Thursday, November 12, 2015

Elements of Horror: Haunted House Attractions

I will do another entry about "real" haunted houses later but I wanted to address the classic Spook House before we moved too far out of normal Halloween season. There is a haunted house attraction I have never been to in Easley, SC. You always know it is about to open because they bought an old police car and splashed some paint on it to make it look like it has been in a bloody accident. Then, they prop a cardboard sign up against it indicating the date the attraction will open. As you travel up the busy 123 corridor, you can't help but do a double-take. For a second, you think you are seeing a real bloody accident.

That is kind of the charm of the haunted house in a nutshell, the visceral thrill of seeing something horrible and forbidden live and in your face. Unlike seeing it on television or in a movie theater, the haunted house attraction is appealing because there are no protections between you and the evil you are encountering. If, suddenly, all haunted house employees wanted to go ass wild and murder everyone who came through, it would be a minute before anyone caught on. Hell, you walk in on a room piled with corpses, you figure it is part of the show. Odds are good you would probably stand still, waiting to be axed with a stupid grin on your face if you are the first person in the room.

Haunts are based on the precarious social contract that we will not casually murder each other, even when it would be SO EASY. So, there is the element of danger that you don't get from horror movies. On top of that, you get an element of realism that is missing, too. Every year, you hear an anecdote about a guy who knows a guy who totally saw one of the Haunt workers accidentally hang herself in front of a cheering crowd or someone finds a real cadaver amid the decorations. You can't help but think, "Is all of this really fake or did someone slip a real dead body in here?" Not only might there be real bodies could become the next one.

Unlike movies and other fictions, you are also taking an active role in this adventure. You are getting in your car, waiting in line and finally walking through room after room in search of someone to scare the hell out of you. The only passive element is the lack of actual interaction and the various zombie shoots that have cropped up eliminate even that barrier to the horror.

I dream of a future with a fully immersive and interactive horror experience, one where you can fight off a masked maniac or hide from vampires until the sun comes up. As special effects get cheaper and the demand for more extreme experiences grows...who knows where haunts will end up?

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