haunted house library

Bookmark and Share

Home > Haunter's Lbrary > Haunt Scares, Designs & Effects > The Laws of Fear

The Laws of Fear
By Sean and Adam Murry


What is Fear?
People like to get scared. We really do not know the reason why, but the fact seems to be obvious. Scary movies, scary books, amusement park rides and Haunted Houses all exist because people like to get scared. If you are reading this, we assume that you want to help these people get what they want, and deserve. To give the customer a good scare, we must really understand the things that create fear and use them to our advantage.

Fear is a self-defense mechanism placed in our minds to protect us from potential harm. When we are born we have only two natural fears; the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears are learned through personal experience. For purposes of our Haunted Attraction discussion, FEAR stands for:


The list of things people are afraid of is (fortunately for us) as extensive as the number of people you ask. Fear of public speaking and rejection often top the list; others may include fear of death, fear of the dark (i.e. the unknown), spiders, rats, snakes, old people, wild animals, monsters, witches, fire, sharp objects, heights, tight spaces, clowns, getting lost, being alone, failure, illness, blood, and the list goes on and on. People are afraid of what they do not understand, or what they believe may cause them harm. When we are confronted by something that our subconscious mind believes will hurt us (real or imagined), it sends a trigger to the chemical center in our brain and creates a "fight or flight" response. Our job as Haunters is to put people in an environment full of things that will cause this response. To do this, we must build up the paranoia, anticipation, and overload the senses.

What are the Laws of Fear?
To be more precise, they are actually only theories and guidelines of fear, or maybe just good ideas to work with. Regardless, the following are a set of principles that we have found to help make the scare better.

Remove the Comfort Zone
Prey on Multiple Senses
Escalate the Tension
Distinguish Between Gory and Scary
Create Synergy Between Your Effects

For this article we will cover the details of Law #1: Remove the Comfort Zone.

Law #1: Remove the Comfort Zone
Feeling safe is bad. When creating a scare, there needs to be a feeling of insecurity that forces the victims into a state of vulnerability. We need to remove as much of their comfort zone as possible to take full advantage of their fears. We will address three areas related to comfort zones:

What is a comfort zone?
Using a 360º (panoramic) environment.
Minimize friends and protective barriers.

The most important aspect of making a person feel uncomfortable is invading their personal space, which people keep as an invisible circle around them. This space can generally be divided in three distances: Public, Personal, and Intimate, as shown in the diagram.

Public Distance: 12 to 4 feet
This is the zone where we recognize others. In the outside world strangers normally stay out of this circle if at all possible. This is more noticeable at places like parks, community events, and public forums. Unless your monster or effect gets into this zone, then there is no need for your victim to worry about them. This is most often ignored in the large warehouse-style Haunts, where they have so much space to fill that they allow themselves to be spread too thin.

Warning: Every time your victims can see more than 12 feet in any direction without the fear of something happening in that space, they have the opportunity to regain their composure and feel safe. Remember, Feeling SAFE is BAD!

Personal Distance- 4 feet to 18 inches
This is the distance another person will always be noticed, and the person being approached will always react with either acknowledgment or intentional ignoring. This is the space reserved for friends and family. It is the distance most surprises need to occur within if you want any reaction at all. Again, in the outside world a person will usually get verbal or nonverbal permission before entering this space. This is, of course, not required if your goal is to make your victim uncomfortable. This distance is important to use and can cause some level of discomfort if it is done properly.

Intimate Distance - Less than 18 inches
This is the space reserved for close friends and loved ones. People will not tolerate strangers in this space, especially in face-to-face contact; therefore they will want to take immediate steps to create some distance. If you have done your job right, they will not have anywhere to run. If they do, they will be confronted by a second effect in the close quarters.

Other factors that can affect these distances are things such as available space, indirect facing, muscle stiffness, posture, and the culture with which you are familiar. Elevators are one place in which people are required to stand within each others' personal space. Watch the body language people use; how they attempt to space themselves as far from the others as possible, avoid eye contact, and avoid facing anyone else.

If you were in a haunted castle and got stuck in the elevator (it's a modern haunted castle)

What would make you uncomfortable?
What would make you squirm?
What would make you hysterical?

Using a 360º environment
What is the main difference between being in a Haunted House and watching a movie about a Haunted House? When you watch a movie, you are watching a two-dimensional screen. You know that if you are going to be scared, it will be by something that is in front of you. In a Haunted House there is the advantage of using a 360º environment that doesn't allow the victims the luxury of letting down their guard in any direction.

To really keep your victims on their toes you need to be thinking about ways to create an expectation and anticipation from each direction. In front and back, to the left and right, above and below; close and far. Whether you are actually going to scare them or not, make them believe the scare will come from one direction and then bring it from another.

Minimize friends and protective barriers.
One of the last comforts people take with them into a Haunt is their friends. Something that we have always tried to do is send people through The Halloween Theatre one at a time. Why do we do this? To eliminate anyone that our victims can use to protect themselves.

If you can't put them in individually, what can you do to separate them inside? Can you reduce the group size or mix strangers together? What inevitably happens is the people will do whatever they can to wait for their friends. People want security! If you are in the scare business you need to take that security from them. (You big meany!) Another variation of security we need to eliminate is the tour guide. If this is the method you choose to run your Haunt, please reconsider. Think about the last time you were really scared walking through a dark forest, letting your mind get the best of you. If you had a tour guide taking you through, pointing out the scary trees and hooting owls, we don't think it would have quite the same effect. Our general guideline is: "If you have to tell someone it's scary, it probably isn't."

People really do like to get scared, or there would be no such thing as horror movies, books, amusement park rides or Haunted Attractions. As a Haunter, you are the one who creates the attractions that provide the fright that the public wants. Understanding what creates fear and using it to our advantage will make your attraction the best it can be!

Sean and Adam Murray are Halloween enthusiasts have been designing and operating their home Haunt, The Halloween Theatre, with their family for nearly 20 years. Their book So, You Want to Scare the Neighborhood? Halloween Theatre Effects and Illusions explains many of their best ideas and is a must-have for anyone who wants to improve their Haunted Attraction. They can be reached at utvid@yahoo.com. Be sure to visit their website at www.angelfire.com/ut/halloween.

Back to Top

Home > Haunter's Lbrary > Haunt Scares, Designs & Effects > The Laws of Fear

haunted house trade magazine