After visiting and touring every major haunted house with an extended run, I came up with a list of items that stood out to me in various categories. You will not find any obvious categories like “scariest” or “best” because they are too subjective: Someone who keeps snakes for a pet might find their use in a haunted house absolutely boring, and someone who grew up loving Bozo the Clown might find clowns more amusing than creepy. (For an actual “people’s choice” award for the best haunted house, be sure to vote in Cityview’s yearly survey. Linn’s Supermarket won that in 2013, and Sleepy Hollow got it the year before.)
With that in mind, here are the winners of the 2013 inaugural Des Moines Haunted Houses Awards. (Winning haunts will be receiving a printable certificate suitable for framing, or lining a birdcage.)
- Ames Haunted Forest
- Best Character
- Castle of Blood
- Best Special Effects
- Haunted Barn
- Best Gimmick
- Coolest Use of Blacklight Paint
- Haunted Garage
- Best Home Haunt
- Linn’s Supermarket Haunted House
- Best Dirty Trick
- Madrid, Iowa Light Show
- Best Halloween Display
- Nightmare Estates
- Best Theme – Runner Up
- Best Actors
- Best Theme
- Sleepy Hollow Sports Park
- Most Excessive Use of Pumpkins
- Tormented Souls Haunt
- Best Prop
- Best Vortex Tunnel
- Twisted Tales: The Next Chapter
- Best Sets
- Ultimate Haunted House
- Best Vortex Tunnel – Runner Up
- Cutting Edge
- Zombie Hollow
- Best Home Haunt
Best Actors – Slaughterhouse
This was a very tough one to pick, but overall I felt that the intensity of the Slaughterhouse actors came out on top. Many other haunts were very close, making it too difficult to pick a single runner-up.
Best Character – Ames Haunted Forest: forest stilt thing
I don’t know what to call this creature, but it’s insect-like appearance and movements were unlike anything else around. During my interview video recording, I got to sit in the woods and watch the reactions from a number of groups. All seemed as surprised as I was.
Best Dirty Trick – Linn’s Supermarket Haunted House: separation room
Although I have visited Linn’s a number of times over the years, I was completely unaware of their “separation room.” Without giving away any spoilers to those who have never encountered it, let’s just say it’s clearly one of the best dirty tricks I have ever seen a haunted house pull.
Best Gimmick – Haunted Barn: live snakes and rats
The promise of encountering “live rats and snakes” has been part of the Haunted Barn since it opened, and for those who have phobias for these animals, crawling over cages full of them must be quite the shock.
Best Halloween Display – Madrid, Iowa light show
During our visit to Tormented Souls Haunt in Madrid, we passed a house decorated with a full-on Christmas-light style display, all themed to Halloween. A sign out front invited viewers to tune their FM radio to a specific station to hear the music that the show was synchronized to. Sadly, I never found out who put this show on, so if you know them, tell them they won a virtual award 🙂
Best Home Haunt – Zombie Hollow
Without a doubt, one of the most immersive walk through experiences I have encountered outside of a major theme park was at this home in Urbandale. Almost all the props and animated figures are hand made by Lew Jordan and his crew of helpers. Each year he makes changes to the theme and offers it for free (with goodwill donations accepted for the Sentinels of Freedom charity). This was a phenomenal non-scary attraction.
Best Home Haunt Runner Up – Haunted Garage
The Haunted Garage in Grimes was a very short, but quite intense, haunted house built in a large garage. It really reminded me of the old elementary school haunted houses I grew up with, just with a more modern (and scarier) edge to it.
Best Prop – Tormented Souls Haunt: dragon
Undoubtedly, one of the coolest (and largest) animated props in the area was this creature at Tormented Souls. It was presented in a very surprising way and to me was the highlight of my visit there.
Best Sets – Twisted Tales: The Next Chapter
Making fairy tales evil may not be an original idea (especially if you read how gruesome the original versions already are), but the amount of work that went in to the sets at this haunt is impressive. From paint brushes and carving tools in the Pinocchio room, to the decorated tea table for Alice in Wonderland, there are so many little details. Pity most people rush right past them, usually running from some storybook creature with an axe.
Best Special Effects – Castle of Blood
A few years ago, Sleepy Hollow began upgrading this haunted house with computer controlled lights and sound. Each room has it’s own unique lighting (such as the flickering of flames or candlelight, lightning, or random strobing). There are also FOURTEEN individual channels of sound throughout making it one of (if not the) most complex audio/visual attractions around.
Best Theme – Slaughterhouse
The Slaughterhouse is one of the few haunts that creates and maintains a consistent theme throughout: a pig “rendering” plant. From the endless metal walls to the bloody sets with all the cutting equipment, body parts and bones, you always feel you are in the same attraction.
Best Theme Runner Up – Nightmare Estates
Nightmare Estates, being located in a double-wide trailer house, feels like a redneck trailer from entrance to exit. All the characters are dressed and act as you’d expect, with no out-of-place zombies with chainsaws.
Best Vortex Tunnel – Tormented Souls Haunt
There are four haunted houses in the area with spinning tunnels you walk through. The haunt industry name brand for these is “vortex tunnels” though I do not know if any actual Vortex Tunnel-brand ones exist here. Tormented Soul Haunt’s tunnel was hand-built for the HauntedFX backyard haunted house that operated for years in Urbandale. This one wins simply because it seems to spin so much faster than the others.
Best Vortex Tunnel Runner Up: Ultimate Haunted House
Ultimate Haunted House’s gets the runner up because of it’s high contrast black and white (glowing? blacklight?) pattern which makes it very disorienting.
Coolest Use of Blacklight Paint – Haunted Barn: carnival room
This room had black walls and fluorescent paint, and when the multi-colored lights flashed around, different parts of the room lit up creating a very neat effect. It was surprising how effective just changing the color of lights was at making the walls look different. A similar effect was used in another room where they switched from single color to blacklight which would expose creepy writing on the wall. Very neat.
Cutting Edge – Ultimate Haunted House: entrance window
Ultimate Haunted House added a new high-tech effect for 2013. Without giving any spoilers, let’s just say it was a multi-media experience (with visual, audible and feel-able elements). I look forward to seeing what they can do with it in the future when they have more time to install it.
Most Excessive Use of Pumpkins – Sleepy Hollow Halloween Hayride
After a few years without their classic hayride, Sleepy Hollow brought it back in a different format. Instead of driving past scenes with actors trying to scare the passengers, they changed it in to a family friendly ride past dozens of decorated sets made out of hundreds of individually hand carved pumpkins. There was even one scene themed to Doctor Who!
For 2014, if a past winner of category has no challengers the next year, that category will be retired. This will keep the same haunt from winning the same category over and over.