Utah’s haunted houses make changes to prevent a real-life fear: COVID-19

(Photo courtesy of Fear Factory) Groups in a socially distanced line at Fear Factory, the haunted house just west of Salt Lake City.

Even as 2020 has delivered enough scares of its own, people still want to get in line to be frightened.

“It’s a way to get out — go to dinner and a haunted house,” said Heidi Dunfield, co-owner of Fear Factory, the former cement plant west of downtown Salt Lake City that has been converted to a multistory haunted attraction visible from I-15.

James Bernard, majority owner of Castle of Chaos, a haunted house in Midvale, said, “In Utah, we’re more starved for entertainment, because half the population, or whatever, aren’t going to bars or the more traditional outings. And I think we’re a little more theatrical.”

While Utah’s haunted attractions are ramping up the fictional terrors, one real-life fear — COVID-19 — is one the houses are working to minimize. There’s a whole lot of face masks, actors are staying a few steps away and no touching.

Dunfield said she and her husband, Rob, start their early planning in November, as soon as the previous season ends after Halloween — but the serious decisions start in the spring. “This year, with COVID hitting in early spring, it took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” Dunfield said.

Bernard said he watched the ups and downs of COVID-19 case numbers through the summer. When those numbers dropped in August — the last possible moment he could make decisions on spending money on marketing for the Halloween season — he made the decision to carry on for this year.

“We wanted to open,” Bernard said, “but obviously, we’re not going to if it’s not likely safe.”

As case numbers in Utah have spiked in September and October, Bernard said he checked with the state and county health departments, and conferred with other haunted-house owners. The main question Bernard had on his mind: “What can we do to keep our actors and customers safe, and still stay open?”

The biggest change for Castle of Chaos, Bernard said, is that “we usually do hands-on horror, where we actually reach out and touch the customers. … Not doing that, for us, was a big deal.”

Back in 2007, Bernard said, the Castle was one of the first haunted attractions to offer the hands-on option for customers who paid for it and wore glow-in-the-dark necklaces to signal that they wanted to be touched. Now, he said, it’s common practice — or, at least, it was before COVID-19.

Other Utah haunted attractions — including Fear Factory and Nightmare on 13th in Salt Lake City, Asylum 49 in Tooele, and Dead City in Murray — also are not offering the “touch” feature this year. (Dead City even offers a “Death Be Gone” option for squeamish guests, who are given a glow-in-the-dark wand that a guest can wield to make the scary actors cower in fear.)

At Fear Factory, Rob Dunfield said, they are telling the actors to stay at least 6 feet away from the guests. To compensate, they have moved the mechanical noisemakers closer to the path to trigger jump-scares.

Actors at most houses must wear masks to catch the droplets and aerosols expelled while exhaling. Those masks usually are incorporated into the design of their costumes, makeup and prosthetics.

At most haunted houses, guests have to wear masks, too. Most Castle of Chaos ticket-buyers have accepted the mask rule without complaint, Bernard said, and only a handful refused and left without incident. The Castle, he said, gives a mask to every customer as part of the admission price.

Business has been good so far this season, both Bernard and the Dunfields say. Even though they’re selling about half as many tickets as usual, to keep crowds from congregating in the socially distanced lines, both houses sold out the first weekends in October.

Heidi Dunfield chalks it up to pandemic boredom. “They’ve been in the house awhile,” she said. “[With us,] they can safely get out of the house, and come and do something.”

(Photo courtesy of Fear Factory) Butcher Pig is a character at Fear Factory, the haunted house just west of Salt Lake City. Actors are required to wear face masks, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the masks often are incorporated into the costumes.

Utah haunted houses

Here is a listing of the major haunted attractions along the Wasatch Front, including what changes they’ve made in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Go to the houses’ websites for full information, or visit UtahHauntedHouses.com.

Asylum 49 • 140 E. 200 South, Tooele. A no-contact haunt this year. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays, now through Nov. 7, and again Nov. 13 and 14. Hours are 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 7 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $25, online at asylum49.com.

Castle of Chaos • 7980 S. State St., Midvale. No hands-on experiences this year. Escape rooms also available. Now open, with operations Oct. 14-18, Oct. 20-Nov. 1, and Nov. 13-14. Hours are 7 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 8, 14, 15, 20 and 21; 7 to 11 p.m. on Oct, 4, 11, 18, 22, 25-29, Nov. 1 and 14; and 7 p.m. to midnight on Oct. 9-10, 16-17, 23-24, 30-31, and Nov. 13. Tickets start at $25, online at castleofchaos.com.

Dead City Haunted House • 5425 S. Vine St., Murray. Only two levels of fear this year, and neither of them involve touching: “Classic Death,” and “Death Be Gone,” in which squeamish patrons are given glow-in-the-dark wands that will cause the actors to back away. Open daily (except Sundays) now through Oct. 31, and Nov. 6-7 and 13-14. Hours are 7:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 7:30 to 11 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, and Nov. 6-7 and 13-14; and 7:30 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays in October. Tickets start at $25, online at deadcityhauntedhouse.com.

Fear Factory • 666 W. 800 South, Salt Lake City. Timed entry to limit crowd sizes, with no contact between actors and patrons. Open Oct. 15-19, Oct. 22 to Nov. 2, and Nov. 9 and 13. Hours are 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, Sundays, and Oct. 26-28; 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Mondays (for “Grimm Ghost Stories”), 7 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays; and 7 to 11 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13. Tickets start at $26.99, online at fearfactoryslc.com.

Haunted Forest • 6000 W. 6400 North, American Fork. No contact in this outdoor haunt. Open through Oct. 31 (except Sundays). Hours are 7:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 7:30 to 11 p.m. on Oct. 15, and 7:30 to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $25, online at hauntedutah.com.

Haunted Halloween Haven • 1641 Oakview Lane, Spanish Fork. No contact on the community-made walk-through. Open Oct. 28-31. Hours to be announced. Free to the public.

Haunted Hollow • 1550 S. 1900 West, Ogden. No contact in this outdoor haunt. Open Wednesdays through Saturdays through Oct. 24, and Oct. 26-31. Hours are 7:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Oct. 26-29; 7:30 to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $21, online at hauntedutah.com.

Hidden Lake Haunts • 277 Hidden Lake Drive, Bountiful. No contact between actors and visitors; masks required for everyone. Open Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 16-31. Hours are 7 to 10 p.m. Admission is one non-perishable food item per guest with proceeds going to the Bountiful Community Food Pantry.

Lagoon Frightmares • Lagoon Park, 375 N. Lagoon Drive, Farmington. Masks worn at all times in the park; no contact in attractions. Open daily through Oct. 31. Hours vary by attraction. Admission is included in regular Lagoon ticket price; tickets available at lagoonpark.com.

Night Stalkers Haunted Trail • 8800 S. 4000 West, West Jordan. In-your-face props and high-touch areas have been removed; fewer actors are on-site. Open daily (except Sundays) through October. Hours are 7:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets for the trail start at $20; admission to Fright Lights and the Crazy Corn Maze also available, online at nightstalkershaunt.com.

Nightmare on 13th • 300 W. 1300 South, Salt Lake City. The attraction is no-touch, and owners have canceled this year’s “X-Scream” version. Open daily (except Sundays) through Oct. 31; also open Nov. 6, 7 and 13. Hours are 7:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 7:30 to 11 p.m. on Oct. 15 and all November dates; and 7:30 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets start at $24.95, online at nightmareon13th.com.