Haunted house business gets boost as techs up thrill ante

Sun Oct 20, 2013 6:14pm EDT
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By Daniel Kelley

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Ed Terebus was an 18-year-old high school student when he and his big brother Jim, a laid-off auto worker, decided to build their first haunted house 34 years ago.

The Terebus brothers charged visitors $1.50 per head to tour their creation, which was set up in a trailer and featured actors wearing makeup of egg yolks mixed with oatmeal. Over the decades, their modest production grew into Pontiac, Michigan's four-story Erebus, which the Guinness Book of World Records listed as the world's largest haunted attraction from 2005 through 2009, when it was overtaken by a larger thrill in Texas.

Today, Erebus manufactures fear with features such as animatronic mutant gorillas and a shifting wall that pushes visitors into what appears to be a bottomless pit.

But what frightens the Terebus brothers the most is the staff it takes to run the place.

"I have an IT guy here full time now," Ed Terebus said. "That's the scary part."

Haunted house operators have borrowed heavily from Hollywood, using programmable controllers, modern computer graphics and professional make-up artists to create increasingly vivid and horrific thrills.

And business is booming.

America's Haunts, a trade association, estimates there are 1,200 large-scale, for-profit haunted attractions in the U.S. plus another 3,000 haunted houses operated by charities that open for only a day or two every year. The commercial attractions collectively bring in from $300 million to $500 million annually.   Continued...

Kaitlyn Jaffke, marketing and sales coordinator, walks through the "laser swamp" of the "13th Floor" haunted house in Denver October 19, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking