Terror Behind the Walls Closed for 2020 - What does this mean for the Haunt Industry

Thu, June 18, 2020

Terror Behind the Walls CLOSED for 2020 haunted house season!  What does this mean for the haunted house industry? 

First lets read the statement by Terror Behind the Walls today on their facebook page: 

'We have some sad news to share. The financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced us to suspend Terror Behind the Walls for 2020.
Preparations for TBTW were underway for months, but we ultimately determined that modifying the attraction to comply with anticipated COVID-19 guidelines would have presented significant operational challenges and financial risk to Eastern State.
Instead, Eastern State will offer smaller-scale evening tours of the penitentiary this fall. More details to come.
It’s a sad day at Terror Behind the Walls. We hope to share some good news with you soon

Terror Behind the Walls is one of the biggest if not the biggest haunted house events in America attracting over 100,000 guests to their haunt each year.  I'm sure they didn't make this decision quickly.  We're talking about up to 4 million dollars down the drain with one post on facebook all I can say is WOW!   TBTW is based in downtown Philly which is a very liberal city, with liberal mayors and rules just like Chicago or LA. I think it's fair to say that cities with liberal mayors are taking a more strict approach to re-opening business while republican led area's are wanting business to re-open more quickly.  Not saying one is right and the other is wrong but knowing the rules are going to be very strict could have played a huge factor here.  On the flip side most of PA is very RED especially in these farming communities those haunts should have less to worry about when it comes to opening.  The staff of TBTW may have come to the conclusion based on their statement about financial harm, that spending well north of a million dollars to produce the event might backfire if the city does another shutdown.   How would you like to be caught just ramping up and boom you shut down again with the type of financial investment they must make each year.  TBTW also mentions they laid off 40% of their staff, possible they don't have the man power to pull it off.  Or maybe they're making this decision based on risk verse reward.  Let me explain. 

The reward could be attendance down by 50% maybe you net around 1 million dollars, whereas the risk is you spend all that money to produce the show and you can't open losing 1 million dollars.  In other words its a flip of the coin, and considering they have other revenue streams such as tours of the facility why risk it.  Furthermore they might be concerned about potential lawsuits from large gatherings or the restrictions the city would place on them make it totally impossible to operate.  Should the haunted house industry be alarmed or shaken to the core by this announcement?  NO!  Why?  Well because TBTW is not a private business like the mass majority of haunts across the country.  If any haunted attraction event was going to close or skip 2020 I would have predicted a haunt like TBTW, Theme Parks or Charity based haunts.  I would also expect to see several theme parks cancel Halloween and maybe every charity based event cancelled. 

With the way the media is acting right now (out to get everyone it seems) how much positive PR could come to your event this year?  Remember this is an election year and the media is HELL BENT on getting rid of Donald Trump.  I would expect October to be a WARZONE ACROSS Media outlets trying to further divide the country, predicting bleak outlooks on business, employment, etc.  People might not have jobs, money, or motivation to do anything in October.   The media is depressing people how much can we all take?  Or maybe and hopefully for us people need some escape from reality.  I sure hope so its possible.  By the end of September how many cities, and states can afford keeping business shut down?  These unemployment bonus checks END in a couple weeks will that motivate cities even liberal ones to get business back in action?  I would hope so!  I do think we're going to open as an industry because we simply can't continue to function as a country under these conditions.  Getting back to haunting let's consider most professional for profit haunted houses are very small business's with no other options for revenue.  Not opening would send Shockwaves across this industry. 

If the mass majority of haunts didn't open or if they opened and retained less than half  of their customers what would happen to the industry as we know it?

Let me make some predictions: 

1)  Transworld:  I would strongly consider cancelling the 2021 show.  Why?  That is easy no one would spend a dime, vendors would know up front haunt owners have no money and probably would go out of business.  How could haunt vendors survive two seasons in a row of virtually no revenue?  They couldn't.  Right now we're asking vendors to hang in there, fight until next March.  But if the writing is on the wall that haunted houses are losing their shirts, what would they do next?  Would they spend tens of thousands of dollars to attend a tradeshow half full with buyers just looking and no spending?  Please!   IAAPA has already cancelled their second hall, and said they will be way down on exhibitors and buyers in 2020.   Wouldn't the same apply to Transworld?   Maybe there would be a show but it would be right back where it started about 10 rows and thats it.   The industry needs to be successful in 2020 for everyone's sake especially the vendors.  Vendors need a sign of hope to make another run and we as an industry can't let them or Transworld down. 

2)  Vendors:  As stated above you can pretty much write off over 50% of every vendor we know and love as gone!  Some might end up working in theme parks, finding jobs with production companies outside the industry, or just finding a new line of work.  There is NO WAY IN HELL vendors survive another year like this one just simply NO WAY!  Even if they could survive after firing virtually their entire staff what kind of product could they produce on a mass scale?  Therefore there is no more Transworld no more haunted house tradeshows.  GONE!   Yes some haunts would survive this especially theme parks who produce massive events, therefore some vendors would make it but not enough for a full blown tradeshow. 

3)   Haunted Attractions:  The industry would finally come FULL CIRCLE and be back to where it all started charity based events with theme parks running the for profit side.  Yes some haunts will FIND A WAY to borrow money to survive 10 months and try to open the following year.  However the damage would be so overwhelming that only the haunts who own their property, debt free and access to borrowing could make it.  Very sad but very true. I also feel many haunted house owners would just give up on the industry and try something else like axe throwing, escape rooms, some social attraction or maybe they would find employment with a theme park.  Many haunt owners are already doing side attractions and finding its more profitable with less stress than haunting.  The industry as we know it right now is walking the tight rope. 

So what do we do?  For one I just read an article IAAPA published with so called industry experts talking about using mirrors, sound fx,  eliminating chainsaws (HUH) (Don't people run from those?)  stopping insensitive themes (since when have haunts been worried about that considering we have bloody bodies everywhere) these so called industry experts laid an egg in this interview.  We shouldn't be talking about what we SHOULDN'T DO ... we should be talking about what we're GOING TO DO!  IF WE OPEN WE PLAN ON MAKING PEOPLE SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN!  PERIOD! 

Furthermore we can't have people with virtually nothing to lose, or very little experience talking to the media on behalf of our industry.  The most experienced vets with positive talking points need to do the talking for EVERYONE!   We need every haunt who's called about these issues  refer those reporters to people like myself, or Chris Stafford who has a lot to lose by a negative story.  This is the time for the real industry leaders to STEP UP and take charge.   We can't afford another story from YAHOO who spins the IAAPA story into some NO SCREAMING in 2020 article READ HERE.  We simply can't afford people talking on behalf of an entire industry who doesn't own a haunted house, saying things like 'chainsaws must be eliminated' or suggesting we use 'mirrors' to scare.  Let me explain something here... how about you tell everyone in the theme park the roller coaster is open, we put them in the seat, fasten them inside, then show them a video of what the ride would have been like had had we launched the coaster.  Suggesting we eliminate chainsaws, use mirrors, or change  themes to not offend anyone... WHAT IS THIS GUY TALKING ABOUT?  Why do people come to a haunted house HELLO?  TO GET SCARED so if you are advocating toning down that experience due to COVID then just CLOSE because if we can't deliver what guests are paying for what are we doing?  I'm not eliminating a chainsaw something people RUN FROM not kiss on the lips ... last a checked RUNNING from someone with a chainsaw wouldn't that be a good social distance tool?  OMG what a moronic statement.  

Why play defense we need to play offense.  We need a sensible plan that works for all haunts, which would include warning signs posted everywhere including your website, suggesting all guests wear masks, temp checks on your staff, washing stations, and then just roll like its 2019!   There are other things we can do like eliminating squeeze walls, or eliminating 'ROAMER' actors, making sure no 3D glasses are re-used, station every single actor in a scarezone/scarebox, etc.   We can make sure actors wear the same costume, same mask, reducing staff,  blah, blah.  In other words we can come up with a sensible plan but closing your haunt is not good for your business or the industry as a whole. We could even airbrush masks for our actors so they look like masks WOW who would have thought... no just  eliminate chainsaws says one so called industry expert.  Please!  

Here is the bottom line we as an industry need a plan a plan that works for everyone.  We need to come together and create this plan and we can't do it on facebook.  Facebook haunt industry groups are overrun with people who do NOT OWN HAUNTED HOUSES!  PERIOD!  I got ripped on by some of these people for producing a video to help haunt owners make more money.  WHAT?  How do these industry know it alls think they get paid?  C'mon I have no time to listen to that non-sense.  Do you want our new video its awesome and it will HELP YOUR BUSINESS BIG TIME... CLICK HERE 

We can discuss idea's on Hauntworld Forums CLICK HERE, we can narrow down a group of industry leaders to have ZOOM meetings, and we can come out with an OFFENSIVE game plan to score SCREAMS!  We can work together, and we can accomplish anything if we work as a team.   Don't be afraid to buy from a vendor, open your haunt, and GIVE THEM HELL without fear of offending someone with your scary doctors, bloody hospitals, or any theme you choose.  WE NEED TO PLAY OFFENSE HERE AND GO FOR IT... tell your costumers you're going to give them the scares of a lifetime.  Tell your customers yeah no basketball, no baseball, but there will be SCREAMING in 2020!  The haunt industry is here to entertain safely!   

Do we need to cut spending, staffing, marketing and do we need to enact some safety protocols?  YES!  Do we need to close down?  NO WAY! 

I will start a thread on Hauntworld and open up the discussion for THE PLAN to open this season.  I hope you participate! If you do not have a forum user name and password create one let me know and we'll approve it asap!   

I'm looking forward to the discussion we still have several weeks to get it done!  Lastly, I wish the staff of Terror Behind the Walls a SCARY RETURN in 2021!  We will miss you guys in 2020 but the haunting must go on!  We need to save Halloween, Our business, Vendors and Transworld who's done everything you can imagine to grow our industry.  

Happy Haunting. 


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