San Antonio, TX
Halloween brings things that every horror fan loves in the form of candy, costumes, and that wonderful halmark of Halloween, the haunted attraction. Darkened hallways full of shrieking patrons and wall-to-wall ghouls are always enough to give all horror fans a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. It’s too bad that Halloween only comes once a year, and its passing is marked by the closing of spookhouses, right? Not anymore. San Antonio, Texas, is the proud home of a year-round haunted attraction that combines the best of old-school spookhouse know-how with modern technology, creating a feature that will scare the hell out of anyone who ventures inside. While some might think that a haunted attraction open year round would be difficult, not so says Davis Phillips, the General Manager of Phillips Entertainment, Inc.
“Ripley Entertainment created this concept in the late 90’s, the year-round haunted attraction. They put one in Gattlinburg, Tennessee in 1998, then another one in Myrtle Beach. We were the first franchised Haunted Adventure. We are a haunted attraction, but we approach it as a year-round business.” Says Phillips, “Operated and marketed in a walk-by tourist spot, it’ll work. If you put a year-round haunted attraction in Jimmy-Joe-Bob’s field that does well at Halloween, it’s not going to work year-round.” The philosophy seems to work, as it sits across the street from the famous Alamo, and customers begin lining up as soon as the doors open at 10 a.m.
As there are only three year-round haunted attractions in the country, Ripley’s Haunted Attraction staff strive to keep the screams coming. To do so, a multi-million dollar budget went into construction of the facility, with more than twenty actors taking shifts throughout the three-story structure. The attraction also has its own shop where prosthetics are made by San Antonio-based special effects company The Darkness .
Actors are auditioned and trained by Brant Bumpers, who is the star of the show as “Billy,” the only surviving heir to the casket company which is the setting of the haunted house. Bumpers, who has also appeared in feature films, commercials, and independent features, explained that, while many potentials show up with experience, they still need to learn how to act in a haunted attraction. Consistency, he says, is important, as actors must do many shows a day many times a week. They have to perform at a level of intensity that can frighten the guests and provide the right energy, but they also have to pace themselves and continue to perform at that level. The actors who work at Ripley’s Haunted Adventure run the gamut of experience, from none whatsoever to seasoned performers, high-school theater students and even one who is a trained circus performer. They typically design and apply their own makeup, a talent fostered by many of the actors who also professionally work horror makeup for films. And what do they think of their jobs?
“You can’t call in sick here,” says actor Lawrence through his zombie makeup. “I mean, I get paid to put on monster makeup and scare the hell out of people. Who else gets to do that?”
The ride begins with a rickety trip up three stories on what appears to be a rusted cargo lift. Once inside the main room, guests are introduced to Billy, who informs them of what they will be experiencing. After that, all bets are off. Guests follow the path through a body room, a mad doctor’s lair, a prison room, air jets, and all the other oldies-but-goodies that create a creepy show. But this is not a boring haunted attraction. In addition to the standard scares are innovations which, whether the guest sees them coming or not, is guaranteed to still jump out of their skin. The highlights of the attraction include a pitch-black room where voice come from everywhere and patrons’ imaginations work against them, and a “vertigo room,” which not a single person can walk through and keep upright.
“I don’t like picking on people or being a bully,” says Bumpers when asked who his favorite scare victims are. But he does admit to relishing the reactions of the “tough guys” who usually walk in sneering and walk out hiding behind their girlfriends. “I really like scaring the ones who really love it,” he adds. The other actors tend to agree, particularly about giving the goods to the tough guys.
Davis Phillips says that, while the target market for the attraction is the 14-36 year-old age groups, people of all ages come in. People as young as ten are accompanied by their septuagenarian grandparents on some occasions, and all have a positive reaction to the haunted house. He also says that one of the attraction’s biggest seasons is the week between Christmas and New Years. Phillips, who has been involved with attraction-type businesses since the age of eleven, is impressed with Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. “I have never seen an attraction iwht a higher satisfaction rate,” he says. “The refunds we give are because people are too scared to go through it, never because they say it was just poor.”
As someone who has been obsessively going to haunted attractions since he was six, I can honestly say that this is by far one of the best spookhouses I’ve had the pleasure of walking through. Even more thrilling to me was the cast was gracious and kind enough to allow me to be a part of the show for a few groups. Yes, I got to scream my butt off while being eaten by Lawrence the Zombie. The reactions of the groups were fantastic.
“We don’t break character,” said Bumpers. “Ever. We want everyone in the group to have the benefit of the best experience possible.”
To find out more about Ripley’s Haunted Adventure in San Antonio, visit their website at http://www.haunted-guinness-crockett.com.