Yes, the haunted house season, for this year, has come and gone. Many owners around the country are now looking at all the feedback they are getting online from customers, letting them know what they loved and hated about their respective events. Sadly, it is more hate than anything else. Like they say: A happy customer will tell their friends, but an unhappy customer will tell everyone else.

With all the unhappiness that comes out of reviews and emails, some people would think that absolutely no one liked haunted attractions. I did a quick Google check on all the main haunted houses around Nashville, and every single on of them had negative reviews. And even worse than that, they all had pretty much the exact same complaints. So, in this addition of #HauntLife, I want to look deeper into these complaints and see if we can all come to an agreement on how to address them.

One thing to note: These opinions are purely my own. These do not reflect upon any haunted attractions I have previously or currently work for.

Complaint #1: There were hardly any actors!

Pulled this review from 13th Floor Phoenix, AZ:

“The haunted house lacked actors, many room/ hallways left vacant with missed scare opportunities. This is not a haunted house, it’s a factory for money.”

Having a fully staffed haunted house is something that most customers absolutely want. A real-life actor scaring a group of terrified guests always trumps any static props or animatronics. In fact, I am always a believer that any time you have an animated prop, you need a live actor to pull off the misdirect scare by using the prop to draw attention away, or vice versa.

Most haunts start off the season with a full house of actors. Whether it is 40 or 400, they have every scene filled and queue line actors at the ready. Everyone is excited and happy for the season to start. They all are chomping at the bit to get that first scare out of the way, and terrify the masses that enter their dwelling.

But then, reality starts to set in. Acting inside a haunted house is not what they bargained for. Imagine this: You have to do the exact same thing every night you work, every few minutes (or few seconds as the season goes on) for many, many nights. You don’t get to hang out with your friend who came to work with you. You don’t get to go walking around to see what everyone else is doing. You don’t get to go on breaks when you want to. You are confined to usually a small area that can be hot or cold, depending on the weather. And you are wearing makeup, sticky blood or a mask of some sorts. And you have to deal with some customers who feel entitled when they enter your scene to do whatever they want, which includes touching you, screaming in your face, slapping you or acting like a fool.

Sounds like fun, huh?

Usually, after the first weekend, the wash-out rate for new and second-year actors is amazing at most haunts. While some are able to keep the turnover low, many are plagued by actors quitting left and right. Replacing them requires time, as more hiring drives have to occur. If you give a haunt manager several days to find new recruits, then it is usually pretty easy. But when actors do a “no call, no show” night, it leaves them struggling to fill every scene. And when you don’t have enough people to fill them all, managers have to get creative with the people they do have.

How can haunts keep the turnover rate down? There are a few ways. One would be to have shifts. This would allow actors to work some nights, while still having nights that they do not have to show up. This means that haunts have to hire more actors, but each actor would get less pay, since they would work fewer hours. Another way would be to increase pay rates, as many pay as low as they possibly can. Other haunts keep actors happy by feeding them nightly, adding recreational rooms for actors to unwind before the show or during breaks, and by having bonuses for completing hours. While none of these prevent actors from “washing out,” it could help lower the rates and keep actors around.

Complaint #2: I waited too long in line.

From a review of Netherworld Haunted House

“Would’ve given 5 stars had it not been for the incredibly long lines. Had to wait three hours before we finally entered the haunted house.”

Many haunted houses open in September to allow for more people to see their shows. And even those that only open in October open many different nights of the week, so people can choose the nights they attend. In looking at Netherworld’s schedule, they opened September 22 for the last two weekends in September and then every single night of the week in October, plus the first weekend in November! That is an incredible 38 nights that they were open to the public. By contrast, most haunts are open somewhere between 18-24 nights. Even Halloween Horror Nights only had 34 nights, making Netherworld one of the only haunted houses that gave customers an entire month-plus of options on when to visit.

However, most people choose to get their haunt on a Friday or Saturday night within 10 days of Halloween. This means that if you come on a Sunday to Thursday night, you probably will spend a few minutes in line, have a nice gap between you and the groups in front and behind you, and get a lot more scares for your money. Coming on what people in the business call “Hell Weekends” means you are going to have long waits. Think about it: When you and 5,000 other people show up at a haunted house, you will either to get a conga line or you are going to have a long wait in the queue lines, or both. Building codes and requirements limit how many people can be inside many attractions at the same time.

How to combat this? Haunts can encourage people to attend on “off peak” nights by giving discounts, having special events, or adding more “off peak” nights. Some haunts have looked into ticket gimmicks like “timed ticketing” and capping the number of tickets sold each night, but both of those options are still dependent on customers respecting the times and accepting being told “I’m sorry, but we are sold out for tonight,” when they drive hours to reach an attraction. Customers who choose to come on “Hell Weekends” have to understand that long waits should be expected.

I look at long waits as a good thing. It means that this haunted attraction is one that everyone wants to see. Not something I am going to regret going to later.

Complaint #3: It wasn’t scary / not worth the money.

A snippet from a review of The Dent Schoolhouse

“It was moderately scary. We also payed more for the fast pass. It makes it more expensive than it’s worth, but without it your waiting 3.5 hrs.”

Scaring people gets harder and harder each year. Hell, watching the evening news is sometimes scarier than anything a haunted house can produce. Over the years, people get more and more desensitized to violence, gore and scares. While pop scares (loud unexpected noises or movements) will always startle most people, having disturbing scenes full of blood and guts or satanic images just makes people yawn.

Still, the majority of people still enjoy being transported into the horror world. If a haunted house can make people lose track of reality and make them feel genuinely in danger, then they have done their job. Many factors affect this, including how many people are coming through at a time, the general happiness of the customer and how well the scenes are designed. All of these things have to work together to scare people, but some people just cannot be scared by what they see.

Customers who complain about this may just be toughened people. They have seen things in real life that make the attraction just feel dull. But most people who complain about not being scared have other complaints that lead to this.

In that same review, quoted above, the customer also mentions that it was hot in the queue line and hot inside the haunt. It is my belief that this customer was just generally not happy by having to stand in line for a long time and being hot at the same time. By the time they got into the attraction, they were so wrapped up in their discomfort that the simulated discomfort the haunters were trying to convey just was not enough. Had the customer not had this problem, I am pretty sure they would have had a better experience.

So, what can haunts do here? By addressing the second complaint in my list and doing everything they can to shorten lines on peak nights, customers will not have time to experience other things that pull them out of the horror world. Keeping the suspension of reality inside the haunt is also crucial. Managers and staff that enter the haunt and could be seen by customers need to be in costume. No one wants to see Bubba the manager in a haunt t-shirt talking to an actor about how to scare customers properly. They should see Bubba the Butcher in a bloody apron, confronting his chainsaw-wielding minion, giving his directions and what slices of human meat he needs. Haunts can also do what they can to keep atmospheric conditions from affecting customers, but this can be near impossible in certain situations (outdoors haunts, warehouses with central AC).

Don’t get me wrong: There are haunts out there that are just “cash grabs,” where the owners are only looking to make a quick buck and sacrifice quality and satisfaction for it. But almost every major haunted house in the country has a team of highly skilled and dedicated people who are passionate about bringing the best quality shows they possibly can.

Customers have to take some responsibility when they have a bad night, as well. It is not just on the haunted house, itself. If you show up on a “peak night,” you should expect to make a night of it. Some haunts offer speed passes to shorten the wait at a premium price, but you have to decide exactly if your time savings are worth the extra cost. Dress appropriately for the haunt and check the weather. You may need to bring a poncho or raincoat as many queue lines are outdoors. Buying tickets online can also save time and avoid ticket booth waits.

If you have a bad experience at a haunt, ask to speak to a manager or someone who is tasked with working with the public. It is a lot easier for haunts to address problems if they know about them quickly, rather than having to wait to read a review a few days or weeks later online (or to be called by local news media for comments). I am not saying that negative reviews are not needed, but sometimes immediately informing the haunt allows them to fix a problem that could affect other customers.

And one more thing on the subject of online reviews: Be descriptive in your review. Don’t just post a negative review and leave the comments blank. Explain your reason for the negative review. Help fix the problem, instead of being just cryptic and unhelpful. And don’t leave negative feedback without actually visiting a haunt. It’s tacky and harbors negative resentment in the industry, as many look at this as a way to snipe another haunt. Just be fair and descriptive in your feedback, good or bad.

There are many, many more complaints I could go through. And possibly I will jump on them in a later addition of #HauntLife. But right now, it is time to get ready for the Christmas-themed hauntings that are coming to a haunt near you. Check them out and let me know what you think!