As the popularity of Halloween has increased, so has the holiday's controversy among Christians. In an attempt to reclaim Halloween as an evangelizing tool, religious leaders developed Christian-themed "haunted houses." Liberty University, founded by conservative pastor Jerry Falwell, started the first of these attractions, called Scaremare, in 1972. In 1995, Rev. Keenan Roberts of Abundant Life Christian Center in Arvada, Colo., commercialized the concept by marketing "Hell Houses" to churches. Instead of ghouls and ghosts, Satan and demons do the spooking. Penitent visitors can then learn about Christian salvation.
Haunted Attraction Industry
The Halloween industry is big business in the United States. It's second only to Christmas in the amount of decorations people buy each year, and that doesn't take into account the piles of candy and costumes purchased as well. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent an average of $64.82 per person on Halloween-related paraphernalia in 2007, adding up to more than $5 billion in overall Halloween spending [source: National Retail Federation].
The haunted attraction industry accounts for a relatively small portion of the Halloween-profit pie. Hauntworld.com estimates that Americans spend between $300 and $500 million each year on haunted house tickets -- or around 8 percent of that $5 billion total. Since the average admission price is about $15, that figure translates to more than 3 million customers looking for a decent scare. Those sales are spread out among more than 1,200 commercial haunted attractions, about 3,000 charitable ones and 300 amusement parks with seasonal haunted attraction events [source: Hauntworld.com].
You can break down these industry statistics even further to see how those 4,500 haunted houses across the country stay afloat. Compare the haunt industry to modern retailers: At the top of the pack you have the big box stores that attract the greatest number of customers simply because they have the most resources. Then, you move down the line to the mom 'n' pop stores, which might have less flair but remain profitable because of community loyalty. Seasonal haunted attractions at amusement parks like Walt Disney World move tens of thousands of people through their gates. These mega haunted houses comprise around 1 or 2 percent of haunted attractions in the United States and serve 40,000 to 60,000 customers [source: Hauntworld.com]. However, the average haunted attraction brings in about 8,000 guests each season [source: Hauntworld.com].
The term haunted "attraction" points to the diversity within the industry. Granted, out of the thousands of haunted houses out there, you'll find plenty of the same scare tactics and setups. Yet many successful haunts fill different entertainment niches to keep old customers coming back and welcome new ones. Consider location choice, for example. Instead of sticking to dilapidated old homes, you'll find some of the top-ranked haunted attractions in the United States on retired boats, in wooded areas and even in the converted Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which housed Al Capone and his cronies.
Then there's the theme. Mega haunted houses, like Netherworld in Atlanta, may change their themes each year. For instance, the two attractions at Netherworld are called "Mangler" and "Carnivore" for 2008. The former is a take on cinematic horror involving crazed scientists, dentists and butchers gone awry; the latter is more fanciful, with hordes of werewolves and ghouls around every corner.
But haunt owners can't simply plan a killer theme, drench a warehouse in fake blood and expect customers to line up around the block. Before haunt owners can start scaring customers, they have to first scare up resources.