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Scare Attractions: Halloween Goes Global


Related: Themed Entertainment: Horrorwood Scares ‘em Silly at Janfusun with Mirage Entertainment / Theme Parks: Ocean Park to Celebrate 10th Anniversary of Halloween Bash with all new, bigger and scarier than ever attractions, offering 10 times the fright, 10 times the fun / On Storytelling and the Theme Park Industry: Interview with J. Michael Roddy/ and for those of a nervous disposition: Attractions Industry – Happy Bubbling with Samsam Bubbleman  

Trick or Treating is as American as apple pie but the origins of Halloween lie in the Pagan festival of Samhain, the Celtic New Year *.  In ancient Ireland Samhain was celebrated with tribal assemblies, meetings, games, feasting and brawling.  The death of the old year and rebirth of the new was a time when the veils between the worlds were thought to be thin, the lack of clarity between the worlds allowing the supernatural to spill over into the everyday.  Christian tradition absorbed this old Pagan celebration and renamed it Hallows Eve, being the day before All Saints (Hallows) Day, and it was subsequently taken to the US by Irish immigrants.  Halloween has since developed into a multi-million dollar industry, there are over 1200 commercial scare attractions in the US, but the rest of the world has been slow to join the party.  Blooloop takes a look at the way scare attractions are going global in the UK and Asia.

Horror in Taiwan

The growth of the middle classes in Asia is expected to fuel a boom in demand for world class attractions: Asia is forecast to comprise 43% of worldwide consumption by 2030. Little wonder that scare attractions are set to be big business in Asia.  The new $3, 000, 000 “Horrorwood Haunted Theater” opened at Janfusun Fancy World, Taiwan, this June.    Produced by Mirage Entertainment, the attraction has been designed to resemble an abandoned theatre and draws inspiration fromhorrorwood horror show from mirage entertainments in taiwan both American and Asian horror movies. (See Themed Entertainment: Horrorwood Scares ‘em Silly at Janfusun with Mirage Entertainment. )

Brad Billington, C.E.O./Co-Founder Mirage Entertainment, Inc. describes the creative process for the attraction: “From the start, we wanted this haunted house to be a truly world class one and not just Asian copy of the US attraction.  The client listened to us and supported the idea of a world class multimedia haunted house but also adding the Asian elements.”  Technical elements include “multimedia and the latest technology available such as RFID facial capture and projection system, mechanical and pneumatic effects synchronized with the pre-recorded video and audio presentation, 4D simulation theater chairs, etc.”

Although this is a new experience for the park, visitor reaction’s have been positive, says Billington, “The audience loved the new experience and the park had their best summer attendance in 20 years.  The Haunted House opened from 10 a.m. to midnight in the summer and every day around 5, 000 visitors came“.

Mirage found project managing in Taiwan a positive experience: “ Taiwan as a whole is very much global region. American installers have very few problems working effectively and efficiently with the local partners. In our case, we also hired Hong Kong installers working on the set pieces so people speaking with 3 different languages are working within the same space and with respect to each other and in good spirit. The whole project was completed smoothly within 2 and half month from the contract signing to the grand opening”.

Billington sees huge potential for scare attractions in the region: “Asia is definitely the place to go for new attractions and specially for Haunted Attractions. In comparison with other permanent attractions such as rides, Haunted Houses cost much less but can generate same amount of attention and revenue. Mirage has done quite a few Haunted attraction in the theme parks in Asian and we are aiming to produce even larger scale and even mobile Haunted attractions in the near future”.

UK Frights

zombie women halloween
With the success of Harry Potter and the Twilight books and films, as well as the reality show Most Haunted, there has been a huge surge in interest in the supernatural and spooky in the UK across all age groups.  Walmart’s acquisition of Asda has brought their Halloween range of goods into UK supermarkets and now trick or treating is widespread across the UK.  Asda’s sales of pumpkins have rocketed from 20, 000 in 2004 to 1 million in 2008 and Halloween now represents the largest commercial holiday spend outside Christmas in the UK with 90% of households participating.

Jason Karl and Paul Howse, co founders of AtmosFEAR! (see, specialists in location based scare entertainment production, come from a theatre and TV background.  Howse, the Technical Producer, provides a wealth of technical experience and Karl, probably best known for his work in presenting TV ghost hunt, Most Haunted, is Creative Producer.  Having worked together in the US and seen the enormous potential for scare attractions, Paul and Jason decided to bring the genre back to the UK before someone else beat them to it.  Since then they have sown the seeds of a potential scare empire.

AtmosFEAR! is celebrating its 10th year and offers a full range of services for scare attractions, from consultancy to delivery of a complete scare attraction including branding, marketing, websites and video.  Over the last decade they have produced scare entertainment solutions for a variety of clients including Walt Disney Pictures and Merlin Entertainmenmale zombie with red hot pokerts.  AtmosFEAR! also featured in business guru Duncan Bannatyne’s tourist attraction TV makeover show Duncan Bannatyne's Seaside Rescue in which the task was to re-imagineer a tired and failing seaside waxworks museum in Cornwall into a brand new interactive tourist attraction which would appeal to a new audience while staying true to its core theme of Cornish myths and legends.  Buccaneer Bay and sister attraction The Sunken Village of the DAMNED use the location’s history together with a strong plot line and a team of actors to create a complementary pair of attractions to cater to all age groups.

In 2008 AtmosFEAR! became a scare attraction operator.  Attendance figures at Scare Kingdom Scream Park in the North West of England have grown spectacularly: in 2009 visitors were 400% up on 2008, and by mid October 2010 attendance was 250% up on the previous year. 

However, Karl is not content with consulting, producing and operating, and has set up a magazine (Scareworld Magazine), a record label (Sinister Symphonies) and even a TV station (Scare-E TV) to stretch the boundaries of the UK market.  In addition he is looking to create scare experiences for Christmas and Easter in order to extend the scaring season.

What makes a great scare attraction for the UK market?  Karl has some definite ideas: “US attractions tend to present unconnected scenes rather than a narrative, and make extensive use of animatronics”.  Most UK theme parks now have a Halloween themed event but there are pitfalls in trying to copy a US formula. “UK visitors have an expectation of a story with a narrative that has a beginning, middle and end, ” says Karl, “something that is beyond being just scary; cohesive storytelling that can be dissected”.

horror scarecrow with pumpkin head for halloweenAtmosFEAR! try to immerse the visitor on every level in an interactive theatrical experience.  Every sense is specifically targeted by using lighting, textures, scents and sounds to create the environment, overlaid with a carefully crafted narrative and great attention to the actors verbal delivery.  The overall effect is to make the visitor feel like they are in a film.

There is no magic formula for scaring says Karl.  AtmosFEAR! employ a psychologist to review their scare plans to make sure that they have included enough different styles of fright to catch everyone.  Karl believes that keeping the same tone in the experience, or repeating the same kind of scare dulls the effect and therefore it is more effective to keep the narrative varied: “we also include humour and try to make the experience like an emotional rollercoaster”.

So what does a seasoned veteran of the scare industry find frightening? Karl doesn't miss a beat: “spiders”.



*Source: Jane Alexander – author of The Mind Body Spirit Miscellany (Duncan Baird)


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