Ghost tours and haunted houses are hallmarks of the weeks leading up to Halloween. But this year, some attractions are upping their game with an interactive component.
Now, visitors aren’t just shrieking at the sight of zombies — they’re shooting them with paintball guns at Saint Lucifer’s Haunted Asylum in Flint, Mich.
They’re not just listening to ghost stories. They’re learning how to do their own paranormal investigations on ghost-hunting overnight stays at Buffalo Gap Historic Village near Abilene, Texas.
And they’re not just snaking through a haunted house on a long line, screaming as a bloody monster climbs out of a coffin. Instead, they’re paying extra to be stuck in a room where they must complete tasks and puzzle out challenges in order to escape, as in the “Trapped” attraction at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.
Busch Gardens in Tampa just launched “The Experiment,” where visitors are asked to participate in experiences so intense that they sometimes decline.
“If you refuse three times, the experiment is terminated,” said spokesman Travis Claytor. The experiments “may or may not involve live animals or creepy crawlies,” he added. “There may or may not be something in there for germaphobes. Psychologically this is one of the most invasive experiences you’ll ever have. I was there on opening night and there were several people who could not make it through.”
Pat Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association, says the new intensity and increased interaction is simply the maturing of an industry that started out 25 years ago “scaring people with rubber masks and plastic knives. Every year people came back and wanted more.”
So now, he said, “not only are zombies jumping out and scaring you, but you have to turn it into a challenge, an interactive game.” Konopelski’s Shocktoberfest attraction in Reading, Pa., includes a component called “Prison of the Dead Escape” where visitors can choose to be humans or zombies in a game similar to flag football. Humans receive belts with three flags representing the human brain, heart and entrails, and zombies try to get those organs.
Konopelski also planned a haunted house tour where guests could walk through in the nude. Local officials put the kibosh on the concept, but you can still go through wearing underwear. The lack of clothes, he says, “heightens the vulnerability of the guests.”
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, an abandoned prison and historic landmark that hosts an annual “Terror Behind the Walls” Halloween event, this year is offering visitors a glow-in-the-dark necklace that marks their willingness to be more than passive observers. Necklace-wearing guests can be grabbed by actors, sent into hidden passageways, and separated from their group.
In case you can’t manage to take a selfie while you’re scared out of your wits, the Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, Mich., is taking a page from theme parks that sell pictures of roller coaster riders. Erebus has mounted 48 cameras in a single room where visitors typically scream their heads off, and they can now purchase 180-degree images of themselves in the throes of terror.