Every autumn a frightening fever sweeps the nation from its biggest cities to its smallest towns. It's the annual opening of eerie exhibitions: Haunted houses, creepy mazes and frightening fairs. Abandoned prisons and decrepit cruise ships re-create scary scenes and tales of terror for chill seekers to enjoy.
Each year there are new trends in the business of fear, including live performances by actors trained to terrify even the toughest customers. These attractions have morphed beyond the neighborhood haunted house and have become popular tourist destinations across the country.
The Queen Mary
Long Beach, California
Ahoy! Hop aboard Southern California's Queen Mary -- a 12-deck ship -- and experience 7 terrifying mazes; 1 sassy "fright mistress" in her private lair, a 45,000-square-foot "Dome of Doom" dance hall; and all the requisite skeletons, blood and gore.
What's Cool: Live bands and a dance party keep crowds entertained.
Pirates of Emerson
Shiver me timbers! While you won't see Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom cavorting with these spooky pirates, visitors to Pirates of Emerson will take a haunted trip back in time to the 15th century, an era when some wicked pirates ruled the high seas. Here at Emerson, the reincarnated pirates lurk in 3 different mazes. Vortex tunnels, trap doors, disorienting strobe lights and, of course, a hulking shell of a pirate-infested ship make this attraction horrifically unforgettable.
What's Cool: Don't miss the 3-D pirate maze!
Hangman's House of Horrors
Fort Worth, Texas
Based on the legend of "Hangman," a 19th-century murderer who killed his victims by hanging them along the banks of the Trinity River until he was killed by an angry lynch mob ... or was he? When the gravedigger arrived to bury his body, it was nowhere to be found. Today, Hangman's House of Horrors features 3 additional attractions: The Cirque de Fantomes, Hillbillies Revenge and the 3-D Funhouse. Hang around the grounds for live entertainment including bands, rides, karaoke and body art. Partial proceeds benefit local charities.
What's Cool: Inspired by the legend of Hezekiah Jones, a murderer known as "Hangman."
This notorious thrill park plantation features 4 haunted attractions, including the "Labyrinth of Terror," where a decapitated spirit -- Lady Cassandra -- refuses to rest peacefully. Horrific images from her tortured past fill the area. Or check out Dr. Lycan's "Trail of Torment," where an insane psychologist works his twisted experiments on innocent visitors to the plantation. Braver souls may want to visit the misty "Voodoo Bayou," but watch out for the bayou creatures!
What's Cool: Meet some unsavory spirits at Granny Lupus' Seance Theater.
Glen Mills, Pennsylvania
When you check in to the Bates Motel, be prepared for the creepiest trip you'll ever take. Whether exploring the hotel's gruesome interior of computerized lighting and high-tech special effects, hopping aboard the 20-minute haunted hay ride through a forest of nightmarish ghouls, or getting lost in the spine-tingling aisles of the corn maze, visitors are sure to be spooked.
What's Cool: A haunted corn maze will leave you freaked!
During the Great Depression when factory workers lost their jobs, a lot of them also lost their minds and were thrust into insane asylums. Allegedly, the Fright Factory building once housed one such asylum. Many of these committed people were forgotten and left to their own devices, breeding nightmarish packs of crazy killers who inspired some of Hollywood's notorious villains, like Freddy Kruger from "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and Michael Myers of "Halloween."
What's Cool: Ghoulish fiends are masquerading as Hollywood's famous villains.
Eastern State Penitentiary
The looming stone behemoth that is Eastern State Penitentiary is frightening enough on its own, but some brilliant minds have infused it with horror by creating "Terror Behind the Walls," a very creepy haunted attraction. The 11-acre complex hosts 5 haunted houses, including the newest, "Night Watch," which visitors explore on their own, in the dark with only flashlights to guide them.
What's Cool: ESP is housed in a 176-year-old former prison.
Chamber of Chills
Staged for the first time outside in an expansive parking lot, the Chamber of Chills has mastered the creepy art of using sound and lighting -- and some very talented actors -- to bait and confuse visitors to the site. The outdoor elements and large space give the show an even spookier atmosphere and the extraordinary makeup and costume design guarantee a night of fright!
What's Cool: The chamber is outside, giving a late-autumn chill to the spooky thrills.