ARIN FROIDL | Reporter
What’s going on behind closed doors at haunted houses is not only scary, but a big business for the people responsible for designing these attractions.
The Darkness and Creepyworld haunted houses are staple aspects of the St. Louis Halloween scene. Founded in 1994, owner Larry Kirchner said The Darkness is an internationally renowned haunted house, attracting visitors from all over the world to see the cinematic-level special effects used in the complex. In 1999 after increased demand, Kirchner opened Creepyworld in Fenton.
Kirchner said The Darkness and Creepyworld are two of St. Louis’ most popular Halloween attractions because people love the adrenaline rush.
“People just like getting scared, for the same reason they like riding a roller coaster, skydiving or watching a horror movie,” he said. “It makes you feel alive.”
Kirchner said the effects in the houses prompt participants to “suspend reality.”
Each digital effect — 3-D illusions of ghosts and ghouls as well as anything specific to a certain room — can cost upwards of $40,000.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “People just like getting scared, for the same reason they like riding a roller coaster. … It makes you feel alive.”
-Larry Kirchner [/perfectpullquote]
Kirchner said every year the two locations go through renovations to update the various attractions, and rarely have two themes been repeated in 24 years of business. He said, “When clients visit, they need to see something they might only see at Disney.”
This year, the newest addition to the usual lineup of ghosts, ghouls and demon clowns at The Darkness is a pitch-black area, planted with actors to pop out, aptly named “The Dark Zone.” Besides the routine nine haunted houses, Creepy World has added the Quarantine World War Zombie attraction and the Trick R Treat Haunted Hayride this year.
Kirchner said that in order to break even, The Darkness and Creepyworld will have to gross $1.3 million this year. This means that Creepy World and The Darkness will have to collectively have over 52,000 visitors at its admission price of $25 a person.
Those who want a to be a part of the creepy action can attend ghoul school. Every summer, potential actors for The Darkness and Creepy World attend classes at The Darkness, in downtown St. Louis, to learn how to accurately play zombies. These actors are then scattered around over 15 haunted attractions, excluding the five escape rooms at The Darkness.
At Lindenwood’s Dark Carnival, the haunted house is spread through Cobbs and Irwin halls, and is one of the most popular attractions of the event. According to John Vanderpool, assistant director of Residential Life, last year more than 5,000 people made it through the residential halls-turned-murder houses.
Lindenwood’s first haunted house started in 2010 at Cobbs Hall. According to Bryan Stone, director of the Dark Carnival, the haunted houses are such a popular attraction because “The haunted houses now have a reputation and the event only being … one day a year really attracts students.”
Between 30 and 50 student volunteers inhabit each hall and are dressed to “kill” visitors from 7 to 11 p.m. The haunted house is fully constructed the day of the Dark Carnival and must be completely deconstructed by 1 a.m. the next morning. Otherwise, the residents of these dorms would be stuck sleeping with Halloween decorations for the rest of the semester.
According to Vanderpool, planning for the haunted house starts in August and continues up until the day of the carnival.
This year Vanderpool promised that the house will have “a lot of clowns” as a result of new remake “It,” arguably the most famous clown in cinema history. Vanderpool said the haunted house and Dark Carnival are so popular because “it is a pretty big shift in campus life for a night.”
Everything at the Dark Carnival is free, including the haunted house. Stone also promises a wide variety of events this year including live music, haunted hayrides and over 80 booths from businesses and student organizations.
While The Darkness and Creepyworld receive the biggest crowds during the Halloween season and the Dark Carnival is conveniently located, there are more options to choose from. You can book a Haunted History tour at the Lemp Mansion for $35 a person, a ghost tour at Main Street for $20 a person through St. Charles Ghost Tours, or go to Fright Fest at Six Flags St. Louis for $42 a person (not including certain haunted attractions).
No matter what you chose, there’s always something creepy to do in the St. Louis area.