What Scares You? A Breakdown of Common Haunt Themes

As we venture through another season of haunts, we’re enjoying our time attending all the usual big-name, theme park attractions as well as some smaller operations. After many years of being chased by clowns with chainsaws, horror movie killers, vampires in billowy gowns, and of course countless zombies , we’ve come to expect encounters every year with some of the same haunt archetypes. The fact that these themes reappear year after year seems to indicate that they’re the most popular and probably most scary to the public. Here, we break down these common themes and list a few of the current incarnations.

And we ask you: Which of these themes scares you the most?


Vampires have been a popular haunt theme for many years. Vampire mazes usually have elaborate sets, lush soundtracks, and scareactors who love to play up the drama. In our opinion, most haunts focus too much on the sets and drama and don’t provide enough menace to their vampires (and we pray never to see a Twilight-based maze). This year Knott’s Scary resurrects some narcissistic nocturnal blood suckers with their revamped Dominion of the Dead.

Current mazes: Flesh They Crave (Headless Horseman), Castle Vampyre (Freakling Bros.), Bitten (Howl-O-Scream Williamsburg), Club Blood (Cedar Fair Parks), Dominion of the Dead(Knott’s Scary Farm)

Post-apocalyptic Nightmare Scenarios

The post-apocalyptic maze is usually filled with a lot of fog, a deafening soundtrack of industrial or metal tracks, zombie-like scareactors in tattered clothes, graffiti-splattered walls, and the occasional overturned car with a corpse inside. Oh, and don’t forget the metal barrels. We wonder where all the metal barrels will come from after the apocalypse, but in a maze, they make a great hiding place for monsters. This theme has been a favorite at Knott’s Scary Farm for many years.

Current mazes: Endgames: Warriors of the Apocalpyse and Fallout Shelter (Knott’s Scary Farm),

Horror Movie Killers

Another classic theme. Horror movie mazes are popular because their killers are instantly recognizable by the guests, which gives any scareactor in a killer’s mask a built-in terror factor. HHN Hollywood has built their entire event around the movie theme. However, there are only so many iconic killers, and HHN might be running out of icons they can choose from. We’re already seeing a change in direction at HHN Hollywood which has started to include a some original mazes to their lineup. This year the killers also seem to be rather absent and harder to find than they were in years past.

Current mazes: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Halloween Horror Nights)

Ghosts and Apparitions

This is a hard theme to pull off in a maze. Effective ghost scares rely on a very precise build up of suspense. Ghosts are usually ethereal and elusive, and how do you turn that into a scare? For this reason, we don’t see many of these haunts, and the most effective have been at Halloween Horror Nights.

Current mazes: Dead End (HHN Orlando), La Llorona (Halloween Horror Nights), Headless Horseman (NY), Main Street Hotel (Hong Kong Disneyland)


It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between a post-apocalyptic maze and a zombie maze. The two themes go hand in hand. All things zombie have been very popular for the past several years. This is often a low-budget maze theme because all you need is some makeup and tattered clothes—and voila—you have a zombie! As with vampires, we usually don’t find the zombie mazes to be too scary. Zombies are usually portrayed as slow-moving, drooling creatures. Haunts should consider putting a new spin on their zombie mazes if they want to keep the theme interesting.

Current mazes: The Walking Dead (Halloween Horror Nights) Zombie Mortuary (Howl O Scream Tampa), The Uprising (Fear Overload), Zombie Manor (Texas), Pittsburgh Zombies (Pittsburgh Scarehouse), Zombieland (13th Floor, Phoenix), Virus Z (Knott’s), Ward of the Dead  (Fright Dome)

Slaughterhouse (often paired with hillbillies and cannibalism)

People must really be afraid of being cannibalized, because this is a theme that won’t die. These mazes are gory and disgusting, often including scents of rotting meat and sprays of blood as you walk past a gruesome scene of dismemberment.

Current mazes: Uncle Willy’s Slaughterhouse (Knott’s Scary Farm), Glutton’s Slaughterhouse (Headless Horseman), Slaughterhouse (Scream World, Texas), Hillbilly Hell (Fright Dome, Las Vegas), Blood Shed (Worlds of Fun)

Clowns and Circus

The technical term for fear of clowns is coulrophobia, and haunts love to exploit this common terror. Clown mazes often have a lot of black light and warped and demented soundtracks. These mazes can be fun or terrifying, depending on your personal fears.

Current mazes: Uncle Bobo’s Big Top of the Bizarre (Knott’s), Circus of Superstition 3-D (Howl-O-Scream Tampa), The Forsaken (Pittsburgh Scarehouse)


Haunted Mansions

We love a good haunted mansion, and yet this theme can fall flat if not done right. The best haunted mansions are usually put on by smaller haunts with a crew dedicated to extreme detail (for example, Reign of Terror).

Current Mazes: Willoughby’s Resurrected (Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest), Dark Manor (Connecticut), G. A. Boeckling’s Eerie Estate (Cedar Point), Reign of Terror, CA, Netherworld (GA)


Insane Asylum

Maybe they are insensitive to those with mental illness, but insane asylums are always creepy and scary. The frenetic and unpredictable nature of the scareactors and the dank sets combine to create that uncomfortable feeling that puts you on edge.

Current mazes: The Asylum (Reign of Terror, CA), Terror Behind the Walls (PA), Mangler Asylum (Valley Fair), The Asylum Haunted House (CO)

Pirates/Natical Haunts

This is one of the newest themes, and the number of pirate mazes has jumped considerably since the Pirates of the Caribbean movies hit theaters. Of course, Pirates of Emerson in California is the original pirate maze, but other haunts are getting creative and coming up with some interesting takes on the theme.

Current mazes: Pirates of Emerson, Ghost Ship, USS Nightmare, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, Pirates’ Revenge (Jason’s Woods), Carnage at Crimson Isle (Valley Scare)

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3 Responses to “What Scares You? A Breakdown of Common Haunt Themes”

  1. yo says:

    why do you call everything mazes? the term you are looking for is “walk through”

    • Matt E. Horn says:

      Good question. You are correct that there are many variations of what people can call haunted attractions, some say houses (east coast), walk-through, etc. It wouldn’t be efficient, when writing, to list every possible variation so we defer to “mazes” here on Scare Zone because it is a common term used by our readers. In addition, a majority of haunts such as Universal, Knott’s, and the other Cedar Fair Haunts, along with other mid-size and small haunts, refer to their attractions as mazes.

  2. 4xdblack says:

    my greatest fear.. is of..

    mental case OCD optimists.

    no creature in the world would stand a chance against an OCD optimist.

    what scares me?