By Eric Cox
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
On the spookiest night of the year, a howl in the distance as a full moon climaxes may be the least of your 2020 worries.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared trick-or-treating a “high-risk activity,” and local departments of health have taken note. Howard and Prince George’s health departments have discouraged door-to-door trick or treating. Montgomery County is encouraging alternatives to trick-or-treating such as online parties and Halloween drive-in theater movie nights.
Looking to fill the void, three of Maryland’s most well-known haunted houses—The Nevermore Haunt, Bennett’s Curse and Laurel’s House of Horror—are each taking different approaches to Halloween festivities amid the pandemic.
Allan and Jill Bennet, owners of Bennett’s Curse located in Dundalk, Maryland, are adhering to CDC guidelines while reopening this season.
“We have a fogger, which is basically a sprayer which goes through and cleans everything,” Allan Bennet said. “The actors themselves are not permitted to come up to guests, they’ll be scaring at a distance and resetting. We’re minimizing the interaction. We don’t want actors up close and personal with guests.”
Guests and actors will also be subject to temperature checks and hand sanitization, and they will be instructed to wear a mask at all times.
To ensure guests still get a proper scare this Halloween and compensate for the loss of interaction with actors, the Bennets have added other effects.
“The scares will be quicker, and we added more audio scare effects to assist with creating that atmosphere,” Jill Bennet said. “We’re bringing in more tech and merging it with the traditional actor scare methods to still create that over-the-top scare.”
According to one employee, the scares at Bennet’s Curse have never been better.
“I think the haunted house itself is better than last year,” Teresa Pettus said. “We get better every year. They take the time in the offseason to build and change because they always want to make it better. I think the only thing that COVID has affected is the waiting process and if anything, it’s helped us streamline it with virtual lines.”
To avoid crowds, the Bennets have replaced the general admission line with a virtual line. Guests will arrive and then scan a QR code that assigns them a number. Instead of waiting in line guests will go back to their car and receive text notifications that will alert them to get in line.
“Normally we sell tickets and people would get in line and it would be crowded because that’s the nature of what a haunted house is,” Allan Bennet said. “But now we have social distancing markers on the grounds and haunted houses and you only go in once you’ve been called from our virtual queue.”
A full list of COVID-19 safety guidelines may be found on their website at bennettscurse.com.
The Nevermore Haunt will close its doors this Halloween season due to the pandemic. According their website, The Nevermore Haunt has promised to take the additional time off to continue to improve their event for 2021.
Haunted houses such as The Nevermore Haunt require guests to sign waivers before entering and recommend children younger than age 16 be accompanied by an adult. Laurel’s House of Horror recommends that children be over the age of 10 to attend.
Allan Bennet knows haunted houses are an attraction for a demographic that doesn’t generally trick-or-treat, but he hopes the joy people have for the holiday will help them find some way to celebrate.
“I think the love of Halloween and the desire to celebrate isn’t going to go away, despite the circumstances,” Allan Bennet said. “If they can’t trick-or-treat then perhaps, they would consider going to a haunted house and at least have some semblance of normalcy.”