They may be dead, sort of, but zombies are where it's at these days. Any haunted house operator will tell you that.
"Frankenstein is out. Wolfman has been way out for a long time. Even Freddy is on his way out as somebody scary," said Stuart MacDonald, owner of The Haunting in Adrian. "Zombies have always been en vogue."
Despite all the hubbub over the recent spate of vampire-themed movies, TV shows, and books - think the Twilight series and True Blood on HBO - it's the living dead that really are getting the screams going this Halloween season. It starts at the cineplex, where Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson, topped the box office during its opening weekend earlier this month, but it seems connected to other events too.
Talk of zombies tends to go up along with real-life apocalyptic worries - medical epidemics, wars, end-of-the-world-type stuff, said Dyrk Ashton, assistant professor of film at the University of Toledo who played a zombie in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead.
"The zombies just continue to stick around," he said. "I think there's even more interest now."
At The Haunting, there's a story line this year that people have been infected with the ZMBIE134 virus. MacDonald said he got the idea straight from the headlines, where reports continue daily about the world's concerns about the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
The zombies at the Haunting stick to the slower-moving, herky-jerky tradition of the classic Dawn of the Dead (or the more recent Shaun of the Dead). They may not be fast, but special effects make them appear to come out of nowhere, MacDonald said.
The death of Michael Jackson this summer is called to mind by the "Thriller" routine performed at the Haunted Hydro in Fremont as part of a dance in its Ghoul-A-Bration pre-show that begins at 7 p.m.
"We actually do the moves that Michael and everyone ... did in the video," said Beth Turner, co-owner.
One of the two attractions at the Haunted Hydro will have a different theme every weekend. This weekend it's zombies.
"Zombies are really popular this year," Turner said. "The zombie movies have come back and the 'Thriller' was all about zombies too."
There are so many ways to scare people, so many classic themes from which haunted house operators may choose - psychiatric wards, electric chairs, even clowns. But zombies have a proud heritage too, from Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.
Mark Roberts, owner of TerrorTown at the Lucas County Fairgrounds, grew up with the sloth-like zombies of George Romero, but those at his haunt come from the newer school.
"Faster ones work better in the haunt," he said.
For now. Who knows what scares will interest people next year.
"It will be whatever direction the movie companies go," he said. "A couple years ago it was werewolves and now I see they're remaking The Wolf Man, so maybe it'll go back to the werewolf theme."
Looking for a thriller of a good time this Halloween season? Here are a few local haunts to get you started.
•Chainsaw Creek at Westfield Franklin Park, 5001 Monroe St. in Toledo. Four haunted houses. Hours: Dark to 11 p.m. Oct. 28, Thursdays, and Sundays through Oct. 29. Dark until midnight Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 31. Cost: $10 per attraction or $20 for all four. Students save $5 on combo ticket with ID today and Oct. 22. Information: 419-343-7478 or chainsawcreek.com.
•HalloWeekends at Cedar Point in Sandusky. Four indoor haunted houses, five outdoor scare zones, kids' areas, and other park attractions. Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays (only a portion of the park will be open), noon to midnight on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays (when the outdoor scare zones will not be open). Open through Nov 1. Cost: $44.99 for all-day passes Saturdays and Sundays, $29.99 for Friday nights and after 4 p.m. on Sunday, $19.99 for seniors 62 and older and guests under 4 feet tall. Children 2 and under are free. Information: 419-627-2350 or halloweekends.com.
•Ghostly Manor Thrill Center, 3319 Milan Rd. in Sandusky. Indoor haunted house and 3-D simulated motion ride. Hours: 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Cost: $11 for adults, $6 for children 9 and under, and $6 per movie for the XD 3D Theater. Information: 419-626-4467 or ghostlymanor.com.
•Haunted Halloween Train at Waterville Train Depot, 49 North Sixth St. in Waterville. Haunted train ride. Hours: 7 and 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1, 2:30, and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, tomorrow through Nov. 1. Cost: $14 for adults, $13 for seniors 60 and up, $10 for kids 3 to 12, and free for those under 3. Reservations suggested. Adults and seniors who come in costume or pre-register save $2 and youths are $8.50. Information: 419-878-2177, 866-63-TRAIN, or tlew.org.
•Haunted Hydro Dark Attraction Park, 1333 Tiffin St. in Fremont. Two haunted houses. Hours: 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 31. Cost: $10 per haunted house, $15 for combo deal. Friendly Monster Sundays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. allow one child up to age 9 to enter for free with an adult admission of $8; $5 for an additional person. Information: 419-332-7380 or thehauntedhydro.com.
•The Haunting at the Lenawee County Fairgrounds, 602 North Dean St. in Adrian. Two indoor haunted houses and an indoor maze. Hours: 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 22, 27, 28, 29, and Sundays through Nov. 1. Cost: $15 for two haunted houses for people 8 and older, $20 combo ticket with the maze. Children under 8 not permitted. Information: 517-264-1941 or myhaunting.com.
•Hells Gate Haunt, 3045 Alexis Rd. Two haunted houses. Hours: 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 31. Cost: $10 for both attractions. Proceeds benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio. Information: 661-SCR-EAM1 or hellsgatehaunt.com.
•Leaders Family Farms, O-064 Henry County Road 16, Napoleon. ScreamAcres haunted cornfield and a corn maze. Maze hours: 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturdays, 2 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 1. Cost: ScreamAcres, which opens at dark, is $12 for adults, $8 for kids 11 and under. Not recommended for small children. Maze is $8 for adults, $6 for youths ages 5 to 11, free for kids 4 and under. Combo ticket is $16 per adult and $13 per youth. Information: 419-599-1570 or leadersfamilyfarms.com.
•TerrorTown at the Lucas County Fairgrounds, 1406 Key St. in Maumee. Three haunted houses and simulated motion ride. Hours: 8 to 10 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 31. Cost: $11 for adults and $8 for children 8 and under. Combo tickets for all three haunted houses are $20 for adults and $12 for kids. Simulated motion ride is $2. Information: terrortown.net.
•Train of Terror and Haunted Engine House, 11600 County Road 99 in Findlay. Haunted house and haunted train ride. Hours: 8 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 31. Recommended for teens and adults only. Cost: $6 for both attractions. Information: 419-423-2995 or nworrp.org.
Contact Ryan E. Smith at: