Area haunted attractions work on scaring up some business

10/24/2013 7:08 AM

10/24/2013 7:08 AM

A bump in the night. A hair-raising feeling. A whisper of voices. Whether it’s clowns, zombies, ghouls or a guy in a mask chasing you with a chainsaw, you’re likely to find someplace to give you a scare at area Halloween attractions.

What many people don’t realize is that work on haunted attractions begins months ahead of the witching season.

For Kip Scott, owner and operator at Prairie Pines Festivals, preparation usually starts right after the Fourth of July.

Prairie Pines started as a Christmas tree farm in the 1970s and has expanded into Halloween attractions over the past 10 years.

“The most difficult part of the business is the level of organization it takes to put on two large shows on opposite sides of town,” Scott said.

This is the 10th year for Prairie Pines’ Field of Screams on the north side and the fourth year for Isle of Screams at Watson Park on the south side.

Field of Screams attracts about 16,000 people each year, while the Isle does less than half of that business, Scott said.

“We have some people spend $40 on tickets, and then they won’t even go in they’re so scared,” Scott said. “You have to start them off right.”

According to the Haunted House Association, there are at least 2,000 haunted attractions that charge admission to their events in the U.S. The association also estimates that the Halloween attraction industry and the haunted attraction industry combined gross more than $1 billion in revenue annually.

The industry includes facilities that aim to raise money for nonprofits as well as commercially operated attractions.

About 80 percent of all haunted attractions have 10,000 patrons or fewer each year, according to the association. Tickets for attractions typically cost between $13 and $25, but the average is around $15.

Following trends

For those who want to imagine what it would be like for people to live through the zombie apocalypse, World at War, 811 E. 10th St., allows people to wander through a warehouse to escape the living dead.

“Zombies are one of those fictional characters you want to believe could be real, like Big Foot,” said manager Jamie Crouch.

Even though it’s only in its first year, Crouch said World at War has been years in the making from Eye Win mixed martial arts in Wichita.

The biggest barrier for those starting in the haunted attraction business can be start-up costs, Crouch said. To get a good haunted attraction that isn’t like a carnival, people can spend upwards of $100,000.

“What you put in is what you get out of it,” Crouch said.

Haunted houses also like to pay attention to what’s culturally popular, such as, right now, zombies.

The attractions have to apply for special zoning depending on their locations and likely also have to obtain other kinds of permits and follow local and state regulations and ordinances.

Like any business, the haunted attractions need to attract a certain number of customers to break even. So far this year, World at War has averaged about 2,000 people each weekend, Crouch said.

He said a business can spend more than $1,300 a day for payroll for actors, security and management.

To save costs, many owners will try to build props and animatronics themselves. Ready-made animatronics can cost $3,000 to more than $12,000 apiece, and the price generally goes up the closer it is to Halloween, Crouch said.

An obsession

What started as a lot of yard decorations eight years ago has turned into a family-run attraction at Forest of Fear, 7446 51st Road, which sits on 34 acres of land in Udall.

“I’m obsessed with Halloween. I had so many things in our front yard of our house and the side yard with smoke machines and mannequins, people started driving around to see our decorations and said we should charge people to see it,” said Joyce McQuilken, who owns Forest of Fear with her husband, James.

They originally put in about $10,000 to start it, and each year they make a little profit that they put into the next year’s event.

“We’re more like the family restaurant on the corner, but we do scare the crap out of people,” McQuilken said. “We never really wanted to make a lot of money at it. We wanted to make a little money and have the fun.”

They try to buy a couple of new animatronics each year. But most of the actors are family and friends who are just really into Halloween, McQuilken said.

“They have personalities and different makeup. Sometimes I think they’re crazy. They go into character and don’t come out.”

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