Fear factor: Haunted attractions remain popular despite pandemic concerns

Ansley Puckett, Reporter

Clowns, zombies, grim reapers and masked figures, unlike those walking around the streets today, surround the willing victims walking into an annual haunted house.

Terror by the River, located on Big Hill Road in Todd, once again opened its doors for business Sept. 25 despite a global pandemic, and this year, the haunted house has seen an unusual increase in customers.

The largest Rim Reaper in North Carolina, located at the haunted attraction, Terror by the River. Manager Kristina Ward said there was an increase in visitors this year despite the pandemic. (Courtesy of Kristina Ward)

Kristina Ward, Terror by the River’s manager, said she believes the surge in visitors is from scare fans looking for some normalcy amidst a time of uncertainty.

“I think that maybe people are just looking for outside things they could do, and us being outside is bringing people in. It’s a huge difference actually from last year,” Ward said.

Ward and her husband began preparing the haunted house for the Halloween season in early September, and Ward said the crowds are the only thing that has changed from the previous pandemic-free year. 

“One good thing about a haunted house is they’re already wearing masks,” Ward said. “So, besides the sanitizers and a little bit of extra cleaning, well a lot of extra cleaning, I must say, that’s basically the only thing that’s really different.”

Unlike some other attractions, Terror by the River uses numbers to keep track of customers waiting to enter the haunted house. When it’s a customer’s turn to enter the attraction, employees alert them by calling their number. This reduces the proximity of traditional lines and allows people to social distance while they wait. 

Ashlyn Jennings, a self-proclaimed horror fan, has visited both Terror by the River and nearby haunted attraction Lake Hickory Haunts. Although she was wary of the number of people at the attractions, she still felt safe, Jennings wrote in an email. 

 “When I first visited Terror by the River and Lake Hickory Haunts, the atmosphere was very much enjoyable,” Jennings said. “It felt the same when visiting any haunted house attraction, except only people were wearing masks. It was very much fun being scared but at the same time, being safe.”

Ward said she wants to make Terror by the River’s customers, like Jennings, feel as comfortable as possible while they enjoy the attraction. 

We’re going out of our way to make sure that we’re safe over here and where people can still get out and have a good time,” Ward said.

Lake Hickory Haunts customer Macey Earl wrote in an email that she visited the haunted attraction to take advantage of “the best time of year” and enjoy some normal October activities. 

“People want a way to get out of the house, everyone, including myself, are tired of being stuck at home, and we all want a chance to just have a normal life like it used to be,” Earl said. “I think it is good for people to still get out and be able to have a good time even if you do have to follow certain precautions.”

Ward hopes that Terror by the River’s fear factor will allow people to decompress after months of real fear. 

“I’d say this has taken a toll on a lot of people, most people actually, and for people to get out and let loose and have some fun, I’m sure it feels good, I know it does for me,” Ward said.

According to Terror by the River’s website, the haunted trail, which costs $20 per person, will remain open until Oct. 31 from Friday to Sunday evenings and asks that customers “wear a mask whenever indoors.”