WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — For those thrilled by bumps in the dark, maniacal laughter, and a dash of blood and gore, Connecticut has plenty to offer.
"It’s absolutely exploded," said Cait Russell of CTHauntedHouses.com, a website that advertises haunted attractions in the state. "It’s very competitive and people are really into it."
She said traffic on her site has increased 150 percent since 2011, with 19,000 page views last weekend. She said the state is known for its historically based haunted events.
According to National Retail Federation survey, 20.3 percent of Americans plan to visit a haunted house this year.
"I think this year is going to be spectacular. ... Everybody’s really just upped their game," Russell said.
Halloween is a big business in America, with consumers estimated to spend $6.9 billion this year on everything from costumes for their dogs, to candy for trick-or-treaters, to spooky decorations, according the survey.
With average ticket prices at $15 per person, the haunted attraction industry generates roughly $300 million nationally, according to the Haunted House Association.
Despite all the money pouring in, local haunted attractions owners said their dream is to one day break even.
"This is just a hobby that you hope pays for itself," said Bobby Arel, who runs the Only Scream in Town in North Haven.
Now in its second year, Arel said he has been planning for this season since last November and has been pulling 18-hour days since July.
For many haunted attraction owners, it all started with a love to scare and a backyard display.
After running out of space in his back yard, garage, and basement, William Anderson opened the Nightmare on Wolcott Street last year.
From 33 rooms in their muscle car restoration shop, the Anderson family has expanded to over 50 this year, according to Tara Anderson, William’s daughter-in-law.
"Nobody even realizes what’s there. It’s huge," she said of the 10,000-square-foot space. "We have some that come through that don’t even open their eyes."
Parts of old Broadway shows, from "Shrek" to "Mary Poppins," litter the set, with animatronic ghouls popping out from every corner. Anderson said it took six months to put everything together last year.
Eric Soltis, owner of Amity Road Horror in Bethany, said he started making Halloween displays at his house when he was 5. Now 30, his professional horror show is in its second year.
"It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lotta, lotta, lotta hard work," Soltis said.
He said it takes all day to set up his outdoor trail on two acres with lighting, fog machines, music, props, and 30 to 50 actors.
An electrician by day, Soltis has used his skills to run 10,000 feet of wire and program lighting effects.
"A lot of people think it looks easy. ... People just don’t understand how much is involved and how much money is involved," he said.
According to the Haunted House Association, more than 80 percent of haunted attractions benefit a charity, and many in Connecticut donate despite taking personal losses.
Arel said he donated $1,000 to the American Cancer Society last year despite losing $30,000 on his haunt. Last year, he spent $50,000 and earned $20,000 in ticket sales. This year, he spent another $75,000 to add two new attractions to the site and hopes to make more in revenues, though seeing black ink is still years away. Arel said he’s on track to have 12,000 people come through his haunt this October.
While spending on Halloween has increased 54.7 percent nationwide since 2005, the National Retail Federation predicts a slight decrease this year.
In Connecticut, however, Halloween was more or less canceled the last two years with the October snowstorm in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, so local scare masters have high hopes for this season as long as the weather holds out.
Scaring people isn’t as easy as it looks. Soltis, of Amity Road Horror in Bethany, proudly reported that he made people cry last weekend when he came at them with a chain saw.