Celebrating their 13th spooky year, Baton Rouge’s The 13th Gate remains at the top of the list of American haunted houses.
Fangoria magazine cited The 13th Gate’s “intricate detail and technology” when the horror magazine ranked the haunt No. 7 this year.
To stay scary, founder Dwayne Sanburn and his team constantly reinvent the downtown attraction, which keeps locals returning every fall around Halloween.
“You’re tapping the same market year after year, so every year you have to bring something new and innovative that the people haven’t seen before so they say, ‘I have to see this haunt again,’” said Rebekah McKendry, the director of marketing for Fangoria who created the list this year.
The 13th Gate leads thousands of visitors per year through 13 separate worlds. It has featured the dark, creepy streets where Jack the Ripper roamed, backwoods swamps and an exorcism scene.
What impressed McKendry was the craftsmanship used to create the scenes.
“You’re not looking at crappy Styrofoam walls and plywood set pieces,” she said. “They are actually building sets and going out of their way to make sure you are fully submerged in it.”
Sanburn said he is honored to appear on Fangoria’s list. The 13th Gate also placed second on HauntWorld’s online ranking.
“We’re just happy to be on any of them,” he said. “There are some great haunts on those.”
To create the ranking for Fangoria, McKendry visits four or five haunts a year. For those she cannot physically visit, she examines video tours and photographs and talks to fans. While she has never been to The 13th Gate, the video walk-through she watched along with interviews with Sanburn convinced her the house belonged among the best. McKendry plans to visit the Baton Rouge house in September 2015.
“The owner of the 13th Gate is definitely one of the most passionate,” she said. “He’s an amazing guy.”
Her favorite features included Necropolis 13, the New Orleans-style cemetery across the street from the main haunted house. Composed of 400 crypts and underground catacombs, it has “a voodoo storyline, a Louisiana storyline. It’s our version of ‘Walking Dead,’ a lot of zombies, a lot of undead out there.”
The above ground crypts and the swampy frights inside The 13th Gate impressed McKendry.
“I love that element, how it pulls from the local community and uses that to create the scares,” she said. “It makes it so much more personable for the people who are coming.”
Last year The 13th Gate staff polled visitors, asking what scared them the most. The No. 1 answer? Clowns, Sanburn said, so a clown-focused storyline now awaits those who dare to enter.
“We really amped it up this year, particularly the ending of the haunted house,” Sanburn said. “This year is scary.”