Building Layers of Terror How to Build a Scary Haunted House
by Ben Armstrong
At last you have a rock solid Haunted House. The basics are strong, the cast is tight, and the screams flow like wine. But a nagging doubt hangs in your mind, the fear that your show is exactly like a thousand others out there, full of the same props and masks, the same scares, the same storylines. You want to get to the next level , you want detail! But deep detail has a cost few can afford to pay:
1) TIME: If you have the skills to do the work you can have all the detail you want but the cost in time can be astronomical. If you don't have the skills or the time there is always:
2) MONEY: You can pay people to do the work but this can be an even greater expense.
So the question is how can you get the detail you crave without expending too much time and money? Well there is no one cure all for this question, the only sure way to keep growing is to come back full force every season and to give them the very best show you can create. But I can think of a simple concept can help make the details come together just a little easier. Layering. Not just in set dressing, but rather in ALL things. What do I mean?
Let's take costuming. The basic haunted house outfit, the mask and black reaper robe can (with little cost in time or money) be improved greatly with a few layers of simple detail. Shredded fabric attached to the costume, bits of camo netting, old belts with props attached can make all the difference. Add chunks of foam on the inside to warp the form of the actor to make them more inhuman, paint match the gloves to the hands and glue on fake fingernails and hair. Looking for inspiration? Go to the toy store and buy some Spawn figurines. Look at the colors, look at the blood splats, look at the weapons. Attach tatters of fabric around a reapers scythe, dull down the paint to a realistic level, add spatters of brown paint (Blood.rust?) and what do you have? Big improvements. Store bought masks can get so much better with a few simple layers of paint, things like moss or hair glued on in places, and minor painting corrections. Nothing beats the work of a good artist, but if you take the time to discover good "art" and really examine it, you can build up the layers to quickly and painlessly clone it.
On the matter of set dressing volumes could be written about layering. True artists and carpenters can create wonderful and imaginative things, but if you lack their skills or the money to hire them, big improvements can still be made with found items. We all know some of the best props come from dumpster diving, and sometimes the realism of many layers of carefully arranged junk can create truly amazing sets. Layers of wallpaper, paintings, old doors and cobwebs can produce wonderful effects at little cost. Industrial sets can look real with old wires, plastic pallets, pipes and clever found items screwed to the walls. Miracles can be worked with camo netting, jute mesh and burlap (soaked with fire retardant of course!) Sometimes the simple layering on of more things can make up for smaller budgets or lack of high powered set dressing talent.
What about your storyline? The first layer is your name, the second is your tagline, the third your press release. Go deeper. Lay in a vast story for your website, bring in lots of layers that will give the scenes and events in your attraction meaning. Most people will never care, but some will really get into it. If the actors know the names and back stories of the characters they portray, they will often use and embellish this information in a way that will enhance your deep themeing. Dig deep into local legends, classic themes, and urban legends. Create video versions of your storyline, audio tracks in your house to support it, and fake photos of the characters to hang on your walls.
Layering of lighting and shadow can also create sensational effects. Using a variety of lighting sources (beacons, strobes, black lights, old lamps, flicker bulbs, theatrical gelled lighting fixtures etc.) mixed in each scene really ups the production value in an often inexpensive way. The use of shadow is very effective as well, you can get great effects casting shadows through latticework, camo netting, and window frames. Fog really helps with lighting effects, especially in creating light tunnels and faux moonlight. And as we know, patrons love total darkness on occasion.
Layering as a concept can easily be applied to the experience of your show in general. The more layers guests experience, the happier they will be. I refer to all the elements: marketing, storyline, set dressing, lighting, sound, fog, animation, effects, scene design, general layout and actors. Adding layers of stuff to your walls is important in a quest to grow, but these other things cannot be overlooked. Adding layers of complexity to the costuming, make-up and performances of your actors will also get a huge reaction. In a high throughput haunted house guests must be saturated with layers of sensation, a veritable buffet of experiences in the hope that some will stick with them forever.
Layering is a concept, a mental exercise you can apply to every aspect of your haunted business. It's not just "bigger" is better, it's "denser " is better if that makes any sense. That said, there is always the potential of junking up things by adding too much to the soup, but as in all things, your feel for your customers tastes in this area will determine success or failure.
To sum up, once the basics are covered, thicken the layers of content in all areas of your haunted house. This build up of ideas, props, effects and flat out production value will enhance your show in ways that will make the very best of your time and money. Oh, and by the way, don't forget to spend all your time and money too!
Ben "Dr. Speculo" Armstrong
NETHERWORLD Haunted Attractions
Hauntworld visited the annual Transworld Haunted House and Halloween tradeshow. We captured the entire show on video and uploaded to the Hauntworld Youtube Channel. We go thru the entire s
The Darkness opened during the Transworld Haunted House tradeshow with a behind the screams tour. If you missed the show or the tour watch the video below which highlights a complete recap.
Go behind the scenes at Transworld Haunted House Tradeshow - Day 2 of the Set up. See a sneak peek of all the latest Haunted House props, costumes, animations and more. Watch the video bel
The Darkness haunted House announced a behind the SCREAMS tour of The Darkness Haunted House during the Transworld Haunted House Tradeshow. The Darkness will open for ONE NIGHT ONLY February 3rd
Transworld annual Haunted House - Escape Room - Christmas Attraction show is just around the corner February 2 thru 5th, 2023. This will be the biggest show in their history. Learn all the
Hauntworld recently visited the Halloween and Party Show in Las Vegas. See the latest Halloween costumes, masks, party supplies and everything between. Watch the full POV video where we go
We visited the famed 13th Floor Chicago and got a behind the scenes tour. 13th Floor Chicago featured a massive haunted house, gift store and several mini escape rooms. We go way behind th
Hauntworld takes you behind the SCREAMS at Hells Gate Haunted House near Chicago Illinois. Learn every secret as we take you thru their adventure park, haunted house, haunted trail, costume room
Hauntworld once again visited another behind the screams haunted house this time INTERNATIONAL MONSTER MUSEUM in Salem Mass. The owner John Denley gave us a full tour of the best monster
Hauntworld takes you to the best and scariest haunted houses and attractions in America. Now take a behind the SCREAMS video of FRIGHT KINGDOM in New England one of the oldest running haunts in
Icons of The Haunted Attraction Industry - Hauntworld Names the Top 10 Icons of the Haunted House Industry. See which haunted attractions currently in operation are named the ten biggest ICON haunted attractions.
Hauntworld ranks the top scary places in America to get SCARED and Scream 2022. The best and top rated haunted houses, and Halloween Attractions in America. Did we rank a haunted house near you find out by clicking on this article.
Are you ready to experience the best haunted house in America? How deep into the depths of The Darkness can you plunge before your next breath is your last? The all new Darkness Haunted House, located in Soulard, off South Broadway in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, has been rated as America's BEST haunted house.
Hauntworld ranks the top scary places in America to get SCARED and Scream 2021. The best and top rated haunted houses, and Halloween Attractions in America. Did we rank a haunted house near you find out by clicking on this article.
Hauntworld rates the top 13 best and scariest haunted houses in America. Hauntworld rates and reviews the scariest, best, longest, haunted houses and Halloween Attractions in America 2020.
Hauntworld rates the top 13 best and scariest haunted houses in America. Hauntworld rates and reviews the scariest, best, longest, haunted houses and Halloween Attractions in America 2018.
Read Review and Ratings of Headless Horseman Haunted Hayride located in New York. Headless Horseman features hayrides, haunted houses and much more.
Creepyworld Haunted Screampark is America's biggest haunted attraction with over 13 attractions including a haunted hayride. Learn more and read the review click here.
Escape From Blood Prison in Mansfield Ohio site of one of the single most famous Prisons in Hollywood History ( Ohio State Reformatory) famous of the film "The Shawshank Redemption". Now its one of the biggest scariest haunted houses in America. Read about Escape from Blood Prison!
Haunted House Review The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor is Los Angles California's biggest, scariest and most haunted real haunted house. Read the full review of this haunted attraction click here.