Let me start off by stressing how the intention of this article is NOT to make people duplicate my reviewing style. Given the flaws in it which will be shared below, I actually want people to avoid making the same mistakes I did.
Step 1: Reading Reviews
Reading the work of other haunted attraction reviewers is incredibly important. Not only can does it let you decide on your reviewing style, but it can also help you find haunted attractions in your area that you might have missed while searching on your own. Make sure to check out Mad Martian. Not only does he go into detail about what guidelines he uses to make his final ratings, but he has some great advice about when to attend a haunted attraction for the best experience.
Step 2: Creating Your Rating
I personally advise not using a rating system and adopting a more relaxed “Yay or Nay” approach. There’s much less chance of getting a “broken” system that way. Trying to pin down the exact number of stars (or in my case, skulls) is a pain and I do it out of tradition more than anything else. No matter what you do, it helps to visualize the best and worst haunted attractions you have ever been to. Imagining what you would consider to be the best and worst haunts can work as well. Consider what would make each better or worse.
Please keep in mind you will be grading on a curve. A charity haunted house is not going to be the same as a professional haunted house. The cost of admission (if any) must also be considered.
Step 3: Showing Up
I put my own twist on Mad Martian’s advice about when to attend a haunted attraction: Go towards the middle of its run and at least a half hour after opening. The idea is that the performers will be fully warmed up and not be burned out like they would be at the end of the night (or the season). Sometimes haunted attractions will put aside a special night which only allows reviewers and members of the press. Sometimes admission is free and sometimes there is a discount. The problem is there is no guarantee the high quality performance given on such nights will be carried on for the rest of the time it is open. Some attractions might purposefully phone it in on every night except for the press night since they already got the review they wanted! You don’t want to be caught in that sort of situation, as people will stop trusting your reviews if they keep getting ripped off by deceptive haunts. I never let a haunted attraction know about my visit in advance since I want the same experience as everyone else.
Step 4: Good Patron Skills
A good experience at a haunted attraction can only be had by those who behave properly. wikiHow and Bertram Bertram show everything a visitor should never do. Even something as simple as taking a picture can ruin a haunted attraction. A surprised person could potentially fall and injure someone. Not only could the flash or noise ruin the immersive experience for anyone in the room, but the performer could be shaken out of character and have trouble entertaining the next visitors to the room. If you require pictures or video for your review, be sure to ask permission (more on that later).
Those recording videos should remember you really can’t call yourself a critic if you purposefully scream at every little thing and call that a “review.” Such behavior also ruins it for other patrons. It is also important to keep in mind how, as time goes on, you will become more and more desensitized to scares. A good reviewer can still identify a creative and effective scare without being scared themselves.
Step 5: Obtaining Permission
Always, ALWAYS as for permission to use a camera inside of a haunted attraction before doing so. Many owners of such attractions hate it when people use cameras in their attractions. Do not let the lack of signs forbidding their use or employers who only give you dirty looks rather than tell you “No” fool you into thinking otherwise. A single photograph could get potentially get you thrown out of a haunt. So when you arrive at the haunt, be sure to ask for someone with authority and ask for permission. If taking pictures inside is not an option, they might set aside some time for you after closing in order to get what you need if they know you are going to be reviewing it.
Alternately, you could email them the day after you visit and ask for permission to use images from their website or social media feeds. Sometimes they might even have a special stash of photographs they keep for just such an occasion they don’t publish online for unknown reasons. They are more than happy to offer them to you in exchange for not taking pictures inside the haunt. You might want to neglect mentioning you already visited the haunted attraction when you contact them. Having a positive review of something already posted also helps. Getting permission for images also helps prevent haunt owners from threatening copyright infringement lawsuits in an attempt to get a negative review taken down.
Step 6: Miscellaneous Advice
If you are doing reviews for a website which isn’t solely dedicated to haunted attraction reviews, please include a “haunted attraction” tag in your reviews. This allows interested people to find all of your haunt reviews quickly and easily. Focusing less on snark and more on how a haunt can improve will make the owners more likely to listen to you. It is up to you if you want to look up discounts to include in your reviews, but I think it helps get more people to attend.
Occasionally checking up on attractions you have previously reviewed is also a good idea. You never know when one might shut down, change location or make changes important enough to include in an update. The last thing you need is a reader getting angry at you since some information in your review no longer applies. Including a disclaimer like “Dates, times and prices subject to change as the years go by” also helps prevent this. Some haunted attractions don’t use professionals to take their publicity images and you might get situations where time codes or other unflattering details are shown in them. I recommend getting permission to remove or crop out things like that. Finally, pick out what works best for you. This article tries to provide as much general information as possible and contradictions are bound to occur if you try to do everything.