“Nobody comes up and goes ‘Grr!’” Michael Jubie tells GWK. “People expect Hollywood quality, and that’s what we give ‘em.”
And how, because incoming terror-junkies from Germany, Australia, and the Chinese Travel Channel have their standards. Tapping the “alone in the woods” nightmare nerve, Jubie runs Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses, a world-renowned gore fest for the ages set across 65 acres of whispering Hudson Valley forest in Ulster Park, two hours north of New York City.
“We are not in a warehouse or a strip mall,” he says proudly, noting how a darkened timberland is the perfect co-star to 10 ghoulish attractions including Glutton's Diner & Slaughter House, Dark Harvest Corn Maze, and Dahlia Blood's Manor. He is quick to highlight a Tiny Taste of Terror, a bona fide children’s day where all the monsters that tried to fricassee you the night before show off their anger-management skills with games, magic, and wildlife demos.
Shoving the thrills of Halloween all up in your face, haunted houses are for neither little kids nor big babies. Rather, a good ghost-fest is for kids too old for trick-or-treating and desiring more mature festivities, and at the same time still be something that can be done as a family without the dreaded tween eye-roll (or sticker-shock). Here are a few other top-of-the-line monster-mashes that are sure to give you a few gray hairs that have nothing to do with the “dating years.”
Salem, Massachusetts: Night of the Witch
True story: the Salem witches were not burned at the stake. Rather, hanging was the go-to, or, if you were having a particularly bad day, you were “pressed,” where stones were piled on your chest until you could no longer breathe. Either way, you died.
If there is a city with a hammerlock on Halloween, my bet is on the one with the most notorious witch trials in history. So synonymous is Salem with the spirit world that ghost tours run all summer into fall, but for the month of October, the claws really come out. Sometimes literally.
But of them all, the accolades heap at the putrified feet of Chambers of Terror, an old-school scare-house that most definitely keeps with the times. Split into a short, daytime Terror Tour (eight minutes, tops), and the much longer nighttime Halloween Horror Show, visitors are subjected to “demons, ghouls, psychos, creatures of the dark … and one very evil clown.” Suffice it to say, whatever was hiding in your closet or under your bed, Chambers of Terror has it somewhere. Adding to the fun is your very own Ghoulish Guide, a maître d’horreur who may or may not be so trustworthy a chaperon.
Philadelphia: Behind Bars
With its solid stone ramparts and watch towers, the Eastern State Penitentiary looks more like a medieval fortress fell out of the sky into modern Philadelphia. Opened in 1829, “ESP” had by 1971 become so dilapidated that city officials simply closed it down and threw away the key. Frozen in time, the wards and cellblocks sat quietly neglected while an intrepid band of preservationists fought to save to save the complex. In 1991, a haunted tour idea was floated.
And took off like a rocket: Terror Behind the Walls has gone from a local soiree to one of the best and biggest Halloween fright-nights in the country, with an array of actors and special effects to scare the pants off you. Crazed mutants? Sure! Mad scientists? Why not? Tortured prisoners? Duh! Six attractions lurk in the old wards, and with names like Lock Down and Quarantine, it is safe to say the lunatics have taken over the asylum; when you have a crumbling prison as a stage — the penitentiary is kept in a state of “maintained disrepair” — the world is your cannibalistic oyster.
Running to November 7, the theme of the event changes yearly and includes six separate sections of scares, suspense, and suited-up actors who are not above grabbing you from the dark for maximum jolt. For those faint of heart, the ravenous hordes will retreat back whence they came if you yell “Monsters be good!” Don’t worry; it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Austin: Texas Torment
When the movie that started the whole crazy-psycho-chainsaw-mass-murderer phenomenon has your state’s name in it, you are branded for life.
Happily, Texans can rest easy that the pasty-faced zombies of Austin’s House of Torment never leave the grounds. Actually a trio of scares, BuzzFeed heralds this freak show as one of the most “terrifying haunted houses you should experience before you die,” and visitors can choose their fate with the three “houses” they wish to experience and in what order: Dead End District (mutated undead apocalypse), Hex of the Harvest (witches and pagan blood sacrifice), and Laughterhouse (killer clowns).
House of Torment lasts until November 7, but for the ultimate post-season cold sweat, check out the “Blackout” nights on November 13 and 14. Patrons must brave the creepy-crawlies with a single glow stick per group as the sole source of light. And if you loose it, or it is pilfered — because these things happen — well, good luck. Mwa-ha-ha…
Long Beach, California: Queen of the Damned
Twice the size of Titanic, the Queen Mary was the premier ocean liner of her Art Deco day. Having hosted glitterati including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Clark Gable, the grande dame of the seas now cozies up harborside in Long Beach, California, as a hotel-cum-window to the past … and to another world, come Halloween.
In the luxurious yet slightly claustrophobic confines of the ship once called nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” – how’s that for prescience? – visitors take on the hungry specters of Dark Harbor — the baleful Captain, lovelorn Graceful Gale, impish Scary Mary among them – as they tease, cajole, and outright terrify visitors through a wicked wonderland of mazes, an Egyptian-themed paintball gallery, and a genuine sideshow. Sailor lore is fraught with restless dead, and a good chunk of them show their necrotic faces even as they try to eat off yours.
But thrill seekers beware! Dark Harbor continues until November 1, but the Queen Mary ups the phantasmal ante by already being haunted: from the Lady in White in the engine room to the shades of children lingering around the pool, Halloween is a 24/7/365 experience. Time Magazine heralded the old broad as one of the top 10 sites for paranormal activity in the USA.
New York City: House of the Dead
Just so you know: “Blood Manor is not recommended for people with heart or back problems, pregnant women, people prone to seizures or anyone who has an affliction that is made worse by fear, anxiety or flashing lights.”
And if that doesn’t clue you in to what awaits in the premier freak fest of the Big Apple, I don’t know what will.
Pick your poison — monsters, morgues, clowns, charnel houses, a maze made out of bodies suspended from the ceiling, demonic strippers, re-animated brides, and how about an undead dominatrix? Finding themselves in a free-for-all of phobias, visitors leap from one deep-seated fear to the next in a series of themed rooms and corridors. Along the way, actors dressed in a rainbow of freak show leap out from unlit corners (and there are plenty) to keep the crowds moving. Designed more for a good ole’ fashioned suspenseful jolt than something to send you running to the therapist, Blood Manor can also lean a tad risqué, so parents should plan accordingly.
Jolt-seeking crowds can get their hit of gore until October 31, but can screw their courage to the sticking place November 6 and 7; all the lights are turned off and you are left alone in the dark…
A perfect example of “anybody you can scare, we can scare MORE” one-upmanship, haunted houses both modest and extravagant are big business across the country; if the ones mentioned involve a commute as scary as the revenants they shelter, have no fear that one is near you (maybe too near you). HauntWorld is an excellent resource to make this Halloween one for the ages.