Contractor Jim Corbett didn't set out to run a commercial haunted house. He just liked to scare people.
But in 2010, after a thousand people filed through his ghoulishly altered Granite Bay home in one night, everything changed.
"That is when my wife told me 'You're done,' " said Corbett, who owns Corbett Custom Construction.
The eviction left him with a decision to make.
"It was either be bored on Halloween or take it to the next level," said Corbett, who has appeared on dozens of episodes of House Crashers, Yard Crashers and Turf Wars television shows on the DIY network.
Thus was born Corbett's House of Horror, and the contractor's initiation into the unusual business of frightening the customers.
Running a haunted house is bit like running a nightclub, but with a three-weekend run. Haunted house operator and expert Larry Kirchner said it's not for the risk-averse. Anything from a bad safety inspection to a rainy weekend to a World Series appearance by the local team can knock out expected profit, said Kirchner, who owns a haunted house in St. Louis in addition to running Hauntworld.com and Haunt World Magazine.
"Most people who are successful have a passion for it," Kirchner said. "Nobody (in government) is going to lose sleep over a haunted house, if they don't open."
The Sacramento region has at least five commercial haunted houses this season.
One of the largest is Fright Planet, at Cal Expo. They turn the shuttered Paradise Island amusement park into nine distinct haunts for ticket buyers to wander through. Krystie Schollar, marketing director for the operation, said it was a rush to build the environments on a short timetable.
"It's very stressful. You only have a few weeks to get these open," Schollar said. Many of the actors come back each year, but they're always filling vacancies.
Heartstoppers, which uses the old Mine Shaft complex along Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova, prides itself on having a cohesive Wild West theme that binds its four haunts.
Frank Babcock, who runs the Cemetarium at U Pick Pumpkins in Fair Oaks, said planning for this year's 15,000-square-foot haunt started a week after last year's ended.
Haunted houses come and go. Four houses listed in 2011 directories are no longer in operation.
Corbett's was nearly a fifth.
In 2011, he debuted Corbett's House of Horror, much of it comprising the props he used in his home before going commercial.
Following a successful inaugural year, a 2012 move turned into a nightmare, Corbett said. After paying to rent a commercial space, he couldn't get clearance from the Fire Department to use it as a haunted house, he said.
Hoping to break even, Corbett got clearance from the Fire Department and the property owner to set something up in the parking lot.
"We couldn't do Corbett's House of Horror outside," he said. "There were just too many props that were expensive. So we decided we needed to do something different."
The result is Zombieland, the name appropriated from a 2009 film.
"It's an interactive haunted house where you get to shoot zombies," Corbett explained.
For $10, attendees walk a 10,000-square-foot maze with a laser tag gun, hoping to shoot zombies before the zombies get to them. Each room is a post-apocalyptic scene. Overturned cars, a busted up RV, even a downed plane set the scene.
Unlike other conventional haunted houses, actors aren't popping out of trap doors.
"It's not an in-your-face haunted house, scare you haunted house, it's more of an adventure," said Corbett, who plans to bring the indoor haunt back next year.
Kirchner is partial to traditional haunted houses that encourage pants-wetting, but said alternative haunts like Corbett's zombie hunt are on the rise.
"A lot of people are doing paintball hayrides," Kirchner said. "(While) people are trying to do things that are more interactive, the primary objective of going to a haunted house is getting scared."
1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento
Open: Today (7 p.m.-midnight), Sun.-Wed. (7-11 p.m.)
Cost: $20 - $40
2300 Mine Shaft Lane, Rancho Cordova
Open: Today (7 p.m.-midnight), Sunday (7-9:30 p.m.), Wed. (7-10:30 p.m.)
5400 Date Ave., Sacramento
Open: Today (7-11 p.m.) Sunday, Tue.-Wed. (7-10 p.m.)
Callson Manor Haunted House
Placer County Fairgrounds
800 All American City Blvd., Roseville
Open: Today-Wednesday (7:30-10 p.m.)
U Pick Pumpkins, 5415 Kenneth Ave., Fair Oaks
Open: Today-Sunday (7-11 p.m.) Monday (7-10 p.m. ) Tue.-Wed. (7-11 p.m.)
Family-friendly hours (low-scare) 7-7:30 p.m.