House of Horror’s absence leaves a hole in a South Florida haunted-house scene that is already lacking compared to much of the rest of the nation. U.S. consumers are expected to spend $8.8 billion on Halloween in 2019, compared to $3.3 billion in 2005, according to the National Retail Federation. But as the haunted-house industry grows crowded with more attractions competing for those dollars across the country, South Florida's list remains relatively small year after year.
Craig McInnis, creative director of Fright Nights in West Palm Beach, which opened in 2002, thinks others in the industry might shy away from building a haunted house in South Florida because there are too many other things to do in the region.
“My guess is that a lot of it has to do with the number of entertainment options here,” says McInnis, whose creepy carnival offers four new haunted houses, including the Spanish orphanage-themed El Orfanato this year. “On any given night, there are ten different things to do. And it’s tough being one of ten things.”
Loud and Live's Albareda says those interested in opening a haunted house might not be willing to pay South Florida’s soaring real-estate prices for a business that’s only seasonal. He also believes South Florida’s demographics have had an effect on the local haunt industry: “The market being so Hispanic plays a role. You have people coming from Latin America, where they’re not used to the haunted-house concept. Some are used to Día de los Muertos [Day of the Dead], but not haunted houses.”
Peter Regalado helped create the original House of Terror in Bayfront Park and remembers feeling like the lone Hispanic person at his first Halloween convention in 1998. If the industry has changed a great deal since then, Regalado hasn’t noticed.
“It hasn’t been a Hispanic thing,” says Regalado, who is a producer of the new House of Death, open through November 3 in Wynwood. “You go to Utah and you’re going to find haunts all over. People enjoy making them. Here in Miami, they’re not as into that. People go to haunted houses here and it gets packed, but it’s not their thing like it is for people up north.”
To put that list into perspective, there are more haunted houses in the Providence, Rhode Island area than there are in South Florida and twice as many haunts in the Omaha, Nebraska area.
It’s worth mentioning that Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights — considered by some to be one of the top haunted attractions in the world — is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Miami. Could the mega-theme park and its always changing lineup of extravagant haunted experiences be scaring away potential competition from opening in South Florida?
Regalado believes it's probably a factor. But he thinks Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) doesn’t provide a true haunted-house experience. “The [HHN] buildout is spectacular, but it’s more pretty than scary,” he says, adding that his House of Death isn’t “a house you just walk through: We’re going to take you underground. We’re going to put you on a bus. We’re going to make you face your biggest fears.”
Albareda, on the other hand, doesn’t think HHN has had much impact on South Florida’s haunted-house industry. He points to the number of attractions in Southern California that are thriving alongside Universal Studios Hollywood’s version of HHN and the significant difference in ticket prices: General admission for South Florida haunts costs $10 to $30, while HHN tickets cost $68 to $94 plus the cost of lodging. If anything, it was House of Horror that scared away competition, Albareda boasts.
“I do think we’re such a large event and spent so much on marketing that it’s hard for other players to come in,” Albareda says. “We attract six-digit attendance. We’re not just a haunt — we have carnival rides and concerts... We had two haunted houses last year and expect three next year. We’re going to be even bigger and better than ever.”