You’re trapped in your car on a dark night. You can’t get your engine to start. And somewhere outside, lurking in the fog, is a homicidal maniac.
This isn’t the start of campfire ghost story or a creepy urban legend. It’s how one Twin Cities Halloween attraction is responding to a global pandemic.
The Deadly Drive-In, being offered this month at Rosedale Center, is a stay-in-your car haunted house where you park and the bloodthirsty psychopaths keep to the other side of the windshield.
It’s being billed as a safe, socially distanced but scary Halloween attraction in a year when going to haunted houses may seem a bit spookier thanks to a deadly virus plaguing the planet.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently rated indoor haunted houses “where people may be crowded together and screaming,” along with hayrides with people who are not in your household as “higher risk activities.”
Better would be an outdoor, open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest with appropriate mask use and people staying more than 6 feet apart. That would be a “moderate risk activity,” according to the CDC.
But “If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised,” the federal health agency warned.
Concern about coronavirus has led to the cancellation of some local haunts this year, including the Trail of Terror in Shakopee and ValleyScare at the Valleyfair amusement park.
Other Halloween attractions have decided that the horror show must go on, with adjustments to make the events a little less frightening from a disease spread point of view.
That includes sanitizing protocols, temperature checks, timed entries, socially distanced lines and mask requirements (the coronavirus kind, not the scary kind). Some attractions are eschewing communal rides for a drive-through — or drive-in — experience.
There’s even one local haunter that is offering to deliver a contact-free scare that starts with “The Box,” a mysterious package full of disturbing objects that shows up at your house.
The cardboard carton covered with some unidentified stains (is that blood?) is the handiwork of the Catacomb Collective, a group of artists and makers that normally would be presenting the Haunted Basement, a hands-on, in-your-face “immersive, absurdist, and psychological horror” experience.
This year, however, the group decided against an in-person haunted house.
“We called it pretty early,” said Walker Friend, interim executive director of the collective. “We’re known as the full-contact haunt. There’s no way we were going to be able to do something like that.”
Instead, it’s offering an online virtual visit it calls “The House.” That’s a choose-your-path series of nightmarish videos that hews to the Haunted Basement tradition of combining the surreal with the icky, grotesque and disturbing.
The video experience is meant to be used in conjunction with “The Box,” a sort of arts and crafts kit that’s spooky but COVID-free ($25 for the Box and the House; $8 just for the House. HauntedBasement.org).
“It’ll be creepy and unsettling,” Friend said.
At Rosedale’s Deadly Drive-In, you start by parking in a fog-filled tent in the parking lot of the former Herberger’s. They hand you a sanitized radio and take away your keys. And then you wait for the mayhem to descend while you cower inside the car.
The scare is being created by Flip Phone Events, a Twin Cities event production company that usually produces drag brunches on the Union restaurant rooftop in Minneapolis, dance parties at First Avenue and a “Golden Girls” fan cruise in the Caribbean.
Flip Phone Events owner Chad Kampe, a haunted house fan, proposed the in-car experience to the mall after reading about drive-in haunted houses that have become popular in Japan this year.
Kampe has recruited some out-of-work actors from closed haunted houses and horror film veterans to help out.
“We’ve been doing some practicing in our garage,” he said. “I think it’s pretty damn scary.”
There will be blood, at least on the outside of your car.
“At the end, we’ll clean up your car so it’s drivable,” Kampe said of the experience ($60-$75 per car, no convertibles, deadlydrivein.com).
The Abandoned Hayride in Chaska is also asking patrons to stay in their cars in what is being rebranded this year as the Abandoned Drive Thru ($15 per person, theabandonedhayride.com).
“We take the pandemic very seriously,” said owner Matt Dunn.
Despite safety procedures like requiring all actors to wear COVID masks, “I think people are still going to get some good startles,” Dunn said. “At one point you’ll see someone lose their head.”
At the Haunting Experience in Cottage Grove, there are multiple hand-washing stations, temperature checks for employees, spacing requirements in the lines, limited seating on the hayrides and a pricing structure designed to spread out demand throughout the week ($17-$40, hauntingexperience.com).
“They can’t get in unless they have a mask,” said owner Bill Zwiec.
Smaller groups and portable speakers are designed to keep customers properly distanced from the tour guide for the Real Ghost Tours, a walking tour of the supernatural in Minneapolis’ historic St. Anthony Main neighborhood.
The tour also will include sanitized ghost hunting gear like dowsing rods and EMF meters that customers can use to search for spirits ($30, realghosttours.com).
Kampe said demand has been strong for the Deadly Drive-in, with more than 800 cars booked. But some local Halloween attractions are predicting fewer visitors because of reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing.
About 15% of American adults plan to visit a haunted house this Halloween, down from 22% in 2019, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation, which also saw drops in plans for Halloween party going and trick or treating.
Business has been down about 30% this season at FrightProps, a Brooklyn Park horror hardware store that sells ghastly accessories for haunted houses, escape rooms and Halloween enthusiasts.
“A lot of haunts are closed,” explained company creative director Scott Bibus.
In response to the pandemic, Bibus said, one of their suppliers, Froggy’s Fog, which makes fluid for fog-making machines, shifted production to sell hand sanitizer.
The horror attractions that are open are trying to figure out how to deliver a scare while keeping patrons safe.
“It’s usually just having [actors] jump out and screaming,” Bibus said.
This year, haunted houses are interested in devices that can be operated via wireless technology to frighten patrons — or deliver safety instructions.
“I feel like we’re selling a lot more talking skulls,” Bibus said.