Horror, like hemlines, is subject to fashion.
That's why we asked Drew Ailes what's giving people a scare these days. Ailes is chief of Halloween enthusiasm for FrightProps, a Minneapolis company that produces ghastly accessories for haunted houses, escape rooms and Halloween enthusiasts.
In his job marketing everything from fake cobwebs and severed heads to a $2,863 pneumatically animated Ceiling Clown Gut Dangler, Ailes said, "I'm the person who's reminding people in January to start planning their lighting setup for October or interrupting a peaceful holiday meal by talking about bloody chain-saw tree ornaments."
Today's audience needs more than blood and guts, Ailes said. They're looking for cerebral scares. Ailes said FrightProps' skeletons, butcher cleavers, snakes and creepy baby dolls are best employed when they can tell a story.
"Anyone can fill a room full of body parts and run at you with a realistic looking baseball bat, but if you can get inside people's heads, that's what's going to really get them," he said.
Who better to ask what's hot and what's not in the terror business?
Zombies: "Timeless classic. They'll never go out of style because even if they're not an extremely versatile scare, the scary parts about them never get old. Plus, people should take any chance they can get to use Rotting Decay spray cologne."
Satan: "I think the devil has unfortunately been reduced to a guy in red spandex with a little mustache. We don't see a great deal of ol' Lucifer popping up very often these days. Kind of sad, but also understandable."
Pirates: "A few years back, we thought we were going to see a huge interest in pirates. There were definitely a lot more people doing some cool haunted-ship-themed productions in their homes, but it seems like it's gained more momentum recently. Pirates are kind of freaky, sure, but their appeal is that there's a ton of supernatural components in pirate stories, which open the doors to some scary things. A bunch of giant tentacles might not be terrifying on their own, but in the context of a story about a giant squid, it's much more frightening."
Aliens: "We're also seeing more people doing things with aliens, which is probably my vote for the coolest trend we're seeing people catch onto. There's so much you can do with alien themes, it's like a mad scientist theme combined with a butcher shop. You get to combine two of the coolest devices — kitsch and gore — with ethereal lights and fog to craft an otherworldly setting."
Psychos: "Right up there with zombies in terms of popularity. Plus, especially in Minnesota, I think a lot of people would say that the scariest thing they can think of is actually other people."
Dragons: "We're seeing a huge amount of interest in more fantasy-related themes. There's been a Winter Dragon animatronic that's been a huge hit this year."
Ghosts: "Good all-around scares, but definitely not the most popular. We sell a few poltergeist props, actually, pots that rattle on their own and a kitchen rack for pans that shakes violently out of nowhere."
Witches: "Great for yards and small productions. For some reason, we don't see the big haunted houses doing a lot with them even though I think there are plenty of great stories to be told."
Vampires: "They're among the coolest, but when you decide to do something that's vampire-themed, you've got a lot of work ahead of you. Your sets have to be extremely detailed and you have to go with elegant costuming, and then somehow cover all of that in blood. And let's be honest, building coffins can be a lot of work."
Blood: "It pains me to say this as a lover of horror movies that are so over-the-top that they're almost funny, but I don't think gore has the same impact that it once did on people. You're always going to get people who get squeamish at the sight of blood, but I think a lot of people are probably a little desensitized to fake intestines hanging everywhere. I blame horror movies over the past 15 years for that."