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Top 13 Haunts Revealed
By Larry Kirchner

A few years ago I proposed the concept of an awards banquet to honor the best our industry has to offer. This idea can help our industry learn from each other in ways we never thought possible. For example, imagine sitting in a room with a very large projection screen in the middle of the room. The host announces, "...and now the nominees for the best television commercial are...", then we see the top five best television commercials. Why would I like to see the best television commercials our industry had produced last year? The same way we take information from articles we read, seminars we attend or videos we watch. This "competition" would clearly benefit our industry if and when you can take the ideas from these commercials and apply them to your own attraction.

Besides, who wouldn't want to have their commercial or brochure, or web site, or radio spot or best new scare tactic nominated the following year? Maybe we'd all work harder to be the honoree and in turn improve our entire industry by learning from each other's success stories. Think of the local marketing available to you. You get interviewed by your local station because you have a nationally nominated commercial.

The idea for an awards banquet wasn't to pat certain people on the back, as some had suggested, but to enhance our industry's knowledge. Why is it such a problem for some people to realize that some are having more success than others? Back in the beginning I, myself, was on the bottom of the haunt chain in Saint Louis. I mean, we were the bottom of the bottom. I knew our haunted house wasn't as good as the others but, I had a burning desire to learn and improve. Slowly, over time, we took our haunt and improved it little by little each year and eventually we are the last man standing in Saint Louis. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best at what you do and just because you may not be the best now doesn't mean you won't be down the road. Knowing we can get better or learn from another haunted house should be a major motivating factor in your business.

I remember thinking way back when, before the internet, that our haunt in Saint Louis really stacked up. Then I took a trip to Spookyworld, owned and operated by David Bertolino, who has remained my mentor to this day. Spookyworld, in my mind, was the true innovator in our industry in terms of showing this industry just how big Halloween really could be. Spookyworld is consistently still one of, if not the, greatest attraction in our industry past or future. Other attractions like Terror on Church Street designed by David Clevenger should garner tons of credit for showing our industry just how elaborate a haunted house could look. Kevin McCurdy should be thanked for showing this industry, through the immortal 'Secrets of the Haunted Mansion', that haunted houses could have special effects on par with Hollywood. What about John Denley and Rich Hanf for being one of the first to showcase haunts and ideas on video. How could we forget Dr. John for producing the first ever haunted house video or Phil Morris for writing the first ever haunted house book?

No matter how dated any of these resources are today, they still started the thinking process. They are and will be forever remembered as those pioneers who paved the way for ideas to be shared amongst our industry. Anyone who's been in this business at least ten years knows just how awful his or her haunted house was back in the early days compared to the level it's at today. Who do you thank for the sudden turnaround? Of course you should start with yourself, but can we ignore the idea that someone paved the way for learning in our industry? None of these pioneers are given enough credit for doing what no one would ever do: share ideas.

Today because of our growth, we've been able to grow into an industry with our own magazines, web sites, and companies that supply us with ideas, products and services. Now you might be asking yourself, why in world did I just go on a 20-minute soapbox? Good question!

Somewhere in the near future, our industry needs to stop pointing fingers, stop fighting, stop worrying who's doing this or who's doing that. There is so much to learn from each other if we just all realize some have strengths others don't have. I've talked to everyone from the smallest haunt to the biggest. In my experience, I've learned from each and every one of them. I love all haunters and the haunts they produce. Most of us do what we do because we love horror movies, scaring people and being creative.

Are the haunts we're presenting the definitive top 13 attractions in the nation? Absolutely not, because there are attractions we've never seen, there are attractions that are on the cusp of setting new trends and may one day be our new leaders. As with any great rock band, they always run out of new ideas and some younger group comes along with better ones. Sometimes unfairly, not giving credit to those who paved the way for them to do what they're doing. No matter, the fact remains that all of us one day soon will be seeing a new and younger approach of ideas. It is important we stay with the trends by getting along with all haunters and learning. A fine example is Terror on Rural Street; I've never seen more excitement from a group of actors. A major motivation here is to encourage haunters to visit other haunted houses in hopes we can all continue the learning process.

I've been on a personal crusade with HauntWorld.com, HauntWorld Magazine, and the videos to encourage haunters to learn from other haunters. In the days of major amusement parks, videos games, sophisticated movies, we need to keeping pushing ourselves to get better and better. Did your haunt get snubbed? Prove it to the industry; show us how your attraction should have been on this list. We want you on this list; we want you to show the entire industry what you're doing so we can all learn from it!!! Learning from each other strengthens is our future.

I will now attempt to explain why we choose this group of attractions. Clearly some major attractions are left off the list such as Spookyworld and others like The Haunted School House. Several attractions where asked for information and some couldn't produce the information requested in time for this printing. I promise a new list of attractions next year with completely different haunts. How did we determine this list of attractions? For starters, we had two different surveys on HauntWorld.com asking people what your favorite attractions where based on seeing them in person and or by seeing them on the HauntWorld Videos. If your attraction is one of the best but no one has seen your haunt before it's kind of hard to vote for it. We took the highest voted attractions and mixed that with inside knowledge of the haunts themselves.

We know the first thing some of you are going to ask, is why did you include your own haunted house The Darkness? Well, between two surveys, The Darkness received the most votes. We thank those who voted for our attraction and with that being said we still where not going to feature ourselves. We asked 16-haunted houses for information and only 12 where able to deliver the information in time for this printing. The Darkness became a fall back attraction for this list. Had Spookyworld for example been able to get the information to us in time they would have been our third highest rated attraction and then there would have been no need to include our own haunt. We also wanted to include Salem, Mass but no information was presented in time. By the time we realized those attractions would not deliver the information, we had no more time. I hope no one considers this a vain attempt to promote our own attraction. Bottom line The Darkness did receive the most votes in two surveys. Again we thank you for your kindness in that respect. Now let's review the haunts...

The Haunts

The Darkness#13) The Darkness: Clearly don't want to spread the icing on to thick but, there is a reason so many people have voted for and visited The Darkness. Karl Fields once visited our attraction and said he'd never seen a haunted house in his life where every single hallway was themed to the bone. Inside there is no such thing as black walls or lack of theming. The Darkness is where the trend of the tattered wall look was first used for mansions. Last year was a major creative disappointment for The Darkness because we had to move the entire attraction from one building to another. For 2004, The Darkness should be back on top now that we've had the time to go back and improve every corner, crack and crevice of the place. Over $250,000.00 worth of Rain Forest Café animations will be used to create a jungle theme. Should be fun!

Pirates of Emerson#12) Pirates of Emerson: Don't take this as a shot at Pirates but I've seen other shows that had better detail and more elaborate scenes, however NONE of those shows are modular. Karl Fields deserves some major credit for proving you can actually set up a haunted house in 30 days and have some of the most realistic scenery in the industry. It's scary to imagine what Karl could do if he had a permanent location like many other haunters. If you visit this show in 2004 and notice your attraction's level of detail doesn't hold a candle to Pirates of Emerson, remember this attraction is put up in less than 30 days. That means you need to get to work! Pirates could be the best modular haunted houses in the nation and that's why it hits our list at #12.

Raven's Grin Inn Haunted House#11) Ravens Grin Inn: We all know the eccentric Jim Warfield and his insane creations from our many visits during the Transworld Halloween Show. I've never heard one person say they've ever seen anything like it in their lives. Ravens get the nod on our list for being the most unique attraction in the nation! Next March make the time to see the attraction and realize being different and unique is a good thing. We shouldn't all have the same ideas, we need to think different and no one on the planet is as different as Jim! Say hello to Mr. Tuxedo, the Cat, while you there...MEOW!

Terror on the Fox#10) Terror on the Fox: Usually one or two partners at most, but with Terror on the Fox they probably have the biggest ownership group in haunting history. A large group of talented people from all sorts of backgrounds have come together to create a truly incredible attraction. The crew from Terror have been writing articles and providing video of their attraction for others to learn by. These guys deserve major thanks because sharing their expertise is something they've yet to get paid for. Terror's strong point seems to be their attention to detail and creating large elaborate rooms. The guys from the Fox have proved that with a lot of heart and soul you can climb the ladder fast and that's why they hit the list at #10.

#9) Terror Behind the Walls: Probably the most unique location in the nation. The site for this attraction is the old Eastern State Penitentiary. Production companies from television shows to movie productions have used this site. There is something to be said for the existing atmosphere of an old prison where convicted murderers have lived and died. Many of us create old prison themes, now you can actually see one in person. Yes, some other prisons have set up haunted houses, but only Terror Behind the Walls has invested the kind of time and money to transform the facility into a major attraction. Would this attraction be one of the best if you took away the prison? Does it matter? The existing atmosphere is something to behold and for that reason they fall in at #9.

House of Shock#8) House of Shock: Is there another haunted house in the nation that was created by a famous rock band or caused as much controversy? How many haunts have been listed in Rolling Stone or made a television top 100 events in Rock History? House of Shock has truly shocked customers with a take no prisoners' attitude. They actually promote Devil Worship and carry the Hell theme throughout, clearly to shock the customers. With their background in pyrotechnics they produce a fire show that probably tops 99% of major rock acts. Every actor is in character; every inch of the show is part of the storyline and deserves our nod for #8.

#7) Bates Motel: Finally we were able to see some of Bates Motel on the HauntWorld Movies. Bates Motel is probably second only to House of Shock on fire effects. Bates Motel has an incredible hayride not to mention several other attractions. It is the first attraction on our list that is more of a theme park type of event with several attractions for one price. Located on an old farm, it is made up of a major hayride and several haunted houses. When you add up the sum of all its parts and the level of detail on their hayride alone, Norman would be proud hitting the list at #7.

#6) Netherworld: Throughout our surveys, Netherworld was clearly the most popular haunted house. Netherworld has set the standard for actors and make up. Is anyone doing make up and creating custom monsters on the level of Netherworld? Ben Armstrong and Billy Messina have created chat rooms for their actors to stay connected all season long. Additionally, they've organized monsterget-aways and guest acting appearances at tourist haunts to keep the rust off. Netherworld also strives to be original, many times sculpting a monster to fit a unique scene. Lastly, Netherworld has probably shared more information than any other haunted house in the nation with this industry. Netherworld hits our list at #6.

#5) Edge of Hell: Kansas City's original haunted house. It's my belief that Edge of Hell is the haunt that originated the rumors of the 13 story haunted house. Edge of Hell is five stories high, it's been around for over 30 years, and believe it or not they did at one time have a LIVE Mountain Lion inside the show not to mention one of the nation's largest Anaconda in captivity. The Edge of Hell has unbelievable scenery that was ahead of its time. The capper on Edge is once you get to the top floor you're in Heaven and you actually meet God and then they put you into a five story slide which descends you right back to hell. Go figure! Edge of Hell makes our list at #5.

Thrillvania#4) Thrillvania Verdun Manor: The late Lance Pope was one of the originators in our industry. A case could be made for Thrillvania as the best-haunted event ever. Each and every attraction Lance created he did so with an undying passion to be original. If you've never seen the final footage from Lance's final creation "Granny Lupus Séance Show' you need to run out and buy that particular Hauntworld video. {Part 13, if you're interested} Verdun Manor has everything you could ever want from a haunted event, except a living, breathing Lance Pope. However, as long as Verdun continues to operate, Lance's legacy will live on forever. I'm so very proud that we have captured this attraction on our video series for haunters to enjoy for years to come. Lance had one of the best haunts our industry has ever seen and had no incentive to share his knowledge. Lance had an open door policy to all haunted house owners, gave tours all summer long and shared his experience with us all. Verdun Manor is a haunted house treasure! Lance, we still miss you! May Verdun Manor live on forever!

#3) Rocky Point Haunted House: Rocky Point might be the biggest show in the nation at 50,000 plus square feet, utilizing on some nights more than 60 actors, and over 40 scenes. Cydney Neil (owner) has made some unique contacts with Hollywood special effects houses, and sometimes has real movie props donated to her show. Cydney's show also utilizes Hollywood make-up artists, something most haunts do not take advantage of. Rocky Point has breathtaking scenery, special effects and actors that actually act with scripts. Rocky Point Haunted House is a legend and anyone who gets the opportunity must take a visit. Rocky Point hits our list at #3.

#2) The Beast: I know everyone was assuming we'd name The Beast the #1 Haunted House in the nation and let me say it IS the #1 Haunted House in the nation. There is no other haunted house that matches the level of detail, specialeffects or pure mammoth size of this five-story behemoth. The Beast is breathtaking, with sets that even Hollywood couldn't match. They have Pepper's Ghost effects that blow away Disney's Haunted Mansion, and we're not exaggerating. The detail is evident from the area where you purchase your tickets to the exit onto a five story slide. You might notice in the exit lobby a plaque on the wall naming Kansas City the Haunted House capitol of the World. If you ever want to see the premier haunted house you must visit Kansas City to see our #2 haunt, The Beast.

Drum roll please...........

Headless Horseman#1) Headless Horseman: At this point you're probably wondering how could Headless Horseman be the #1 Haunted Attraction if we just said The Beast was the best? Well, The Beast is the best-haunted house in the nation, but Headless Horseman is the best attraction. What's the difference you ask? Well Headless Horseman isn't just a haunted house, it's an entire 50-acre haunted playground. The total sum of its parts (Hayride, Haunted House, Corn Maze, Activities) makes for a two plus hour haunting experience that you'll never forget. There are several haunts around the country that have a better haunted house but when you add up everything that is being offered at Headless Horseman it could only be rivaled by Spookyworld or an amusement park haunt like Knott's Scary Farm. Headless Horseman has the best hayride we've ever seen, not to mention theming in the areas between attractions. Additionally the layout of their concessions and events is second to none. Not everyone can have a spread like Headless Horseman and everyone in this industry should visit just to see how to utilize a 50-acre farm. Their only fault is not knowing how to showcase their attraction through video or photographs. We've featured them on our cover and in our videos. In neither case have they been able to present images that capture the level their attraction radiates. So do yourself a favor this Halloween and visit Headless Horseman our #1 attraction.

Depending on what type of venue you operate, we suggest picking from this list of attractions or from our featured haunted house list on Hauntworld.com. Visit as many haunted houses as you can and help our industry learn and grow. We'll be looking for you to present your haunted house for our Best of List in 2005. Good luck with scaring thousands of Fright Fans in 2004.

Happy Hauntings,
Larry Kirchner

www.halloweenproductions.com

 

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