Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The 5 Basic Levels of Haunted Houses

There are a lot of lists on the Internet telling you what the best haunted house in America is. Other lists will tell you what the most extreme haunt is. The Raven and Black Cat has a list of the most extreme haunted houses where they will touch you. Clearly, there are levels of haunted houses ranging from family friendly to WTF.  And though I love haunted hayrides my bread and butter has always been the WTF. More and more haunted houses have been setting up more extreme experiences for the 18+ crowd.  But why would anybody subject themselves to full body contact haunts? Why would you want to have bags thrown over your head, suffocated, water boarded and suffer through all elements of torture?

if I had to guess, it would be this.

To me, it's an adrenaline rush and ultimate thrill like no other. I can only equate it to why somebody does an extreme sport like skydiving or bungee jumping. You want to challenge yourself by doing what only a few people get to do. Also, surviving such a crazy attraction is an overall sense of accomplishment. It's a badge of honor you can share with only the others who've done the same.

But ultimately it's a battle of wills. You take on the challenge to face your fears head on. A skydiver is battling gravity and in a sense, a fear of dying. Haunted Houses are man made and create artificial fears. These fears though not life threatening, can clearly be heightened to a crazy degree. All haunted house creates fake phobias we all have in common. Darkness, claustrophobia and others are universal fears some people have experienced head on, while others not so much.

Below is a list of what I think are haunted house levels compared to their extreme sport equivalent. What level are you?

1.) The Roller Coasters (Funhouse Haunted Houses)

I think of roller coasters the same way as I do campy funhouse haunted houses. Long lines and a few minutes of thrills. Coasters come in a variety of forms. Extreme speeds, looping and old timey wooden ones. When compared to to your PG-13 tweenager haunted houses, you'll get your animatronic and prop heavy ones and your Disney ride-along haunts. But they all try to scare the shit out of you. And there seems to be lots of clowns.

2.) The Bungee Jumpers (Traditional Haunted Houses)

Your traditional haunted house these days will come in a variety of ways to scare you shitless. And so it's paired with bungee jumping. All across America, haunts are trying to find new ways to scare the crap at you and bungee jumping has that same effect. You can bungee jump from a bridge overlooking a river or you can bungee in an amusement park. I've also seen people bungee in pairs and off cliffs.

The risk is greater when you bungee jump, you're still safe but it feels a little more exciting. Haunts these days are getting bolder with their haunts. The traditional HH has you going in big groups and they want you to feel like its unsafe (when it actually is) They also want to give you moments of pure helplessness like being in the dark for long periods of time. Are you in danger? Not really. But its the jump scare that gets you in both experiences.

Relatively speaking,  this is the most extreme regular people will get.

3.) The Rope Swingers (Experimental Haunted Houses)

Rope swinging is a  relatively new phenomenon.  It's like bungee jumping but on steroids. Want to know what it's like? Check out this video. I would say this goes in the immersive theater/interactive horror movie like experience. A lot of haunted houses are being experimental and in the same way they are blending the traditional haunt with the more extreme one creating a hybrid. You'll see this in the form of Freakling Bros in Vegas as they offer a traditional haunt with a more extreme one.  Nightmare Killers has the option of being touched. You can even add the haunts run by amateurs. All these haunts are trying something new and looking for people to try it out for the first time.

Experimental haunts can test shit out to see what works and what doesn't. They're still scary as shit but they are trying to find that proverbial edge people won't cross. Crossing that border is where the next level kicks in.

4.) The Skydivers (Extreme Haunted Houses)

There are some people who will skydive but not go to an extreme haunted house. You'd think they'd want the same thrills though I guess those are different levels of extreme. With haunted houses, over the last few years, haunts and productions have been advertising to the Rated R, 18+ crowd.  They've introduced touching and waivers to the mix.  Haunts where the actors get to touch you and I don't mean a tap on the shoulder. Bearhugs, slaps, bags over your head type shit. Pseudo torture in all its forms are employed.

The Raven and Black Cat has an extensive list of haunts that do just that. These are where the weirdos and even more curious weirdos come out. No longer wanting the hayrides, the mazes or the experimental, these brave souls want the shit beaten out of them and want strong sexual content.

With skydiving, it can be relatively safe, one can be tied to an instructor and experience free falling without worrying about all the controls. Others will go further learning to do it alone and even others will now use wing suits to glide through the sky.

Extreme haunts come in a variety of forms as well. Blackout is part theater, part crazy. Freakling Bros Victim Experience seems to be all about the crazy. Other extreme haunts are psychological and get in your head while others like McKamey Manor seem to be an endurance challenge.

This level is clearly on the fringe and is expanding with an audience hungry to challenge them. No longer happy with free falling with trained professionals, participants want to go alone and they want a haunted house that will scare them beyond belief.

People who partake in this extremeness haunts are few and far between. They want waivers and they require safety words. And if they're not going by themselves, something seems wrong.

5.) The Felix Baumgartner (???)

I don't think haunted houses are at this level yet. Hell I don't even know what this stage would entail. But clearly it would be the most extreme thing ever. This could be part Survivor, part play acting. This would be like the Star Trek holodeck without the safety protocols in place.

I made up a fictional experience for April Fools Day called "Stalker". Here is what I said it would be:

"Renegade Productions is proud to introduce a new interactive experience that will be unleashed to the people of New York City this summer. What would it be like to act as a serial killer stalking your prey? What would it be like to be the prey being stalked by a serial killer? In the world of Stalker, those questions will be answered as 2 willing participants face off head to head in a battle of wills straight out of a horror movie."

Does this even look far fetched these days? A while back, I read about a water gun assassination tournament happening in NYC and SF. Kind of underground, kind of ARG-ish. Could a immersive serial killer game really happen? Knowing that extreme is all relative, who really knows?

What would be your idea for an space jump level like haunted house?


So what level are you when it comes to haunted houses? Are you a Roller Coaster? Maybe a Skydiver? What would be your idea for a crazy Baumgartner haunt? And if you do go to extreme haunts, sound off on why you go. I'd like to know why people take on the craziest, WTF haunted houses in America.

Leave a comment here, on the Jaded Viewer Facebook page or tweet me!


  1. I'm not sure where I fall into your categories. I regularly attend the Blackout Haunted Houses but often feel like there could have been more. The victim experience looks interesting to me but its not exactly right either. I could design an experience that is exactly right for me but having designed it would be self defeating. The secrets of the haunt MUST be secret from the victim. As I see it the key has got to be the feeling of vunerablility. Whether tied up or stripped naked, you must feel vunerable. Blackout does this well but I know I can stop it if I must. When will I find the exact right one for me; maybe never, but its fun to look.

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  2. McKamey would without a doubt be considered a Felix Baumgartner. Some reasons why: It has no safe words, you can only leave if you're in medical danger, and it takes about 7 hours. From what I've seen/heard, you're in a scenario where you feel like you're actually in danger (and in most cases are, as people who have gone through it have said that they were beaten), and like you're actually fighting for your life. They take you out every once in a while so you get this false sense of security, then when you're begging and crying to leave, they put you back in and then torture you some more. It's awful, and if it wasn't for legal loopholes, it would be 100% illegal.

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