There are thousands of haunts across the United States, but there are few that truly set themselves apart. Once you enter a haunt you have to be convinced that you're in an actual haunted house taken over by spirits and creatures from beyond. Many haunts fail in doing this because they rely heavily on overused themes that have no connection to each other. A haunt that will ultimately go down as a classic doesn't have to have the latest in animatronics or the Hollywood sets. They need to make a connection with the customer beyond a prop emerging out of darkness or an actor hidden in a scene.
This all starts with the haunts back story and its location. There has to be a reason why your haunted house is haunted and this is why the best of the best have a back-story that engages people. It explains why these characters are in the haunted building to begin with and why there are various props and scenes throughout the house. This helps people forget that your actors are actors and your props are props. This is the point when their sense of security diminishes. They no longer feel safe, but in the back of their minds know that they are in good hands. There are many elements to having a frightening haunt such as realistic makeup, convincing characters, detailed scenes, startling props and the list goes on and on. But rather you're a top rated haunt or not you need to convince people that you're haunt is really haunted even if you rely on the use of high end animatronics. But overall this doesn't mean that you'll have a successful haunt. Many things come into play when trying to profit off of your frightening creation such as advertising, marketing, safety etc. But that's another article in itself.
Through out my 5 years in reviewing haunts with my website City Blood-Ohio Haunt Reviews (www.ohioshaunted.com) I've been to nearly 250 haunts. Many have been mediocre while there have been some that have stood the test of time and have gotten bigger and better by the year. These are haunts that have truly set the standard in how Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana haunts should be ran and how they should be built. Some haunts you’ll learn the history of how they started while others will include a detailed description of scenes and rooms. These are the best of the best of haunts in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Nightmare Estates (Mason, OH)
Back in '96 Mason Ohio had a brand new haunt that was open to the public. It was called Nightmare Estates and there was something new and unique about this haunt. The actors were intense and the scenes were bone chilling. You had characters such as Bludzo the clown who would drewl blood and squeeze his rubber horn while you tried to escape his wooden maze. Other characters you would encounter were Jason, Michael Myers and the infamous Freddy Krueger.
Nightmare Estates was one of the first haunts in the nation to popularize the haunted Freddy School bus and one of the few to use an Elvis Presley corpse who would interact with customers. People couldn't get enough of this haunt and in 2004 it moved to The Beach Waterpark. They only had weeks to organize their haunt and surprising it was pulled off in time. While it was never the same as it was at their old location, it was a hit once again.
Unfortunately Nightmare Estates couldn't make a deal with The Beach Waterpark concerning free admission for season pass holders and wouldn't return for another season. Although Nightmare Estates is no longer a haunt, it still lives on. In 2006 The Dent School House was bought by 1031 Productions and Randy Paterson of Nightmare Estates became their director of acting and Bludzo The Clown joined their cast of characters.
Buford Haunted School (Buford,OH)
Hidden in the outskirts of Buford Ohio is a small charity haunt known as Buford Haunted School. While it may seem like your typical haunt from the outside, it's a whole different story once you enter its doors. This haunt is the real deal. It's obvious that they don't use fancy props or high tech eye candy, but what they lack in budget the actors make up in pure dedication. When you first enter the haunted school you may experience hands grabbing at your legs while you try to make it up the neon lit stairs.
If you're not into actors touching you, then you should find a different haunt. The characters you'll come in contact with will grab, turn you around and even bite you on the shoulder. This is a haunt that is intense and in your face. And once you're done touring, you'll be wiping the sweat off your brow. Unfortunately Buford Haunted School is closed and its future is in question. But for those who were able to tour this haunt, they experienced a haunt unlike others.
Haunted Spook Coop (Waynesville, OH)
Tiki torches illuminate large chicken coops filled with creatures from another world. You would never expect old chicken coops to be home to a great haunt, but shockingly The Haunted Spook Coop is a classic haunt in every sense of the word. Since 2001 the owners have been scaring people of Waynesville with their version of a haunted house. While many of the scenes you'll experience such as a foggy graveyard, clown ball pit and haunted dungeon are typical rooms found in haunt, the Haunted Spook Coop does justice to these rooms people have come to expect.
But while the Haunted Spook Coop is frightening, it's also humorous at the same time. One of their first scenes included Osama Bin Laden tied up while having rubber chickens thrown at him. Another scene has a priest and nun both strapped to electric chairs being fried as the crowd watches in terror. Unfortunately having a great haunt doesn't equal success. The Haunted Spook Coop won't be opening in 2008 and many factors contribute to its downfall from poor marketing to the lack of advertising. It's a shame, but a lesson many haunts learn.
The Chambers of Horror (Middletown, OH)
The Chambers of Horror is a timeless haunt that doesn't resort to using high-end animatronics or Hollywood sets. They rely on the bread and butter of a haunt, the actors. But instead of just using actors, they use old school methods of creating intense scenes that many haunts with larger budgets can't pull off. It's a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end. You'll experience closing walls, a falling ceiling, hidden passages, a walk through freezer and of course classic horror movies brought to life. But before there was The Chambers of Horror there was a haunt lover who was passionate about everything that went bump in the night.
Ed Short grew up in Middletown, Ohio and always enjoyed helping his mom decorate the front porch for Halloween. In 1973, at the age of 10, his family took a trip to Disney World and fell in love with the Haunted Mansion. Fascinated by the props, he drew up some designs on the long drive home from Florida, including a floating candelabra, doors with moving handles, and a thirteen-hour clock. He built these props and that Halloween He took over the porch decorating. After the second year, He would outgrow the front porch and moved to the garage.
The Chambers got its name in 1977, when a group of friends and Ed had a club in a friend’s garage. That October, they used their well-earned money to go to a local haunt. They were somewhat disappointed with the haunt and figured they could do better than that, so they did. Ed and his friends would turn the garage into a haunted house and had about 150 people in three nights. After kicking around several names for their haunt, they decided on The Chambers of Horror, each room is a chamber. Eventually The Chambers of Horror would move out of the garage and become part of The Middletown Haunted Trail. The majority of the haunt was outdoors, but it would eventually out grow its space and become very popular. They needed an actual building to hold the many rooms and scenes at The Chambers of Horror so they moved, but would eventually move again into the location they're currently in at the Cambridge Inn.
The Chambers of Horror seems to get bigger and better every year. While there are haunts around that have bigger budgets, The Chambers of Horror relies on true terror and creates a haunt that resembles a haunted house taken over by creatures of the night. When you think of an old school haunt, The Chambers of Horror is a prime example of a haunt that truly scares you instead of startling you with high tech eye candy.
Kings Island Fear Fest and Kings Island Halloween Haunt (Mason, OH)
A trend these days is for theme parks to have their own haunted events to make extra profit in the off-season and to compete with local haunts. Knott's Berry Farm has been doing this since 1973 and more and more theme park haunted events have been popping up every year. One of Ohio's most popular is at Kings Island, formerly Paramount's Kings Island. In 2000 Fear Fest debuted at Kings Island and was a hit from the start. What made Fear Fest different from other attractions in Ohio was that it included many different haunts in one location along with shows and their usual rides that were open to the public.
Once you entered the park you knew this was something special. Fog blanketed Kings Island while numerous monsters roamed scaring people as they went from one haunt to the other. Over the years Fear Fest has evolved while changing the theme of its haunts about ever year while keeping some of its trademark haunts such as its clown haunt, haunted trail and chain link fence maze. While their names have changed they have stayed essentially the same.
In 2007 Cedar Fair Entertainment bought Kings Island and this ultimately changed Kings Island Fear Fest for the better. The name changed from Kings Island Fear Fest to Kings Island Halloween Haunt. Everything in the park resembled Knott's Scary Farm Halloween Haunt from the addition of more scare zones that were bigger and better to the addition of new shows and ghouls that roamed the park. It was a new day and a new haunted event for Kings Island. All though you can find better haunts, you'll have a difficult time finding so much frightful entertainment at one place than you can at Kings Island during the haunt season.
The Land of Illusion (Middletown, OH)
This is a haunt that started off as a mere haunted trail, but over the years has evolved into somewhat of a haunted theme park. The sets and animatronics rival anything that is out there today that's at major haunts across the United States. But it wasn't always as impressive as it is today. The Land of Illusion was once known as Middletown Haunted Trail. Once you parked your car you were greeted by a massive lake near the queue line. You knew you were in for something special and it sure was. While there are haunted trails in the Ohio area that are just as good as Middletown Haunted Trail at the time it was the best. And so over the years it evolved to the point where it was using many high tech animatronics and just about every scene you can imagine from a walk through haunted bus to an impressive indoor area 51 scene with alien animatronics and plenty of water.
While Middletown Haunted Trail was extremely popular there were plans on expanding and it did. It would eventually add 2 more haunts by the names of Temple of Doom and Dr. Psycho's Haunted Estate. In adding more haunts they of course Brett Oakley (owner) and Land of Illusion had to move to accommodate the new haunts and so they did. And Middletown's Triple Fright would later become known as Middletown's Land of Illusion in 2005. Everything was brought up to another level from the detailed facades to more impressive sets and animatronics.
But of course this wasn't enough and in 2006 another haunt known as Killer Klowns would be added to the mix and would become a favorite along with the other 3 haunts. Today Middletown Land of Illusion is one of the most popular haunts in Ohio and goes more high tech ever year. The shear size of the air compressors used to run many of the animatronics is astounding and with a marketing budget in the hundreds of thousands there's no wonder this haunt gets the crowds it gets opening so early in September.
Sandyland Acres Haunted Hayride (Petersburg, KY)
Located in the small town of Petersburg Kentucky is Sandyland Acres Haunted Hayride. While most hayrides take place on dirt paths, Sandyland Acres is made of well, sand. This is a benefit since the thick sand sucks up water when there is a big storm. The main people that are behind Sandyland Acres are Gene and Debra Web. Before they were running a haunted hayride they were attending horror conventions all over the United States.
One fateful night they visited a nearby hayride and a thought came them. They already have the equipment and land so they might as well create there own haunted hayride in their small town. It was a risk, but it paid off big time. While this will be its third year of operation, you would never know that by the quality of the hayride.
Sandyland Acres consists of mostly recreations of horror movie favorites such as Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw, Friday The 13th and many others. While this may sound typical for a haunt, it isn’t since the frightening scenes you’ll experience are very convincing to the point where you feel like you’re part of the movie. Custom-made masks are used for characters such as Michael Myers and Predator while the sets almost perfectly resemble their movie counterparts.
The future is bright for Sandyland Acres since they are doing everything right that many haunts that have been around for much longer are doing wrong. They constantly advertise through signs, festivals, parades, sponsors and even cross promote with a group of haunts called Cincy Haunts (www.cincyhaunts.com). This is a group of haunts that are located in or near Cincinnati that promote each other while providing detailed information. Plus they even have a bus tour and even give away prizes for people participating. To put it simply. This is a haunt ran by great people that are striving to create a frightening experience for those brave enough to ride their frightening hayride.
USS Nightmare (Newport, KY)
One of the few haunted boats in the United States is USS Nightmare and for nearly 20 years it's been scaring people in the greater Cincinnati area. What sets this haunt apart from other haunts in the country? It's quite simple, atmosphere. Once you walk inside this rustic steamboat you can feel its haunted history come alive before you ever come in contact with an actor or see a scary prop. The paint on the walls is peeled while much of the metal is rusting. There is something scary and mysterious about this boat and once you enter the first scene you know all Hell is going to break loose.
While the boat alone is frightening, the scenes you'll venture into are down right bone chilling. Some of these include a spooky graveyard, clown ball pit, haunted museum, choose your fait room and so much more. Along with the variety of themed rooms comes there is the latest and greatest in haunt technology. But USS Nightmare doesn't just depend on its eye candy since they have a large group of dedicated actors that are dressed in impressive costumes and makeup and prosthetics. But USS Nightmare's success can be contributed by its dedicated staff that works endless hours constructing and organizing this classic haunt.
The staff includes:Allen Rizzo-General Manager, Glenna Rizzo-Production Manager, Steve Schrcitcis-Design, Brian Robbe-Design, Tony Dimuzio-Design, Mark Hopkinson- Design, Jason Ervin-Design, Jason Stamper-Design
The Dent School House (Cincinnati, OH)
One of Cincinnati's frightful favorites and one of Ohio's oldest haunts is The Dent School House (formerly The Haunted House). For years this haunt has been one of the best haunts in Ohio, but as the years passed and more and more haunts popped up in the Cincinnati area, The Dent School House started to become outdated. While using old props and outdated themes along with actors who were there more for the experience than acting, the classic started going down hill.
But thankfully in 2006 someone stepped up to the plate and took over the old Dent School House. The creators of the home haunts Majestic Nightmare and Nightmare Manor stepped up to the plate and The Dent School House would become the classic it once was. Nearly 100% of the entire haunt was changed from scenes to props and customers couldn't be happier about the results. For years The Dent School House used the story of how Charlie the janitor murdered the students of the schoolhouse and buried their bodies in the walls.
But the owners took that story line to another level and made nearly 75% of each room and scene revolves around the haunted school storyline. And as a result The Dent School House became one of the most improved haunts in Ohio and one of the best in the nation. Not only were the scenes extremely detailed and convincing, the actors were top notch thanks to their acing director Randy Paterson of the former Nightmare Estates. Actors from Nightmare Estates and charity haunt Dungeons of Delhi saw the big changes 1031 productions was making to this haunt and many of them decided to become part of the team. The Dent School House strives to become better by the year and has changed the face of Cincinnati haunts.
Baxter Avenue Morgue (Louisville, KY)
Baxter Avenue Morgue is possibly one of the most underrated haunts in the country. Since opening in 2000 it has gained a cult status due to its frightening realism and creepy scenes. Although Baxter Avenue Morgue may not take place in an actual morgue, the creators work hard in convincing people that it does. Once you arrive at the morgue a sense of dread may go down you back. This is due to the convincing story of the haunted morgue that chronicles its tragic past and strange occurrences.
Before you enter the morgue you are welcomed by the current owner Warren Vanderdark who warns you of what lies behind the morgue's doors. Once you enter the basement of the morgue you soon find out why this haunt is so infamous. This haunt is dark and confining where every scene blends together seamlessly to create a haunting story. The Baxter Avenue Morgue is truly one of those haunts that you must visit once in your lifetime.
It's that good and the actors who play parts in the various scenes are incredible. Much of the staff is comprised of students from the local school of creative and performing arts and on select days a local dance troop reenacts the classic Thriller video for the crowd waiting in line. In 2007 the original directors Joey Arena and Verity Jones left Baxter Avenue Morgue to work on their latest project Otherworld. It's a haunt that gives customers the choice of what path to take and the haunt promises to have things that you've never seen in any other haunt before. But even though the original creative directors have left Baxter Avenue Morgue still is one of the nation’s most bone chilling haunts that doesn’t seem to miss a step.
The Haunted Hotel (Louisville, KY)
The Haunted Hotel is Louisville’s longest running haunt and for good reason. Intensity doesn’t begin to describe this haunt. When you first arrive at The Haunted Hotel you’ll notice that the street has been blocked off by cop cars because this haunt is that popular. And once you enter you’ll know exactly why. You’ll first enter into a haunted elevator that has been taken over by a deformed pig creature.
The lights begin to flash as the creature presses its buttons and all Hell breaks loose. The elevator uncontrollably shakes as sounds of steel can be heard as the elevator is ready to crash. Make sure and hold onto something before you fall over. Their version of the Hellevator cost over $10,000 alone before the modifications. Finally after a few minutes the ride is over and you’re on the 13th floor. This is when the real fun begins as you venture into unique rooms that have scenes perfectly timed to music and lights.
Some of the rooms you’ll experience are a haunted kitchen full or a moving cabinet doors, a haunted bedroom, a fun house and even a live nude shower scene that squirts people as they peep through the glass. You would pray that your trip into terror was over, but that was only the inside area of the haunt. The outside area includes various scenes and one of the most intense chainsaw mazes you will ever experience. The Haunted Hotel pulls no punches with their mix of intense actors and well-timed scenes. It’s truly one of those haunts that people look forward to all year round.
Industrial Nightmare (Jeffersonville, IN)
There are many haunts that are doing big things in the industry that are innovative and down right awe-inspiring. Industrial Nightmare is one of these haunts, but it hasn’t always been the impressive haunt it is today. Back when Industrial Nightmare first opened it was known as the mother of all haunted houses and at the time it deserved that honor.
But slowly scenes were removed and it just seemed like the owners were making a haunt just for the sake of profit. At one point to give it the appearance of a brand new haunt, the name was changed from Industrial Nightmare to Fear Factory. But most people caught on to what was occurring. But thankfully in 2006 Terry Cambell the owner of The Haunted Hotel decided to take ownership of Industrial Nightmare and Todde Moore would take over The Haunted Hotel.
Terry Cambell was determined to bring Industrial Nightmare back to its glory days and was on a mission to make a big impact on the haunt industry. Unfortunately there was a huge flood and much of the new props were destroyed that were to be used for 2006. But either way it was a huge improvement with enhanced scenes, timed scares and very impressive animatronics. But 2007 would mark a new beginning for Industrial Nightmare. It was essentially a brand new haunt with new innovative scenes never before seen in a haunt and much of the industrial factory theme was removed to make room for authentic horror movie scenes that you would think were made in a movie studio.
Movie scenes such as Freddy's Boiler Room, Camp Crystal Lake, Michael Myers Escape, and Pin Heads Chain room have been incorporated into the haunt and are some of most detailed I've seen. Other rooms include a haunted bathroom, clown room, shrinking hall way and much more. But the most impressive and innovative rooms goes to the laser light claustrophobia room. You’ll first see bright flashing laser lights off in the distance as you walk down a ramp. Once you are on flat ground you’re trapped by large black air bags that go on forever. It’s the largest claustrophobia room you’ll ever experience and really replicates the feeling of drowning in a black swamp.
But if this wasn’t enough there were two more haunts at the 50,000 square foot Industrial Nightmare Complex. Once you exited Industrial Nightmare you walked straight into the next line for Dementions. While Dementions