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Houstonians are starting to feel a chill in the air and those shivers down their spine—not only because temperatures are beginning to drop, but also because we are just around the corner from the most frightening day of the year. What better way to get your spook on than a haunted house?
Because this isn’t exactly a typical year (seriously, can you remember a time when real life was this frightening?), some of our favorite haunted attractions have changed up their traditional jump scares in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. We spoke with organizers at the Bayou City haunted house staple Phobia, which has been scaring the yeehaws out of Houstonians since 1996, as well the pandemic-proof take on the traditional haunted house, drive-thru attraction Haunted Drive, about doling out scares in this unusual year.
When it comes to delivering the frights, there’s no one-scare-fits all. Organizers at Phobia and Haunted Drive each have unique approaches to keeping their customers scared throughout the trip, based on the type of attraction they operate.
After almost 25 years, Phobia’s got its scaring down to something of a science. “Many of our actors have worked at Phobia for ten-plus years,” says Phobia creator Phylo Darke. “Their makeup, costuming, [and] character development are always original and unique.” Plus, Phobia’s even got its own prop company that has designed hundreds of custom animatronics over the years.
Meanwhile, for Haunted Drive, which has been operating since 2017, the method is a little simpler, but effective none the less. “Keeping the consistent scare throughout the haunt,” co-owner Gary Rymer explains. Guests face down 10 terrifying scenes, including a haunted carnival and killer gas station, filled with actors, animatronics, and sound effects for a truly suspenseful, scream-inducing spectacle. “We give them something to really be afraid of,” says Rymer. “The deadliest drive they'll ever take.”
Same Great Scares, Slightly New Look
For obvious reasons, Phobia is expecting a reduced number of customers this season, but organizers have still pulled out all the safety stops for those fans who want to brave the eight haunts packed into one terrifying location along San Houston Parkway. In addition to implementing no-touch hand sanitizers throughout the scream-park and requiring guests to wear face masks, Phobia has reduced group sizes and hired fewer actors to allow for social distancing. Staff are also constantly sanitizing surfaces, and all the haunts use exhaust fans instead of recycled air, notes Darke. So while screams may linger in the air, germs won’t. “As a last resort, we always have the startle,” he adds, “the attack from an unexpected location or direction.”
On the other hand, Splendora’s Haunted Drive spent months planning for an even larger turnout this season “due to the lack of activities because of Covid,” says Rymer. Having already found success as a socially distanced drive-thru attraction long before this year’s return of the drive-in, the focus was more on tailoring its existing experience for Covid-times. During previous seasons, drivers got their thrills riding down the approximately two-acre path with their windows unrolled.
This year, the trail has been extended by a whole acre, and actors will stay two arm-lengths (or about six feet away) from the vehicle, says Rymer. Patrons will also stay in their cars while waiting to enter the trail instead of standing in line. Being in your car in no way minimizes the scares, adds Rymer. After all, there’s no way to escape when you’re trapped inside your vehicle. “We've seen a customer put their car in park, jump in the back seat and hide in the floorboard.”
Want to get your scare on? Visit Phobia, Haunted Drive or any of these other Houston-area haunts (not an exhaustive list) for a frighteningly good time. Be sure to check an attraction’s Covid safety measures before heading out.
Phobia Haunted Houses
Thru Nov 13. From $15. 5250 S Sam Houston Pkwy E. More info and tickets at darke.com.
Thru Nov 1. $20 per vehicle. 24334 FM 2090 Rd, Splendora. More info at haunteddrive.com.
13th Floor Haunted House Houston
Thru Nov 13. From $.19.99. 7075 FM 1960 Rd W. More info and tickets at 13thfloorhouston.com.
Thru. Nov 1. From $10. 16030 E Freeway Service Rd, Channelview. More info and tickets at houstonterrordome.com.
Redrum Fear Park
Thru Nov 7. From $35. 1800 E Texas 90 Alt, Richmond. More info and tickets at redrumhaunt.com.
Thru Nov 14. From $35. 12872 Valley Vista Dr, Rosharon. More info and tickets at creepyhollowhaunt.com.
Purgatory Scream Park
Thru Nov 7 From $35. 1965 Northpark Dr, Kingwood. More info and tickets at purgatoryscreampark.com.