Haunted Houses Are Gearing Up For a Season Of Terror
Haunted attractions, like every other entertainment sector in the country, have had to shift large amounts due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The spooky Halloween season is fast approaching and haunted house owners are overwhelmed by the new scare that comes with large-scale events using COVID-19.
Haunted houses had to deal with regulations and rules about event operations during the pandemic before the 2020 season began. Many haunted attractions made the difficult decision not to open this year. Many precautions will be taken by those who plan to open.
Ohio and surrounding Midwest states will be leading the way in haunted house operations for 2020, as the “heart of the haunted attraction industry,” according to Brett Hays, the President of the Haunted Attractions Association (HAA), and owner of Fear Fair haunted house in Seymour, Indiana.
Hays stated that “the concentration of haunts within this area is much thicker than in the rest of the nation.” “Nobody knows why.”
It will be less concentrated this year. Based on interviews with HAA board members, industry professionals, and Hays himself, Hays estimates that less than half of U.S. haunted homes will open during the year.
Hays stated that “the season cancellations” are coming in quickly. It’s going to be hard.
Some haunted houses in the area have decided not to open for 2020, including Bloodview, Broadview Heights, and Tadmore Shrine Haunted House, Akron. Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends has been canceled and replaced with a family-friendly fall festival for 2020.
Three other local events — Hauntville in Elyria, Geneva’s Zombies on the Lake, and Butcher’s Bloody Acres in Alliance — will not open for 2020, based on records collected by the haunted house website thescarefactor.com.
Spooky Ranch in Columbia Station and Escape from Blood Prison, Mansfield, Forest of Screams, Medina, 7 Floors of Hell, Middleburg Heights, Ghostly Manor, Sandusky, Akron Schoolhouse & Laboratory, and Factory of Terror, Canton are some of the haunted houses that will open in 2020.
John Eslich, the owner of both the Factory of Terror as well as the Haunted Schoolhouse & Laboratory has drafted detailed plans for both of his haunted attractions. He also works with local health departments in order to ensure that his events are as safe for employees and guests as possible.
Eslich stated that one of the most important changes for 2020 is to reduce Eslich’s haunted house operations days from two to one month. The Factory of Terror and Akron Schoolhouse & Laboratory will be closed on Sundays in October.
“We will take a big hit. Eslich stated that our revenue will fall 50% because we have fewer days and the guests are fewer. My staff love to do this and there are so many Halloween lovers. We do it to make this fall a little more fun. It’s a big holiday, and people need an outlet. We want it to be safe. I hope to make it through this so that we can move on to next year.
Eslich modified almost every aspect of his haunted attractions and reviewed them for compliance with COVID-19. There are standard regulations, such as requiring employees and guests to wear face masks, adding in sanitization stations, and social distancing lines. But there are also unique considerations specific to haunted attractions.
Walk-throughs are now closed to low-hanging objects, squeeze walls, and high-touch props. Eislich also restricted ticketholder access to the haunted houses. Guests can only visit half of them each night, with a split between an “A” and “B” show on Fridays. This schedule gives Eslich’s employees nearly a week to clean each space before they open to the public again.
Eslich also employed a few employees to monitor the scene and ensure that everyone follows rules.
“We’ll tell guests that you’re part of this. We need you to have fun. But, you must also keep your distance and cover your face. Eslich stated that you can’t make it worse for others. We don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed or worried. We want people to feel safe and secure coming here.
Some haunted attractions already have a taste of how it feels to be able to operate under COVID-19 regulations. Ghostly Manor, a year-round haunted house in Sandusky, has been open since June with new sanitization and social distancing policies in action.
The center, which also operates a roller skating rink and other entertainment activities, plans to host its annual Lake Eerie Fearfest event series, an outdoor expansion on its indoor haunted house, said general manager Billy Criscione. It will be open on weekends in October, Fridays, and Saturdays. He intends to drastically reduce his number of actors from around 100 to just 12-15. This will enforce social distancing and reduce costs.
Criscione stated that Ghostly Manor attendance has dropped sharply this year. It is down 60% compared with 2019, and this does not include the days Ghostly Manor was shut down in Gov. Mike DeWine’s March COVID-19 initial shutdown.
Criscione stated that October’s numbers won’t be much better.
He said that sales are expected to drop because not many people will be traveling this year. While there are many people who would rather stay home and be safe, there is a generation that wants to travel and take on low-risk activities. They are tired of being at home on weekends.
All businesses are facing difficult financial times. Eslich expects that his earnings will be cut by half at his two businesses. Criscione and Eslich have been cutting back on spending by not adding new attractions to their attractions, limiting renovations, and only hiring essential actors. Both owners expressed confidence in their ability to make it into 2021, despite the poor performance of 2020.
Hays stated that the Haunted Attraction Association and American Haunts, along with 13th Floor Entertainment Group, have focused their efforts on creating a lobbying firm to represent haunted houses attractions.
He said that because payment protection program loans were based on first-quarter earnings in 2019 as opposed to 2020, they did not include seasonal operations such as haunted homes.
Hays stated that it’s only third-quarter revenue for them. “The industry has suffered tremendously… It’s been terrible for the whole economy, but it’s definitely not good for haunted attractions, that’s for certain.”
Hays stated that the lobbying firm representing the groups is planning to meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and that there have been some positive steps in securing relief funds that will be used for haunted attractions that were negatively affected by COVID-19.
Hays stated that customers support is crucial for businesses hosting safe and regulated events this fall, given the difficulties haunted houses face.
Hays stated that the virus cannot cancel Halloween. It can cancel many events, but it cannot stop Halloween.