It starts with Halloween.
But people have a passion for silly, spooky fun that gets them going, and that drives ticket sales and a desire to run a haunted attraction, which a Report by HauntPay has become a damn industry.
“It was amazing,” said Alex Linebrink, CEO and Founder of passage, whose Detroit-based event ticketing company generates ticket sales for small to medium-sized businesses that operate seasonal attractions like haunted houses and hay wagons. “In 2019, Passage’s revenue was $800,000 on ticket sales of $11.6 million, rising to $2.4 million (2020) and $37.3 million in 2021.”
This year’s forecast revenue for Halloween attractions is expected to reach $4.5 million, with $65 million in ticket sales.
For some people, this is a year-round income. “Haunted attractions are now so much more than just a Halloween-centric event,” Linebrink said. There’s Lights Out in November, followed by Scary Krampus in December and the adult Zombie Prom in spring.
“It’s just crazy,” Linebrink said, although he fully understands why. “My dad’s birthday was on Halloween and I grew up in a house that was always decorated.”
He’s not alone.
“My father always looked forward to the holidays. When I was a kid, every inch of our house was decorated and that rubbed off on me,” said Lauren Marino. “Just yesterday I was on our roof putting up Halloween lights.”
So it’s no surprise that Lauren was “super excited” when her parents told her they were going to buy a farm and turn it into a haunted attraction. “I worked where I was needed,” she says. “Sometimes I would bring my friends, sell tickets, or dress up and come as one of the characters.”
Or monsters, as they say in the industry.
Today it belongs to the Marino family Scarefest Scream Park, tucked away among the trees on a 120-acre farm in Lenox Township, has become one of the area’s biggest attractions. “I want us to have the same level of recognition as Erebus,” Lauren said of Pontiac’s famous attraction. “We don’t want to be Erebus, we are different.”
Scarefest has an indoor attraction known as the Castle of the Dead. However, everything else, including Forest of Darkness and Terror Zone Maize, is outside. Scarefest is more about enjoying the thrill of being scared and then sticking around to meet the monsters and soaking up the atmosphere created by a midway, food truck, bonfires and spooky movies showing up on the big screen to be shown.
In Erebus, those brave enough to run down the rabbit hole usually move on.
Both are part of an industry whose season has grown from one day to three months from September, for some even year-round, and whose visitors have grown from hundreds to thousands.
“We get 5,000 to 6,000 people on a busy night,” Lauren said.
Busy nights in the Halloween industry are typically Fridays and Saturdays from September to October 31st. Sundays are popular, but the crowd that day is mostly families coming out for a hay ride.
Even other companies hosting holiday events are getting involved.
Emagine Entertainment announced that its partnership with Bluewater, a live entertainment production company, “Ghosts on the balcony.” Instead of watching a movie at Emagine’s historic cinema in Birmingham (The Birmingham 8 Powered by Emagine), visitors should now watch over their shoulders until Halloween. Each room has been completely transformed into a haunted house experience that has been rumored to be truly haunted for years. Guests who have visited the theater, built in 1927, have reported numerous experiences of paranormal activity, including the sounds of disembodied voices and footsteps, lights flickering, and doors opening and closing by themselves. Even employees working late at night have reported feeling a strange presence. For its debut as a haunted attraction, Bluewater transformed eleven areas of the theater, including some rooms never seen by the public, into unique themed areas staffed by professional actors trained in the art of terror.
“We’ve heard rumors about haunted theater for years, and as innovators we thought it would be a great idea to debunk the rumors and put together a live haunted theater attraction,” said Anthony LaVerde, CEO of Emagine Entertainment. “The timing was perfect as we had a slow period of new product coming out of Hollywood, so we worked with the Bluewater team to develop the Ghosts on the Balcony attraction, which has already been very well received by our guests.”
Linebrink attributes the surge in haunted attractions to the pandemic.
“It was something that’s fun, that people can do outside and still feel safe. This led to a huge boost in the Halloween industry and it showed in our report,” Linebrink said of the survey of more than 2,000 haunted attractions in the US and Canada.
Other interesting facts unearthed by the 2022 Haunt Industry Report?
• The total number of guests visiting a meeting place each year has increased from 68% of attractions with at least 1,000 guests in 2021 to 78% expecting that number or more in 2022. Around 41% of the attractions expect more than 5,000 guests in 2022.
• Most attractions offer more than a haunted house: 17.3% of respondents offer a corn maze; 14.9% a cursed hay ride; 13.8% escape games and 12% zombie paintball.
• The survey found that 40 percent of respondents charged $21-$30 to enter their meeting places in 2021, while 25.9 percent charged $11-$20 and 17.1 percent charged $31-$40 .
• Ticket sales account for more than 30% of all revenue, but other funds are generated by: sponsors (4.5%), midways (15.5%), concessions (18.1%) and gifts (30.3%).
• Some haunted attractions generate additional income through themed events such as birthday parties, corporate gatherings, and even weddings.
• Also amazing is the fact that people who scare people are also the ones who look out for each other the most. Of the haunted attraction operators who responded to the survey, 35% were nonprofit organizations and 45% were owners who donated a portion of their earnings to other nonprofits or charities.
Scarefest, for example, donates money from its parking fees to the New Haven Food Pantry.
“Haunted attractions aren’t usually run by people with a business background. They’re run by people with a passion for Halloween attractions who become businesses, and they don’t forget where they came from,” Lauren said.
More Halloween attractions and events
Blake Farms haunted attractions
Apples, pumpkins, scarecrows and zombies, there’s no limit to the amount of fun and spooky things lurking in the fields surrounding Blake Farms and orchards. Both locations in Armada cater to families looking for a variety of Halloween activities.
Terror on Tillson Street
This Romeo neighborhood is famous for homeowners who go wild on Halloween, and their enthusiasm is shared across the county. Now there are neighborhood hangouts that cause congestion from Eastpointe to Mount Clemens and beyond. Check your community’s Facebook pages to find other local efforts.
It started in Romeo, but homeowners across Metro Detroit are joining in. One such example is the Clinton Township neighborhood haunt. The Halloween Tour of the Houses on October 22nd at 7pm includes several great attractions for visitors of all ages. Among those along the tour is Twisted Fears, which has several giant characters, a cool light show, and unique displays.
Behind the scenes of Erebus
Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac will offer fear-free behind-the-scenes matinee tours.
Guests are given a non-scary glimpse of the scenes, sounds, illusions, and artistic developments that induce chills, thrills, and the terror-fest of electrifying, hair-raising, skin-crawling sensory assaults that have made Erebus famous. Guests are treated to a fearless tour exploring Erebus’ four-story, half-mile indoor labyrinth.
The tours are: 15th, 16th, 22nd, 23rd, 29th and 30th October. A limited number of tickets are available and can be purchased online at hauntedpontiac.com for $15 each plus a $3.99 service fee.
The night of the little goblin
22 Oct, 11am-4pm
Admission: $15 per child for members and $20 per child for non-members
Ford House welcomes superheroes, ghosts and fantasy characters to enter the property. This annual day of Halloween entertainment is packed with spooky yet kid-friendly entertainment, including trick-or-treating stops, photo ops, a straw maze and a haunted wagon ride.
Visit fordhouse.org/events/ for more information.
Michigan haunted houses
Website listing haunted attractions operating in Michigan.
The Detroit Zoo
The Detroit Zoological Society hosts a variety of fun Halloween activities at the zoo throughout October. Visit www.detroitzoo.org for more information