SCARING UP PROFITS: How corporate America is turning creepy into cold cash

Like a mindless zombie, fear has creeped its way into the business world and gone on to become a financially lucrative option for everyone from filmmakers to TV show producers to sporting-event organizers.

Much like the heart-stopping roller coasters that cash in on the rider’s need for speed, horror – in its many morphing forms – is proving quite profitable.
On TV, AMC’s The Walking Dead series is eating up ratings big time by bringing zombies to the small screen. Last week’s season three premier delivered a total of 15.2 million viewers – numbers that buried the season two opener by more than 50 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research Highlights.
In the cinema, hordes of moviegoers are flocking to fright flicks. The Movie Insider website shows a listing of 16 horror films hitting theaters from September through October.
And in popular culture, haunted attractions, Halloween pop-up costume shops, and zombie mud runs and survival manuals are snatching a greater number of dollars from those people willing to part with their cash to dabble in the macabre, pump up their pulse rate, or simply enjoy a little escapism.
So, what motivates people to pay for the heart-pounding experience of running for their lives while being chased by hungry, monstrous creatures or to navigate a moonlit cornfield with Leatherface in hot pursuit with his rum-rum-rrroaring chainsaw?
“I think people are more comfortable with the darker side of life,” said Patrick Konopelski, owner of Shocktoberfest and founder of the Zombie Mud Run.
“We (members of the haunt or horror community) have become more acceptable, more mainstream.”
Zombies in particular have clawed their way into living rooms like never before.
Certainly, The Walking Dead has helped raise the profile of Shocktoberfest by capturing an audience of millions, but zombies, Konopelski said, are not a trend, since trends usually disappear after 15 minutes.
The undead shufflers sprang up for the first time this year at Shocktoberfest, a haunted attraction which takes place in Sinking Spring near Reading through Nov. 4.
The Zombie Revenge Haunted Hayride is a new feature at the 21st annual event; it showcases animals and plants exhibiting unusual cravings. Meanwhile, the Zombie Mud Run, which took place on Sept. 22, is the first of a series of 5K obstacle course runs the company will offer brave athletes across the nation.
More than 1,500 people participated in the initial run. A second outbreak is planned for Nov. 3 at the Field of Terror Haunted Farm in East Windsor, N.J.
Next year, eight mud run locations are planned, Konopelski said.
Konopelski said the enthusiasm can be traced to the under-30 generation, which generally seeks a greater participation in life and frequently shows heavy use of social media to promote events and experiences.
It’s an enthusiasm that hasn’t showed signs of slowing down, even when the economy hit what he described as the “Grand Canyon of speed bumps” in 2008-’09.
“Even though many industries fell apart during that time, people still need and want to be entertained,” said Konopelski. “Entertainment can’t be exported.”
He generally hires between 125 to 150 people each season and these actors, makeup artists and other personnel perform shows night after frightful night.
To get into the industry, companies need to invest between $325,000 to $1.5 million, said Konopelski, who is also president of the Haunted Attraction Association, an official association of the haunt industry.
A lot of money is spent in research and development so Shocktoberfest can find new ways to reinvent itself, he added.
One example is The Unknown, which is a 5,000-square-foot haunted house that combines 3D video with a real world environment and computer-controlled animatronics, light and sound effects.
“It’s a real business model,” said Konopelski. “We helped create the industry; we are right up there with amusement parks and theme parks.
“It’s fun and I love it because we get to be Walt Disney for a month.”

Brian Pedersen
Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108.

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