Why Can't Theme Park Fans Enjoy More Haunted Attractions, All Year Long?

October 28, 2015, 6:36 AM · With Halloween right around the corner, all of our favorite theme parks have joined in on the fun and built special seasonal walk through attractions for the holiday. Even Disney, with the most family-oriented parks in the world, offers a special Halloween event, and has arguably the most famous haunted attraction ever. With Halloween and scares clearly being a big money maker in the industry, I can't help but wonder when the haunted house is going to get its due and be resurrected (pun intended).

The spook house is one of the oldest and most beloved attractions in ride history. It is a staple at nearly all carnivals and boardwalk parks. Yet most large theme parks lack them in any permanent form. I've been to many Six Flags parks, and have yet to see much. Cedar Fair doesn't offer many, either. Universal is home to some of the most famous characters in horror film history, and has a wealth of famous scary IPs to choose from. Yet when it comes to a big ticket haunted ride, we've got nothing. In Hollywood, Universal recently closed its walk-through House of Horrors.

So why do they see haunted attractions as only a seasonal opportunity? Is it because scary rides are not that appealing to families and children? Is it because haunted houses lack their ability to scare after multiple rides?

In order to try and tackle this question, I started to think about Disney's approach, as they are clearly the industry standard. In the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland, they feature one of the most iconic rides — the Haunted Mansion. Nearly half a century old, this staple still attracts long waits and is held in very high regard. It's popularity spans all age groups. In my opinion, it is the perfect mix of macabre and fun. It could be mildly scary to children and squeamish adults, but rarely do you see somebody dislike the experience they have. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney California Adventure, and Disney Studios Paris, they feature the Twilight Zone Tower of terror — another haunted attraction that garners long waits after being open over 20 years.

A combination of thrill and scares that entertains all generations — When you think about it, isn't it amazing that Disney, often thought of as a G-rated thrill park, is the park with the most famous scary attractions?

Clearly, the blueprint is there, and works. Universal has access to so many great intellectual properties that it seems a shame we haven't received a great, permanent haunted house from them. With all the great technology they feature on so many of their new rides, as well as the immersive environments they've created, I believe they could really make something special that would have long-lasting effect and keep the scares coming.

Six Flags calls itself a thrill park company more than a theme park company, marketing mostly to teens. When I get scared, it is most certainly a thrill, and teenagers and twenty somethings are the biggest market for horror films. For a brand of parks that offers little on a rainy day, this seems like a no-brainer to me. In the early 80s, Six Flags Great Adventure had a haunted castle, but a 1984 fire at the attraction killed several guests, resulting in lengthy legal action. Perhaps that is why they've strayed away, but management, ownership and safety at their parks were overhauled long ago. I believe that these parks could do something very special to keep the haunts coming all year long.

There will always be a demand for haunted houses at theme parks. Now, where's the supply?

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Replies (18)

October 28, 2015 at 8:43 AM · I have always thought Universal should do a haunted house based on the first first Resident Evil game. It has a creepy big mansion (That could take over Men in Black and still blend with the British Harry Potter buildings) It has rapid dogs, zomibes, a biohazard virus, mutated creatures. We could all be S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactic and Rescue, members) and ride throught the haunted mansion in trackless ride cars. I would love to see what Universal could do with a haunted house!
October 28, 2015 at 8:43 AM · I agree, Mike! I would dearly love to see Universal invest in a dark ride based on its classic monsters. As you say, the perennial appeal of the Haunted Mansion is proof there's a market for this sort of thing. I'd much rather see Universal introduce something like this than something based on a late night talk show host.
October 28, 2015 at 8:57 AM · Disneyland's scary attractions are all rides, not walk throughs. The other theme parks should have haunted attractions that work on a year round basis. You don't normally think of the haunted mazes as appropriate after Halloween as the season goes into Thanksgiving and Christmas so the rides must be tame. They should be more scary and thrilling instead of gruesome and explicit. Perhaps the standby queue can resemble the maze, while the main show is the ride.

Knott's should offer up a haunted attraction. Bring back the Haunted Shack. A tour plus a ride. Universal own so much horror movies that there shouldn't be a problem there.

October 28, 2015 at 9:03 AM · Universal Hollywood had a year round haunt attraction that scared me into a full blown panic attack (they are great at what they do!)
If haunt fans want year round attractions they should hit up some of the few that exist outside of theme parks and show the parks that money goes to them. Dark Hour Haunted House in Plano, TX has a special show almost every month (apart from an August hiatus to allow the workers some time to breathe before the Halloween season) and is a great one to check out for big haunt fans.
October 28, 2015 at 9:48 AM · Great article! I do think that the Mummy rides at Universal are like haunted rides on steroids, and love them for that.
October 28, 2015 at 9:55 AM · Someone on the Facebook thread said something about shooting rides destroying the classic dark ride.... Where I live there's actually an interactive walk through zombie hunt where you get a lazer tag gun and zombies chase you as you have to "survive"..... I mean I could even imagine a pretty intense shooter haunted ride if they put the time in. I'd rather a classic dark ride for a haunted house as they give you more of a feeling of helplessness than an interactive ride would, but really I just don't want to see parks forget about this angle of entertainment. People of all ages enjoy a good scare, there can be a balance found to cater to a wide audience, just look at Disney.
October 28, 2015 at 10:24 AM · The problem with haunted walk through attractions/mazes/houses, is that they have low throughput and high operational costs because they are not typically automated. An average HHN maze has between 15-20 scare actors and some have even more, meaning if you were to operate that full time for an entire park day, you'd be spending a huge amount of money just on labor to operate the attraction. That's probably why the USH House of Horrors was axed (that along with it's prime location on the upper lot), because even during non-peak season, you needed at least 10 actors running it plus security and general cast members managing the queue. Also, let's not forget that most Halloween events are not making money on admission, they're making their profit on drinks, exclusive tickets/FOTL, special experiences, event-exclusive food, and merchandise.

Let's face it, people don't want scares year round, so while parks can fund the labor and creative to operate haunted attractions during Halloween, it just doesn't work year round because the benefit does not exceed the operational costs. During Halloween, people are paying big bucks to be scared, and that additional revenue can offset the costs of putting on these seasonal events, plus they're willing to spend more in the parks for those exclusive items for Halloween events. Same goes for other seasonal events. If these events occurred year-round, they'd start to lose their luster, and guests would not plan visits around them, typically in addition to regular park visits.

The haunted house concept does work, but it's got to be predominantly automated with high throughput. I'm sure someone could pull it off, but in the end, it would be a huge risk and potentially undermine the success of a park's existing Halloween offerings.

I would note that Six Flags Great Adventure has Houdini's Great Escape, which some may consider a haunted attraction. Cedar Fair also has their crop of Sally dark ride shooters (former Scooby Doo rides) that many would consider in this category as well. It's not a complete wasteland, but certainly not something parks are currently expanding upon.

Some of the local, non-theme park-based haunted attractions have attempted to operate beyond the traditional Halloween season, and it just doesn't work. After trying to operate as traditional haunted houses year-round, many have adapted to attract the seasonal crowds with Christmas lights, Easter egg hunts, non-scary hay rides, and farm-style attractions. Urban haunted houses have moved to a more "puzzle room" model outside Halloween that can be scary for some, but is less like a traditional haunted house, though the trend seems to be picking up steam, particularly in young, wealthy urban areas and in European cites, where the trend is to believed to have been started. However, these puzzle rooms have very limited throughput, some as little as a dozen people per hour. If anything can bring the haunted house into a year-round experience, it's this puzzle room concept, but is definitely not something a major theme park could pull off considering the capacity issues.

October 28, 2015 at 12:46 PM · I was disappointed when I heard that USH was getting rid of their spookhouse attraction. That thing was good! I love their horror nights, but it's very expensive to get front of the line passes...and if you don't, you'll be stuck in endless lines all night.
October 28, 2015 at 1:24 PM · The American Werewolf could easily be converted into a ride thru attraction..... It's a classic and HHN's.
October 28, 2015 at 2:18 PM · Universal has The Mummy, which is definitely a scary ride, and they have Kong coming up, which has the potential to be a scary ride, but other than that they got nothing. I personally think they need a ride that takes place in Dracula's castle. I think that would be a much better option as a replacement to Fear Factor instead of yet another Harry Potter expansion.
October 28, 2015 at 2:48 PM · For a walk-through haunt maze, I do not think any park could make that successful year-round. The audience at Halloween events is different from that of a regular operating day, and there just wouldn't be enough interested visitors to justify the operating costs. I remember going to USH on days where the rides were 75 minute waits and House of Horrors was still under 10 minutes just because the interest wasn't there. That was a phenomenal haunted house (though possibly a bit understaffed at times), and if Universal couldn't make it work I doubt anywhere could.

For a ride through haunted attraction (such as a spook house), those are still fairly prevalent among the smaller parks, but the only "larger" park I've seen one at is Knoebels. I think the biggest issues with these are that they lack the capacity and immersiveness required at today's theme parks. A ride that seats two people per car just doesn't have the capacity needed at a major regional theme park, and a series of unconnected scares just won't satisfy the average visitor anymore. Therefore, many parks have abandoned the concept and those that haven't often have a modernized version that gives the necessary capacity and increases the appeal for modern audiences (Sally's Ghostblasters attraction is a good example). Yes, they are relatively mild in terms of scariness, but theme parks need attractions that will reach the widest possible audience in order to justify the investment cost. Modern dark rides are the evolution of traditional spook houses and parks do appear to be investing in those again, just with more popular themes (often, but not always, IP based) that are likely to be a guaranteed draw. Just like with movies, a haunted dark ride could potentially be popular, but it is unlikely to be the option generating the maximum return, and when a park is investing tens of millions (or more) into a new attraction they're going to pick the option with the largest benefit.

October 28, 2015 at 6:03 PM · I just suggested this very thing in the Jimmy Fallon article. The Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite attractions, if not my top favorite. Two that were absolutely amazing and now gone are Universal's House of Horrors and The ExtraTERRORestrial encounter. I would love for either of those to come back. There is no reason that Universal would not make a Castle Dracula and populate it with classic monsters.
October 28, 2015 at 9:09 PM · I've always wanted a classic monsters ride: Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dracula, and the Wolfman. I can see it as a huge hit to classic movie fans. However, they aren't iconic enough especially compared to Harry Potter, which appealed to all age groups. I can see it being part of the studio tour, but beyond that, I can't see a stand alone ride for it
October 29, 2015 at 8:44 AM · Universal is insane to not have a haunted house attraction based off of the classic monsters. The House of Horrors was wonderful, but I am sure the costs of manning it was too great. However, they really need a ride through haunted house with the licenses that they own. I strongly disagree that people don't want this year round. Probably the most popular theme park attraction in the world is the Haunted Mansion. Just pick any day of the year outside of October and look at its wait times, and it is a high capacity attraction at that. Look at all of the fan sites and books just dedicated to that one ride. And people would not flock to an attraction based on the most iconic horror characters ever created??? I beg to differ.
October 29, 2015 at 8:53 AM · Alton Towers is a good example of where the horror/creepy theme works well. A number of their older attractions include a back story of that genre...

Hex: A walk through and swing ride based inside the Tower ruins themselves tell the story of an old witch cursing the Earl. Really well themed and very popular.

Nemesis: World famous roller inverted B&M coaster based on the story of a monster unleashed during construction work and pinned down with the steel track. Also spin off scare maze and drop tower based on organisation created to deal with the monster!

Th13teen: World's first free fall drop coaster based on a haunted woodland/crypt.

Oblivion: World's first vertical drop coaster based on the Lord of Darkness and his massive black hole that the coaster goes through!

All great original stories and ideas alongside an interactive Haunted House and spooky woodland walkway. Universal should visit and take note!

(PS, Smiler was left out on purpose!)

October 29, 2015 at 9:50 AM · Re: Disneyversal

I would argue that the Universal monsters are just as iconic as Harry Pottter if not more so. The Universal monsters have been around much longer and are identifiable by all age groups. Every kid, teen, adult, senior citizen etc. knows very well who Dracula, The Wolfman and Frankenstein are. Sure, a lot of people do only know them by name alone, but same with Harry Potter! Even though it does appeal to all age groups, there's still a lot of people who don't know a lot about, or much less care about, Harry Potter. Even teenagers.

And besides you don't need to know much about the classic monsters to enjoy an attraction based on them. Dracula: big scary vampire chasing you through his castle trying to suck your blood. BAM! Next big E-ticket dark ride with super long lines. Wolfman; scary werewolf dude chasing you through a dark forest. BAM! Another big E-ticket dark ride!

And no, you don't need live actors. Just some AAs, or some 3D projections...since that's what Universal seems to be into nowadays. And it doesn't have to be a walk through like House of Horrors. It can be a ride. And, considering the fact that people still queue up for Mummy, if they introduce some new technology, this ride should be successful.

October 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM · I think we are also forgetting one of the most scariest rides ever produced by Disney was Alien Encounter. Now they have lightened it up since changing it to Stitches' Great Escape but when it was AE some people would bring ear plugs just due to the shear scream volume. It was awesome.....
October 29, 2015 at 11:31 PM · It might be interesting to see a scary walk through / ride hybrid a la The Dungeons. They incorporate dark humor and audience participation, so it's fun to come back to each time. If not that, maybe a real life escape room experience? I've heard of ones where you must climb in vents, "fish" in dirty toilet water or even find your way out of being handcuffed.

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