The Horror Honeys: Melissa Carbone is the Queen of Halloween, All Year Round

Melissa Carbone is the Queen of Halloween, All Year Round

An October Belladonna Sneak Peek with Musical Horror Honey Brittany

L.A. Haunted Hayride founder Melissa Carbone took a few minutes to talk with the Horror Honeys about what it takes to be an industry-leading badass working on one of the most popular haunt attractions in Los Angeles. Check out a sneak peek of her interview below, and be on the lookout for her book, "Ready, Fire, Aim: How I Turned A Hobby into an Empire," coming out this October!

Melissa Carbone
HH: Tell us a little bit about your experience as a woman in the haunt and horror industry, which as you know is largely run by men. How has your experience, as a woman, changed anything for you at all and if you've experienced any sort of adversity in the industry?

MC: Coming into the haunted attraction industry I was ponies and rainbows I was so excited. I was just like "this is going to be incredible, it's fun, and I'm going to play with blood and guts for a living, what could be better?" I was in my early 30s at the time and was corporate American born and bred, so the jump from corporate America was a far one.

I found this haunted attraction expo in St. Louis called The Haunt Show. I was elated because this was going to be the educational curb that I needed. I was going to learn everything I needed know and I was going to meet everyone I needed to meet, and I was going to download everything in their brains. I was going to ask them questions and they were going to give me everything I ever wanted and they were going to love it. They were going to be so excited to see this passionate 30-something jumping into their world to bring the greatest attraction ever to Los Angeles, California. I had no doubt that they were going to love seeing me walk into their haunt show. It couldn't have been more opposite.

I went to the haunt show that year in St. Louis and there was one guy who was kind of like my mentor. He runs a haunted hayride in Pennsylvania, and he's incredible and he was that one guy for me. I reached out to him. He was always helpful and he did everything to help me get up and running. But when I walked into that haunt show my partner Alyson Richards (co-founder) and I were probably two of maybe five girls that were in the haunt industry, and there were probably three thousand men. So when we walked in it was like the record player stopped playing music and the scratch of it was deafening. I felt uncomfortable immediately and nobody really wanted to talk to us. It was really hard to include ourselves in conversations or social circles of people talking. There were actually a few haunted attraction owners who I call "The Good Old Boys" of the haunt world who had to have this attitude of "hey little lady, what are you doing here?" when we had the audacity to pull up a seat at their bar. That was kind of our experience for years because we kept going to the show. We visited other haunted attractions and the owners knew who we were and they were very dismissive of us.

And, without giving any names, there were a few that were that were a little more vicious. I would say the word vicious is not an understatement. They would keep us out of haunted associations. There are a few haunted house associations and a few attractions associations and they would go out of their way to try to vote us out of the association. It was not fun. The only difference, the only thing I can put my thumb on is that we were girls because there would be no other reason to do that. Other attractions popped up that were male owned and operated and they didn't have the same kind of reception. I'm not a person that waves that discrimination flag unless I really feel like that's what it is. I don't even think they know they were doing it. But that's what it was. We were these two young girls that you know jumped into this haunted attraction realm of all men. A lot of them are older men. They're all doing 50 and 60 and 70,000 people with their attractions, the big ones are. I think it's this dark horse industry and I don't know that they wanted this giant light cast on it. But once we proved to be successful, and the LA Haunted Hayride got popular really quickly, then they started to not like us for a whole new reason.

I've never been embraced by that group, even to this day. But I do think that being female in a male-dominated space has been actually really good for Ten Thirty One Productions because I think we get a level of attention or spotlight on us that very few people in the haunted attraction industry get. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that Mark Cuban is involved and we were on Shark Tank. But even before Shark Tank, we had a lot of attention on us. I think the world as a whole thought it was cool. There were these two women, this lesbian couple that was building this weird company. We were the first people to create an entertainment company based around live horror events all year long. But yes, I think being female in a male-dominated industry made our reception cold and it remains cold to this day. But on the other hand, I think that it's really topical and it's interesting and it makes people more interested in the attraction space because I think I think Ten Thirty One productions and a female-run company that's doing well is making it interesting.

HH: Have you seen an influx of women into the industry as a result of your story and your success?

MC: I haven't actually. I've seen an influx of haunted attractions, a massive influx. But not other female-run haunted attractions, oddly. There's an attraction Kansas that is female owned, operated and founded haunted attraction and they're humongous and huge, and from a revenue standpoint one of the most successful in the country as well. But aside from her, there really aren't any still. It's pretty nuts.

Melissa Carbone
In L.A. in 2009 when we came into the marketplace there were really only three other Halloween attractions that anyone knew of and it was Universal Horror Nights, Knotts Scary Farm and the Queen Mary, and L.A. Haunted Hayride was the fourth. If you go back to 2014 or 2015, there were 26 attractions in L.A. We went from 4 to 26. That to me is a huge thermometer on the industry. It's such an alluring model. I think people look at it like "Oh these cute thirtysomethings were able to start the L.A. Haunted Hayride, that's got to be an easy cash cow to jump into," and then there you go. Fast-forward three or four years later, there were 26 attractions, and then the very next year only one actually returned out of 26, and there's a whole batch of others that were making their go at it. It's just really funny because I think the allure of creating a Halloween attraction is that it looks easy and it looks sexy and fun and how hard can it be? But the percentage of them that actually return is so scarcely low. It's a really, really difficult recipe.

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The full interview with Melissa Carbone will be featured in this October’s edition of Belladonna Magazine! Make sure to check it out!