Pennsylvania’s historic Hersheypark recently launched a world-class 2022 Halloween event filled with new attractions and scare actors. But what does it take to transform a venue or theme park into a new world filled with horror, darkness, and various types of fears in a safe way? We asked the Pasadena-based team, Zeitgeist Design & Production, to share their insight with us.
“We were asked to develop three immersive and story-rich haunted houses inspired by local Pennsylvania legends: the Haunted Coal Mine, Creature Chaos, and the Twisted Darkness,” said Ryan Harmon, president and chief creative officer of Zeitgeist.
Transforming a theme park
Harmon and Joe Lanzisero — both former Disney Imagineers — and their Zeitgeist team tapped into their nearly four decades of worldwide theme park attraction design and production experience to take modern Halloween walk-through attractions to the next level. “We approached each haunted house like a dark ride,” said Harmon, who wrote the narrative for each house. “As you trepidatiously make your way through this series of fantastic environments, your ride vehicle acts as your feet while an enthralling story unfolds all around you, before ending in a spectacular finale each time. Our goal was not just to scare guests physically, but also emotionally. We want to leave them with scares that will haunt them in your dreams.” Indeed, this group of industry veterans know that the best haunted houses are the ones that guests will remember — even if the memory is more frightening than it is fun.
“We wanted to create thrilling experiences that are unique to Pennsylvania, so our team spent a great deal of time researching legends and lore local to the region,” said Lanzisero, Zeitgeist’s executive vice president and chief art director. “Of course, Hersheypark’s natural forested and creekside setting — especially in the autumn — provided an already dark palate to paint on.”
The team behind the house
The entirety of the Zeitgeist team is made up of world-class user experience designers, meaning they all have a shared commitment to providing creative development services at a reasonable cost. This results in admission being a fraction of what someone would normally pay for big brand production and design studios.
“We are firm believers in making our clients’ get their money’s worth with these projects. That’s why we operate like a film production — a core team of industry veterans that expands as needed, casting the very best talent — for each specific effort,” says Harmon. He and Lanzisero emphasize that, “there is no B-Team — our senior staff oversees every detail of every project.” While the two industry veterans may be the company’s top executives, they remain involved in the project’s strategy and oversight all the way through to its eventual execution.
The Zeitgeist team focuses its talents on taking original stories, historical tales, intellectual properties, and mythologies to transform them into innovative and immersive experiences. The goal, according to Harmon, is to transport guests to times, places, and situations beyond their imagination.
The house themes
One haunted house, “Haunted Coal Mine,” invites guests deep underground into an abandoned Pennsylvania mineshaft where a gang of mischievous, gnome-like men have unearthed gold, but will do whatever they need to horde their treasure. Guests have mentioned that “it is not for the faint of heart.” Inside, guests experience walking through a swamp as ghouls lurk in the shadows nearby.
The house “Creature Chaos” is inspired by the legends of mythical creatures said to inhabit Pennsylvania’s forests. Upon entering, guests travel through an outdoor trail haunted by a creature that recently escaped from a nearby sideshow. Inside this bespoke house, guests are introduced to nefarious cryptozoologist Professor Stanley Darkstone, the leader of a traveling sideshow whose captive, hungry creatures inevitably break free of their cages to prey on unlucky guests.
The audience’s favorite house this year, “Twisted Darkness,” introduces a grotesque carnival of nightmares from another dimension, and only the psychic visions of fortuneteller Madame Zola can access them. In this encounter, guests attempt to escape an evil netherworld as the funhouse they originally entered quickly becomes a madhouse, threatening to trap them in its “tragic kingdom” forever. Guests have shared this house as their favorite because of the visceral scares that jump out closer than expected, making for a thrilling experience all the more realistic.
Guests and Halloween enthusiasts can expect a thrilling night at Hersheypark Halloween, thanks to Zeitgeist Design & Production’s exceptional ability to foster real-life user experiences.