Forget peeled-grape eyeballs and spaghetti for brains. These days, haunted houses are high-tech cinematic extravaganzas, complete with animatronic creatures and computer-driven light shows. And that lunatic chasing you out the back door with a chain saw? Professional actor. Steve Kopelman, an expert in Halloween showmanship (he’s owned and operated haunted houses in various cities for 22 years, and he runs the online haunted-house site www.hauntedhouse.com), gives us the skinny on this holiday attraction that brings in some 32 million people a year. -- Tracy Staton

What do people expect these days when they pay their haunted-house entry fee?
Bigger, better, and scarier. They want to feel like they’re in a movie. Animatronics, robotics, pneumatics, and minicomputers [are used with] almost every scene. These are the same things used at the major amusement parks. It’s really realistic and really high-tech.

So, how much does it cost to set up one of these high-tech houses?
For a good one, close to $500,000. [Plus], you have to pass very stringent safety requirements ... [sometimes] even moreso than a restaurant. Fire-alarm panels, sprinkler systems, strobes, everything.

But the idea is to make people feel as if they’re not safe, right?
Even though people know when they go that nothing will happen to them, you want them to psychologically cross that comfort level. That’s when they’re happy, when they go running out, screaming, at the end.

STEVE KOPELMAN’S FAVORITE HAUNTS

Thrillvania, Terrell, Texas 
A 50-acre complex built by former Disney Imagineers. Includes VerdunManor, two animatronic shows, a haunted trail, a swamp, and a graveyard. New this year: a torture museum. $25. www.thrillvania.com

Woods of Terror, Greensboro, North Carolina 
A nearly one-mile trek through scary woods, plus a tomb, a haunted farm, and a creepy carnival. “They don’t give you too much time to breathe,” Kopelman says. $20. www.woodsofterror.com

Bennett’s Curse, Baltimore
By far the best of the haunted-house-in-a-tent genre. Amazing costumes carry out the medieval theme. $22. www.bennettscurse.com

Nightmare: Ghost Stories, Miami
With Off Broadway producers at the helm, New York’s No. 1 haunted attraction comes to South Florida. Kopelman calls it “the most [absorbing] haunted house in the country; you’re right in the middle of the scenes.” $30 . www.hauntedhousenyc.com/miami

Screamworld, Houston 
Five attractions on five acres, with 3-D movie monsters and lots more special effects. New this year: even-more-realistic scenes with, according to Kopelman, “an extremely high fright level.” $22. www.screamworld.com

WANT TO KNOW HOW TO BLEND IN THIS YEAR?
Dress as one of these characters, which are expected to get big play on October 31.

Indiana Jones

Batman/Batgirl

Hannah Montana

Mummy

Barack Obama

John McCain