“Our building is definitely haunted,” said Dwayne Sanburn, owner and creative director of The 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one of the top-rated Halloween haunted house attractions in the United States.
Located in a warehouse that began as a brick foundry 150 years ago, the house comprises 13 nightmarish realms where your worst fears may come true, and anything can happen.
That includes riding an elevator with one of the characters, played by an actor, who suddenly disappears and is replaced by another character actor.
But there also could be real paranormal activity.
“I have heard voices, doors slam, and watched a ghostly figure on our security cameras,” Sanburn told VOA. It was particularly unnerving to hear a woman crying and realize no one was there.”
“One time, when I heard banging on a wall, I told myself, ‘I can’t be scared of my own haunted house,’ ” he said and laughed.
Sanburn said he always looks forward to Halloween on October 31 and was drawn to haunted houses the first time he visited one as a teenager.
The 13th Gate is among the 13 best Halloween haunts recognized this year by Hauntworld Magazine, the world’s largest directory of haunted houses and horror attractions in the United States.
Others on the list include Pennhurst Haunted Asylum, located in a former asylum in Pennsylvania, and Fear Factory in Salt Lake City, Utah, which used to be a cement factory.
Besides being scary, the attractions are frightening artistic masterpieces.
“At 13th Gate, our level of detail can equal Hollywood movies, including the sets, lighting, costumes and makeup,” said Sanburn.
Tony Wohlgemuth, president of Kersey Valley Spooky Woods in Archdale, North Carolina, said this year’s theme focuses on a town taken over by ghastly spirits.
He said haunted house attractions have incredible visual and audio effects, in part due to the latest technology.
“At Spooky Woods we use effects to create lightning and thunder that feel real,” Wohlgemuth said, “and computer-controlled lighting with different colors and flickering effects.”
“The effects are used as a distraction,” he added, "but it’s really the actors that scare people. It’s the unknown and sudden scare you didn’t see coming.”
Alan Bennett, owner of Bennett’s Curse near Baltimore, Maryland, said animatronics (the technique of making and operating lifelike robots for film and other entertainment) and other scary effects, triggered by a motion detector, are used.
Bennett said the Halloween attraction is known for its large animated monsters like demons and giant pumpkins.
“There’s a haunted castle with creatures from the underworld, and an asylum with skeletons and evil pumpkins,” he said.
Jacob Preston, 15, from Alexandria, Virginia, came with his parents. He said that even though the castle was really scary, it was also fun. “I like horror movies and this kind of felt like I was in one,” he said.
“People get scared and then they are laughing,” said Michael Jubie, owner of the Headless Horseman Haunted Attractions in Ulster Park, New York. “Part of the appeal is that they want to be scared but also feel they are in a safe place.”
Jubie is a former undercover detective who used to wear disguises.
“We have the headless horseman on a live horse,” he said.
“One of our haunted houses has an underground tomb,” he added. “Another has a medical center with real operating room equipment from an old, abandoned hospital, including items from the morgue.”
These top-rated attractions draw thousands of visitors during the Halloween season in September and October.
“We’ll get about 70,000 this year,” Wohlgemuth said. “For some families it is an annual tradition.”
“We have parents who came when they were younger and are now taking their older children,” said Jubie.