Halloween haunts in Metro Detroit ready for spooky season
The pandemic may have scared a lot of seasonal traditions off the calendar, but the thrill of walking (or running) through a terror-filled, dark-as-night haunted house endures this fall.
But like everything else these days, traditional haunted houses and attractions are adhering to new rules because of COVID-19 concerns. You can still scream when you encounter lurching zombies, but your scream will be muffled: you’ll be wearing a face mask.
Expect some changes inside and outside haunted attractions. You’ll wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Some venues will check your temperature before you are allowed to enter for thrills and chills. Parties are being limited to six people; larger parties will be separated. You’ll enter with just the people in your group.
“For the most part, the experience will mostly be the same,” says Ed Terebus, who, along with his brother, Jim, created Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, one of the most popular Halloween venues in Metro Detroit. “More of the changes have been on our end, adding hand sanitizer stations, intensive cleaning, and things like that. Besides wearing masks, we’re asking everyone to keep their hands to themselves. There really will be nothing to touch.”
Erebus, which opened last weekend and is marking its 20th anniversary this fall, has taken other precautions, including adding enclosed Plexiglas at the ticket counter, removing certain displays and replacing them with animated and automated scares to maintain social distancing requirements. Distancing markers and sanitation stations have been placed throughout the four-story attraction.
Erebus also offers a less spooky adventure, Erebus Escape, a "premium escape room facility" that offers a variety of themes, including "Eye of Horus," and "Dragon's Curse,” as well as a family-friendly fantasy zone for kids ages 5 and older with adult supervision.
“Haunted houses can open just as safely as Walmart stores,” says Larry Kirchner, president of Halloween Productions and the owner-operator of the industry site Hauntworld.com. “They’re making people wear masks too. People are being smart about hygiene because of the COVID issue. If you have a lot of people using hand sanitizers, keeping their hands in their pockets, not touching anything … what is the problem with going through a haunted house?”
Haunted attractions across the country are taking measures beyond masks and social distancing. Many have removed curtains or barriers between scary scenes (fewer touch points), and have restricted actors to staged scenes; they are no longer roaming hallways. They’ve intensified cleaning. Expect multiple hand-washing and sanitizing stations. Some are providing masks for customers who show up without them.
Some of your favorite, lesser-known haunted attractions may be closed this fall. Those most likely to be open are haunted attractions in permanent structures, such as Erebus in Pontiac and Hush Haunted Attraction in Westland. Without knowing how conditions would be in the fall, operators of haunted venues in temporary locations were inclined not to proceed with opening because of the huge financial and staffing commitments, Kirchner says.
“There were so many unknowns,” says Kirchner, who operates The Darkness in St. Louis, Missouri, considered one of the country’s top haunted houses. “Those operators couldn’t just walk in and turn a switch on. It would have been a double whammy to spend all the money and set up and then have to take it down because they couldn’t open.”
Hush Haunted Attraction in Westland opens this weekend and is offering customers virtual queues. You’ll check in in person and then wait in your car. You’ll be texted when it’s your turn to get in a short line to enter the 40,000-square-foot venue, which includes three attractions. The former queue line has been transformed into an abandoned ghost town called Hush Falls.
“You’re not going to be waiting in line next to other people very long,” says Nathan Polanco, an agent for Hush Haunted Attraction, which opened in 2013. “Your time in line is going to be shortened significantly.”
Additionally, Hush Haunted has rearranged the scare setups so they’re farther away from patrons, ensuring social distancing, and has placed signage, hand-washing and hand sanitizers throughout the property.
“I think people need constant reminders,” Polanco says.
Behind the scenes, attractions have also reduced the number of actors in productions, requiring them to wear masks and practice social distancing. Actors will apply makeup at home or have it applied by airbrush on site to minimize contact with other actors.
Among the new Metro Detroit attractions is “In Search of Halloween,” a series of immersive room experiences in a 7,200-square-foot warehouse in the Iron Ridge District of Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge. The venue also has an adjacent 5,500-square-foot breezeway for ample distanced seating, ticketing staging, and select food vendors.
Using projection mapping, lighting displays and sculpture installations, the narrative builds on the uncertainties of 2020 and raises the question: Will we see Halloween this October? Besides adhering to a host of COVID safety measures, the organizers also will pace attendance with a queued ticketing system limiting the number of guests each hour.
Getting into a haunted house might take a little longer this Halloween, but promoters say the experience will be no less frightful and as entertaining as ever.
“People love getting scared,” Kirchner says. “The difference between a horror movie and a haunted house is that when you go into a local haunted house, you’re the scream queen, you are the one being stalked. Just like Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘Halloween,’ you’re being the one chased around by a mad maniac …
Well, with social distancing you might not be chased far this Halloween but …
“At the end of the day, which is scarier? Watching Michael Myers chase Jamie Lee Curtis or being spooked in a haunted attraction,” he asks. “A haunted house is a much scarier form of entertainment than any movie could be, with maybe the exception of ‘The Exorcist.”
Open Haunted Houses
Erebus Haunted Attraction. Thurs.-Sun., select dates through Nov. 7. Tickets start at $20. 18 S. Perry St., Pontiac. (248) 332-7844. Hauntedpontiac.com.
Erebus Escape, Thurs.-Sat., and will stay open through 2021. Tickets, $28, 34 Oakland Ave., Pontiac. (248) 791-7160. Erebusescape.com
Ghostly Grove Haunted Forest Attraction. Fri. and Sat., Oct. 16-18, Oct. 23-25, Oct. 30-31. $18. 10055 Dexter-Pinckney Road, Pinckney. (810) 923-7956. Ghostlygrove.com.
Halloween Ghosts and Goodies Drive-Thru, Sat.-Sun., various days in October. $20 per vehicle. Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad, 6140 Bray Road, Flint. (800) 648-7275. geneseecountyparks.org/crossroads-village/.
Hush Haunted Attraction. Fri-Sun., Oct. 9-11, Oct. 15-18, Oct. 21-Nov. 1, Nov. 6-7. $19.99-28.99; other ticket options. 37550 Cherry Hill Road, Westland. (734) 502-6026. Hushhauntedattractions.com.
In Search of Halloween. Daily Oct. 8-Nov. $20; advance tickets online at facebook.com/isohalloween or isohalloween.com.
Rotten Manor Haunted Attraction. Thurs.-Sun., Oct. 8-11, Oct. 15-18. Oct. 22-25, Oct. 29-31. $26 or $40 combo; 13245 Dixie Highway, Holly. (248) 390-4195. Rottenmanor.com.
Wiard’s Orchards Night Terrors. Fri.-Sun., weekend through October. $18 and up. 5565 Merrill Road, Ypsilanti. (734) 390-9212. Wizards.com.