NEW YORK -- Ghost tours and haunted houses are hallmarks of the weeks leading up to Halloween. But this year, some attractions are upping their game with an interactive component.
Now, visitors aren't just shrieking at the sight of zombies -- they're shooting them with paintball guns at Saint Lucifer's Haunted Asylum in Flint, Mich.
Halloween events across the countryHaunted houses: Find an attraction near you at hauntedattractionfinder.com and hauntworld.com/haunted_houses
Saint Lucifer's Scream Park: Flint, Mich., michiganhauntedhouse.com/
Buffalo Gap Historic Village: Near Abilene, Texas, tfhcc.com/?tribe_events=paranormal-history
Knott's Berry Farm: Buena Park, Calif., knotts.com/haunt/rides-attractions
Busch Gardens: Tampa, Fla., seaworldparks.com/en/howloscream-tampa/Attractions/Haunted-Houses/The-Experiment
Shocktoberfest: Reading, Pa., shocktoberfest.com/
Erebus: Pontiac, Mich., hauntedpontiac.com/
Voodoo Music Experience: New Orleans, Nov. 1-3, thevoodooexperience.com
Disney: Lake Buena Vista, Fla., disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/magic-kingdom/mickeys-not-so-scary-halloween-party/ and Anaheim, Calif., disneyland.disney.go.com/events-tours/disneyland/mickeys-halloween-party/
Universal: Orlando, Fla., and Hollywood, Calif., halloweenhorrornights.com/
Cedar Point: Sandusky, Ohio, cedarpoint.com/haunt
They're not just listening to ghost stories. They're learning how to do their own paranormal investigations on ghost-hunting overnight stays at Buffalo Gap Historic Village near Abilene, Texas.
And they're not just snaking through a haunted house on a long line, screaming as a bloody monster climbs out of a coffin. Instead, they're paying extra to be stuck in a room where they must complete tasks and puzzle out challenges in order to escape, as in the "Trapped" attraction at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.
Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., just launched "The Experiment," where visitors are asked to participate in experiences so intense that they sometimes decline.
"If you refuse three times, the experiment is terminated," said spokesman Travis Claytor. The experiments "may or may not involve live animals or creepy crawlies," he added. "There may or may not be something in there for germaphobes. Psychologically this is one of the most invasive experiences you'll ever have. I was there Friday on opening night and there were several people who could not make it through."
Pat Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association, says the new intensity and increased interaction is simply the maturing of an industry that started out 25 years ago "scaring people with rubber masks and plastic knives. Every year people came back and wanted more."
So now, he said, "not only are zombies jumping out and scaring you, but you have to turn it into a challenge, an interactive game." Konopelski's Shocktoberfest attraction in Reading, Pa., includes a component called "Prison of the Dead Escape" where visitors can choose to be humans or zombies in a game similar to flag football. Humans receive belts with three flags representing the human brain, heart and entrails, and zombies try to get those organs.
Konopelski also planned a haunted house tour where guests could walk through in the nude. Local officials put the kibosh on the concept, but you can still go through wearing underwear. The lack of clothes, he says, "heightens the vulnerability of the guests."
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, an abandoned prison and historic landmark that hosts an annual "Terror Behind the Walls" Halloween event, this year is offering visitors a glow-in-the-dark necklace that marks their willingness to be more than passive observers. Necklace-wearing guests can be grabbed by actors, sent into hidden passageways, and separated from their group.
In case you can't manage to take a selfie while you're scared out of your wits, the Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, Mich., is taking a page from theme parks that sell pictures of roller coaster riders. Erebus has mounted 48 cameras in a single room where visitors typically scream their heads off, and they can now purchase 180-degree images of themselves in the throes of terror.
Here are some other Halloween-themed destinations, events and attractions around the country.
New York Halloween Parade
Because of power outages and other issues from Superstorm Sandy, organizers were forced to cancel last year's Village Halloween Parade, which typically attracts 2 million spectators and 50,000 costumed marchers. The parade now faces a funding shortfall; as of early October, more than half the needed $50,000 had been raised on Kickstarter. If the balance can be secured, the parade is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, kicking off at Sixth Avenue between Spring and 16th streets.
New Orleans' annual Voodoo Music Experience festival often coincides with Halloween but this year takes place immediately after, Nov. 1-3, in City Park. Coming from a range of musical genres, headliners include Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Afrojack, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure and Kid Rock.
Other Halloween events in the Big Easy include a Vampire Ball thrown by the official Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club. A link from the author's home page states that she will be attending the ball this year.
A brand-new Halloween parade in the French Quarter, Krewe of Boo, kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, followed by a Spook Fest party for costumed attendees inside the Mardi Gras World attraction.
Where do leftover pumpkins go to die? They are hurled across the fields of Delaware by man and machine at The Chunk, also known as the World Championship Punkin Chunkin, this year Nov. 1-3, in Bridgeville.
In New Hampshire, the annual Pumpkin Festival in Keene is scheduled for noon to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, with parades, performances and thousands of carved pumpkins lining the town.
At Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y., Luna Park hosts Halloween Harvest weekends in October and on Columbus Day. Guess the weight of a giant pumpkin to win $1,000. The pumpkin will be carved into a masterpiece Saturday, Oct. 26 by Food Network's Marc Maniac, and the public can carve pumpkins in a contest that day, too.
In Florida, the streets of Universal Orlando are being taken over by zombies inspired by AMC's popular show, "The Walking Dead," for Halloween Horror Nights, held select evenings through Nov. 2. One of the park's eight haunted houses is also themed on the show. Other haunted houses take inspiration from horror video game series "Resident Evil" and horror films "Evil Dead," "The Cabin in the Woods" and "An American Werewolf in London."
In California, Universal Hollywood debuted a new maze this season inspired by the heavy metal band Black Sabbath's "13" album. The park also offers a "scare zone" populated by actors dressed as the nasty Chucky doll from the direct-to-DVD sequel "Curse of Chucky," and a maze incorporating elements from the "Insidious" films.
Cedar Point's HalloWeekends in Sandusky, Ohio, include scare zones with themes like Blood on the Bayou, Carnevil, Cornstalkers and Fear Faire. Busch Gardens, in addition to "The Experiment," has its annual Howl-O-Scream attractions, including a haunted house called Death Water Bayou that was created with input from fans on Facebook.
For the younger crowd, Disney offers Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida, and Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.
Unlike the in-your-face scare zones and trapped-in-a-room experiences popping up at theme parks, ghost tours -- whether in inns, historic sites or neighborhoods -- tend to be more fun than fright. Expect a good ghost story and readings of alleged paranormal activity on hand-held meters.
A list of 30 B&Bs and inns with ghost-themed stays can be found at betterwaytostay.com/thirty-great-places-sleep-ghost/. Or take a look at haunted hotel packages offered by Historic Hotels of America: historichotels.org/hotel-deals/featured-packages.php.