Has quarantine rendered your family unable to experience the many joys of the Halloween season? Are you searching for a spooky and unique experience to keep your friends and family thrilled while remaining safe and healthy? Well Bates Motel has the proper safety precautions where you can put your fears to rest — well, “kind of.”
Over the years, Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride has been a staple in the Northeast for Halloween events. Bates has gained national acclaim and praise, featuring attractions that have been highlighted on television, including a haunted hayride that has been listed as one of the top haunted attractions in America by various national publications, and a haunted house regarded as one of the best in America. Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride has definitely made a name for itself not only in the haunting industry, but also in the eyes of Halloween aficionados nationwide. We sat down with Randy Bates, the manager of Bates Motel, to understand the ins and outs of running a haunted attraction.
The Halloween experience was common for Bates in his childhood. Considering that he was raised on a farm, doing things like bobbing for apples, making crispy gingersnaps and homemade costumes, and going for hayrides along his neighbor’s haunted trail were regular Halloween events. These experiences led Bates to have a fascination with his neighbor’s haunted trail and prompted him to learn more about how the operation worked. Eventually, it got to the point where he was actively involved in the business.
After some time, Bates’ neighbor no longer wanted to be involved with the haunting industry. However, this didn’t stop Bates from wanting to pursue haunting and haunted attractions. Deriving great joy and inspiration from the work he did with his neighbor, Bates, along with a few friends, decided to craft an attraction of their own.
“We had been doing hayrides to bonfires for church groups, Boy Scouts, sororities, fraternities, all kinds of groups. We had tractors and hay wagons and I said, well, you know what, let’s do the same thing (the neighbor) was doing, but we’ll do it on a hayride. I didn’t even know if anybody else was doing haunted hayrides. So it was a completely new thing for us. “
The Haunted Hayride, which is now one of Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride’s staple attractions and Bates’ personal favorite, quickly started gaining popularity, which led the site to expand to include not only a haunted house but also a haunted trail in an ominous cornfield, zombie laser tag, and even ax throwing. Soon after, Bates was able to quit his full-time job and commit completely to Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride. With a newfound following, Bates continued to make even bigger and greater attractions, including new props, attractions, and themes. Bates described the lengthy process of creating a new haunt from safety to lighting and sound systems.
“We try to plan everything out to the final detail,” he said. “There’s so much involved: the walking paths, the emergency accidents, infrastructure, electrical, air, the sound systems, lighting. There’s a lot of safety precautions that you have to do, especially in a haunted house. We have a team of artists, construction guys, and welders. Our core group will get together, sit down, and we’ll start to go over a design for an attraction or sets, how we’re going to build it, how we painted it, and where the scare is going to be. One of my artists has made miniature models of some of the builds that we’ve done, so you can actually look at it and see what (the build) was going to look like.”
Within the past six months, the rise of COVID-19 and a call for nonessential businesses to shut down temporarily has drastically changed many of the ways Bates and his team approach this business model.
“It’s been scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s so much uncertainty with (COVID-19). It’s obviously impacted us quite a bit. … We have needed to limit the number of customers that are on the property at the same time. Everybody wears a mask the whole time they’re here, everybody’s distanced, there’s hand sanitizers all over the place. When our customers show up, they’re put into a queue and they go through a safety checkpoint. So they’re walking through a metal detector and then they’re getting their temperature taken. Because of COVID, the entire attraction is linear. That means when you come out of the hayride psychopath trail, you’re forced to go into the haunted trail in the cornfield, and when you come out of that, you’re forced to go into the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride. When you come out of that, you can’t go back into the other attractions. So it’s all a matter of keeping people safe and social distancing.”
Despite the setbacks that Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride has dealt with because of the pandemic, it has maintained a steady audience and dedicated crowd who can’t stay away from its ever-evolving sets and unique attractions, its rich maroon blood stains, realistic wispy spiderwebs and vivid light fixtures that create an environment that is captivating as it is creepy.
“We change a lot of our attractions every year. We’ve got certain sets that are very expensive builds and are very popular. We’ll keep a lot of those big builds, but we’ll go in on one of the attractions and change about 25% of it, then we add things to two other attractions. We build a lot of our own props and all of our own sets. All my actors are wearing masks now … that are custom-made silicone masks that we’ve made ourselves in-house. … some of our hayride trails have 15- and 20-foot-tall monsters.”
Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride continues to be a driving force for haunted attractions across the country with its unique set designs and costumes, bringing all types of crowds to work and visit, from doctors and lawyers to veterinarians. Even though Bates has been working in this industry for a long time, he still derives great joy from the process of it all and the community he has been able to establish.
“I really enjoy watching people come out and having a good time. When they come out and they’re laughing, especially when you get teenage boys, you know, 14, 15 years old, and they come running out and they’re high-fiving each other, you did something special.”