Breaking Into the Haunted House Market
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because coming alive in a house that screams is better than dying in one.
By Eugene S. Robinson
“All day making creepy stuff to scare the shit out of you.”
The conversation itself was not scary. Scott Bryan, of the thrash metal band Ghoul, is as nice a guy as you could ever want to meet — all 7 feet, 2 inches of him, in his bleeding chest piece and monster head with blood-stained teeth, pincers and glowing red eyes. He held forth backstage.
“They’re called ScareCo,” he said as he shifted in his costume and nodded in the direction of a business card. “And they build the scariest haunted houses around. I’m helping them to build it. Without giving too much away, I think I can guarantee that you’ll be running out of there screaming like a child. Because the scary stuff I like to make is just real enough to not seem fake.”
… have a good time, get scared and … laugh about it later.
— Tabitha Barron, ScareCo’s director of operations
While the trend of “extreme haunts” — houses or attractions with gory, torturous and sometimes raunchy exhibits — is interesting, ScareCo’s director of operations, Tabitha Barron, believes the general public isn’t much interested. “People want to have a good time, get scared and usually laugh about it later. We’ve created an event that will do just that.”
It’s looking to carve a classic frights niche in a Halloween market the National Retail Federation estimated at $6.9 billion in 2013 — less than Valentine’s Day spending, but still nothing to say “boo” to. With its bold tagline — “Leading the nation in fear creation” since January 2014 — ScareCo has stepped into a field that a haunted house industry group (yes, there are such things) says is pretty crowded: 1,200 fee-charging haunted houses nationwide, plus some 300 nestled inside amusement parks and 3,000 more run by charity groups. All told, haunted attractions generate roughly $300 million to $500 million in ticket sales.
But each ticket sale is hard-fought. R.J. Latherow, former president of a now-defunct haunted house company that Rand McNally once called one of the top 10 haunted houses in the nation, says it’s a really tough industry. “We did great work, but in 2012 when the economy dipped, we were done.”
… never-ending fear and endless but quasi-camp-based terror.
— Scott Bryan, member of thrash metal band Ghoul
ScareCo co-founder Joshua Overturf’s love of Halloween started early, and not just from the consumption side. He started making masks and haunted houses in his garage as a teenager. Soon he was fabricating and creating rigs, lighting, props and latex work on large-scale monsters, while working for several professional haunts by Boy Scouts of America, Knott’s “Scary” Farm, Universal Studios and The Haunted Hotel. It’s really all about the fear — even if it’s fear of insolvency — that drives him and the house. Not just on Halloween either. Overturf plans to run events all year round, even branching out into laser-based shooting games because ScareCo is “really an entertainment company.”
This year’s installation, at the aptly titled Platform 13, deep in the innards of Oakland, California’s 102-year-old, unused 16th Street Railroad Station, is designed more like a play or art installation, with “round trip” tickets going for $36. It runs from Sept. 16 to Nov. 1 and is meant to be an experience that taps into much more than the usual fear-of-death tropes.
“We really want to get under the hood and dig around,” says Bryan, now shorn of his KILL-BOT trappings, and relaxing. “Tapping into not the finality of death but maybe something more like … never-ending fear and endless but quasi-camp-based terror.”
So monsters, masks and the unsettling smells and sounds of hopelessness? Just in time for Halloween? Nice.
Cover Photo by Shutterstock