Flickering candles. Creaking hinges. The scratching of claws from behind a locked door and the smell of mildew dripping from pipes along the wall in front of you.
It’s details like these that set the mood in a haunted attraction. They transport guests, help them feel immersed in another world. They move your story forward. They’re what keep guests coming back again and again.
Setting the mood for your haunted attraction is about more than what people see as they walk through. We need to hear, smell, and even feel our surroundings to feel truly immersed. How can you engage all five senses for guests visiting your haunted house?
Read on for 6 tips to help you set the mood for your haunted attraction.
A haunted house should be dark, right? We’re evolutionarily designed to be afraid of the dark, where our vision is strained and we’re unable to detect who or what may be lurking around us.
But there’s a delicate balance: if it’s too dark, your guests won’t be able to see where they’re going. They might bump into things or miss key story elements. The trick to setting the right mood with lighting is to shine a light only on the things you want guests to see. You’re directing their vision towards specific props or doorways, either to distract them from a surprise in another part of the room or to help them find their way into the next scene.
Don’t overlook the power of colored lighting in setting the mood for your haunted attraction. Sending your guests into a radioactive wasteland? Green or yellow lights can help prime them for contamination. Reds work well for scenes with vampires, slaughterhouses, and a host of other themes. Use purples or greens for an alien abduction. Use blue to set the mood for a misty graveyard or a haunted mansion.
Sound Effects and Music
A sudden bang or snap can startle guests even more so than a scary visual. Particularly when lighting is low, sound becomes an important ingredient in your theme’s recipe. When you’re designing each scene in your haunted house, think about the different sounds you want your guests to experience: Where should there be constant, low-volume sounds to set the mood like the chirping of crickets in a graveyard or static from a living room TV? Where should there be loud crashes or the screech of a heinous creature? Which areas should be quieter, so they can hear a scareactor’s lines?
Sounds can be created manually, by a scareactor slamming a block of wood against a wall, for example, or electronically. For instance, guests might trip a sensor hidden under a floor mat which causes a sparking wire to snap and crackle nearby. Consider both types of sound effects when setting the mood for your haunt.
Employing a full-on soundtrack is less common in haunted attractions, but music can convey a story instantly. Even if you just play it in the queue where guests are waiting to enter your haunt, it can do wonders to help set a specific mood for the entire experience.
Props and Decor
The physical appearance of your attraction is what haunters arguably spend the most time on. From large set pieces and animatronics down to the smallest details, the visual elements help drive your theme home.
The visual elements are what guests tend to focus on, too. This provides an opportunity: you can distract guests with props, glow-in-the-dark-paint, or other decor, and redirect their attention away from things you don’t want them to see (like that scareactor hiding in the corner). Then, your actors have a better chance to surprise and terrify visitors.
Controlling what guests can see can also help guide them to the next story element. You can use themed signs to direct them into the next room or to provide context about the scene they’re currently experiencing.
The right fragrance can trigger a visceral reaction in guests. Scent memory is powerful, and if you really want to immerse guests in your haunt’s theme, the best way to set the mood is with aromas.
Scents can be delivered as practical or special effects. For example, you could pop real popcorn near the entrance of your twisted carnival. Add some ominous calliope music in the background, and you’ll really transport your guests to another world.
But scents can also be manufactured artificially, too, and piped in with a special machine. Maybe you really want to make your slaughterhouse seem realistic. Pump in the scent of rotting flesh or charred corpses to sell the sound of chainsaws and blood-splattered walls. Want to give your haunt a swampy marsh vibe? There’s a scent for that, too.
Fog, Bubbles and Snow
Fog can work both as a scent agent and a visual element. Fog obscures your vision just enough to trigger the fear reaction in our survival instincts. And while unscented fog is certainly available, a lot of haunts use it as a vehicle for delivering aromas that horify and surprise visitors.
Just like with other elements, the key to fog is finding the right balance. It needs to be thick enough to have the desired visual effect, but not so thick that it triggers an asthma or COPD attack among your guests.
Fog works great for dark dungeons and spooky forests, but maybe it isn’t right for the specific mood you’re trying to set. Inviting guests to a carnival or a fairytale-gone-wrong? Bubbles can also provide a visual, tactile, and yes, event scent-delivering experience. The same goes for fake snow (often made with soap) if your theme is more winter-wonderland-turned-terror.
Temperature and Wind
When we’re talking about the five senses, touch can be the trickiest one for haunts to execute. You don’t really want guests handling your expensive props because they will show wear & tear more quickly (or be put out of commission entirely by an overzealous visitor).
Temperature can be one way to engage your guests’ sense of touch without the danger of damaged goods. Sending visitors into a swampy bayou? Turn up the heat and pump in some fog. Sending them into a castle basement or a meat locker? Cold temperatures can make guests feel as if they’re actually being transported to those locations, more so than props and decor can do on their own.
Wind can be another tactile experience that makes your haunt feel real. Try short bursts of air to surprise guests or redirect their attention. Or use more sustained wind power to simulate an oncoming storm or confuse their senses…so your actors can scare the living daylights out of them.
To set the mood for your haunted attraction, it’s important not to overlook the details. Engage all five senses, and you’ll immerse your guests in another world that they’ll want to return to again and again.
When you’re ready to start selling tickets to your haunted attraction, HauntPay is your guaranteed zombie-proof solution for online and at-the-door ticket sales, merchandise, and even concessions. With tons of features designed for professional haunters, we can customize your ticketing & payments to match your haunts specific needs. Schedule a demo to see how it works!