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Increasing the Scare Factor of a Haunted Hayride
by Ryan Pluta

Scaring people on a Haunted Hayride is not as easy as it sounds. Customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal, it is what makes us successful, and to satisfy today's teens, you have to find creative ways to scare them. We have all experienced the classic haunted hayride. A tractor pulling a wagon full of patrons sitting on somewhat smashed hay bails through the woods, driving by scenes in which a monster jumps out and rushes the wagon from some distance away. The monster runs frantically after the moving tractor, banging on the side of the wagon screaming and open for potential ridicule from patrons. This is general family entertainment, but no big scares. However, there are actually some simple and cost-effective ways to produce hayrides that can help make your haunted hayride a crowd favorite. To a certain extent, this strategy goes against many of the principles that classic haunted hayrides encompass. It revolves around removing all scenes from the hayride trail and using the patron's own inner fears to help create the atmosphere. Using lighting, fog and the patron's imagination, you can create a terrifying environment without costly props and scenes. Of course, timing and proper preparation are essential, as is the use of darkness to force the patron to use their senses more often, like in a walkthrough haunted house.

Today, the public demands more bang for the buck. They want you to scare them so bad that they wet themselves. That being said, there are numerous obstacles faced when attempting to create actual scares on a haunted hayride that you do not find in a walkthrough Haunted Attraction. For example, many hayride wagons have safety walls that enclose the wagon. These walls give the patrons a sense of protection, like a young child hiding from the monsters under his or her bed sheets. There is also safety in numbers. Ever walk down a dark alley alone? Frightening. Now walk down the same alley with a group of 20 or 30 people: not nearly as effective. Because of the size of the wagon and the needed clearance, you do not have the instantaneous, in your face scares that you have in the narrow corridors of a walkthrough. As the wagon drives past a scene, the patrons know something is going to happen, and it generally happens far away. Even if you know something is coming in a walkthrough, the scare is so close it still works fantastically.

In an attempt to break the classic mold of the hayride, we can capitalize on the patron's imagination to help increase the scare factor. Through the use of darkness, fog and lighting, with a mix of actors, it is possible to increase the intensity of the experience and, dare I say, create some actual scares.

Rather than relying on the outdoor elements like trees and foliage to act as cover along the hayride trail, increase the intimacy of the experience by building structures and blinds to hide actors and props until the last second. Drive the tractor and wagon though dark barns or pavilions with the sides closed off and a means to close the doors. Keep in mind, the wagon does not stop, the doors are shut after the tractor and wagon is completely inside. It is important for efficiency that the wagons never stop unless necessary for a few seconds so an actor can safely enter or exit the wagon from the rear. Plus, it is important that the wagons are timed in such a manner that they never cross paths. This will help create the eerie atmosphere so easily produced in the houses. Shut the doors so that the tractor is completely surrounded by darkness. Obviously, keep enough light in front of the tractor for safety reasons.

Use lighting inside the barns as the scene. Choose lighting that you would typically find in a nightclub and use fog to accentuate the light, making a vortex or other interesting effects. Mix up the light strategies and types, strobes, colored beams, etc. Usually you would have the lights in the center of the drive path on the ceiling and only turn them on as the trailer passes underneath - one by one. This keeps the wagon lit, but the area surrounding the wagon dark. One light goes off, and then the other goes on at the appropriate time, keeping the crowd in eerie darkness. Scares can be manufactured by capitalizing on the audience's imagination of what monsters might be out there. They hear them and sense them, but cannot always see them. The goal is to create a Blair Witch type feel, with the riders' imaginations in full gear.

Now this does not imply that you do not need actors to create the experience. They are an integral part of the equation. They ARE out there. They should be making noise with several loud objects, screaming, moaning and pleading for help. The patron can only see some of the actors as the tractor drives away, but the darkness cloaks their exact identity as they crawl after the tractor pleading for help. This strategy, used in conjunction with the traditional drive through the woods and the in-your-face chainsaw monsters who are safely able to enter the wagon (during the brief seconds when the wagon stops to allow the actor access to the permanent stairs on the rear of the wagon.) and find the biggest chickens will help add variety, scares and overall crowd enjoyment to your hayride experience.

It is important to also have a few monsters that are able to interact with the patrons on the wagon. It's a good idea to have a character on each wagon that serves as tour guide. This character will be able to ensure that patrons are acting in a safe and friendly manner and can also help set up the mood for the ride. Many patrons will get enjoyment by watching other patrons get frightened. While our main goal is to create scares, our ultimate goal is Customer Satisfaction. In certain pre-planned spots during the hayride, it is important to stop the wagon for a few seconds to allow a few creatures with chainsaws to enter the ride. There are always a few patrons that are completely terrified. This gives everyone on the ride a great show and also keeps the level of action at its peak. Be sure to train the actors to enter and exit the wagon only when the tractor has stopped to ensure their safety.

With the Halloween season rapidly approaching, Haunters are looking for unique ways to improve their attractions and begging for ways to offer new scares. You are now armed with the ammunition to inject some intensity into your new or existing haunted hayride. By removing the scenes and taking away any premonition of when something will be coming, you can now begin to explore this exciting strategy for using the patrons' terrifying imagination. Just remember that timing is very important, both with the lighting sequences and the driving schedule of the multiple wagons. The scares and the atmosphere created will depend on your effective use of darkness and then breaking it up with some unique fog and lighting sequences that will hide your actors and entertain your patrons with a visually spectacular display. With this information and sticking to the belief that people are afraid of the unknown, you can now turn your biggest critics into your best allies - your patrons' expectations and imagination.


Ryan Pluta is owner of The Carnival of Horrors, a multi-element event in Cleveland, OH, now in its 5th season. His company Haunted Crypt Productions has been producing Haunted Attractions in Northeast Ohio for the past 13 years. He can be reached at  hauntedcryptproductions@yahoo.com

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