You Can't Scare America

Inside the weird world of professional haunting where Halloween profiteers are searching to find news way to frighten people

Therese + Joel for TIME

Not scared at the Headless Horseman in Ulster Park, N.Y.? You may already be undead.

A blood red stain marks the dressmaker's dummy that guards the door to Michael Jubie's office. Beyond that silent sentry and up an old staircase, Jubie commands 250 two-way radios and a split-screen array of the security cameras that watch over Headless Horseman Hayrides & Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, N.Y., the autumnal attraction he co-owns. Its 45 acres are home to six haunted houses. Inside, Jack the Ripper's gutted victims share space with portraits that come alive as you pass and twitching baby dolls with eyes that seem to follow you. It is, in a word, scary.

But these days scary isn't so easy to define. Anecdotally, many independent haunts are going gangbusters, despite gloomy signs. The obstacle that does come up over and over in conversations with haunters is not about getting customers interested — it's about how people are getting harder to frighten.

"I firmly believe that the pop-out scare, the quick startle, still is the best scare," says Jubie. "But our guests are looking for Hollywood-quality sets and scares."

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