Inside the Quest to Build the Scariest Haunted House
BY Minda Zetlin
The Halloween season is short. So if Steve Kopelman is going to make it big, he's got to make it good. Here's how he does it.
If you've watched any of the many movie versions of the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" you know what the most frightening moment is: When Ebeneezer Scrooge looks down at a freshly dug grave with a tombstone bearing his name. Thanks to creative uses of technology, this Halloween, thousands of scare-seekers can have the same spooky experience--and much more.
The Nest haunted house has already been dubbed the "spookiest place in America" by Good Morning America, according to its producer Steve Kopelman, an entrepreneur who's created haunted houses around the country. This year, though, he's upping the fear quotient using RFID technology. He explained why by cell phone on the front lawn of a Georgia haunted house he was checking out.
"I've been creating haunted houses for 30 years, and nothing is scarier than if we know who you are inside the the haunted house," he explains. So this year, visitors to The Nest can choose to experience the site in the traditional way, or answer some text-message questions, providing their name, birth date, and, if they choose, access to their Facebook accounts. Those who choose the more personal experience receive a lanyard bearing an RFID tag. Then RFID readers throughout the property chart the path of each visitor and supply some extra-scary touches.
A visit to The Nest begins with a stroll through its darkened maze, with actors calling out to visitors by name in eerie voices as they feel their way along. "At the center of the maze, an extremely loud train horn goes off, and we take a picture of them being scared that is automatically posted to the Facebook pages," Kopelman says.
Next, the visitor arrives at the cemetery and encounters a tombstone with his or her name on it, actual birth date, and that day's date as the death date--and a photo of the tombstone is also posted to Facebook. All of this is a preamble to the main attraction, entering The Nest itself.
The Nest is themed around a fictional serial killer named Jacob Kell. "In the first part of the house, there's a newscast about Jacob Kell saying that they found the list of his victims," Kopelman says. "There's a crawl with the list at the bottom of the page and the visitor's name appears in the crawl."
As visitors proceed through the house, they find pictures on the wall, some of which have been pulled from their Facebook albums. "We may zombify one of them," Kopelman says. "At one moment, there's a blood splatter and we spray air and water on visitors so it feels like they're getting splattered with blood too." The zombie pictures and others are also posted to Facebook. These serve as mementos of visitors' trips to The Nest--and also as advertising for the attraction. Kopelman expects to get more than 5 million Facebook impressions from these visitor photos.
If all this sounds over-the-top elaborate and scary, consider this: "There were some crazy ideas we had but didn't do," Kopelman says. "For instance, we have the technology to call visitors' cell phones as they are driving away and saying, 'Look in your rear-view mirror.' But we decided not to. After they leave, they should get some peace."