Dark Dwellings

By Diane Schlindwein

August 1, 2008 5 min read


Haunted houses full of fun and frights

By Diane Schlindwein

Creators News Service

Whether it's for fun at a party, a special stop for trick-or-treaters, or as a frightening outing for teens and adults, at Halloween almost nothing compares to visiting a good old haunted house.

According to the Web site www.HauntedHouse.com, constructing a haunt for fun or profit can generate lots of excitement for businesses, organizations or charities. Even though haunted houses are generally only open for a few weeks (from late September or early October through Halloween) they usually bring in big bucks for charities or for profit.

Some organizations, such Jaycees chapters, offer annual haunted houses for the general public and accommodate families with young children during certain times. During those hours, the lights are left on and the monsters are friendly, often handing out candy for youngsters.

"I think organizations like the Jaycees make the haunted houses because they are easy projects to get people interested in," Shawn McKinney, the proprietor of Terror on the Square, said. He has operated the annual haunted house business out of a former funeral home in Petersburg, Ill., for the past 16 years.

"Haunted houses are fun and most people run them about four weekends in October," he said. "It isn't a long commitment and you can make some money for your organization."

When constructing your own haunted house, think about the audience you want to attract. Clown-like characters are fun for very young children, while teens are great fans of gore. Of course, nothing says Halloween like creepy, so if you want to attract folks of all ages, bring on the haunting images and spooky tunes. If you are looking for terrifying tombstones, scary skeletons or spooky spirits, the national chain Party City has some suggestions. A few items might appear in stores around the country by late August, but in general Halloween items appear on the shelves -- and on its Web site -- around mid-September.

For those who plan on dressing up and haunting their own house, Party City offers a wide array of costumes which are available all year round. For more information on what's available for this year, go to the company Web site, www.partycity.com.

Haunting hosts who have enough time and are creative by nature might try constructing tombstones out of discarded cereal boxes or Styrofoam pieces. Be creative with your epitaphs. For example, "Here lies Hattie the housekeeper. She bit the dust." Use PVC pipe for gating off the cemetery.

For a scarier effect, try constructing a few plywood coffins and then dare visitors to look inside. Whether the casket contains candy or a scarecrow "resting in peace" is up to you.

If you are building a larger haunted house, try dividing your project into different rooms -- such as a mummy's pyramid, a witch's kitchen or a mad scientist's lab. Fog machines provide a spooky feel to any area.

Of course, haunters are responsible for keeping their visitors safe. Remember that if you are using dry ice in your witch's pot, never let visitors touch it or put it into drinks. Tiki torches are fine for outdoor haunts, but only if an adult carefully supervises the area. Also, be aware that strobe lights can trigger seizures in those with photosensitive epilepsy.

Organizations that build and host haunted houses are liable and need to be insured in case of an injury.

"You need insurance," McKinney said. "Today there is all kinds of insurance to take out for that kind of thing." People who are hosting haunted houses in their own homes are sometimes covered by their homeowner's insurance. If in doubt, check with your insurance agent.

Overall, the importance of the holiday has to shine through when creating your haunted scene. "To be a serious haunter, you have to love Halloween," McKinney said. "You might make some money, but it just wouldn't be the same. I personally think of it as a creative outlet and haunting has been a hobby I've always had.

"I know a lot of haunters and they almost all do it as a creative outlet. Your heart really has to be in it. Terror on the Square might only run for 10 days in October, but I think about it constantly. I rent the space all year, so I can work on it any time I want. But Halloween -- when we're open -- is really my favorite time of the year."

(c) Creators News Service

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