At 14,000 square feet and 30,000 square feet, the Mortuary Haunted Mansion and House of Shock are two of the biggest haunted houses in the Greater New Orleans area.
While these attractions are as different as they can be (while still retaining similar gory aesthetics), their owners have a few things in common. All possess the niche technological skills that make large-scale, interactive installations feasible; they had the desire to build something unique; and they all love a good scare.
A passion for technology
“I have a passion for this type of themed technology,” said Jeff Borne, owner of the Mortuary Haunted Mansion. “We’d been doing projects for other theme parks, and I wanted to do something for ourselves, that we could create from the ground up.”
Borne’s audiovisual company specializes in themed design build projects, including “dark rides” (“an attraction in an enclosed space where you control the whole environment,” Borne said) at amusement parks. The Halloween experience he created for Jazzland/Six Flags New Orleans in 2000, “Psycho Swamp,” attracted 30,000 people over six nights. Last year, Voodoo Music + Arts Experience invited him to create a haunted environment on the festival grounds. This year, it returns with new sets and attractions.
Years ago, Borne was on the hunt for a suitable haunted house location. In 2007, the opportunity to buy a decaying neoclassical 19th-century mansion presented itself.
“I bought it at a great price, spent a couple million renovating it and built some of the infrastructure and technology it takes to create theme park attractions,” he said.
Shrouded in cobwebs and mood lighting, the Mortuary Haunted Mansion features multiple floors of gory tableaus, including a torture room, serial killer escape room and an underground crypt. Thirty professional actors provide the scares during the Halloween season. According to multiple paranormal investigation teams, actual ghosts spook visitors throughout the year. With a cemetery for a backyard and its original embalming room preserved downstairs, the Mortuary Haunted Mansion is something of a ghost metropolis — and that angle serves it well.
“Our theme is we are a haunted house in a real haunted house,” said marketing director Ben Hulin.
“Surrounded by graveyards,” added Paul Adams, public relations manager for the Blood Center, which partners with the Mortuary each year for blood drives.
“And we will scare the hell out of you,” Borne said.
'I like the reaction'
Like Borne, the owners of House of Shock, in Elmwood, get a kick out of scaring people.
“I love the reactions,” co-owner Ross Karpelman said. “When I make a little kid scream, and I see the fear when we lock eyes, I know I’m going to be in that kid’s head for the rest of his life.”
Musicians Karpelman, Phil Anselmo, Jay Gracianette, Steven Joseph and their friends started House of Shock on a lark in 1993.
“What were the other options?” Karpelman said. “Get dressed up in a costume, go to a bar and get drunk, which we did every other night of the week? So we went into the backyard and built a haunted house.”
From its humble plastic sheet and two-by-four origins, House of Shock has morphed into a high-tech behemoth: a sprawling Jefferson complex that includes two stages, pyrotechnics, bars, food vendors, merchandise and the haunted house itself, housed by facaded warehouses and 18-wheeler cargo containers. Visitors can grab a drink and listen to the bands even if they don’t buy a ticket for the haunted house — though the suspension artists (people hanging from flesh-piercing meat hooks) have been known to overwhelm a customer or two.
Heavy metal, pyrotechnics
“We’ve had people pass out in line watching the freak shows,” Gracianette said. “We do have a paramedic and a medical room set up just for that.”
The co-owners work in the heavy metal music industry and leverage their professional knowledge and connections to create a festival-like experience. Joseph runs pyrotechnics at House of Shock when he’s not setting things on fire for AC/DC, Guns N Roses, KISS, The Rolling Stones and Motley Crüe, among other touring clients.
“I’ve been doing pyrotechnics all my life but legally for the last 20 years,” Joseph said. “We started with simple pyrotechnics — a puff of smoke, that type of stuff — and developed into the big show we have today.”
Levi Clark, an actor who’s been with the House of Shock for 24 years, gets “blown up nightly.” Like the other 300 actors and the “room captains” who conceptualize and design the sets (similarly to how a Carnival parade runs), Clark works on a volunteer basis.
“I love the challenge of it,” Clark said. “It’s a whole bunch of fun, hanging with buddies, laughing at gags, and when I get a good reaction from a group of people, that’s the greatest feeling of all.”
Bernie Baxter's Traveling Sideshow
44 Vivian Court, New Orleans
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 27- 28 and Oct. 31
Chamber of Horrors
Colonial Shopping Center, 7335 Jefferson Highway, Harahan
When: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 20-21, Oct. 27-31
Price: Tickets are $18 and re-entry is $5
House of Shock
319 Butterworth St., Jefferson
When: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 20-22, Oct. 26-28, Oct. 29-31
Lafitte Fire Department House of Horror
2385 Jean Lafitte Blvd.
When: Oct. 20-21, Oct. 27-28
RISE Haunted House
10342 LA. 442, Tickfaw
When: 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Oct. 19-21, Oct. 26-29, Oct. 31, Nov. 3-4
Price: $20 for paintball, $20 for the haunted house, $15 for the asylum or $50 for all attractions.
The Mortuary Haunted Mansion
4800 Canal St., New Orleans
When: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 19-22, Oct. 25-31 and Nov. 3-4
Price: $30; free if you donate blood on-site