Jordan Peele’s horror/sci-fi film Nope debuted in theaters late last month. I’ve yet to see the movie, but its release offered a welcome change of pace to the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in July special my mom watches every night. Nothing against Hallmark, but I’m thrilled Halloween in August has arrived.
Last year, Americans spent a record high $10.14 billion on Halloween; candy alone accounts for $3 billion of that figure. But while costume parties and candy and horror flicks are an integral part of the Halloween experience, nothing quite beats the “real” thing – the heart racing thrill of walking tentatively through a haunted house, trying to anticipate when the next part-time employee decked out in a costume and elaborate makeup will invade your personal space. And if done right, haunted houses can generate more than just screams. Beware, though, opening a haunted house is no sure way to reel in hair-raising profits.
The haunted house industry is worth $300 million. According to haunted house producer Steve Kopelman, a large venue can profit $2 to $3 million a year. Take Netherworld for example: Every year, the venue in Stone Mountain, Georgia, welcomes 80,000 guests per season. At $30 to $40 per ticket and the option to purchase a “SpeedPass” for $55 to $65, that’s a scary amount of revenue. Even small attractions can rake in more than $50,000.
With new themes each year and the use of advanced technology such as animatronics and robotics, haunted houses are more interactive and realistic than ever. Some venues, deemed “extreme” haunted houses, simulate real danger. Mckamey Manor in Tennessee requires participants fill out a 40-page waiver, complete a sports physical, undergo a mental health screening, a background check, and more before attending. Participants must consent to have their bones broken and nails ripped off.
Indeed, the haunted house industry is not for the faint of heart. “Extreme” experiences aside, building attractions is an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. The average cost of building a haunted house is between $20 and $35 per square foot. Venues in good locations with plenty of parking are difficult to find, and many attractions are forced to lease space for the entire year, even though a season only lasts six to ten weeks. Add that to the costs of finding, paying, and training employees; supplies such as fake blood (Netherworld typically uses over 100 gallons of fake blood per season) and makeup; marketing; decorations; building props and costumes…you’d better hope people pay your petrifying pad a visit.
In addition, Haunted houses are strictly regulated. The National Fire Protection Association requires venues to have “a fire alarm system, a fire sprinkler system, an emergency exit voice communication system, exit lighting, a lighted path to the exit, and floor proximity exit signage.”
Haunted houses are productions, a form of entertainment just like horror movies. Billy Messina, one of the founders of Netherworld, “worked as a makeup effects artist and special prop maker in the film industry, while partner Ben Armstrong had a background in TV production.” Today, the pair may run what is considered one of the most successful haunted houses in the nation, but their first few years were disheartening and riddled with challenges. Bottom line: don’t get into the industry if you aren’t deadicated. Happy spooky season.
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