One of their favorite houses, though, starred a monster who did not don a rubber mask. The Bride of Frankenstein herself was wearing what appeared to be a white cloth face mask, meant to blend in with her sickly reanimated skin.
The mask was noticeable in the footage they shared on their YouTube channel. And yet, when the Bride lunged at them, Summer and Kaleigh recoiled in terror. Both later recounted the “Bride of Frankenstein Lives” maze as one of the most immersive in the entire theme park.
“The Bride of Frankenstein Lives” maze at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood won over fans even though its primary villain was masked.
Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images
“It should be noticeable, but I’ve gotten so used to people wearing masks that half the time, I didn’t even notice,” Kaleigh said of the masked monsters at Halloween Horror Nights.
After scaling back or skipping Halloween 2020 altogether as the Covid-19 pandemic raged, haunted houses and themed events across the US are back — only now, the monsters might be wearing masks (and not just the rubber kind). Inside terrifying mazes or along haunted hayrides, “scare actors” are often masked up, hiding behind clear vinyl or keeping their distance from the frightened masses.
And for those who dearly missed scares in 2020, the return of haunted attractions, even those that have modified their operations, is a welcome treat.
“As someone who grew up loving Halloween, it feels like I get to celebrate this year,” Kaleigh Kailani said.
Covid-19 protocols vary by location
Halloween Horror Nights events in Florida and California have different mask requirements for guests, though actors must wear masks indoors at both events.
Halloween Horror Nights/Universal Studios
At some attractions, including both Halloween Horror Nights events and Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary, actors inside haunted houses are separated from guests by vinyl or plexiglass barriers. While Kaleigh Kailani said the clear walls were “more noticeable,” her sister Summer said some employees would “bang on the plexiglass, making the experience arguably scarier than usual.”
Some attractions stepped up their scares
Kaleigh Kailani said that many of the Halloween events she attended this year “upped their game,” investing in more gruesome props, true-to-life animatronics and immersive set design.
“I really look at the pandemic with silver lining,” said Brett Bertolino, the nonprofit’s director of operations and a former vice president of the Haunted Attraction Association, a network for Halloween horror-themed events.
A Covid-imposed break in 2020 allowed Eastern State Penitentiary more time to create an event with more of a “choose-your-own-adventure” theme. Whereas in previous years, guests would be shuffled through the attraction’s haunted houses in a specific order without being able to deviate from the path, the penitentiary grounds are now wide open for guests to navigate at their leisure, a move that attracts horror-averse guests to the event for the first time and solves issues about capacity and distancing, Bertolino said.
Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary is a new iteration of the nonprofit’s spooky seasonal event that includes options for horror buffs and horror-averse guests.
Halloween Nights at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA
“In a lot of ways, it was a no-brainer,” he told CNN of staff’s decision to overhaul the classic Halloween event. “It took some out-of-the-box thinking for us to figure out how to do a festival in an abandoned prison. But it’s working out really well — better than we expected.”
Guests no longer have to hit six haunted houses in a row before breaking for a snack. Now, they can choose which houses they want to visit — or opt to sip drinks at a speakeasy in Al Capone’s former cell or take in an undead performance by a zombie dance troupe.
Previous iterations of the event were known for their interactivity — horror buffs could upgrade their experience by wearing a tracking device that would let monsters follow them and be painted with a red “X” on their cheek to let employees know they could touch those guests and amp up the scare factor. While zombies won’t touch guests this year, they will still seek out guests who crave a more intense thrill, Bertolino said, just without getting too close.
“I think that’s what people are going to Halloween events for — ultimately to be entertained, to have fun,” he said. “To be scared is a part of it for a lot of folks, but it’s not the be-all, end-all.”
Halloween events were missed in 2020
The discerning Kailani sisters have occasionally felt let down by the changes their favorite events made this year. They said they’ve noticed some haunted mazes have been shortened or have employed fewer actors within them, which translates to fewer scares (and fewer screams in their YouTube videos).
“There’s no replacement for the unpredictable human element that a scare actor brings to the table,” Kaleigh said.
Still, Summer said, getting to return to Halloween attractions at all is something to celebrate.
Halloween Horror Nights’ “The Bride of Frankenstein Lives” maze dazzled guests with its set design and atmosphere.
Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images
“After over a year indoors, I think there is something so special about getting to attend a theme park,” she said. “Overall, we had a blast running around and being scared just like old times and highly recommend adding a haunt to one’s October calendar if they feel comfortable and safe doing so.”
Every Halloween event differs when it comes to Covid-19 safety precautions, but it’s safe to say that the scariest ones strive to make guests uncomfortable. For Halloween fans like the Kailani sisters, who have been eagerly awaiting the return of haunted attractions, the scarier an event is, the more chilling fun they have.