Trick-or-treaters could be in for a special treat this Halloween season.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, haunted attractions across the tri-state are switching gears in finding creative ways to ensure guest safety while giving a spooky scare.
For the general public, Halloween is seen as a festive holiday to gather with friends and indulge in some extra sweets. It’s the one day of the year where you can dress up in inspired costume. But for those who work in the haunted attraction industry, Oct. 31 is much more than a day of fun and fright.
Robert Frankenberg, co-owner of Long Island attraction Chambers of Hell, shared the long, carefully timed planning process in a recent interview with NBC New York.
“It’s been really hard with Covid. It was only about two weeks ago that we found out we could be open. For anyone who doesn’t know how haunted houses work, we start building in May,” said Frankenberg.
With coronavirus unknowns, he described the calculated risk taken throughout the last 6 months – having to build four different ghostly attractions well in advance not knowing the outcome.
“The government could shut us down – that’s it. Four, five months of work is out the door with 60 people losing their jobs,” he said.
On top of the physical building, the architectural planning is done a year in advance. The Chambers of Hell team craft the following year’s design during the winter leading up to a highly anticipated trade show, TransWorld.
“We take November through February to plan it out, make our blueprint, because once we go to the big trade show in March, we need to know what to buy. We can’t go in there blind,” the scare enthusiast explained.
In Ulster County, another haunted attraction owner echoes the same preparation process. Michael Jubie, owner of Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses, gave further insight to NBC New York.
“I work on this all 365 days. We have a factory call American Made Monster Studios where we create masks, props and animatronics. We start working on next year’s theme during October of this year,” Jubie said.
Then after the frights are done, the team goes from ‘scary to merry’ prepping for Frosty Fest.
For other creators, Halloween is not just a business but a chance for charity with deep-seeded traditions. In Center Moriches, a group of volunteers have been running a local favorite for over thirty years called Spooky Walk, normally a fright-filled walk through Camp Paquatuck.
Established in 1941, Camp Paquatuck is a nonprofit summer camp for children with physical and mental disabilities. Due to a lack of government funding, a group of 30 women named the Moriches Paquatuck Squaws, joined forces to fundraise for the camp – managing the Spooky Walk since 1989.
“The Spooky Walk is the largest fundraiser for the camp. Last year, we had four good nights of weather, and we raised $230,000,” said Marcella Weis, the coordinator of Spooky Walk.
According to Weiss, over the years, the Spooky Walk has given the camp well over two million in funds. The event also brings in anywhere between four to six hundred community volunteers each year. Despite virus fears, the show goes on with a spin – reinventing the spine-chilling experience.
“It’s such a big event, we can’t lose it. So, I decided let’s do a drive-thru. We have the property, let’s do it,” said Weiss.
For $45 per vehicle, guests can enjoy the same ghost and ghoul line-up from their their car.
“I hope kids can go trick-or-treating, but at least we’re giving them a form of the Spooky Walk,” she said.
Spooky Walk is not the only annual attraction that has switched the scaring method. Within an attraction property of 65 acres, Jubie dares guests to ride the infamous trail – again, by transit.
He described the back-and-forth decisions with NBC New York. Due to changing government coronavirus restrictions, Jubie and his team were constantly moving pieces prepping for what they were told could work. In past years, this attraction usually opened the second weekend in September. Now, the gates are locked until Oct. 2 as the group continues to lay down the final touches.
Long Island’s Bayville Scream Park also moved to an in-vehicle theatrical experience, weaving live performers and special effects into a horror flick.
“We were already doing drive-in movies this summer so we decided to make an entire show that combines the horror movie and a haunted house like experience,” said D.R. Finley, the owner of Bayville Scream Park.
Even furthering the scare world, Frankenberg launched a Psycho Sports Club this year – merging horror and fitness. It’s a theatrical survival workout, limited to a small number of guests, where you exercise your way from creepy creatures.
“It’s a 50-foot soccer field that we do this on, so we’re able to space everyone almost 15 feet apart. We do everything from zombie cardio to army crawls on the turf to get a bottle of water,” he said.
As far as particular COVID precautions, most attractions are following the same protocols. Besides enforcing social distancing, masks and reduced capacity, businesses have provided hand sanitizing stations, online ticketing, prearranged time slots, individual group showings, increased security and cleaning procedures.
In lieu of actors, New York City’s Blood Manor has added twenty to thirty percent more animatronics this season, according to owner Jim Lorenzo over a call with NBC New York. On top of CDC guidelines, this seasonal city attraction hired a pandemic specialist to weigh in added safety – including U.V.C. light to effectively sanitize the environment.
As for customer demand, Finley says ticket sales are higher, so far.
“I believe people are starved for great entertainment options now with so many limitations due to the virus,” said Finley.
He added that a fun, safe Halloween is possible if people adhere to the guidelines.
With such a short time-frame for this entertainment, Lorenzo explained the importance of keeping his loyal clientele and fans happy. To him, it’s not like any other business where you can make up for lost time.
“We’ve had to cut the schedule down. We have 18 days to do 365 days of business. We don’t get a do-over in December or January so it’s critical that we open,” he said.
On a deeper note, Frankenberg likened his haunted experience to one at a movie theater – offering a momentary escape from the real world. “Life stops during the hours that you are in my haunted house. Think about it, why are movies so popular? Because whenever you do see The Avengers or Phantom of the Opera, there is no car insurance, divorce papers or economic hardship. You are in a dream world for a solid two hours. Haunted Houses are the same way,” noted Frankenberg.
On Sept. 15, during a News 12 interview, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed that he will not formally ban trick-or-treating this Halloween but will share with parents “my own advice and guidance.”
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the first guidance for celebrating holidays during the pandemic, which discourages traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating and costume masks.
"Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses. There are several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween," said the CDC in the post.
With over a month until Halloween, your neighborhood plans could change, but here are some frightful alternatives that have coronavirus safety in mind.
Check them out across the tri-state area - if you dare!
- Bayville Scream Park
- Blood Manor
- Chambers of Hell
- Headless Horseman
- Pure Terror
- Spooky Walk
- The Great Jack O lantern Blaze
- Bloodshed Farms
- Brighton Asylum
- C. Casola Farms Haunted Attractions
- Field of Screams
- Kim's Krypt Haunted Mill
- Oasis of Terror
- Sleepy Hollow Haunted Acres