Hauntworld.com is without a doubt the most influential entity that has ever existed in the haunted house industry. In large part, this is because Hauntworld came along within the first year or so of the concept…WORLD WIDE WEB. Hauntworld.com was created to provide a message board forum, so haunted house owners from across the country and around the world could meet online, buy/sell/trade new and used equipment, share ideas and concepts, and chat with each other. This was its purpose from the start, and the Hauntworld Forums made it all possible as the FIRST to initiate anything like this.
People logged onto www.Hauntworld.com every single day to post on the original Fright Forum, and for the first time, we all knew there was other life on our planet. It gave validation that there really was a haunted house INDUSTRY, beyond our hometown state. People logged on each day to (1) learn how others marketed their haunted houses, (2) share their scariest scares, (3) provide input on best ways to build a prop, and (4) even discuss how to build animations BEFORE there was ever even a single animation company mass producing or marketing them. Hauntworld.com has been on the scene from DAY ONE, and although our newest version of the Fright Forums has only about 130,000 posts, the earlier versions combined could total a half million. These posts have shaped, educated, and introduced haunted house owners and operators to this industry.
There have been many things which have influenced how haunted houses are built today including Phil Morris book, Hauntworld Videos, Kevin McCurdy videos, plus the unforgettable John Denley and Rich Hanf Doing Fright Right. However, there’s simply nothing more influential than visiting other haunted houses. After you visit a good one, you walk out the door with a truly lasting impression. Over the years, I’ve known many haunted houses and haunt attractions that have come to shape and form our industry as we know it today. Below is a list of such haunts. Some of the haunted houses on this list are no longer in operation. However, they created such a huge influence over the industry that their mark remains today.
So which haunted houses and attractions have made the biggest, most lasting impression on our industry today? Here’s a list of the top 20 most influential haunted houses in the history of our industry and why:
There was no haunted house industry when Walt Disney built Disneyland and included The Haunted Mansion which opened in 1969. The Florida theme park later opened in 1971 and even later came the Japan and France versions in 1983 and 1992. The Haunted Mansion dark rides remain current today at Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. But long before we even knew we had an industry in the making, Disney had four haunted mansions opened scaring millions upon millions of people. Disney continues to update and upgrade all of these haunted attractions much like local haunted houses do with adding new scenes and frights annually. In fact, Disney has also been at the forefront of another new occurrence we see in our industry whereby haunted house attractions are transformed into Christmas attractions. There is no doubt that Disney introduced the concept of visiting a haunted house on the largest scale. Bottom line, Disney's haunted house style attraction, The Haunted Mansion, has had more attendance than every haunted house in the World combined, and for all these reasons it finds itself on top of our list. Lastly, tell me one true passionate haunted house owner who at one time or another didn't own a copy of Disney's Haunted Mansion Soundtrack on vinyl... Enough said!
Disney's The Haunted Mansion is a dark ride and not a walk-through haunted house in the traditional sense we all have come to enjoy. Knott's Scary Farm is another example of a non-traditional haunted house that many might overlook for consideration to make this list. Knott's Scary Farm doesn't have a staple attraction where writers would think, “This one attraction stands out as one of the best.” Knotts is more of a collection of haunted houses coupled with shows and frights around every corner. Knott's Scary Farm started as simply three nights in October 1973. Now, it produces nearly half of all the theme park’s revenue for an entire year. Knotts took Halloween events to an all new level introducing big name celebs such as Elvira and Weird Al and creating multiple haunted houses throughout the theme park. They are also considered the originators of 'sliders', where actors slide across the ground to scare guests. Many haunted houses today have their own team of sliders, and you can thank Knott's Scary Farm. Knott's Scary Farm created so much revenue and additional attendance that they single-handedly inspired the entire theme park industry to take notice of Halloween starting with Universal Studios.
Spookyworld was owned and operated by David Bertolino who transformed a small family-owned farm into a Knott’s Scary Farm inspired scream park. Spookyworld proved that a private businessman could gain massive sponsors, national publicity, and crowds in excess of 100,000, and most importantly that a haunted event could be more show than scare to attract larger crowds. Clearly Bertolino followed the approach of Knott's Scary Farm creating more of a scream park with multiple attractions, including live magic shows, performances from Tiny Tim, multiple celebrity appearances from Eliva to Linda Blair, and other live performance shows. Many haunted house owners visited Spookyworld, were inspired by his 'scream park’ approach, copied the concept and took it to a new level. And, it was David Bertolino who mastered the art of sponsorship and national PR including the amazing accomplishment of having his attraction featured on The Tonight Show. Spookyworld closed many years ago, and while the name lives through license or sold to different haunt owners, we can never forget the ORIGINAL Spookyworld.
This haunted house was designed and operated by a company out of Spain. Terror on Church Street was one of the first major theatrical haunted houses with the highest level of detail for its time. Many aspiring haunted house owners would visit Orlando simply to take a tour of Terror On Church Street. Terror On Church Street was operated the more as a tourist attraction with street performers, gift shops and even photos taken of you screaming out the exit. Terror On Church Street was also one of the first attractions to produce high end theatrical videos and photos to promote the attraction. Their level of high-end detail, their perfectly timed yet theatrical scares, their costumes, and more was the pinnacle for all haunt owners looking for inspiration. Terror On Church Street inspired more people to open haunted houses than any other attraction in history. Sadly, this haunted house closed, mostly due to the decline in business at Church Street Station due to Disney and Universal building their own nightlife entertainment destinations. Believe it or not, Terror On Church Street still lives in countries like Italy, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, England, and even Japan. Visit their website here to bring back the memories: www.pasajedelterror.com
Universal Studios Horror Nights wasn't the first to produce and promote a massive haunted house event. Starting in 1991 under the original label of 'Fright Nights', Universal created what would eventually become known to the WORLD as the biggest and best Halloween event ever. The difference between Universal and all other theme parks with Halloween events is simple…Their haunted houses are truly WORLD CLASS. They appear to be permanent attractions which are created and enhanced year round, when in fact they are not. Whereby Knott's Scary Farm focused on the theatrical with live performance shows, Universal focused on the haunted houses themselves driven to create the best, most detailed haunted houses in the World. I wouldn’t say they necessarily ARE the best or the most detailed haunted houses, they rank high and they definitely rival the best of the best haunted houses in America. Additionally, they produce SEVERAL haunts, plus scare zones, live shows and more. There is little doubt that Universal does FRIGHT RIGHT, and they literally have no competition to the claim biggest and best haunted party in the WORLD!
Finally, we have a current haunted house, still in existence today, that isn't owned by Disney or Universal. Netherworld is by far the most well-known haunted house in the world, privately owned by a couple small businessmen out of Georgia. Netherworld offers something for everyone, borrowing inspiration from the best offerings of everyone on our list so far, yet making it their own. When you look at Netherworld you think about Knotts Scary Farm’s sliders and outdoor scares... Yes, inspired from Knotts but taken to another level that even Knotts can't compete with. We talk about Terror On Church Street being one of the first haunts with incredible theatrical actors and costumes, and Netherworld took that concept to a whole new level as well. Netherworld has assembled teams of special FX artists, costume designers, special FX creators, painters, and a massive team of dedicated actors, and they create the largest privately owned and operated haunted event in America with attendance pushing nearly 100,000 guests. GHOULY AMAZING! www.fearworld.com
These are two of the oldest and longest running haunted houses ever in America dating back to the 1970's. Both of these attractions located in five story buildings feature amazing detail, tons of actors and incredible history. The Edge of Hell was among the original haunted houses and featured many of the aspects that we believe inspired the entire haunted house urban legends, like that of the 13-story haunted house or the haunt whereby you make it to the top alive and get your money back. Edge of Hell was never afraid to push the envelope. It once featured a scene with a real mountain lion. Edge of Hell featured scenes from heaven and hell, where at one point you get to meet God and his Angles then thrust down a five story slide pushing you back into the depths of Hell where one of the World's longest living Anaconda snakes lives. The Beast Haunted House came later featuring more attention to detail, bigger sets, and perhaps ultimately becoming known as the better of the two haunted houses. Even before the internet, people still heard tales of The Beast and Edge of Hell, drawing many haunters to take trips to Kansas City for a glimpse of inspiration.
First created in 1994, The Darkness Haunted House is another one of America's longest running haunted attractions and the only haunted house in the country featured on so many national outlets: The National Geographic Channel, The History Channel, The Travel Channel, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox News, USA TODAY and more. The Darkness has helped the haunted house industry in many ways by pushing the envelope with over-the-top detail and special FX, but it was the constant national television/media that allowed America to peak into this haunt without so much as a travel beyond their couch to see what haunted houses have and can become as opposed to what haunters from years past thought a haunted house to be. This haunted house is not inspired by devil worship or séance, and it’s far beyond the black walls and actors with blood stained shirts running around. The Darkness, along with all the massive amounts of national press, helped change the way people around America view the perception of a haunted house to be. The Darkness is by far one of the most detailed haunted houses in America featuring some of the most amazing special effects a haunt has ever offered. www.scarefest.com
The Darkness is also known for making 3D haunted houses popular. The creative team behind The Darkness marketed and built over 100 blacklight 3D themed haunted house and dark ride attractions for amusement parks across the nation and around the World. Plus, The Darkness location features its own blacklight 3D attraction and THE BEST 3D haunted house ever, known as 'Terror Visions 3D'. Terror Visions 3D has inspired hundreds of haunted house operators to build their own 3D haunt for the purpose of raising revenue at their own attractions.
RPHH would rank higher on our list if the attraction was still in operation. There is no doubt that Rocky Point was a favorite hot spot for haunted house owners to attend for the purpose of inspiration. RPHH new how to build a haunted house RIGHT! Rocky Point was a massive haunted house with scenes inspired by movies and props donated by Hollywood special effect companies. But more than anything, RPHH was known for amazing detail and special effects, and they were a perfect model on how to run a haunted house as a business. Unfortunately, RPHH closed its doors and auctioned off all attractions. While owner, Cydney Neil, never opened another haunted house, rumors continue to swirl that one day Salt Lake City will see Rocky Point re-emerge.
Founded by Pantera’s front man, Phil Anselmo, House of Shock was originally an attraction built in someone's backyard. Eventually, it became a full blown haunted house with a satanic theme raising the eyebrows of national and local media. Local officials even tried to shut down the haunted house. Rolling Stone Magazine named House of Shock one of the shocking events in Rock History. Still controversial today, it continues to enjoy national publicity and crazed popularity in the local area that once demonized it. House of Shock operates with an all volunteer acting staff known for over-the-top, extreme performances. A fear driven pyrotechnic show is provided before you enter the attraction. House of Shock has brought the haunted house industry a lot of publicity, good or bad…that is to be debated. It combines a large outdoor stage show with a very theatrical theme, something most haunted houses did not do at the time. House of Shock was and still is one of the most influential haunted houses in the haunt industry.
Haunted Hoochie located at Dead Acres in Pataskala, Ohio near Columbus is another extreme haunted house who believes it’s just too much fun to be bad, and the publicity they bring to the haunted house industry, good or bad, is definitely significant.
Haunted Happenings was a haunted house owned by Arnold Chase, and was one of the first haunted houses known for custom animations, special FX and amazing detail and design. Arnold Chase employed several well known haunt owners to build sets, animations and more, including Kevin McCurdy, and Jim Grievas of Stage Fright Studios which was one of the first companies to offer scare animations to the haunt industry. Haunted Happenings had a Frankenstein room with neon lights, crackle tubes and an animated Frankenstein. This was so above the time. Additionally, Arnold was never afraid to reinvest in his haunt. He would attend the Transworld Halloween show and basically buy everything cool he saw. He wasn't in the haunt business for profit, but rather for his own entertainment while at the same time benefiting charity. Additionally, Haunted Happenings was one of the first Haunted Attractions to change over to a Christmas event during November/December. His building was eventually sold to developers, and Arnold had to remove his haunt ultimately ending his haunted house hobby. The auction itself was the highest grossing haunted auction in history attended by every haunt owner of the time. The significance of Haunted Happenings was a simple one… In the infancy of our industry this attraction built a reputation through word of mouth across the country; this was in the days of NO internet. Haunted house owners came from around the country to see one of the first ever MULTI MILLION dollar haunted house, proving that there really is no limit to what can be done.
While Silo-X was never one of the best haunted houses ever created, it still makes the list because of the role it played in the infancy of our industry. Silo-X started in St. Louis, Missouri by Ray Kohout. It’s significant for many reasons. It was the first haunted house ever franchised across the country with Silo-X haunted houses in Boston, Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale, and Houston. Not only is Silo-X important for being the first haunted house to franchise its name and theme, but Silo-X also showed haunted houses how important marketing really is. They proved with awesome marketing you could obtain large crowds. Their impact is simple... The markets they invaded received an overdose of marketing, helping hundreds of haunted houses realize marketing was in fact the key to bringing their haunted house to the next level. When better produced haunted houses in each of those markets started stepping up their own marketing plans, Silo-X began to fade. But the fact still remains, Silo-X did more to educate this industry about marketing than any other haunt of its time and probably was one of the main reasons why the haunt industry is so huge today.
The Haunted Schoolhouse and Haunted Laboratory are very significant haunted houses because they pre-date all the major haunted houses open today, dating back to 1974. They come from the JAYCEE era of haunting. The difference between The Haunted Schoolhouse and all the JAYCEE haunted houses was that beyond charity, it included some of the most amazing detailed sets inspiring, future haunted house owners and showing them that a haunt shouldn’t be silly; it should SCARE. Any haunted house that can last nearly 40 years with attendance numbers still as big as ever deserves to be on this list. The multitude of influence this haunt has had on the industry and on attraction owners nationwide is innumerable. The Haunted Schoolhouse in Akron, Ohio is another example of a pre-internet haunted house that still managed to build a reputation nationwide inspiring others to grow and expand.
Even though Universal and Knotts were making a killing operating haunted house attractions, most major amusement parks did not engage Halloween. Most thought the investment was only for the major market theme parks. Tampa Busch Gardens stumbled out of the gate with Halloween, and quickly regrouped, figuring out how Halloween and Theme Parks can exist in a mid-level market. Tampa Busch Gardens is clearly the 3rd most popular Halloween theme park event in America, and it set the stage for all the other mid-market theme parks to follow in their footsteps. With the later addition of several more theme parks developing their own Haunt and Halloween attractions, the haunt attractions industry had millions upon millions more marketing dollars thrown into the mix towards the promotion of Halloween and haunted houses, and this benefits ALL haunt owners!
Verdun Manor was another pre-internet sensation. The owner of Verdun Manor, Lance Pope, created a massive haunted scream park which inspired many haunted house owners, and his impact remains to this day. Verdun Manor was one of the first haunted houses to use pyro FX, including a fireworks show. Verdun Manor featured several attractions, and many were firsts in the haunted house industry, all at one location just outside of Dallas, TX. Several years ago, the IAAPA tradeshow came to Dallas, allowing many haunt owners to visit the infamous Verdun Manor for a special engagement tour. Sadly, Lance was attacked by one of his Lions and from there his health was in decline, later dying in 2002. Lance was a one of kind guy who loved building monsters, scaring people and helping the haunted industry where ever he could. He is still revered and missed, but his impact will always live on.
The Haunt House in Cado Mills, Texas near Dallas, TX employs many of the late great Lance Pope’s original cast and crew, and they’ve been operating in his honor every year for the last three seasons, proud to continue his spirit in haunting. http://www.thehaunthouse.com/
Headless Horseman continues to be influential to this industry each and every year with one of the most exceptionally produced haunted hayrides ever. Many outdoor events have hayrides, but Headless Horseman brings hayride haunting to a whole new level with the most elaborate sets ever built for outdoor entertaining. Top shelf detailing can be expected at an indoor haunt like Netherworld, The Darkness or 13th Gate Haunted House, but when an outdoor haunt is producing that same high-end detail like Headless Horseman, it deserves the recognition of this list! Headless Horseman Haunted Hayride has proven to hayride operators nationwide that creating incredible outdoor sets for hayrides IS possible. Not only did Headless Horseman raise the bar for hayrides across America, they also influenced the industry with the use of retail to improve revenues. Headless Horseman has seven different retail stores selling product, snacks & merchandise ranging from t-shirts to glow items and everything in between. http://www.headlesshorseman.com/
13th Gate Haunted House might be low on our list, but that’s only because this attraction’s influence is still in the making. This is one of the nation's best, most detailed haunted houses, up-and-coming in industry notability and popularity. As more a newly discovered attraction, 13th Gate makes our list for one clear reason... The influence this attraction will have on the haunted house industry over the next decade will undoubtedly be huge. 13th Gate is one of the industry’s crown jewels with original sets, animations, and amazing detail. http://midnightproduction.com/www.midnightproduction.com/
Haunted Overload is clearly one of the most influential haunted houses, because it proves you can take a hobby and make it into a viable business. Haunted Overload was merely a home haunt that grew too big, and because of its overwhelming support in the community, found a home at a nearby farm. As an inspiration to home haunters nationwide, Haunted Overload deserves the recognition of this list. Haunted Overload creates from scratch nearly every prop, scene and set, working tirelessly each year to produce a newly renovated show. Owner, Eric Lowther, has made an impact on the industry by sharing incredible photos, videos and more of Haunted Overload, and as a writer for Hauntworld Magazine, Eric is never afraid to share his talents and trade secrets to help other haunt owners. The information he’s provided has been invaluable to many in the haunt industry which is why Haunted Overload’s influence is undeniable. http://www.hauntedoverload.com/
Reign of Terror (ROT Haunted House) in Southern California is another good example of home haunting turned pro to be looked upon as inspiration and motivation to home haunters nationwide.
Hades was located in Chicago, Illinois and was one of the first true mega haunted houses. The attraction created by Joe Jenson was one of the most over the top haunted houses ever seen. The attraction’s theme surrounded a trip into HELL to meet HADES himself complete with large one of kind props and a hundred actors all inside a massive building. Haunted house owners came from all around the World to see Hades and although the attraction didn't last long the impact was clear. No longer do haunted houses need to copy the horror movies with the likes of Freddy Kruger, Jason and more. Original themes can and do work, and haunted houses should be produced in the same way one might produce a large-scale Broadway play. Hades was absolutely like a Broadway production, only the guests were center stage.
In July 1994, Disney's MGM Studios unleashed this Tower of Terror thrill ride based on the television show, The Twilight Zone. You may suggest this isn't a haunted house; however I argue it isn't just a haunted house but the most massive haunted hotel ever built. This is 110% one of the coolest haunted attractions ever built with an incredible facade, unbelievable queue line, amazing sets, decor, ghostly special FX, costumed staff and more. Countless haunt owners have visited Tower of Terror with camera in hand, and countless haunted house owners have tried to replicate the elevator effect, pepper ghost FX, boiler rooms, and the amazing pre-shows. Now found at MGM Studios (Florida), Disney California Adventure Park (CA), Tokyo Disney (Japan), and Walt Disney Studios Park (Paris), Tower of Terror stands tall as one of the finest examples of everything a good haunted experience should be.
There you have it the top 20 most influential haunted houses in the history of our industry. There are many other haunted attractions we considered including Jekyll & Hyde Restaurant in New York to several historic dark rides. Let the debate begin as to what haunted houses inspired your haunted business and which haunted attractions will continue to influence and inspire you well into the future. Will your haunted house become THE haunt that leads the way for the next decade of haunt owners? This list is about the past to the present and now it is YOUR TURN to lead the way.
We fully expect to see a new generation of original haunted houses, with technological advancement, new marketing techniques, and or simply put something that creates a new wave which lead us to greater things. The future is in front of you now is the time to seize it and become a legend!
Go online www.hauntworld.com to find the best haunted houses in the World!