I vaguely remember my first haunted house experience. It was close to Halloween and I was probably around ten years old. My dad took me to the town’s haunted house, which had been set up in the former bowling alley. I don’t remember any of the frights that I encountered inside, but I recall that I was scared shitless, and the following year I didn’t bother to pester my parents into taking me again.
But I learned a lot that night. Not about life or anything remotely important, but about haunted houses. Completely useless knowledge that I am about to impart to you.
The number one rule of the haunted house is that the performers can’t touch you. This is the only sliver that your sanity clings to no matter how scared you get. That said, it doesn’t stop you (or others) from attacking other paying customers.
For instance, a few years back The Instigator, Klaus, and I went to a “Haunted Hospital”. It was cool enough that it was actually inside an abandoned hospital, but on top of that, they advertised that it was in “3-D”. Now, I think that every single haunted house I’ve been to has been in 3-D. I can’t even picture what a 2-D haunted house would look like. But this one proudly shouted their gimmick in the ad. What choice did we have but to check it out?
There was a long line and it was unseasonably cold. I was wearing my Jason mask and it was freezing onto my face. It was a brutal couple of hours. But finally it was our turn to enter. They handed us our 3-D glasses and we were off.
One thing I hadn’t anticipated was the way that the 3-D glasses reduced your peripheral vision to zero. These 3-D glasses weren’t the paper kind with the blue and red lenses. They were more of a cross between the classic glasses and the kind you get when you go see a 3-D movie at the IMAX theater, allowing for maximum discomfort and near blindness. This intensified things considerably, not being able to see the ghouls until they were practically on top of you. The “3-D” gimmick was just an excuse to rob us of three-quarters of our vision. Once inside and confronted with this realization, it wasn’t long before I’d grabbed a young Asian lad and proceeded to force him ahead of me, blatantly using him as a human shield.
The second thing I learned can have slight variations, but the really effective haunted houses are located in rural areas. Maybe it’s that huge barns and cornfields are really spooky even without freaks jumping out at you. Maybe it’s years of Hollywood programming. Wouldn’t one of these haunted house events make a great set-up for Leatherface? Whatever the reason or reasons, a haunted cornfield in the middle of nowhere is pants-shittingly scary.
We went to the haunted woods a couple of years ago in a rural part of the state, located at Maris Farms. We arrived fairly early and didn’t have too long of a wait, but my nerves were on edge and I was questioning my decision-making skills. Had I really agreed to do this? I was just not ready after the Haunted Hospital fiasco. And this one turned out to be ten times as scary. It was filled with the essentials that every Haunted House must have. Weird rooms? Check. Eerie sounds? Check. Long periods of nothing happening, designed to lull you while at the same time building suspense? Check.
It was a pretty complex layout, incorporating interior scares (like the psychotic clown room right out of the gate to completely disorient us and the spinning room that caused temporary vertigo) with lots of time spent walking through the woods, which was very scary all on its own. There were lots of ghouls, vampires, and monsters creeping around, jumping out at you from the shadows, but the thing that got me was a towel that was rigged to dive down like a bloodthirsty banshee. But yeah. It was a towel. And I almost crapped myself.
At the end of the woods, this particular haunted attraction had the ballsy genius to combine the traditional End-Chainsaw-Guy with notorious masked serial killer, Jason Voorhees. There was a group slightly ahead of us and we saw them run off, with Jason hot on their tail. I hissed/yelled, “Go!” I dared to dream that we could sneak past. I was wrong. Jason turned exactly like Kane Hodder and swung the giant weed-whacker/buzz saw thing (exactly like the one Jason kills Dr. Crews with in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) around and started advancing. This guy definitely had his Jason moves down. Terrified, we ran screaming as the saw roared at our backs.
Another variation of the all-important End-Chainsaw-Guy was at the Fright Factory the following year. This was a place that The Instigator, Klaus, and I had driven by the year before after the Haunted Woods, but I’d refused to go in, so we abandoned the idea. It was somebody’s creepy old house in the middle of a rural neighborhood. Somehow I got dragged back. Not wanting to wait in a huge line, we arrived right when it opened and were the third group in.
You know that part in Halloween III: The Season Of The Witch when Dan and Ellie are on the tour with the mother, father, and kid (sort of a weird take on the Charlie And The Chocolate Factory tour, only with Halloween masks instead of candy)? Then the family disappears and horrible shit happens to them thanks to the witched-up masks? That’s pretty much exactly how this haunted house experience went. We were about halfway through the attraction when we saw the shattered remains of the family that had gone in before us. The kids were crying and the adults were visibly shaken and upset. Now we were in the lead. Zoinks.
We continued on our way. This was an indoor haunted house, but they’d gone all out, putting together a pretty terrifying show. They had the requisite weird rooms, long periods of nothing, and eerie sounds, but they’d saved their best scare for last.
Anyone that has any experience at all in a haunted house attraction knows that they save the End-Chainsaw-Guy for the last scare. It’s a great way to chase people to their cars and keep the line moving, while providing a big finale. So you know it’s coming. And they know that you know that it’s coming. With that in mind, I approached the end warily. There was a set of doors and I knew that Leatherface or Jason or somebody was on the other side, chainsaw ready. I gently pushed The Instigator through the door and the chainsaw roared to life. We both started running as fast as we could toward safety. And that’s when the second chainsaw kicked in. The first guy had chased us right into the blade of the second guy. It was too much for me. I flailed, sending an elbow to The Instigator’s head, screaming and making my way to the gate that separated us from safety. I threw open the gate to find a line of people waiting to get into the haunted house, nervously laughing at me. I was too scared to be embarrassed. Besides, I knew that they wouldn’t be laughing for very long.
The final thing I learned is that for a truly exceptional haunted attraction visit, you need to end the night at the local ice cream parlor. My parlor of choice is Big Scoop, item: the Big Dipper. But any will do in a pinch. Enjoy a bowl of ice cream and talk about the horrors that you just survived. The important thing is that you get out and do it – make it an important part of your Halloween tradition. As Halloween‘s Sheriff Brackett says, “It’s Halloween. Everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”