There seems to be an association devoted to just about everything in America, and when it comes to Halloween, the Haunted House Association (www.hauntedhouseassociation.org) represents some of the best, most elaborate and technologically advanced haunted attractions in the country. There are links to other fear-inducing attractions in specific states, such as Wisconsin or Illinois, and a list of featured haunted houses including the Bates Motel in Philadelphia and the simply but chillingly titled Darkness, St. Louis. The opportunities are fright-filled and range from haunted hayrides to houses and motels decked out for maximum fear. And we're not talking about someone dressed up in dime-store costumes standing behind a smoke machine while looking menacing; these affairs are elaborate and professional, with Hollywood-level special effects, make-up and set design. Hauntworld, the industry's trade publication, recently released its annual list of top 13 (you know, cause 13's supposed to be an unlucky number) haunted houses in the country and we've chosen a few for your consideration.
What's Halloween without the story of the headless horseman, an image so creepy it is the inspiration of the Headless Horsemen Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, New York (tel. 845/339-BOOO; www.headlesshorseman.com)? With 50 acres of orchards, ponds, thick woods onsite, there are several possibilities for visitors. The offerings include a one-mile hayride (look out for the Headless Horseman!), a corn maze, and from three different haunted houses; the theme changes every year, and this year's theme is '1930's sideshow," according to owner Nancy Jubie. While you're there, you can have a snack, buy something from the magic shop, or see a midnight sideshow presented by John Shaw. Headless Horseman is open September 15, 22, 29 and 29. In October, the haunting is confined mostly to the weekends (Fridays through Sundays) for the first two weeks, and run Thursday-Sunday starting October 18 and October 25, with an additional evening open, of course, on Halloween.
Admission is $29 per person (tax included) and is not recommended for children under the age of eight; children 14 and under must be accompanied by an adult. However, the second Saturday in October during the day is "A Tiny Taste of Terror," with activities such as pony rides, magic, face painting, and Ringling Brothers Clowns, it's more suitable for smaller children. The first hayride of the night starts at about 7pm and the whole experience takes between two and a half and three hours. It's advisable to make reservations; it guarantees you admission and a slot. This is a popular spot: many media outlets have rated it highly if not number one, and the Travel Channel will come in October to film a special.
If it's not enough to be frightened by what you see, Dreamreapers Haunted House (tel. 708/344-2084; www.dreamreapers.com) in Melrose Park, a Chicago suburb, also adds the not-so-pleasant element of smell to heighten your sensory perception during a tour of its top-rated freak-out fest. The house has 22 rooms, more than 40 animatronics and more than 80 actors and actresses; there is no escaping the fright. It has been voted the number one top haunted attraction in Illinois for three years in a row. The first haunting will occur on Friday, September 28, and the house is open (mostly) on weekends, with increasing hours of operation as it gets closer to Halloween; it's open, for example, Thursday October 25 straight through Halloween. Admission costs $15 per person. There are no rules, per se, about admitting children; it's at the discretion of parent or guardian accompanying the child.
Now, a word about the smells. On the company's web site, you can order your own fog scent additives ranging from dead rat to stinky cheese to chocolate chip cookies, but Dreamreapers makes use of them to enhance the sensory experience, evoking things such as decaying leaves, freshly dug graves, mildew, and other noisome but realistic aromas.
Recently, I watched the movie All the King's Men, set in Louisiana, and its decomposing mansion and fog-like humidity created a foreboding sense of doom. It makes sense that one of the top-rated haunted houses would be located in the swampy bayou of Louisiana. Downtown Baton Rouge's 13th Gate (tel. 225/389-1313; www.midnightproduction.com/the13thgate.htm) is an indoor/outdoor venue with a combination of Hollywood quality sets and designs, along with live snakes, animatronic dragons and alligators (naturally). Each of the 13 gates have a different theme, whether it is "the asylum," where something went terribly awry with the experiments, or the life-like characters in the house of wax, or the simply put, the fifth gate's "house of the dead." The house is open September 20-October 20 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 7pm-11pm and open every night October 25-November 3, from 7pm "until the last victim gets in!" according to its web site. Admission is $15. The evenings of November 1-3 are designated for flashlights, where you can travel through the darkened property with one flashlight per group. Children under 12 need to be accompanied by an adult; here, too, bringing children is left up to the discretion of parents or guardians.
Other noteworthy destinations include the twelve separate haunted decks of the Queen Mary Shipwreck (tel. 562/499-6641; www.queenmaryshipwreck.com) in Long Beach, California, and live bands, a fright mistress (think of her as a latter-day Elvira), dance parties, mazes, and more, all aboard this ship. If you live near Atlanta, you may have heard of Netherworld (tel. 404/608-2484; www.fearworld.com), which is the product of film and television professionals and whose multi-story, multi-attraction event is dark, chockablock with monsters, special effects, and a 40-foot long spinning tunnel. For the entire list, visit Hauntworld magazine (www.hauntworld.com), along with lists of a few of the best home haunted houses -- in other words, private homes that make the cut -- and best amusement park Halloween events.
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