Screaming may allow the coronavirus to spread more easily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Can screaming be avoided at the Fright Trail in Lafayette, a haunted trail where demented clowns, pig men and voodoo priests will scare the bejeezus out of you?
“That’s a given,” said Deborah LeBlanc, owner of the 20-acre spooky walking trail. “They are going to scream. They’re going to be screaming through a mask, but they’ll be screaming.”
The CDC considers open-air haunted trails like Fright Trail to be “moderate risk” Halloween activities because they allow for socially-distanced scares, while indoor haunted houses are listed as a higher risk activity.
This year, many haunted houses are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s proclamation moving the state into Phase 3 called for many indoor amusements to remain closed, but it also allowed for haunted houses and other seasonal attractions to submit a plan to the Louisiana Office of the Fire Marshal for special permission to open.
Every year, LeBlanc and her husband, Richard Hanf, take special care to clear the trail and keep it safe for those looking for a scary excursion. Now they’re taking extra precautions to protect visitors from the coronavirus. All attendees will wear masks, of course, but workers will also check everyone’s temperatures before entering the trail, and all participants will wear gloves just in case they grab the ropes that mark the trail’s edge. Managers along the route will ensure visitors keep on their masks.
“We’ve done everything from the very first day we opened to protect our visitors,” LeBlanc said. “With COVID now as an added concern, we’re not going to drop our guard.”
LeBlanc and Hanf started the Fright Trail to support her charity, Literacy Inc., which strives to buy e-readers for public schools. Annual fundraisers didn’t bring in much money, she said.
“It was like spitting in the ocean to fill that need,” LeBlanc said.
Hanf had worked in the “haunt” business for decades before he met LeBlanc, and about nine years ago, he grabbed a machete and carved out a trail on LeBlanc’s 20-acre property. Each year, they recruit volunteers gifted at scaring folks and create new ways to frighten.
Walking through the woods, you never know what might pop out from behind a tree or when a chainsaw-wielding maniac may attack.
Horror on the ranch
For four years a California-based haunted house, Ranch of Horror, has run a smaller haunted trail in Hammond, but pandemic protocols in the Golden State have forced the family-owned business to close its California location for 2020 and focus on Louisiana.
The House of Dystopia, filled with humankind’s worst phobias, was typically a California-only attraction. This year, they moved it to Hammond, said Heather May, marketing coordinator and co-owner of Ranch of Horror.
“Anything that you’re afraid of, it’s probably in the haunted house,” May said.
At the Ranch of Horror, scare lovers can choose from the House of Dystopia, a haunted trail ride or the Zombie Escape, an escape room experience spread out over a small town composed of shipping containers transformed into a bank, grocery store and doctor’s office.
Participants have paintball guns to shoot zombies, who try to snatch the flag off of the humans trying to escape. There is a zombie cure somewhere in the small town.
“We drop you off in small town USA, and you have to find the cure before time runs out,” May said.
This year, the atmosphere at the Ranch of Horror could lack the carnival feel it had in the past, with customers waiting in line to enter, crowds of people excited and nervous to enter the haunted attractions.
“There’s not a lot of people in the midway the way there would be,” she said.
But the lack of lines will appeal to many. To keep lines short, the Ranch of Horror is instituting timed ticketing, where participants buy a ticket for a certain time instead of waiting in a line for their turn to enter the haunted house or trail. May thinks many attractions will continue that system after the pandemic.
“It might make it better for the future because you just won’t have to wait as long,” she said. “Now, it’s forcing all haunts to go to the timed ticketing system.”
Fears on the RISE
In the business of bedlam for 10 years, RISE in Tickfaw is opening only its haunted house this year (an asylum and haunted hayride are also on the premises), and it's scary enough.
"Wander through the once abandoned bed and breakfast of Henry Risewell, a wealthy entrepreneur, who in a desperate move to save his deceased wife and son, awakened dark souls of the once dead," RISE's website warns.
The facility, voted USA Today's ninth-best haunted attraction, is taking extra safety precautions during the pandemic as well. Added measures include a virtual queue line, online ticketing, required masks, sanitizing stations, social-distancing reminders and temperature checks.
In Baton Rouge, the 13th Gate haunted house has been up and running for a week and will remain open weekends and many Thursdays through Nov. 13. Visitors must wear masks and have their temperatures taken before entry.
"As we go in with smaller groups, it will be much more scary than normal," promised owner Dwayne Sanburn. "It's not for the faint of heart."
Those heading to the haunted house must buy tickets online ahead of time. When it's their turn to enter, they'll get a text to go inside.
Sanburn said the 13th Gate actors — about 70 of them — will incorporate their masks into their costumes and makeup. Each haunted chamber will have only one employee in it.
WHERE: 5305 Cameron St., Lafayette
COST: $25, available online or at the box office. Cash only at the box office
MORE INFO: (337) 849-2012 or frighttrail.com
Ranch of Horror
WHERE: 15587 W. Club Deluxe Road, Hammond
COST: House of Dystopia, $15; Zombie Escape, $25; Zombies of the Bayou Haunted Hayride, $15
MORE INFO: (985) 687-3899 or ranchofhorror.com
RISE Haunted House
WHERE: 10342 La. 442, Tickfaw
COST: $22, general admission; $40, fast pass
MORE INFO: (985) 277-9666 or risehauntedhouse.com
The 13th Gate
WHERE: 832 St. Philip St., Baton Rouge
COST: $30, general admission; $60, VIP
MORE INFO: (225) 389-1313 or 13thgate.com/
NOTE: COVID plan in place