What’s your biggest fear? Is it enclosed spaces? Dark places? Spiders? Clowns? Disappointing your parents? Whatever it might be, everyone, even the most macho among us, is afraid of something. During the Halloween season, the operators of haunted houses do their damnedest to expose these fears and use them against us. They get off on it. And in a sick, twisted way, so do we.
People like getting scared. How else do you explain the popularity of haunted houses? South Florida's haunts tend to draw long lines come October. Here are your options for a freaky good time this year.
1. Enigma Haunt. What began as a few Halloween decorations in a garage for trick-or-treaters has turned into a full-scale, two-floor haunted house in a former Bally Total Fitness. Enigma — owned and operated by Billy and Karen Groeneveld — offers three haunts: The witch-themed Cursed, the clown-heavy Twisted Mayhem, and the mixed bag that is Realms of Terror. Patrons are shuffled into the haunts in smaller groups, which beats the aggravating large-group format of some other attractions where you miss out on scares. The whole thing should take you about an hour or so, giving you real bang for your buck. And as a bonus, a portion of that buck goes to the anti-bullying campaign Don’t Be a Monster. 7 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday through October 27 and October 31 and 7 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday and Sunday through October 28 and October 30 at 1751 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton; 855-99-HAUNT; enigmahaunt.com. Tickets cost $25 to $45.
2. Fright Nights. Prepare to have your childhood fairy tales and nursery rhymes tainted at Twisted Tales, where you’ll find out what exactly made Mary quite contrary. Twisted Tales is one of four haunts with detailed backstories at Fright Nights, now in its 17th year in the scaring biz. Regulars can expect to see a few familiar faces, because Fright Nights — which also offers live entertainment, carnival rides, and now Fortnite tournaments — likes to trot out signature characters such as Eggman and Dr. Harry Gooch. You can snap pics with the scare actors and enjoy a cash bar in Fright Nights’s VIP lounge, billed as the — wait for it — RIP Lounge. The Cryptkeeper would be proud. 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday and 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday through October 27 at the South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-793-0333; myfrightnights.com. Tickets cost $30.
3. X-Scream Halloween. You'd normally want to avoid getting stuck with high schoolers in a haunted house. They can spoil the experience by being rowdy and rude toward the actors. But what if the high-school kids are the actors? And the set designers? X-Scream is a mostly student-run haunt from the G-Star School of the Arts and has been delivering frights for 14 years. Before you dismiss this haunt as an awkward high-school production, you should know it was once featured on the Travel Channel’s America's Scariest Halloween Attractions. These teens know what they're doing. This year, they've put together two new haunts — one set in an ancient Egyptian tomb and the other in an abandoned circus. 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday, October 13, and Friday and Saturday through October 27 at G-Star School of the Arts, 2030 S. Congress Ave., Palm Springs; 561-967-2023; xscreamhauntedhouse.com. Tickets cost $10 to $13.
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4. Paranoia Horror Maze. Want to know how many people have chickened out while stumbling through this pitch-black Wynwood haunt? Simply look at the running tally on the wall at Paranoia, which proudly displays the total (1,163 as of October 10). It’s a badge of honor and speaks to Paranoia’s ability to terrify its patrons into submission using distortion and actors. The themes are constantly changing, so you have a reason to go there this Halloween season even if you've already visited. Or you could just wait a few weeks — Paranoia is the only place on this list that's open year-round. 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday at 2602 NW Fifth Ave., Miami; 305-833-5998; paranoiamiami.com. Tickets cost $24.99.
5. House of Horror Carnival. At this annual carnival in a mall parking lot, two new haunted houses await: Blossom Lane and Area 13. Also new this year is Scare X Studios: Circus Experience, which offers cool interactive sets for all of your Instagram needs, including a whack-a-mole station where you’re the mole. The rides are unlimited, and the food is typical carnival fare — and that's not a complaint. Sometimes you just need a good funnel-cake sundae, clogged arteries be damned. For shorter lines and half-price tickets (when purchased online), go during the week. Also, check the weather forecast beforehand, because there are no refunds when it rains. 6 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Sunday at Miami International Mall, 1455 NW 107th Ave., Doral; houseofhorrorcarnival.com. Tickets cost $15 to $30.