Halloween is a $7 billion industry. With that much money involved in the world of scares and dressing up, it should come as no surprise that the industries associated with the holiday have their own yearly conventions where people come together to swap ideas and merchandise.
This year HAuNTcon (The Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Convention) and The Halloween and Party Expo combined forces, holding both conventions under the roof of the George R. Brown convention center. Imagine a Spirit Halloween Store the size of a mall and on steroids and you'll have a pretty good idea of what it was like inside.
Although I've never run a haunted house or had the chance to spend my yearly salary on costumes and novelties, I still found spending time at both conventions to be quite the learning experience. I may not be able to build a haunted attraction of my own, but the peek behind the curtain gave me some insight in to Halloweens to come.
5. Someone specializes in something, no matter how big or small.
A haunted attraction is more than just people in scary outfits jumping out of the dark. There are a lot of pieces that add to the experience and each one of those pieces has someone that specializes in it. There are companies that focus on lighting. Others focus on props and costumes. There are techniques to building a great fake tombstone or a suitably dirty wall. The folks at When Hinges Creek focus on making doorknobs and other decorative pieces because depending on your theme sometimes you need 20 doorknobs that all look the same. You may not "notice" these details, but it's the little things that add to the overall experience.
4. Three costumes you'll probably run in to this Halloween.
Judging by what I saw on the floor of the Halloween and Party Expo, the three big franchises that should have a real good Halloween are Doctor Who, Orange is the New Black, and Duck Dynasty. If your goal during the Halloween season is to avoid that awkward moment where you show up at a party in the same costume as someone else, now you know what to avoid. This story continues on the next page.
3. There are dozens of variations on anything vaguely popular.
Consider the archetypal costumes, the outfits that have been around for decades: skeletons, demons, werewolves, so on and so forth. When you go to an expo where costumes are one of the centerpieces, you don't just see all of those costumes, you see dozens of variations of them. Sometimes it feels like every company has its own version of the skull, from the basics ready to get mass produced by the thousands to handcrafted bits that are works of art.
2. The haunted attraction business is like every business, just with more fake blood.
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October may be the big month for the haunted attractions industry, but running a haunted house is a year round commitment. It's a business, which explains why the industry has all the outlets we associate with regular, less bloody industries. They have their own official association (Haunted Attraction Association), there are wholesale merchants, and there's even multiple podcasts dedicated to the industry. Sure there's blood, but there's also sound business at work. Plus, everyone I talked to was really nice, even if they didn't always warn me when something was about to jump out and scare the crap out of me.
The most exciting thing I saw in my time at the conventions was how companies are mashing together traditional scares with new technology. There are some fascinating ideas out there that involve mixing prerecorded video with mechanical effects to make it looks like paintings are possessed or that zombies are trying to break in to a room. This kind of thinking has made it all the way down to the personal level, via the folks at Digital Dudz, who create outfits that combine with your mobile device to make simple, effectively creepy costumes possible. As technology gets better and, more importantly, cheaper, it'll be interesting to see how the face of horror changes, but things look to be off to an already strong start.