Did you know that the United States holds over 1,200 professional haunted house attractions? Every year, haunted houses get more and more popular and each attraction constantly works to increase the production value and creativity of their venue. However, haunted house attractions weren’t always so popular or high tech. Let’s take a look at how haunted houses have evolved over time.
The earliest inspirations for haunted house attractions come from ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. To keep grave robbers at bay, the ancient Egyptians created mazes, moving walls, self-opening doors, and traps. While these were not made for entertainment purposes, they laid the groundwork for haunted house attractions by inventing devices designed to scare.
The Greeks and Romans were the first to use scare techniques for entertainment purposes. Each civilization’s folklore was filled with monsters living within labyrinths that they depicted through theater productions. This is where we first see devices we use to scare today like fog, fake blood, and basic special effects to create monsters. This form of theatrical entertainment created the building blocks of what modern haunted house attractions rely on.
The Dark Ages
Although Europe largely converted from Celtic and pagan religions during the Dark Ages, they held onto some pagan traditions. These led to the modern day concept of Halloween as well as pushed forward the evolution of haunted house attractions.
During this time, there were pageant wagons that went across Europe performing biblical plays.
These plays focus heavily on scarier, or more thrilling bible passages that were intended to frighten people into acting righteously. They used a combination of gore and morals that attendees couldn’t get enough of. The Dark Ages also brought with it the practices of carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, dressing in costumes, and trick-or-treating – the basis of modern day Halloween.
As theater evolved, society became more accustomed to the art of scaring. Playwrights like William Shakespeare depicted ghosts, demons, and monsters in their play and utilized animal parts to simulate blood and gore. The shock and awe that resulted from an actor ‘bleeding to death’ in front of an audience continued to grow society’s love of fear.
With the 1800s came the rise of mediums, fortune tellers, spiritualists, and conjurers of the dead. This was the early days of supernatural professions of entertainment, which mainly served elites. During this time John Henry Pepper, a British scientist and inventor created a technique that used mirrors to create a translucent, ghost-like illusion. This technique was known as Pepper’s Ghost. The 1800s was also the era where the first wax museums were popularized. When you walk through a haunted house attraction and see a sinister wax model, you can thank this era for the fright.
The Early 1900s
The early 1900s brought about the freak show. This is the first formal form of a haunted attraction. Attendees would walk through an array of human deformities and other strange exhibits that were often faked. This led to the rise of ‘dark rides.’ These involved patrons sitting on a boat or train that traveled through different scenes. As they grew in popularity, more and more dark rides began to focus on horror.
Another interesting aspect of the early 1900s is that many buildings from the early 1800s were falling apart and hazardous. To keep children away from these buildings, it was common for adults to say they were haunted. This increased the popularity and mystery of the haunted house concept.
In 1969, Disneyland opened its ‘Haunted Mansion.’ This featured a wedding party of ghosts, transforming portraits, and a headless woman. The attraction was a pristine mansion where attendees sat on trains that brought them through a myriad of frightening experiences. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion marked the haunted house attraction breaking into the mainstream.
The 70s to Today
Once Disney set the precedent, haunted attractions started springing up everywhere. Businesses like the Haunted House Company became hubs selling horror masks, lighting, special effects, costumes, and more. Horror movies saw a boost in popularity during the 80s which in turn spread haunted house attractions across the country. From the 90s to today haunted house attractions continued to expand into a fully formed industry.
Haunted House Attractions in New Jersey
With haunted house attractions becoming an industry, there is a lot to choose from, some scarier than others. 13th Hour is the final result of eons of haunted attraction evolution. Our award-winning haunted design is sure to spook the bravest thrill seekers. We also have the #1 escape rooms in New Jersey for those looking for a more puzzling experience. At 13th Hour, you can immerse yourself in a thrilling experience that is fun for the whole family. Our haunted house opens September 29th, don’t miss out!