Haunted attractions are as close as many of us will get to coming face to face with true terror, thank goodness. Here are some fright-filled Halloween nightmares you'll tell your friends you survived. It's never too early to start planning for next year.
The Queen Mary hotel, Long Beach
"The ship is a naturally spooky place," says Tom Cluff, creative director of the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. "Did we scare you? That's our ultimate goal."
The scares start immediately: The only way to enter the attraction is to brave a 220-foot tunnel made from shipping containers, where monsters wait behind a veil of thick fog. The centerpiece, a tower of cargo containers stacked more than 30 feet high, belches out 20-foot flames.
Five mazes, two onshore and three shipboard, provide plenty of monsters and gore. The Hellfire maze includes crossing a catwalk more than two stories above the guts of the old ship. Projections and special effects create the impression that it is on fire. The Submerged maze takes guests through the ship's first-class swimming pool, said to be haunted by a little girl.
The Queen Mary, 1126 Queen's Highway, Long Beach; (877) 342-0738, http://www.queenmary.com. See website for hours. Admission, $35; Fast Fright passes, $55. Hotel packages start at $240 a night, double occupancy, and include two Fast Fright passes and valet parking.
Blood Manor, New York
Blood Manor may be the scariest place in New York City. The 5,000-square-foot haunted house, open until Nov. 7, is on the fifth floor of a building in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.
The manor consists of various themed chambers, decorated to create a dark, creepy atmosphere. There is the Pig Room, the Psycho Chef's Kitchen and the 3-D Circus of Horrors, among others. Visitors are part of the action as they walk through the chambers and mazes, where costumed actors interact with them. The 3-D Circus of Horrors is the last room in an entire 3-D maze. As you enter wearing 3-D glasses, loud circus-like music blasts, and buzzing chainsaws and clown heads come crashing from the ceiling, while two clowns with chainsaws run toward the crowd.
"People love this type of entertainment because they get the thrill of being scared without the actual danger of getting hurt," says co-creator Jim Faro.
Blood Manor, 542 W. 27th St., New York; (212) 290-2825, http://www.BloodManor.com. No one younger than 14 is admitted. See website for dates and times. Advance admission $25, plus $3.50 fee, either online or by phone, (877) 340-3002. At the door, $35, cash only.
House of Shock, Jefferson, La.
If you're into the whole goat's head-pentagram-"Give thy blood to the un-Lord" vibe, the House of Shock in Jefferson, just outside New Orleans, is for you.
You'll see all manner of freaky characters, from Satanic Santa to the Rev. B. Dangerous at owner Steve Joseph's Annual Gathering of the Ghouls, less a haunted house than a multimedia horror show. Ornately choreographed live performances are staged several times a night with actors, stunts, music, video and state-of-the-art lighting.
House of Shock, 319 Butterworth St., Jefferson, La.; (504) 734-7462, http://www.houseofshock.com. See website for dates and times. Tickets are $25 a person at the door.
The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colo.
You can join the hotel's tour guides on a spooky tour and hear its legendary ghost stories and tales highlighting its history and its connection to Stephen King's "The Shining" and visit the most haunted places in the hotel.
Flora Stanley, the first owner's long-deceased wife, can be seen and heard late at night, tinkling the piano keys in the music room or wandering the lobby. The entire fourth floor also teems with a strange, after-dark commotion. If you stay in Room 418, you might hear children playing outside your door, but you'll find nary a soul in the hallway. For the ultimate scare (or inspiration), you can stay in Room 217, where King laid his head.
To celebrate Halloween, the Stanley was to host a murder mystery dinner Oct. 30 and costume balls, Oct. 30 and 31. (And if you're already planning for next year, the dinner is Oct. 28 and the ball Oct. 29.)
The Stanley Hotel, 333 Wonderview Ave., Estes Park, Colo.; (970) 577-4110, http://www.stanleyhotel.com. Ghost and history tours daily, $15 a person; five-hour ghost hunt, $50. Murder mystery dinner, $65; the Shining Costume Ball, $45 for hotel guests, $55 for non-guests. Advance purchase required.