As Halloween approaches, it’s time for scary movies, pumpkin patches, haunted hayrides, and scare parks. Over the last decade, haunted attractions or scream parks have increased in popularity alongside escape rooms. Clearly, there’s money to be made in scares. To date, there’s even been at least one good documentary on the subject, Haunters: The Art of the Scare. And if you’re thinking that a haunt attraction would make for a great horror movie setting, the genre’s way ahead of you. Way ahead. The haunted park attraction is a popular ‘terrible place‘ in horror. From Tobe Hooper’s (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) 80s cult classic The Funhouse to recent fan favourite, Haunt, below are a list of some of the genre’s horror theme park movie options for a Halloween marathon.
The Fun House (1981)
Somewhere between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and ghost-directing Poltergeist, Tobe Hooper made this underrated slasher, The Funhouse. When four teens sneak into a dark ride afterhours they inadvertently witness a carnival barker and his deformed son murder a fortune teller. Slightly more on the eccentric side as compared to other slashers, The Funhouse mixes old-school Universal horror vibes with contemporary Hooper mixes in some good scares alongside a cool music score. Yes, the creature effects are very, very dated. But the downer feeling at the end adds a nice midnight movie vibe to the proceedings.
Dark Ride (2006)
Mixing Hooper’s The Funhouse with the classic horror trope of the ‘escaped lunatic‘, Dark Ride should have at least obtained guilty pleasure status. Some nudity, some good kills, and a creepy looking villain – the bar wasn’t set high. But with no shortage of generic slashers on various streaming platforms, Dark Ride is pretty unremarkable stuff. Dull characters, poor performances, a tired plot, and a forgettable villain all undo any goodwill achieved from the scant graphic death scenes. Ultimately, there’s very little to recommend here. Not only is Dark Ride never scary, it’s often boring. Horror fans would be better off visiting an actual haunted attractions for real scares.
The Houses October Built (2014)
Before someone made an actual documentary on the haunt subculture, The Houses October Built turned the idea into an actual movie. A group of friends travel the countryside filming a documentary about haunters, But when they run afoul some particularly dedicated employees things get … sort of scary. Though it tries hard The Houses October Built never quite fulfils the promise of its premise. On one hand, it’s certainly watchable. But it suffers from poor pacing, dumb and often unlikeable main characters, and the usual limitations of the found-footage format. Nonetheless, The Houses October Built is head and shoulders above its ill-advised sequel.
The Funhouse Massacre (2015)
On one hand, The Funhouse Massacre is an intentional B-movie that clearly aims for a campy tone. Like other movies on this list, it mixes the ‘escaped lunatics’ trope with a scare park locale, Here, six dangerous psychopaths escape from an asylum and replace the actors at a Halloween Funhouse. While it’s always nice to see Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, V) having fun in a movie, there’s not much else to recommend. Regardless of its intentions, The Funhouse Massacre is rarely funny and never scary – trying to be campy doesn’t cut it. And even it’s crazed psychopaths and kills don’t add up to much. Diehard horror fans may enjoy this as a late-night option, but otherwise most viewers can skip it.
Hell House LLC (2015)
Aside from Creep, Hell House LLC may be one of the best found-footage horror movies since Paranormal Activity. Mixing found-footage with documentary-style storytelling, Hell House LLC proves that the format doesn’t have to limit the capacity for weaving a compelling mythology. Lifelong friends unwittingly convert a cursed, rundown hotel into a scare attraction. Things end horribly. Simple premise, effective execution. Hell House LLC is also a strong case for the ‘less is more’ argument when it comes to scares. And there’s plenty of scares, too. Anyone with a healthy fear of clowns may have a hard time sitting through this one. Moreover the trim runtime means the the tension builds fast. Too bad the sequels disappointed.
Blood Fest (2018)
An intentional mix of horror and comedy, Owen Egerton’s Blood Fest is a well-intentioned, but flawed, homage. Its story of a traumatized young horror fan attending a convention at a massive horror theme park tries to be too many things. Part meta-horror, part horror-theme-park movie, Blood Fest has an affable tone and a few fun surprises and bits of gore. But it struggles to to distinguish homage and outright imitation. Almost nothing in this movie is original. As a result, Blood Fest can’t help but feel late to the party. Amicable only gets you so far. When a movie has you checking your watch and there’s still 30 minutes left, that’s a bad sign. Ultimately, Blood Fest is a harmless, if not forgettable, viewing experience.
Hell Fest (2018)
An underappreciated theatrical release from a few years ago, Hell Fest has a fun idea – what if a real masked psychopath snuck into a scare park and began killing patrons? Because it was a major studio release Hell Fest straddled the fence between its R-rating and that teen audience market. Still it gives slasher fans a couple of grisly deaths. People with a needle phobia should cover their faces. Another kill using the strongman’s hammer from the high striker’s game is also wicked. As for the killer, Hell Fest’s masked madman falls somewhere between creepy and bland. Tony Todd shows up for brief but fun five minute cameo. And Bex Taylor-Kraus owns Hell Fest with her performance. Essentially, this is a slickly produced B-film in the tradition of older slasher films and fun drive-in fare like House of Wax.
Creepy clowns, haunt freaks, and booby-trapped theme attractions – it’s been done in horror in the past. But that’s no reason to dismiss Haunt. Genuinely creepy and suspenseful, Haunt hooks you early and follows through with a better-than-expected bloody finale. Mixing a bit of coulrophobia with the kind of creepy masks popularized in The Purge series, Haunt boasts some convincing human ‘monsters’. Indie horror fans may be tempted to draw some comparisons to the ‘haunt’ freaks of The Houses October Built. Though the comparison wouldn’t be unfair, Beck and Woods wisely shroud their villains in mystery. And the results are consistently better making Haunt a strong candidate for future cult status.