The economy might be scarier than the Halloween theme parks cropping up this time of year, but people will still pay good money for a harmless fright.
The haunted house industry will scare up close to half a billion dollars in ticket sales in October. Some of that retail change will land at Spooky World/Nightmare New England in southern New Hampshire, one of the largest Halloween attractions in the country.
Zombies, Mummies Wake Up Sleepy Northeastern Town
Litchfield, N.H., is home to about 9,000 people. There's not much industry here — the area is home to a couple of pumpkin farms and a few pizza joints.
But this year, a local Halloween attraction merged with another well-known haunt to become New England's largest Halloween theme park.
Spooky World/Nightmare New England looks like a Hollywood set of a terrifying B-movie.
The air is chilly, but that doesn't stop some 3,500 people from getting in the spirit of haunting.
Most are teens and young adults like Victoria Miller from Norton, Mass.
"I was always a fan of horror movies from when I was little," Miller says. "I just love being scared. My favorite movie when I was little was Alien. I don't know. It's an adrenaline rush. It's really fun."
The owners expect more than 70,000 visitors this month.
Tickets are between $30 and $50. The attraction brings in good revenue, and it brings jobs to people who need it.
Spooking On The Job
Marc Dahlquist has a fake bashed-in forehead and what looks like blood running down his nose. He wears green contacts that make his eyes look like those of a snake.
"I'm dressed in a straitjacket," Dahlquist says. "It's awesome."
Dahlquist stands in the makeup room getting ready to frighten the crowd.
"I just finished schooling for being a personal trainer, and I can't find work in the field — at all," he says. "Luckily enough, it was around October, the holiday season, so I had the opportunity to jump on board here. And I love it."
Dahlquist works in a spooky house with sophisticated animatronics, and the piped-in smells of decay and mildew.
"It takes a lot of hands, a lot of brains and a lot of effort to get something like this off the ground," says Jayson Meyer, another park employee.
Meyer was laid off from his construction job last July. Now he builds the sets and hidden doorways that zombies jump out of.
"I'm actually a husband and father of two," Meyer says. "And being that I have a newborn at home, my wife is also out of work. Being able to support my family, Spooky World/Nightmare New England has helped me out tons."
The attraction hires about 300 people for the season — everyone from makeup artists and wardrobe helpers to plumbers and electricians.
Shocking Locals, Stimulating The Economy
For five weekends in October, the bloodcurdling shrieks change the character of Litchfield.
For one thing, cars are backed up for miles.
Keith Vessels owns Romano's Pizza down the street.
"I've never seen this road as busy as it," says Vessels. "I think the town's a little bit overwhelmed, because they're not used to this kind of thing."
Romano's is getting some new customers. But Vessels says it's often at the expense of the regulars who may have to fight the traffic to pick up their orders.
But the disruptions might be worth it.
The owners of Spooky World/Nightmare New England say they're paying out close to $400,000 in salaries.
For those who've been struggling to find work in a frightful economy, that's a nice holiday boost.