SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — Paint-filled Powerade bottles litter a table as work at the Big Top of Terror winds down three days before opening night.
Graphic artist Ron Torres is putting finishing touches on demented clown faces at the Bossier City haunted house, one of two long-running local attractions.
Airbags, animatronics and actors provide the thrills in an indoor-outdoor maze at Party Central in Bossier City. Party Central owners Bubba and Bernadette Chandler note that some big attractions even have scents. This isn’t your Girl Scout troop’s peeled grapes and spaghetti in a dark room.
Halloween fear-mongering is a $6 billion industry, with about 2,500 attractions worldwide, according to the International Association of Haunted Attractions. The organization puts on a yearly convention, recognizes attractions with Oscare awards and offers a state-by-state listing of member attractions.
Bubba Chandler draws on visits to other attractions and his imagination to build scary sets. Torres, who painted art on Disney World Orlando attractions, adds the eye candy. Haunting attraction veteran Doug Cobb, of Shreveport, heads up the actors. Cobb also creates the detailed scenes.
"It’s like going to the movies," Chandler says of his creation. "I want to be entertained. You want to see the scare. You want to see the actor bring it to you."
In north Caddo Parish, a corn maze plays on people’s fear of the dark and unknown to scare visitors. For the 14th year, a cast of 80 actors and guides will chase Dixie Maze visitors through the corn and along a trail.
"I don’t have to put up a gory scene, because it’s scary to walk through a cornfield at night," said Mike Billings, Dixie Maze owner. "The environment naturally creates the tension."
Year-round planning is behind both attractions, but the action ratchets up in September as actors are cast. Dress rehearsals and equipment tests go on until opening night.
"We’ve had probably 250 people apply for jobs this year," Billings said. "But out of about 100 people who work for us, 60 to 70 are people who’ve worked for us before. It’s word of mouth. It tends to be a pretty tight circle."
Party Central’s troupe is a family affair for Cobb, wife Christine Cobb and their daughter Madison, 11, who started scaring people at age 8. The Cobbs consider Madison a natural at haunting after that opening night.
"I was in the parking lot, really bored. There was this girl who looked like she was about 20 there. I had a little battery operated chain saw. I cranked it up. She freaked out," Madison said. "I started stalking her. She ran, screaming, ‘Little clown with a chain saw!’"