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October 15, 2009

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Haunted attractions make scary fun

IF horror movies no longer give you nightmares, there's a growing industry waiting to scare you out of your wits - haunted attractions which have benefitted from live talent leaving Hollywood as computers take their roles.

Haunted attractions have become high-tech venues which do everything possible to make a scary scenario seem real, which includes hiring professional actors to jump out at you and using theatrical sets with sounds, lighting and animatronics.

Larry Kirchner, editor-in-chief of Hauntworld Magazine and a board member of The Haunted House Association, said haunted houses began in the United States in the 1920s then were run by charities before some went commercial in the 1980s.

But he said they have soared in scale and popularity in recent years, in the US and increasingly overseas, at the hands of specialists pushed out of the movie industry by computer-generated effects.

A first class fright attraction will cost US$1 million to set up. The Haunted House Association estimates the industry is now worth about US$1 billion a year with ticket sales generating more than US$500 million in the US.

"There is now a whole industry of vendors and skills to create special effects or sell products to haunted attractions which have let them get a lot better," Kirchner said.

"Some of these places are more sophisticated than the top Broadway plays in New York but, unlike a movie or Broadway show, you are part of the show. That has really made haunted houses popular."

In the US this year, 81 percent of amusement parks will hold Halloween or fall-themed events, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

Fewer than half offered Halloween attractions 15 years ago, and this trend is spreading internationally.

Kirchner said haunted attractions tended to be restricted to Halloween in the US but have become year-round in some other countries, citing Turkey, South Korea, Chile, Japan, Germany, Belgium and England as countries enjoying a fright.

Frankenstein in Germany, Dracula in Romania and Britain's Jack the Ripper have all generated haunted attractions.

Dwayne Sanburn who owns and operates 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has become an expert in terrifying people. His 13th Gate attraction has topped Hauntworld's list of the most scary attractions in the US for two consecutive years.

The 13th Gate offers 13 themed experiences to make every nightmare seem real from crawling through a crematory oven to being lost in dark underground tunnels or finding yourself standing on a rickety bridge over a bed of live snakes.


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