The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, October 08, 2019 1:00 am

Scaring up customers

Hysterium owner keeps horrors fresh at haunted house

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

The monsters shuffle around outside the Hysterium Haunted Asylum in Fort Wayne. There's the obligatory psycho with a chain saw, what appears to be a creature covered head to toe in long hair and a mad surgeon who is carrying around a jar of hearts.

They surround Brett Molitor but he doesn't react. Of course, it is daytime and their real terror work begins at night, but even then we don't believe Molitor would be affected. After all, these are his monsters. It's not his creations; he leaves that up to the actors, but it is his haunted house and the horrors inside are how he makes his living.

And being scared is a big business.

One only has to take a look at the big screen, and the small screen, to see a number of horror-related films and TV shows. “It,” based on Stephen King's novel of a shape-shifting clown that preys on children, released in 2017, ranks as the highest grossing horror film. The movie's success was followed by a sequel this year.

And consumers are not shy about spending money on horror-related things. Research has shown that people enjoy being scared while in a safe environment whether it's at a movie, on a thrill ride or in a haunted attraction. Americans are expected to shell out $8.8 billion on Halloween spending this year.

“Halloween has become the second largest holiday in the country after Christmas,” Molitor says. “People love to be scared.”

Molitor has been working in the scare business since the 1980s. The 60-year-old Huntington man is the president of the Haunted Attraction Association in Grandville, Michigan. He has been on the board six years.

It's estimated that there are more than 1,200 haunted attractions charging admission in the U.S., according to America Haunts, an organization that offers fear-based entertainment.  After all, for many of these places, it's about as close to starring in a horror movie as you can get without actually being in one.

In addition to Hysterium, Molitor also operates the Haunted Hotel in Huntington. The haunted house was housed in an old building downtown, but since that building was sold, the team has had to get creative. This year they are operating Hooded Haunted Hotel 13th Floor, which is set up in a tent and participants have a hood placed over their head and follow a rope along the path, Molitor says. “A lot of people are not going to like the loss of control,” Molitor says.

It's just one more way to up the scare ante.

Molitor has seen many changes in the haunted world over the years, especially during his time on the Haunted Attraction Association, which serves as the voice of the haunted attraction industry.

He says there has been an increase in better scenes, better characters and better actors. Masks have gone through a transition, being made with silicone which allows it to fit perfectly to an actor's face. As far as characters, Molitor says zombies are starting to fade away, but clowns are making a comeback and “surprisingly, dinosaurs are the new one.” There also are scenes placing participants in the Louisiana bayou and the theme of Voodoo is becoming more popular, he says.

The industry is also trying to become safer, Molitor says. His organization is working with fire marshals and other experts to push haunted attractions to make sure safety standards are high, including treating everything with flame-retardant paint, he says.

But even with all the knowledge of what's scary, Molitor doesn't consider himself a scary guy and he laughs when asked if he sits around and tries to come up with what things will scare people.

“I'm not an artist,” Molitor says. “I'm not a big horror fan. I'm the guy that likes to do the marketing.” 

Instead he leaves the horror and scaring up to his team.

Even though we've just started with this year's Halloween season, Molitor is already talking about what will happen next year.

And no doubt, you can expect it to be scary.

Terri Richardson writes about area residents and happenings that affect their lives in this column that publishes every other week. Email her at or call 461-8304.

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