Now, visitors aren’t just shrieking at the sight of zombies – they’re shooting them with paintball guns at Saint Lucifer’s Haunted Asylum in Flint, Mich.
They’re not just listening to ghost stories. They’re learning how to do their own paranormal investigations on ghost-hunting overnight stays at Buffalo Gap Historic Village near Abilene, Texas.
And they’re not just snaking through a haunted house, screaming as a monster climbs out of a coffin. Instead, they’re paying extra to be stuck in a room where they must puzzle out challenges in order to escape, as in the “Trapped” attraction at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.
Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., just launched “The Experiment,” where visitors are asked to participate in experiences so intense that they sometimes decline.
“If you refuse three times, the experiment is terminated,” said spokesman Travis Claytor. The experiments “may or may not involve live animals or creepy crawlies,” he added. “There may or may not be something in there for germaphobes. Psychologically this is one of the most invasive experiences you’ll ever have. I was there Friday on opening night and there were several people who could not make it through.”
Pat Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association, says the new intensity and increased interaction is simply the maturing of an industry that started out 25 years ago “scaring people with rubber masks and plastic knives. Every year people came back and wanted more.”
So now, he said, “not only are zombies jumping out and scaring you, but you have to turn it into a challenge, an interactive game.” Konopelski’s Shocktoberfest attraction in Reading, Pa., includes a component called “Prison of the Dead Escape” where visitors can choose to be humans or zombies in a game similar to flag football. Humans receive belts with three flags representing the human brain, heart and entrails, and zombies try to get those organs.
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, an abandoned prison and historic landmark that hosts “Terror Behind the Walls,” is offering visitors a glow-in-the-dark necklace that marks their willingness to be more than passive observers. Such guests can be grabbed by actors, sent into hidden passageways, and separated from their group.