Thirteen Modern Haunt Innovations That Shook Up The Industry

Haunted House InnovationsLouisville Halloween’s Phantom of the Ville pinpoints some of the most exciting and industry impacting innovations in modern haunted attraction history.

Haunted House Innovations
Anyone that visits seasonal haunted attractions with any regularity has had the experience of being surprised and amazed by some new technological innovation, out-of-the-box idea, jaw dropping scene or special effect that emblazoned itself upon the memory, had the exit crowds talking and made a major impression at that particular attraction. I’m talking about something so iconic that by the next season, nearly every haunted house in the country seemed to have copied it or added it to their haunt arsenal.

When discussing modern haunted attraction innovations, it’s impossible to underestimate the impact that Walt Disney had on the creation of the haunted attraction industry when they opened the Haunted Mansion on Aug. 9, 1969 at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. The audio animatronics created by Walt Disney Imagineers that brought The Haunted Mansion’s 999 happy haunts to life in that attraction and its’ sister attraction in Orlando in 1971 were earth moving in terms of technological innovation. Along with modern technology, Disney also employed a magician’s cabinet of classic parlor tricks to achieve supernatural effects, such as the Pepper’s Ghost illusion invented by English scientist John Henry Pepper in 1862 involving an optical beam splitter and a flat plane of glass to give the audience the illusion of transparent, ghostly figures floating through a scene.

The first days of the haunted attraction industry that blossomed in the early to mid-1970’s in the wake of Disney’s monumental haunted Omnimover ride certainly weren’t the technological or mega budget attractions of major theme parks. These regional attractions, as charming as they were, usually consisted of black painted wall panels, black plastic entryways, strobe lights, Don Post latex monster masks, primitive fog machines and maybe a drop panel or two.

Haunted House Innovations
Things have changed considerably in recent years.

But what were some of game changers? The trend setters? As a longtime fan and haunt ticket buyer who experienced some of the early Jaycees haunts as a child and continued the tradition of visiting haunted houses seasonally each Halloween for decades, I’ve come up with a list of TOP THIRTEEN Modern Haunt Innovations. Let’s explore the dark hallways together, shall we?

1) Distortions Unlimited Electric Chair: Ed Edmunds and his crew at Distortions have been making masks, props and special effects for the Halloween industry since 1978, but this animatronic Electric Chair may be his ultimate masterpiece. When it debuted in haunts in 1996 it was the most talked about effect in the industry, eventually finding a home in hundreds, maybe even thousands of attractions across the globe. A wiry, bald prisoner takes the last ride of his life when someone flips the electric switch sending thousands of volts of electricity surging through his shaking body until it finally ends with his charred, smoking body slumping into the chair. I vividly remember first seeing this prop in the staging area of Industrial Nightmare in Jeffersonville, Indiana where the haunt owners had set it up as a carnival style, dunking booth game charging $5 for three balls to throw at a target to fry the poor victim. Two years later, it was installed in almost every haunted house I visited.

2) Gore Galore’s Actormatronics: Disney’s audio animatronics made a major

Haunted House Innovations
impact on the haunt industry and animatronic monsters triggered by floor pads or laser trip beams have become a staple in bigger budget haunted houses across the country. As they get more and more sophisticated, animated creatures that can attack guests are nearly unlimited in shape and size, but they can’t really see and interact with guests. They can go through their programmed routine and be very effective eye candy, but they can’t target specific group members or react to guests’ emotional responses. Kevin Alvey at Gore Galore Inc. invented a hybrid of animatronic and actor performance with these giant puppeteered creatures that are operated by pneumatic controls. This gives haunters the best of both worlds in that they can add creatures to their attraction that are far too big and inhuman in shape to be played by an actor in makeup and costume, but still have the creature physically act and interact with guests as they pass by.

3) Silicone Masks: CFX (Composite Effects) out of Baton Rogue, LA was the real pioneer of sculpting and producing Hollywood quality masks made of silicon when their first masks hit the market in 2006. Then Immortal Masks, established in 2010 by Hollywood effects creators Andrew & Michelle Freeman and George Frangadakis, added the innovation of embedded stretch mesh into their masks for increased durability and took the silicon concept to a whole other level. For 20 years prior to the concept of using silicone in mask making, haunters generally relied on latex masks or prosthetic makeup for more elaborate effect. The problem is that latex masks don’t allow for actor expression and good prosthetic makeups can take hours to achieve. CFX and Immortal introduced their line of silicone masks that conform to the actor’s face, allowing both speech and performance impossible in latex, but with the quality of detail that would otherwise take a professional makeup artist hours to pull off. One of the first and most iconic uses of a silicon mask successfully incorporated into a haunted attraction locally is the signature character of the Devil himself at The Devil’s Attic here in Louisville KY.

Haunted House Innovations
4) The Vortex Tunnel: Almost every haunt enthusiast has experienced the spinning vertigo of the infamous Vortex  Tunnel. In fact these mind bending walkways have become so prevalent in the amusement industry that it’s difficult to trace their original creator, which may have been a company called GEP Productions, but are now often built from scratch in house by ambitious haunters. Often used to disorient guests as they pass from one section of an attraction to another, they have served well in 3D and circus themed haunts.

5) Ex Mortis Stalkarounds: Created by Hollywood makeup effects artist, Wayne Toth, Ex Mortis was on the cutting edge of creating these type of larger-than-life roaming haunt characters. The Stalkarounds were giant puppet costumes that could be worn by an actor, who could control the arm movements and turn the head, and stood about 8 to 10 feet tall. With a free range of motion to interact with guests, Stalkarounds made for spectacular line actors and parade characters. Gore Galore currently makes a similar line of giant wearable costumes.

6) Nethercraft Scenic Wall Panels: Nethercraft founder, Tomak Baksik, started designing foam-based sets for the Halloween industry in 1994 and quickly discovered that the durability of foam sculpted sets was limited in high traffic venues. He and his team invented and built a series of large scale vacuform machines that his company uses to mass produce prefabricated wall panels. Suddenly it was possible to set up a haunt with super detailed walls already in place. Skulls, Crypt, Cathedral, Morgue,

Haunted House Innovations
Industrial, Victorian. Any location a haunter might dream of could be set up easily just by connecting the panels.

7) Claustrophobia Tunnel: Love them or hate them, if you do truly hate them it’s probably because they elicit the very kind of specific panic that their name implies. Introduced by the recently closed Oak Island Creative, these “squeeze bags” as they are commonly referred to in the haunt biz, are in reality two large inflatable bladders attached to opposite walls and inflated by blower fans to just the right tension that guests must squeeze between them, having their entire bodies engulfed in the material. No one forgets their first journey through a Claustrophobia Tunnel. As effective as they were, in the new normal that exists after the coronavirus outbreak, the Claustrophobia Tunnel may be retired to the history books.

8) Haunt Music by Midnight Syndicate: In the early days of haunted attractions, if there was a musical score at all, it was usually a record player or tape deck recording of Walt Disney’sChilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” pumped through whatever sound system the haunt could afford. As the digital sound systems in attractions got more sophisticated over the years, the need for atmospheric music to set the set the mood for haunted attractions grew. The call was ultimately answered by composers Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka. Over the last 20 years, Midnight Syndicate have produced over a dozen soundscape albums specifically for the haunted attraction industry. Each album focusing on a different haunted theme, they have created soundscapes for every imaginable scene from dark carnivals to Gothic crypts to abandoned asylums.

Haunted House Innovations
9) The Hellelevator: A literal jaw dropper when it first appeared in haunted attractions, the Hellevator setup takes guests on a journey to the upper floors in a rickety old elevator car before plunging them to the basement and below. This moving set piece is thought to have been introduced by Fright Props around 2004. The first time I ever experienced one was at Ripley’s Haunted Adventure in Gatlingburg, TN. The elevator has long been a popular feature in the nationally ranked Haunted Hotel right here in Louisville, KY.

10) Scents: You never forget the first time your nostrils are hit with Slaugtherhouse scent when entering some attractions’ chainsaw murder scene. Sinister Scents was perhaps the pioneer of “haunt smells”, but Froggy’s Fog, the industry’s most renowned maker of fog machines (another innovation!) and fog juice, is the current king of stink and scent distribution devices. Today’s haunted attractions are meant to stimulate as many of our senses as possible and the proper sense of smell adds immeasurable immersion into any scene. Cotton Candy, Mildew, Swampy Marsh or Rotting Pumpkins. Smell the fear.

11) The Gantom Torch: One of the newest innovations in haunt technology, just a few years ago Gantom Lighting introduced the Gantom Torch for use in haunted attractions and escape rooms. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary flashlight when handed to guests at the attraction entrance. What guests don’t know is that this flashlight is anything but ordinary. Transmitters throughout the attraction tell receivers in the flashlights what to do. The haunter is in control of the lighting at all times and can change

Haunted House Innovations
the color of the light, make it flicker or even go out on cue. The device can also vibrate and find secret writing with UV light. One of the first full-scale attractions to make use of the technology was actually right here in Louisville, KY at The Legend at Pope Lick Haunted Woods in The Parklands.

12) CGI Video Integrated Animatronics: Computer generated special effects aren’t just for big budget movies anymore. Companies like Pale Night Productions, founded by Manufacturing Engineer Kip Polley, have been instrumental in integrating CGI with practical sets and interactive effects. Pale Night Productions pioneered animations that “break the fourth wall” to startling effect. What the customer sees happen through a window in animation is often accompanied by a squirt of water or blast of compressed air to simulate breaking glass or a shotgun blast to a zombie’s head. 

13) Electrified Effects: The power to shock has been a career boost to everyone from Benjamin Franklin to the the Frankenstein Monster. Nikola Tesla might be the true pioneer in the use of electricity to capture the imagination, and you’ll still find Tesla coils in haunted laboratory scenes today including a rather large one at Fear Fair in Seymour, IN. Jacob’s Ladders, Plasma Balls, Spark Fences, Flash Crackers and those infamous Shock Strips strategically placed on hand railings or in pitch black hallways have all juiced costumer thrills in recent years. Many of these effects are available at FrightProps

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