Her parents and grandparents started Kansas City’s first commercial haunted attraction in 1974 as a way to extend the use of props, costumes, and theatrical experience from the short summer season they ran at an outdoor theater in a small lake community a few hours away.
The concept caught on quickly, she said, and by the 1980s Kansas City had as many as 16 commercial haunted attractions. It was enough that the city began calling itself the haunted house capital of the world. Hauntrepreneurs came from around the United States to study them, then return home to set up similar attractions.
While Kansas City can no longer boast the largest number of haunts, Arnett-Bequeaith considers the city the “granddaddy, the beginning, of the entire industry.” Her family still owns the haunt it first created, Edge of Hell. At 45 years old this year, it is believed to be the nation’s oldest operating commercial haunted house.
Arnett-Bequeaith now runs the family business with her uncle, and their Full Moon Productions operates three haunts in century-old warehouses within the West Bottoms district, once the center of the city’s steamship and railroad trade.
I visited Kansas City last year to check out the scream scene for the first time. Coincidentally, I also was in Atlanta on Halloween and visited NETHERWORLD, another longtime haunt that is found near the top of many national lists of haunted attractions. As a newbie to these top-tier mega houses, I walked away impressed with the intricate costumes, realistic props (a few alive, even), animatronics, and range of special effects.
Arnett-Bequeaith has spent her career in the industry and often goes by the moniker Queen of Haunts. In honor of her forty-fifth season, she put together this list of 13 top haunts “where the scares are invented but the fun is for real.”
I’ve been to four of the haunts on her list, not so much because I’m especially well-traveled when it comes to haunted attractions but because objectivity had a blanket pulled over its eyes. All three of Full Moon Productions’ Kansas City-based haunts are on her list.
Here’s her list with descriptions added by me:
- Edge of Hell, Kansas City: You’ll get a full sensory experience inside this five-story warehouse. As you follow a path from the top (heaven) to the bottom (hell), you’ll start to sweat as the temperature gets warmer while you pass a lineup of phobias. One of the live “actors” is said to be the world’s largest snake in captivity: a 350-pound, 25-foot-2-inch reticulated python. Fly in to Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport.
- Cutting Edge, Dallas: In 2015, this site became the largest haunted attraction and longest walk-through haunted house in the Guinness Book of World Records. The tone is set by the zombie drum line playing outside before you enter the former meat-packing plant. You’ll see the old meat conveyor belt hoisting and carrying “bodies” throughout the plant, then take a trek that stretches over half a mile with evil clowns, vengeful brides, bloodthirsty rabbits, and others. The attraction is close to Fort Worth Meacham International Airport.
- Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, Philadelphia: This group of attractions on a farm outside Philadelphia is known for its high-tech special effects, digital soundtrack and lighting, and interactive actors. When you check into the motel, expect to see levitating spirits, floorboards that come alive, pictures that follow you, and custom animatronic props. There’s also a haunted hayride and a spooky trail, plus an entertainment area and added-fee activities like ax throwing and laser tag. Fly in to Brandywine Regional Airport.
- Beast, Kansas City: Climb through a four-story warehouse of special effects in various settings, from a Louisiana mansion and bayou swamp, Jack the Ripper’s foggy London, a medieval castle, and a forest filled with werewolves. Visitors can pay extra to jump out of a second-story window to exit or take the slide through the darkness. The Beast is near Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport.
- NETHERWORLD, Stone Mountain/Atlanta: This haunt’s creators have backgrounds in TV and film production. It shows in the detail of the makeup and wardrobe, one-of-a-kind creatures, fresh storylines, and use of technology to offer amazing illusions and effects inside the two themed haunted houses. Don’t miss the “House of Creeps” museum of monsters; movie props; or the carnival-esque midway with photo opps, performers, and concessions. There’s also laser tag and four escape games. NETHERWORLD is close to Dekalb-Peachtree Airport or Gwinnett County-Briscoe Field.
- Headless Horseman Hayride and Haunted Houses, Ulster Park, New York: Also known as H5, this attraction covers 45 acres of forested land in the Historic Haunted Hudson Valley area of upstate New York. There is a 1-mile-long hay ride, corn maze, eight haunted houses, a side show and other live performances, four eateries, and four gift shops. On-site escape rooms require a separate ticket. H5 is near Kingston-Ulster Airport.
- Macabre Cinema, Kansas City: This was my favorite of the Kansas City haunts because it was the least crowded and gave me a chance to really see the sets and the actors’ detailed costumes and makeup. You walk down the center aisle of a haunted 1930s cinema and through the screen, into four stories and at least 30 scenes from classic and contemporary horror movies. There are several real movie sets, including from Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Mummy, and Hellraiser. Fly in to Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport.
- Spookywoods, Greensboro/Archdale, North Carolina: This forested 60 acres in North Carolina’s Kersey Valley has become a multilevel haunted attraction over the past 35 years. This year adds the Sudden Death Express train to its mix of haunted houses, haunted trails, ax throwing, escape games, zip lining, and more. This haunt is close to Piedmont Triad International Airport.
- Dent Schoolhouse, Cincinnati, Ohio: The building is real—a public school that opened in 1894—and a true backstory of a killer janitor set the stage for a terrifying walk through a boiler room, the janitor’s workshop, and a holding cell where he kept students. If you’re interested in the paranormal activity here, come on a Wednesday for a ghost tour. Fly in to Cincinnati Municipal Airport Lunken Field.
- Erebus, Pontiac, Michigan: Now in its twentieth season, this four-story haunted house in downtown Pontiac was voted this year’s top haunted attraction in the country by USA Today readers. You’ll walk about a half-mile through the haunt, which features 250 scare actors and rooms including a New Orleans mausoleum and a creepy clown circus. Erebus is close to Oakland County International Airport.
- The Disturbance by Haunted Hotel, Mission Valley/San Diego: The highly rated Haunted Hotel has been “disturbed” this year—it’s been relocated to the suburb Mission Valley and changed to now feature a trio of terrifying attractions: the Haunted Hotel; Kill-billy Chaos; and 3-D Freak Fest, a blacklight experience. This attraction is close to Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport.
- 13th Floor, locations in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Houston; Jacksonville, Florida; Phoenix; and San Antonio: The 13th Floor Entertainment Group is a national haunted attraction brand known for high productions centered around exploring the mystery of the unlucky thirteenth floor. The venues change in each city, with the buildings adding their own creepy elements. There are anywhere from two to three haunted experiences, from a Stranger Things-inspired theme to evil clowns.
- 13th Gate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Crawling through a crematory oven, being lost in dark underground tunnels, standing on a rickety bridge overlooking a live snake-infested swamp—these are three of the 13 realms where your nightmares and worst fears are brought to life. This 40,000-square-foot attraction gets high marks for its realism. This haunt is close to Baton Rouge Metropolitan, Ryan Field.