A good scare doesn’t come easily these days. With horror films such as "Paranormal Activity" and the "Saw" series racking up popularity over the years, our expectations and tolerance for fright is much higher than it used to be.
"People have become more desensitized to horror, so now when they visit haunted houses they anticipate something bigger and better than what they experienced there in the past," said Steve Kopelman, a haunted house expert who runs the website HauntedHouse.com. "Beyond just better props and costumes, haunts are investing in high-tech lighting and sound systems, as well as other state-of-the-art technology."
Here are five high-tech haunted houses that are bringing the art of horror to a whole new level.
The House of Torment; Austin, Texas
The House of Torment in Austin is all about big-budget creatures and Hollywood-style specialty effects. Instead of effects activated by sensors typical of most haunted houses, the House of Torment uses infrared video cameras to monitor where people are in the house. The cameras are wired back to a control room, where several people sit and determine when to activate certain scare tactics. This ensures that everything goes off at the right time and coincides with what is happening in a scene with the haunted house's actors.
In the past, the House of Torment experimented with zip lining, which allowed actors to fly overhead to scare guests via an inclined pulley system. However, one of the most innovative recent efforts offered at the establishment is its Haunted 4-D Experience, where guests sit in high-tech chairs that create motion, water and air effects while a 3-D movie plays.
The Darkness; St. Louis
Walking inside The Darkness' 100-year-old, two-story warehouse in downtown St. Louis is like walking onto the set of a movie. With incredible sets that feature waterfalls and traps and designs that include ancient temples and even a house that rotates, The Darkness pulls out the stops to scare its visitors. In fact, it’s so invested in providing high-tech fright that it recently built a 3-D walk-through experience that cost a whopping $1 million. After putting on 3-D glasses, guests walk through the 17,000-square-foot Terror Visions wing, where they are treated to an intense visual experience that features crazed clown actors.
The Darkness also features a Monster Museum with props from Hollywood movies, including "Saw" and Disney's "Haunted Mansion."
The 13th Gate; Baton Rouge, La.
Louisiana is considered by many haunt enthusiasts to have some of the scariest haunted houses in the country, and the 13th Gate in Baton Rouge is considered to be the state’s most screamworthy. The 13th Gate embraces high-tech effects from state-of-the art animatronics – including an 18-foot monster – to placing guests on an old service elevator that plummets 13 stories to the ground.
Bates Motel; Philadelphia
Nestled deep within a 200-year-old forest in Philadelphia is The Bates Motel, a name based on the classic Alfred Hitchcock film "Psycho."
The Bates Motel – named by Hauntworld magazine as the scariest horror attraction in the nation – includes big pyrotechnics, 12 fog machines and animatronics run by computerized controls in a back room.
Dent School House; Cincinnati, Ohio
The Dent School House in Cincinnati – set in a former schoolhouse – is based around a true story that a former janitor kidnapped children whose bodies were later found in the basement in the 1950s. The haunted house is primed to send guests home with nightmares.
When walking through the school, visitors set off infrared sensors that trigger various events, including air bags in the Claustrophobia room. The Dent School also takes it further by adding shock value to walls. If guests touch the wall on their way out, they will be zapped with low-voltage electricity.
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