consist of a facade connected to a tent-topped maze. They also offer custom design service for hay rides, and permanent dark rides and attractions.

Jets Productions, Inc. Haunt Design Firm, which offers consultation and design for haunts, dark rides, hay rides, and stunt shows. They offer two new 'Stock Haunted House Packages,' The Hollywood House Of Horrors, I & II. Size ranges from 1600 - 2400 sq. ft. Their large catalog shows a complete line of lighting, sound, and special effects equipment by name-brand manufacturers, available for separate purchase, including the Wildfire line of theatrical blacklight equipment and fluorescent paints.

Cutting Edge - "An Experience You Can Only Hope To Forget!" This Arlington, Texas firm did not have literature available at IAAPA, and their exhibit showed only general 'look and feel' pieces, but their presentation was quite professional. They specialize in complete haunt design for all types of attractions, as do the firms mentioned above.

There are a lot of companies that provide supplies to the haunted industry that are not specifically targeting it, but rather deal with the general entertainment and theatrical industries. I won't even begin to try to list them here. A visit to my website (URL listed above) will provide links to a number of good, reliable providers who did not show at IAAPA. Here are a couple that did participate:

Morris Costumes, although not specifically Halloween or haunt oriented, had a display that was almost entirely devoted to haunted items. They carry everything from convincing plastic skulls to the large (and expensive) animated pieces by Distortions Unlimited. Their show area was well staffed, large, and noisy, with frequent demonstrations and a large number of hands-on displays. (I couldn't resist purchasing one of the neat 'antiqued' plastic skulls, with working jaws and a randomly incomplete set of separately molded teeth, for only $10.00 - the show price.)

Heimo, of Jagsthausen, Germany offered a fabulous cutaway miniature model of an underground dark ride with an interesting walk-through queue. They offer their animatronic and non-moving dark ride figures in a color brochure, called Visions of Horror. These include skeletons of all descriptions, hanged men, executioners, witches, and various and sundry ghouls and monsters. All have grotesque, almost caricatured faces, except for the skeletons, which appear anatomically correct.

Now we come to the vendors who will have a lot to do with the look and feel of haunted attractions on the cutting edge in the next few years, and the ones that will interest budget imagineers the most. The two firms that follow offer computer control for effects lighting, sound, and animatronics from a central or local source.

Gilderfluke & Co. Robotics & Sound Systems is currently the premier provider of automation in the amusement business. The representative I spoke to revealed that the Disney parks are now relying heavily on their equipment, because it works 'off the shelf,' is easily programmed, and operates reliably and with minimal maintenance. PC-MACS, their Windows-based animation control system, can run a host of ancillary modules that can in turn control a host of effects... an entire haunted house, in other words. Devices include digital audio repeaters (audio playback with no CD's or tapes to fail,) digital-to-analog servo and hydraulic controllers for animatronics, digital switches, valve control assemblies, connection and programming components. They also offer a frequency shift keying device that allows audio signals on an analog tape to control automation. This equipment is not inexpensive, but it is first-rate. MediaMation is an up-and-coming competitor, aiming at the amusement operator on a lower budget. The big plus with MediaMation's automation controls is that they can talk to any PC or Mac that can send MIDI! Here is the exciting part for the budget imagineer who has always wanted to do complex-looking animatronic work, but has never before had the means available. The single most interesting - and cost effective - device they offer is the MIDI-PWM servo controller, which sells for about $199.00 (prices may have risen since the show.) With this and your computer, you can control 8 R.C.-style servos (the kind used in remote-controlled model cars and planes.) With the basic power supply included, you can run servos drawing a total of up to 1 Amp of current. With a larger DC supply (you provide it) you can control servos of larger size. This would be a natural for running a small animatronic figure all by itself, and should be capable of moving the low-torque linkages in a much larger figure, such as those controlling the facial features. Other uses are easily imagined.

Unlike crude switched-motor devices or behind-the-scene manipulators who may tire, miss cues or wander off post, this system provides precision repeatability, ensuring that the next guests through your haunt get the same intense experience the last group had. Add a MIDI lighting board and an inexpensive digital sampler or synthesizer to this setup, and the entire scene runs itself. Voila! Now you're running in the pack with the big dogs. Sure, you'll have to find a computer, MIDI software and some servos, but consider the costs of doing something like this just five years ago.

Here are the addresses of the vendors listed in the article. Do yourself a favor and write for their catalogs.

Elm Street Hauntrepreneurs
2505 Texas Dr. Suite 104
Irving, TX 75062
[email protected]
Ph: (972) 554-8142

Halloween Productions, Inc.
1535 S. 8th St.
St. Louis MO 63104
Ph: (314) 241-3456

Jets Productions, Inc.
9701 Canoga Ave.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
[email protected]
Ph: (818) 715-0113

Cutting Edge
1910 New Castle Ct.
Arlington, TX 76013
Ph: (817) 461-3714

Morris Costumes
3108 Monroe Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28205-7538
Ph: 704-332-3304

Animated Attractions Mordelt GmbH
D-74249 Jagsthausen/Germany
Ph: 07943/930-0

Gilderfluke &Co.
820 Thompson Ave.
Glendale, CA 91201
[email protected] (Doug Mobley)
Ph: (818) 546-1618

2461 West 205th St.
Torrance, CA 90501
[email protected]
(310) 320-0696

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This article ©1997 Douglas William Ferguson All rights reserved.