The Halloween season is known for its scares, trick or treating, ghost stories and, of course, the billion dollar industry spawned from this American cultural holiday: haunted houses.
Luckily for me, 20 years ago, theater degree in hand, I was able to start my own haunted house production company, and I have been creating screams and laughs ever since. I have been producing haunted houses in the Chicagoland area and consulting for other attractions around the country. I am fortunate to work with my incredible team at Zombie Army Productions as we produce two of the top attractions in the nation, so ranked by the powers that be — HellsGate Haunted House and Statesville Haunted Prison. But when not working the halls in our houses, I love to travel the country and see the other incredible shows out there. It is almost impossible for me to rank these attractions. Each is incredible enough to claim No. 1, but I encourage you to get out there and experience the best scares and dark entertainment this country has to offer for yourselves.
13th Gate Baton Rouge, Louisiana
An absolute masterpiece in scenic design and worldbuilding. The designs take you into worlds that seem too big, too real, to possibly be in a haunted house. From live snake pits in their caves to a submarine docked in the deep underground waters, I travel their halls less like a customer, more a terrified explorer of a new world. Every time I see this show I am left in a true state of awe!
Favorite Part: Complete immersion into a new world…
House of Torment Austin, Texas
Creative and terrifying, Torment is a continual thrill throughout. The set design is fantastic, the scare design is on point, and the actors are some of the best in the entire Southwest.
Favorite Part: The incredible front of house performers!
Dark Hour Plano, Texas
Open all year long, the creative powerhouse behind this show is constantly reinventing the production. With a show for every season, this attraction keeps giving you several reasons to come back.
Favorite Part: No one does werewolves better!
Headless Horseman Ulster Park, New York
Truly the greatest hayride and haunted house combination in the country. For decades, this team has been a leader in hayride production. Blending magic acts with shock acts and tying it all together on a lovely property that celebrates all things fall and Halloween.
Favorite Part: The actual live horse and headless actor galloping the property.
Erebus Pontiac, Michigan
This beast of a haunted house is a multilevel building packed with some of the most creative animatronics and room designs. The designers are constantly building elements of this incredible attraction from scrap. I know that every time I visit, I will see dozens of things that I have never seen before.
Favorite Part: Being buried alive!
The Darkness St. Louis, Missouri
This multilevel attraction is packed to the gills with every prop and animatronic ever made! The Darkness will overwhelm you with all of its detail and dedication to incredible scenic design. Truly a great time!
Favorite Part: Their indoor line queue is like walking into another world. You certainly never feel like you are waiting.
Netherworld Stone Mountain, Georgia
The show that has it all. From its wildly creative scenic design to its incredible acting staff, Netherworld is in a league of its own. The creative geniuses of this attraction are constantly innovating and advancing what it means to be a haunted house. Whether building giant original animatronics, creating an immersive world of pure imagination, or fielding one of the best haunt actor teams in the country, I can always count on being thrilled and inspired by this monster of an attraction.
Favorite Part: It is a tie between their flying actors and their original iconic monster creations. I LOVE this place!
Dent Schoolhouse Cincinnati, Ohio
Not all haunted houses follow a theme/concept, but if they ever wanted to learn how to do it well, Dent Schoolhouse can teach us all what a perfectly executed theme looks like. Developed inside an actual 100-year-old schoolhouse, Dent follows to perfection its story and theming of the murderous janitor in a school that fallen into darkness. Their ability to create a world that is familiar and then turn it against their guests leads to constant scares and thrills.
Favorite Part: Walking down the dark stairs into the schoolhouse basement! When the theming is so consistent, we all know the janitor is hiding down there.
Haunted Overload Lee, New Hampshire
There is no other outdoor event in the country that can hold a candle to the artistry and dark worldbuilding that the folks at Overload have created. I was in a state of awe for my entire walk through this haunted, yet magically beautiful trail. Towering structures, haunted trees, weirdos in the woods, and an artistry that is truly unique to the talented builders of this attraction.
Favorite Part: The giant haunted trees we all get to walk through.
Haunted Hoochie Pataskala, Ohio
If you are looking for something a bit more extreme and aggressive, Hoochie has you covered. This ultra aggressive attraction is built to shock you, offend you, insult you, and toss you around through its oppressive show. It may not be for everyone, but I had a blast every time I went, even when I was being dragged around by a 300-pound clown. The actors are living on the line as they make you belly laugh, gasp for air, or shock you into disbelief.
Favorite Part: It is so over the line that it doesn’t even feel legal.