These Haunts are Comin’ at Ya!: The Innovation and History of 3D in Horror and Haunted Attractions

History of 3D in horror and hauntsLouisville Halloween explores the history of horror in 3D and how it ultimately became part of the Haunted Attraction Industry.

Third Dimensional Murder
The concept of 3D has been with us since the dawn of photography and really took root with the invention of stereoscopic photography in the mid 1800’s, but it would be nearly one hundred years later when 3D became a trend in the upstart motion picture business. Horror and fantasy subjects made for irresistible subject matter almost from the very beginning as one of the first short films produced in red-and-blue anaglyph 3D, “Third Dimensional Murder” aka “Murder in 3-D”(1941), featured a haunted mansion full of witches, skeletons and a Frankenstein monster.

There are three very distinct 3D crazes in film history, all three driven primarily by horror and science-fiction movies. The first Golden Age of 3D took place in the 1950’s beginning with director Arch Oboler’sBwana Devil” (1952) about two man-eating lions terrorizing the first railroad under construction in Africa. Warner Brothers scored a major box-office hit the next year with Vincent Price’s horror film debut in “House of Wax” (1953) which led to Columbia Pictures casting Price in their own big 3D horror film, “The Mad Magician”, the following year. Unquestionably the most famous and arguably the most popular 3D films from the 1950’s were “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) and it’s first sequel, “Revenge of the Creature” (1955). Although Universal Studios’ aquatic monster movies certainly captured the public’s attention, movie theaters were looking for a new gimmick by 1955 when half of all homes in the United States now had a television set to watch “moving pictures” at home.

As quickly as the 3D fad spread, it also quickly faded and Cinemascope

Friday the 13th 3 3D
became the new wonder of theater screens across the nation. The next 20 years saw very few 3D films released theatrically and audiences pretty much ignored what they were offered, the only box-office success coming from the underground world of soft-core porn in “The Stewardesses” in 1969, but it was the horror and exploitation genre that brought 3D back for the second big 3D movie craze in the early 1980’s. Jason Voorhees led the charge in 1982 with “Friday the 13th Part III in 3-D” followed in quick succession by “Jaws 3-D” and “Amityville 3-D” in 1983. Low production budgets and headache inducing 3D technology seen in films like “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” and “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone”, all also released in 1983, soured audiences on the whole concept of 3D for another 20 years as just a cheap gimmick used to spit shine B-movies. During this time, 3D was seen primarily in amusement park rides and attractions like Michael Jackson’sCaptain EO”, Disney’s “Muppet Vision 3D” and Universal Studio’s “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man”. There was one last hurrah for 3D horror, however, in 1991 when the gimmick was brought back to kill off Freddy Krueger in last ten minutes of “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare”.

It would be almost 30 years before astounding new 3D technology would start another 3D craze and again it was a genre film that lit the match. James Cameron used the box-office clout he had built over the years making movies like “The Terminator”, “Aliens” and “Titanic” to invest in a new virtual camera system that could deliver a completely immersive, digital 3D

My Bloody Valentine 3D
experience. To say “Avatar” was a huge gamble is to vastly understate the risk Cameron was taking. Not only was his alien-blue-cat science fiction epic the most expensive film ever produced, it actually required theaters to invest in expensive new, digital 3D projectors to even properly screen it. Cameron did the seemingly impossible, topping the box-office numbers of his own “Titanic” and creating the biggest Hollywood blockbuster of all time until it was only recently surpassed by “Avengers: Endgame”.

This unprecedented success of “Avatar” combined with the installation of new 3D projectors across the globe led the third and most recent 3D movie craze. In truth, only a handful of movies intended to be shown in Cameron’s new format were ever actually produced. Real 3D production is expensive and time consuming, and requires a particular style of photography and editing to give it the desired immersive effect. Most of the films released in 3D were actually shot in two dimensions and converted to 3D through a digital process. There were a couple of genuine 3D horror films released on the coattails of “Avatar”, including “The Final Destination” and “My Bloody Valentine 3-D”, but audiences quickly caught on to this artificial up-charge in ticket prices for a gimmick that failed to deliver an “Avatar”-like experience.

Recently we published an article attempting to pinpoint the Top 13 Haunt Innovations that shook up the industry, and we got quite a bit of feedback from haunt fans and industry insiders alike. One of most noted absences from our list was 3D haunted mazes. The truth is that 3D haunts nearly made the list, but were ultimately passed over for the exact same reason that 3D

3D haunted house
horror films have over and over again aroused audience curiosity only to quickly lose their novelty. To be fair, the combination of black-lights, fluorescent paint and 3D glasses did indeed make an enormous impact on the haunted attraction business. Within just a few years of their introduction, it seemed almost every other haunted house in the nation had installed a 3D maze as a secondary attraction in support of their feature haunt.

These attractions were often covered in wall-to-wall Chromadepth black-light art that literally popped off the walls when guests wore stereoscopic glasses that diffracts light and color through a holographic film fitted into the glasses. The first time I ever experienced a 3D haunt, I was astounded by the effect of the painted floors that made it appear as if you were standing in three feet of liquid color. The hallucinatory effect has mostly been used to serve carnival fun-house style attractions where creepy clowns are the ringmasters of the realm. It was in 3D haunts that the classic polka dot room found its ultimate purpose, where an actor wearing a black leotard covered in the same color polka dots could really deliver a shock. It was also in 3D haunts that the Vortex Tunnel (which did make our Top 13 Haunt Innovations) had its most dizzying impact. The bright, colorful visuals of a good 3D attraction make a great compliment to the dark halls of a standard haunted house.

To get a little insight on the history of 3D haunts, we spoke with the man who claims to have invented the concept in the first place, veteran haunter Glenn Lewis. Lewis was the original creator of Industrial Nightmare, a

Maniac Maze at Industrial Nightmare
50.000 square foot attraction in Jeffersonville, IN (Rest In Piece). Lewis was also a owner/partner of Bad Dream Productions, Nightmare Forest at Otter Creek Park, Haunted Hotel and Nightmare Run in Louisville, KY. Lewis’s Industrial Nightmare is where he came up with and installed the country’s first 3D haunted maze.

“The 3D attraction was by accident,” admits Lewis. “A sales rep had given me a pair of 3D glasses to sell to my haunt customers. I was wearing them one day just to see how the costumes and objects would appear to the customer. I noticed that the brighter colors seemed to float/separate from the darker colors, giving off the 3D effect.”

“It was pretty crazy looking,” relates Lewis. “We tested fluorescent colors painted on either black or deeper base colors. The effects were amazing.” The resulting attraction debuted in 1996 as The Carnival of Carnage and the name was changed the next season to the Maniac Maze. Industrial Nightmare proved to be a hugely innovative and influential attraction in the mid to late 1990’s and was renowned for its early use of the Claustrophobia Tunnel to create a scene that simulated costumers sinking up to their necks in a green laser bog.

Some of the most popular haunted attractions in the nation like The Darkness in St. Louis and Haunted Hoochie at Dead Acres in Pataskala, OH still maintain 3D haunts every season, but to get a better gauge on the phenomenon throughout the country we consulted with Scare Factor

Future of 3D
Haunted House Reviews and Directory, one of the largest haunt review websites in the nation with a web of connected haunt review teams spread across the country.

“After consulting with our review teams, it seems that the prevalence and the definition of 3D haunts (whether they offer 3D glasses or not) varies regionally,” says Scare Factor. “In the Midwest and Gulf Coast regions, we’re generally seeing a downward trend from 8 to 12% over the last three years. In contrast, New England seems to be staying consistent alongside consumer demand. The West Coast, Rocky Mountains and Great Plains teams report that 3D haunts are actually few and far between and our Florida team reported they’ve seen a sharp decline in their neck of the woods.”

Just like the roller coaster popularity trend in 3D horror films, it seems that the gimmick of 3D haunted attractions has run its current course with fickle audience interests, but it’s not hard to imagine that a new technology or innovation using the concept of 3D will someday soon reignite the spark of fascination in the third dimension. 

In the comments, be sure to tell us your opinion of 3D haunted attractions. What are the best ones you’ve ever experienced?

The Phantom of The Ville

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