The 13 best haunted house attractions for Halloween 2010

By Jayne Clark • USA TODAY • September 24, 2010

Halloween is big business and among its growth industries are seasonal haunted houses that operate from mid September through October. If you're considering venturing into one, here's some advice from a guy who knows from haunted houses: If you see a grim reaper in a hockey mask, get out of the house as fast as you can.

Ideally, before you've forked over the admission. Because it's bound to be one sorry spook-fest.

The whole Jason thing is soooo '80s slasher film.

These days, the best haunted houses are pushing the envelope with intricate story lines, eye-popping special effects and live talent.

Larry Kirchner, editor of Hauntworld Magazine, believes this because he not only builds haunted houses, but he spends a lot of time hanging out in them and comparing notes with other aficionados on his website, The site has just issued its annual 13 best list of haunted houses.

The "haunt industry" as Kirchner calls it, has gotten increasingly sophisticated, thanks in part, to an influx of former Hollywood special effects and makeup people who lost their entertainment-industry jobs to computer animation.

Kirchner estimates there are about 3,000 haunted houses nationwide poised to open this month and next, but the vast majority are home-grown affairs usually staged for charitable causes. And then there are what Kirchner calls "home haunters who just love Halloween." This time of year's message boards are abuzz with people swapping fake-blood recipes.

The full-time denizens of the industry, however, are into more elaborate effects that might involve flame machines, fog machines and other pricey accoutrement. A Kirchner favorite seen at a recent Halloween trade show is a hearse with a 20-foot-tall animation of a grim reaper that shoots out of the roof with victims in its clutches.

For a time, some haunted house operators were favoring animated effects over live actors -- a mistake, if you ask Kirchner. "What makes a haunted house successful is the spontaneity the actors can provide," he says.

Other attributes Kirchner believes are necessary to deliver a truly heart-pounding scare:

When you step inside, its realism should make you believe you are where they say you are. "You're in the middle of the plot," he says. "You are Jamie Lee Curtis, and your life's in danger."

The experience should be immersive, with 360-degree effects, not just action taking place in front of you.

A lot of haunted houses crib from horror movies, but that's not Kirchner's style. "Anybody can do bloody bathrooms and circular-saw chases," he says. "If you want to see Freddie Kruger, go rent the DVD."


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Out of the Dark: The Ghost Hunting Chronicles is a blog providing detailed investigations of the Out of the Dark team, paranormal news and editorial.

It will also feature the past investigations of paranormal investigator and author John Savoie.