Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sucktoberfest #3 - Haunted Houses

I have heard that the city I live in has some of the best haunted houses in the country.  If that's the case, then the rest of the U.S. must have have to make do with such horrible attractions as "The Haunted Grocer" or "Tapeworm Manor," because the ones here are not that scary.

However, I don't blame them for trying.  I've seen some of these haunted houses in detail - I've been to some, myself.  The best ones here do put a lot of work into their scenery and they do look pretty cool.  The problem is constant repetition of a basic formula: jump out from your hiding place, make a lot of noise, then go back into hiding.  Sure, the customers don't know when it's coming, but they know it's coming.  I have seen some inventive adaptations of the formula, such as pretending to be one of those retarded, shaking animatronic dummies (see Sucktoberfest #5), then jumping at people when they walk past, but the scare tactics has really become "lather, rinse, repeat."  Personally, I'm bored with it.

If I were to do a haunted house, my customers would know the feeling of being in mortal danger.  That's because they, most likely, would be.  I'd make the kind of attraction you'd have to sign waivers for to get in.  Paramedics would have a busy month, carting all the injured, maimed, and psychologically scarred people to the hospital.  If, every year, someone - anyone: customer, employee, random homeless guy who was drugged, tied down, and used for the human sacrifice "scene" - doesn't die in my haunted house, then I don't feel like I've done my job.

No, that's not really Abdominus.  He's way more ripped than this twerp.

Unfortunately, my ideal haunted attraction wouldn't be considered "humane" or "legal" (Pfft, whatever).  So, instead, I'll just throw out some ideas on how to make a haunted attraction better.
  • Divide and Conquer - Just about everyone goes to a haunted house with a group of friends, family, or people holding them hostage.  Why not get some of them into the act?  How messed up would it be if your friend just escaped some blood curdling beast when he realizes his girlfriend is missing?  Perhaps the monsters took her.  Maybe, later on, he comes upon a scene where the monsters are tormenting and killing her, right in front of his eyes!  Systematically removing people, one-by-one, from a group is an old trope in horror films that could work well in haunted attractions.  When groups come up to get their tickets, ask if any of them want to be "marked for death," or something like that.  That way, it's completely voluntary.  Give any willing "victims" some kind of identifying mark, such as orange glow bracelets, to let the actors know they're okay to pull aside (I would love to see some stupid-ass ravers go to a haunted house like this.  The expression on their face as they're unwittingly abducted would be priceless).  Of course, something like this would probably require good logistics, perfect communication, and waivers to work, but if the actors and staff can pull it off,  I guarantee people will eat this shit up.
  • Focus, Dammit! - A lot of haunted houses are guilty of having way too many different things.  Seriously, if your haunted barnyard has a radioactive wasteland, a sinister laboratory, a pirate ship (?), Egyptian ruins (?!), and a butcher shop full of cannibals, no one's going to buy it.  The best haunted houses keep the illusion of terror and death as intact as possible.  Pick one concept - a vampire's castle, a zombie-filled wasteland, the temple of some deranged, Lovecraftian cult - and stick with it.  A lot of haunted houses present themselves as a bunch of random scenes, haphazardly strung together.  There's no reason why an autopsy on a restrained zombie should follow the group of teenagers being slaughtered by a psychopath.  Some places, which have been called "haunted theme parks," do have a variety of different haunted attractions, each keeping to a certain theme, all at one place.  While this is an improvement over the collage of unrelated crap and lets the customers feel they're getting a good deal, it still breaks the illusion because you go escape the terror of a sinister necromancer and his horde of zombies in one attraction to enter a madman's dungeon of torture in another, which just happens to be right next door (I'm just imagining the community meetings in that neighborhood).  It's still a mishmash, just on a larger scale.
  • Don't Just Jump Out and Say, "Boo!" - Probably the biggest thing that kills the excitement of a haunted house is when some guy in a cheap costume jumps out from hiding, yells or bangs on something, and then goes back into hiding.  It's like these monsters are too jaded to take their purpose seriously.  "Okay, I've startled fifteen people tonight.  Can I go?  I'm gonna miss Mad Men."  What kind of monster just menaces you for two seconds, then goes away?  I don't expect everyone who works there to be an accomplished actor, but let's have some fucking creativity, here.  First off, some guy with a skull mask getting into your face isn't scary - it's annoying.  Once they get close enough to the customer, they can't kill them, hurt them, or even touch them.  What are they going to do, talk them to death?  Believe it or not, that's what some of them do.  They talk about how they're going to kill you or repeatedly chant something like, "You're gonna die!"  It takes every ounce of self control not to say to them, "I could tie your nuts around your neck, motherfucker!"  Classic zombies are a perfect way of avoiding that problem.  You can just have a large number of people walking slowly toward the customers.  While they'd never reach them, the scare would be much more effective.  Second, this may sound strange, but have some eloquence to your performance.  Even if all you're doing is making grunting noises, at least make it sound better than just, "Uuuunnnhhh!"  If you do speak, do it with good rapport and some wit.  An old friend of mine, who is a huge Halloween buff, occasionally worked at some of these haunted houses, but he always did his acts with some creativity.  He told me about this one scene he did with his wife where he was this really fucked up morgue technician and she was a cadaver.  He was feeling her up and talking to her as if seducing her.  He even kissed her, on occasion.  My friend took necrophilia to a whole new level and people bought it.  Not only was that the complete opposite of a cheap scare, it was fucking sick, which is perfect.
  • Retire All That Old Shit - If there's one thing that shouldn't be in a haunted house, it's predictability.  Yet so many of them are so pathetic because it's the same old shit every year.   If you want to be innovative, you gotta get rid of all the outdated crap.  Chainsaws are number one on the list.  I'm so fucking sick and tired of every haunted attraction having some asshat with a chainsaw chasing people.  It's been done a thousand times before.  Unconvincing looking props are up there, too.  It's hard to suspend disbelief when there's a bunch of latex body parts lying around with some red corn syrup for blood.  And like I said before, those animatronic dummies are never scary - never.  Why bother spending money for that when you can just have some actor do a much more realistic job?  Kick all that shit to the curb.  They don't work anymore.
 I understand that some people love haunted attractions as they are.  No, it's not impossible to have fun at these places - hundreds of thousands of people, every year, go to them and enjoy themselves.  Perhaps it is true that the best haunted houses are in my area, but that's no excuse not to be ambitious in making something that will scare the living fuck out of your customers.  Some people are content with giving their customers a good time.  I'll only be satisfied when you wake up, every night, in a cold sweat, screaming my name.

    1 comment:

    1. Cool post K.

      I don't think that people are all that afraid of zombies and ghosts. For my "haunted" attraction, I'd research and use the most common phobias. Spiders, confined spaces, social situations, flying, thunder, lightning, heights, vomit, etc., and truly scare the bejesus out of 'em.