Central Florida theme parkshave brought back their haunted houses in full force after last year’s pandemic-related shutdowns. But smaller-scale, independently owned haunted houses are ready for the competition.
In 2020, Universal Studios decided not to host their annual Halloween Horror Nights occasion. However this yr, HHN returned, albeit with masked scare actors and plexiglass obstacles put in within the haunted homes. And Busch Gardens, which saved its Tampa Howl-o-Scream haunted home occasion in place final yr, added the same lineup of haunted homes and scare zones to its SeaWorld Orlando park.
“It is a very fascinating market being down right here and having two large theme parks that you must compete with for recognition,” stated Zach Glaros, proprietor of Sir Henry’s Haunted Path. “It does make it difficult. However I believe with us being a small, family-owned enterprise, it permits us to have the creativity and freedom to convey to life very distinctive themes and our model of leisure that no person else gives.”
Sir Henry’s in Plant Metropolis and Scream-a-Geddon in Dade Metropolis are two haunted points of interest within the space that endured final yr and can compete in opposition to the Orlando and Tampa markets this yr.
Polk County is dwelling to a preferred small-scale attraction: the Polk County Sherriff’s Workplace Haunted Jail Tour. The occasion will return this yr after a COVID-19 associated hiatus in 2020. And people who love the films can head to Silver Moon Drive-In, which is retaining among the distinctive choices it launched final yr to fill gaps in Halloween choices throughout the area.
However followers of Buckingham Terror, a haunted home run by youngsters concerned with Camp Hearth Sunshine, are in for some disappointment: The favored haunted path isn’t returning.
A serious competitor: Scream-A-Geddon
Scream-A-Geddon Horror Park, which options 5 haunted homes and a zombie-themed paintball sport surrounding a carnival-style halfway within the heart, got here to Dade Metropolis in 2015 regardless of trade warnings. The park was primarily based on its sister attraction, Indy Scream Park, in Anderson, Indiana, simply northwest of Indianapolis.
“We have been advised by most of the hang-out house owners that we all know that we have been insane to attempt to compete with Busch Gardens and Common,” Advertising and marketing Director Jon Pianki stated. “I believe it made us dig our heels in slightly bit extra and say we’re going for it and it has been nice.”
Pianki stated massive theme parks have a number of benefits over smaller, unbiased house owners, together with additional cash. And huge entities like Common have license entry to their very own horror motion pictures, which may simply be used for haunted homes or scare zones.
However Pianki likes the best way Scream-A-Geddon does it.
“We like to construct authentic, distinctive points of interest that individuals don’t get to see all over the place else,” Pianki stated. “We are able to ship you thru with smaller teams. We are able to put extra time between you and the group that went earlier than you or after you, which suggests you don’t find yourself in that conga line model haunted home.”
Scream-A-Geddon is probably finest recognized for its interactive scares. Two of the park’s haunted homes, Ravenhill Asylum and Blackpool Jail, enable clients who desire a extra “excessive haunted expertise” to “mark” themselves by sporting a glowing inexperienced necklace. Clients can then be pulled out of the common haunted home tour by scare actors and brought to secret rooms for particular experiences, similar to being totally zipped up after which left in a physique bag.
Pianki stated the choice is in style amongst company however is probably going one thing a bigger park would not be capable of tackle due to authorized dangers. And Scream-A-Geddon has had its issues with the interactive part.
“You are in shut quarters, it is shut proximity, there’s individuals dashing by way of, individuals getting scared … you’ll be able to stumble upon them inappropriately or what they understand as inappropriate, whether or not it was meant or not,” Pianki stated. “Our actors get punched. Folks get damage. It occurs nearly each single night time.”
All Scream-A-Geddon company signal a waiver when coming into the park and clients can withdraw from the interactive expertise by eradicating their inexperienced necklace.
Pianki stated Scream-A-Geddon, which operates from Sept. 10 to Halloween, handles hundreds of consumers every weekend.
Like different companies, Scream-A-Geddon’s hiring course of was slowed down by the present labor scarcity. On high of that, Pianki stated it may be onerous to rent yearly due to the seasonal and nighttime nature of the job. However the park did elevate its beginning pay to $12 an hour to offset these points and hires new staff all through the season.
“Some individuals discover out on the primary weekend they don’t like doing this. Folks discover out after a few weeks that it’s exhausting to yell at individuals all day or all night time. Some individuals get sick, resolve they don’t need to come again,” Pianki stated. “It will destroy a present for our clients if we rent as soon as at the start of the yr after which simply attempt to make it the entire yr with simply these individuals.”
Domestically owned hang-out totally returns
Sir Henry’s Haunted Path does not have to fret about competing with different haunted points of interest for scare actors as a result of it runs its haunted trails on a volunteer-only foundation. Proprietor Glaros stated volunteers are principally youngsters incomes service hours, however they nonetheless convey the phobia.
“I like our solid and I believe it’s one of many most intense casts of any haunted attraction,” Glaros stated. “I believe having that youth and vitality actually brings the perfect present out of our manufacturing.”
Glaros, a Lakeland native, took an curiosity in Halloween decorations and shows as a baby, culminating in him doing elaborate Halloween shows along with his cousin in highschool and school. In 2014, Glaros and his dad determined to attempt adorning on a bigger scale utilizing a nine-and-a-half-acre household property in Plant Metropolis.
“We opened one haunted path by way of the woods on our property, had a handful of scare actors and that is the place Sir Henry’s Haunted Path was born,” Glaros stated.
The occasion has grown to a few haunted trails, a laser tag sport, a five-minute escape sport and a standard space full of photograph ops, scare actors and meals distributors.
Sir Henry’s opened solely its trails final yr due to COVID-19 however options all of its signature elements this season, which runs by way of the primary weekend in November.
Moreover, Sir Henry’s has been present process a complete transformation since its horror-themed Valentine’s Day weekend occasion.
“Proper after that, we just about demolished loads of our previous units and constructions. I’d say 60% of our stuff was simply, we simply bulldozed it down and began from recent,” Glaros stated. “Every part company see this yr goes to be model new in some capability.”
Glaros stated Sir Henry’s is exclusive as a result of he makes use of “traditional, iconic Halloween pictures” similar to creepy Jack-o-lanterns and pure woods components to convey a way of northeastern Halloween to Sir Henry’s, like one thing you’d see in Hocus Pocus.
“I do not suppose Florida has a giant Halloween tradition. I believe the Halloween tradition, October fall tradition, suffers due to the theme parks as a result of it is extra of like a celebration environment … [and] as a result of we do not actually have seasons such as you do up north,” Glaros stated. “I suppose all that type of combines into this bizarre social gathering mosh pit of Halloween, which is enjoyable however it’s not my model of Halloween.”
Scream-A-Geddon is open seven nights per week and ticket costs, which embrace limitless admission to the 5 haunted homes, begin at $24.95 and are depending on the night time you go. They are often bought at https://www.screamageddon.com. They’re $5 extra on the door.
Tickets for Sir Henry’s begin at $25 however embrace solely admission to the haunted trails; tickets are $5 for every spherical of laser tag or the escape sport. Path tickets should be bought on-line and prematurely at https://www.sirhenryshauntedtrail.com.
Sherriff’s workplace again to scare
After COVID-19 canceled it final yr, the Polk County Sherriff’s Workplace Haunted Jail Tour is again for its tenth yr.
Sherriff Grady Judd stated it is the division’s hottest fundraiser for the yr and is placed on by volunteers with the Sheriff’s Division. The occasion, which runs on Oct. 29 and 30, options the tour, meals vans and a ready space for these too scared to take part.
Judd stated this yr’s theme, which modifications yearly, is “ghostly inhabitants.”
“They’re going to step into one other dimension and see the individuals, the ghosts of the previous county jail, of people that as soon as resided there which have moved on,” Judd stated.
Whereas the occasion is not as massive as season-long occasions in different components of the county, Judd suggests the jail tour has what different points of interest do not: a real haunting.
“I’ve all the time heard that previous jails are haunted and folks can come make their very own willpower after visiting our jail,” Judd stated. “I believe it’s haunted myself, and we’ll see what you suppose after you tour.”
Tickets, which could be bought on the door, are $10 for adults and $5 for youngsters youthful than 10.
Some native haunts not returning
Although it survived in 2020, Lakeland haunted path Buckingham Terror placed on by Camp Hearth Sunshine is not going to seem this yr.
Govt Director of Camp Hearth Sunshine Ashley Roberts stated there was an insurance coverage declare two years in the past involving a buyer who obtained damage whereas violating the foundations of the haunted path. Consequently, Camp Hearth Sunshine’s new insurance coverage supplier is charging an excessive amount of cash to insure the occasion, Roberts stated.
She added that the cancelation is “very unlucky” and that the youngsters normally concerned are “devastated.”
“It’s so rather more than only a haunted home for Camp Hearth,” Roberts stated. “The teenagers do every thing from begin to end with creating the haunted home, manning it.”
Roberts stated when she interviewed with concerned youngsters earlier than taking up as government director a month in the past, their first query was: Are you bringing the haunted home again?
Roberts stated the group is trying into its assets to see whether or not reviving the haunted path is feasible subsequent yr.
Whereas Silver Moon Drive-In will probably be returning with some Halloween-themed occasions this yr, it’s a scaled-back version of last year’s festivities.
In 2020, scare actors paraded by way of automobiles at some particular showings and make-up studio CosFX did photograph alternatives that includes iconic Halloween characters.
However that will not be attainable this season, stated James Andrews, the theater’s movie purchaser.
“Final yr as a result of so many individuals have been out of labor that do Halloween occasions, we had loads of that right here,” Andrews stated. “We didn’t put out a name for scare actors this yr, primarily as a result of we type of really feel like most of them are again doing like Halloween Horror Nights.”
However the drive-in is maintaining two particular packages launched final yr. One is the Halloween film marathon, which has been moved from a Thursday to a Friday and can occur Oct. 22.
The occasion options traditional monster motion pictures on one facet and extra fashionable horror flicks on the opposite, together with “Beetlejuice,” “Poltergeist” and “It.” The occasion prices $25 per automotive and can final till about 2:30 a.m. on the monster facet and practically 6 a.m. on the “chills and thrills facet.” Andrews stated the occasion has offered practically half of its obtainable tickets.
Andrews stated they solely introduced the marathon again as a result of there have been so many calls for for it in early August.
The drive-in additionally deliberate to host a sold-out “Rocky Horror Image Present” manufacturing from Tampa-based troupe Hell on Heels on Saturday, the identical group that did the present final yr. Andrews stated the film marathon and “Rocky Horror” may turn out to be annual choices, in contrast to the scare appearing and photograph alternatives contained to final yr.
“We didn’t really search stuff out final yr and attempt to pull from anyone final yr. Folks really contacted us and stated ‘Hey, I can’t do that as a result of every thing’s closed, would you have an interest?’ and we principally tailored to attempt to assist all people that wished to do issues they wished to do,” Andrews stated. “We might’ve most likely simply ran enterprise as regular this yr however so many individuals wished to do ‘Rocky Horror,’ so many individuals wished to do the marathon.”
Maya Lora could be reached at [email protected]. Comply with her on Twitter @mayaklora.