TH­ESE HAUNTS WEAVE A WEB OF FRIGHT

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go Out - By John Bei­fuss

/ bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

“Once in­side the at­trac­tion, you will be sub­jected to in­tense au­dio and lighting ef­fects, low vis­i­bil­ity, strobe lights, wa­ter and fog. You should not en­ter if you are preg­nant, are claus­tro­pho­bic, are prone to seizures or have heart and/or res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems... THERE ARE NO RE­FUNDS! EN­TER AT YOUR OWN RISK!”

— warn­ing found at Night­shadeManor.com

IN THE “HAUNTED AT­TRAC­TION” in­dus­try, web sites are noth­ing new: Just about ev­ery haunted house, hayride and Hal­loween trail in the coun­try is draped with ar­ti­fi­cial cob­webs in­hab­ited by prop or me­chan­i­cal spi­ders.

But Web sites — the com­puter kind — are an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant part of Hal­loween, which has be­come a $7 bil­lion-a-year in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to the Haunted House As­so­ci­a­tion and the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Haunted At­trac­tions, the two trade groups that rep­re­sent the “hauntrepreneurs” who

op­er­ate the 2,000-plus “haunted at­trac­tions” found in the U.S. each Oc­to­ber.

Robert Thom­son, 34, a hu­man re­sources soft­ware con­sul­tant, is a haunt hob­by­ist who this year in­tro­duced haunt­ed­mid­south.com, a Web site that re­views the ma­jor haunted at­trac­tions in the Mem­phis area, from the Agri­cen­ter Corn Maze to Night­shade Manor Haunted House to the Haunt­ed­web of Hor­rors sites op­er­ated as a fundraiser for Youth Vil­lages, to name just a few.

Thom­son uses a “skull” rat­ing sys­tem to grade the at­trac­tions in eight cat­e­gories, such as “Spe­cial Ef­fects,” “Gore Fac­tor” (is the at­trac­tion suit­able for kids?) and “Value” (do cus­tomers get their money’s worth?).

For ex­am­ple, in his re­view of “Haunt­ed­web of Hor­rors — Tor­mented” at 700 N. Ger­man­town Pkwy., Thom­son gives the “Gore Fac­tor” three skulls, writ­ing that even the at­trac­tion’s theme — “an asy­lum run by a mad doc­tor who does ex­per­i­ments on the pa­tients, then casts the body parts out back in the swamp, only to have those parts col­lected by the in­bred can­ni­bal swamp - dwellers” — prom­ises “a pretty adult haunt.”

“Ev­ery sin­gle one of th­ese places are all about en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple,” said Thom­son, who prefers live haunted at­trac­tions to hor­ror movies. “Some are more ex­treme, and some are a lit­tle more fam­ily-friendly.

“My fa­vorite thing is not nec­es­sar­ily the scar­ing, it’s the vis­ual ef­fects. It’s al­most like a magic show, the il­lu­sions they pro­duce.”

Thom­son’s Web site is mo­ti­vated by his long­time love for haunted houses as en­ter­tain­ment. But even the or­ga­niz­ers of most area haunts are in it for en­joy­ment more than money. Like the song said, ghouls just want to have fun.

“Most haun­ters have other jobs,” said Kevin Gaiman, who part­ners with Jeff Hanover to op­er­ate the 5,000-square-foot Night­shade Manor at 1301 Heis­tan Place ( just east of Belle­vue, and a few blocks south of Cen­tral), the only ma­jor “haunt” still in the Mem­phis city lim­its. (It ben­e­fits the Mid-South Food Bank — ad­mis­sion is $12, or $10 with do­na­tion of two non­per­ish­able food items.)

“For us, this is a like a show, a the­ater pro­duc­tion,” said Gaiman, 48, who works for Hil­ton Corp. in his non-ghostly life. “We’re putting on a show, with the house lights, the stag­ing, the makeup, the cos­tumes, the ac­tors, ev­ery­thing.”

Gaiman said pre­par­ing each sea­son’s show is “a year­long project — I’m ob­sessed.” Af­ter the last Night­shade Manor tour on Hal­loween night, Gaiman and Hanover will be­gin mak­ing plans for 2010. They’ll likely pur­chase some spooky new ef­fects and an­i­ma­tron­ics at the 15th an­nual TransWorld Haunt & At­trac­tions trade show in March in St. Louis, the na­tion’s largest week­end gore store, where ven­dors mar­ket the lat­est wrin­kles (and wounds and scars) in scare tech­nol­ogy.

A ghoul­ish fam­ily awaits guests at the Night­shade Manor haunted at­trac­tion.

Vis­i­tors can learn a lit­tle anatomy dur­ing their tour of at­trac­tions at Night­shade Manor.

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