Horror in the Heartland: Elevating the Art of the Halloween Haunted House

Hanna Haunted Acres is rated as one of the best haunts in the country, and it’s in The Post’s hometown. We sent a team to find the truth. If they make it back.

The entrance to a haunted house amusement park
Hanna Haunted Hayride Entrance. (Photo by Becky Brownfield)

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Every year, as the autumn chill sets in and the days on the calendar drift closer to Halloween, peaceful American nights are split with the sound of screams. They’re special screams, the kind that mix fright with delight, an ear-splitting cocktail that can only come from one place: the haunted house attraction. All over the country, you’ll find them in fields, vacant department stores, museums, and public parks. One of the greatest haunted attractions in the country can be found in the Hoosier state:  Hanna Haunted Acres.

Ranked number two in the entire country by USA’s Greatest Haunts (behind only Ultimate Terror Scream Park in Sacramento, CA), Hanna Haunted Acres takes advantage of its setting by offering six attractions that include a hayride, a corn maze, and four separately themed indoor haunts. Open since 1992, they’ve drawn praise from groups like the Haunted House Association. A reputation that prodigious raises the question: how great is it? I decided to find out.

This intrepid staff writer decided to go right into the belly of the beast with my favorite companions: my family. They accompanied me on last year’s trek to last year’s stellar Louisville Jack O’Lantern Spectacular (where my wife Becky was team photographer), and they were ready to get scared. This time, however, I’d be writing with two additional correspondents: Connor (age 14) and Kyle (12). The website recommends that 12 is generally the proper lower age for attendees, as they’ve got some seriously gross effects (that’s a compliment). Our passes were provided by the venue.

From the large common area, the four indoor attractions are split between buildings, with the entrance to Pandemic (the corn maze) off to the left. In between the buildings are the concession stand and entrance to the Hanna Haunted Hayride. Various tents offered a virtual reality experience and a palm reader. Things had just opened and it was still a little lighter outside, so we opted to go indoors first; this turned out to be a good choice for the overall impact of our trip.

The trailer for Hanna Haunted Acres (©Hanna Haunted Acres 2019)

For our first attraction, we hit . . .

Blood Barn: The theme here is pretty obvious: it’s the kind of combination haunted barn/slaughterhouse vibe you’d find in films like A Texas Chainsaw Massacre or 1980’s Motel Hell. At the outset, one of the attendants ran down a list of rules and expectations, reiterating that the actors do not touch the patrons and that patrons shouldn’t touch the actors. The staff was overwhelmingly positive and helpful and dutifully recited the rules. One attendant even made sure to note that if one of the party lost something (a phone, etc.) that she or someone else could go back in to look for it. The Barn turned out to be the shortest tour time (about five minutes), but it packed a lot in. The characters’ costumes here played to the theme. We were surprised to find some mechanically-powered scares in addition to the jump-scares supplied by the cast.

Outbreak: Outbreak packs more of a zombie apocalypse vibe. While the rustic horror of Blood Barn was well-designed, Outbreak is a level up, with wrecked cars, jagged fencing, and other markings of a society in collapse. The larger venue and longer walk-through time allowed for more actors and more scares, a couple of which really startled us. This setting was particularly good at distracting you with one effect and following up with another, bigger scare while your attention was diverted. This installation also made use of air-powered scares and characters, as well as wire-rigged elements. As we made our exit, one cast member even followed us out the door to continue menacing us for a few extra seconds. Outbreak was a solid entry.

Freakshow: Freakshow taps into that bedrock of fear: clowns. With a backstory that suggested crazed clowns and other carnies created by a toxin, you knew that you’d be in for a particular experience. As we walked in the first door, the clown heads everywhere made that clear. The overall carnival theme had some great fine details, such as a stray bucket of popcorn with a human face inside. The performers here really leaned into their costumes, playing the scary clown roles to the hilt. They also made good work of “the follow,” quietly insinuating themselves into groups for a later scare. One performer in ringmaster gear unleashed a prolonged squealing giggle that was worthy of a Batman villain; he kept it up as he followed along, seemingly delighted with his own ability to menace. This was a standout.

Descension: This is a new attraction, and it really worked for me. Advertised as a dark haunt, it uses the lack of light effectively. Some passages are pitch-black, while others are dimly lit, which might be even spookier. Despite the mentions of tunnels in the site description, visitors don’t need to actually crawl. However, the atmosphere does lend the definite feeling of being in a cave. One of my favorite unexpected moments of the entire visit came in this building, but I’m not going to reveal it here. But it was a substantial surprise.

Pandemic: Pandemic is a strong entry in that most Midwestern of haunting genres: the haunted corn maze. With a theme built around a plane crash, a virus, and human-animal hybrids hiding in the corn, this one had a great premise from the outset. On the inside of the maze, scares came quickly from a variety of characters, including, yes, that old favorite: Guy With Chainsaw. It actually took some work to figure your way out of the maze, which lent an extra air of tension as you could hear other visitors screaming while you tried to find your way. That elevates this maze from others where the scares are too few and far between.

Hanna Haunted Hayride: Hanna Haunted Acres considers this their signature attraction, and it’s easy to see why. This is a scary joy from start to finish. Clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, it’s a much longer ride than a lot of other locations will give you, and the trip is backed with a great variety of performers, apparatuses, animatronics, and clever set design. You get ambient music, sound effects, bursts of flame, and shocks coming from all directions (even above). The constantly evolving parade of elements kept the guests engaged for the entire ride, and that’s a tough feat to achieve. That steady progress also kept the attendees focused on the ride itself, rather that side conversations that can detract from your immersion in the experience. Instead, people were either reacting to some excellent set piece or laughing or screaming. I thought that the other attractions ran from very solid to great, but this one is outstanding.

Hanna Haunted Acres really brings the scares.  They did a great job of living up to their reputation and obviously entertained the crowd. Our family had a truly good time. If you’re the kind of person that goes out of your way to chase what’s lurking in the dark, this is a fine place to find it. Connor and Kyle filed their reports as well.

Kyle and Connor Brownfield in front of the Haunted-Acres sign.
Brave junior reporters Kyle and Connor Brownfield. (Photo by Becky Brownfield)

Kyle’s Take: We were able to participate in all the experiences at Hanna Haunted Acres. We started at Blood Barn, which in my opinion was the least scary. There were a few jump scares including a man with a pig mask and a machete. After that we continued to Outbreak which was filled with zombies and people wrapped in gauze and bandages. Outbreak was longer than Blood Barn was, and more people were hidden in secret places. Everyone got pretty freaked out by a zombie popping out of a fridge with a loud pop and screaming.

After “escaping” Outbreak, we headed to Freakshow, the haunted carnival.  Freakshow was filled with clown masks on the walls, bright colors, and clowns popping out left and right. There were two clowns that followed us at two different points. One of them was a clown shorter than 5 feet with a razorblade in his hand. The other was a taller guy with pale white clown makeup.

After leaving Freakshow, we ventured into Descension. Descension was mainly dark and sparsely lit with blue lights. My favorite animatronic was in Descension. Also, in Descension was a thick fog layer that made it appear that there was no floor beneath you and was cut off around your waist. We travelled to Pandemic next, which was an artificial cornfield with creatures (mainly with chainsaws) inside. It was a little hard to navigate at first, but we eventually found the exit.

After finding our way out of the corn maze, we rode the Haunted Hayride which include pyrotechnics, flashing lights, and animatronics. My favorite part was when a guy took off his mask and pointed his staff at people and asked how we were doing.

The experience was great, and the staff did a great job of being safe and respectful. I totally recommend going there if you haven’t before.

Connor’s Take: Hanna Haunted Acres provides a wide variety of entertaining experiences that both frighten and delight at the same time. No two exhibits are the same, whether you’re being followed by clowns in the Freakshow haunt or chased through a corn maze by a chainsaw-wielding killer in Pandemic.

We were able to travel through all six experiences, each filled with skilled actors fitted with costumes, makeup, and tools designed to solicit maximum response from visitors. Each experience also contains an array of detailed animatronics that talk, float, swing, or lunge at you, sometimes all at once. Nothing touches you, but that fact does nothing to make it seem less real. I spent the entire time jumping or laughing at the reactions of my family members.

You’ll have a great time at Hanna Haunted Acres. It doesn’t matter if things are coming at you through the smoke in the Descension area or giant monsters are blowing fire at the sky during the Haunted Hayride. All the experiences provided me with tremendous quantities of fun, even when it was a little frightening. It’s a brilliant dose of Halloween fun for those who like to be up close and personal with things they only ever see in their nightmares.

The Details: Hanna Haunted Acres is located at 7323 E Hanna Ave in Indianapolis, Indiana, and will remain open until November 2. Hours run from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Sundays and open weeknights (consult the calendar) and 7 p.m. to Midnight on Friday and Saturday. A full pricing chart is on the website. Hanna Haunted Acres offers some substantial discounts if you purchase online ahead of time. You can purchase general admission to all attractions, a Hayride only pass, or a Fast Pass, which covers all six attractions and puts you in a fast lane. If you can swing it, the Fast Pass is a great option, particularly with the Hayride as it builds up a substantial queue. Children five and under are free on the Hayride; the other attractions require paid admission, but are not recommended for children under 12.


Featured image: Hanna Haunted Hayride Entrance. (Photo by Becky Brownfield).

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