2.22.2010

What makes a haunted house?


This weekend I was asked to join a few friends and visit a Haunted House on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls. Okay, so if you know anything about Clifton Hill, you know that it is just one huge strip north of the falls that is one huge, shitty tourist trap.

Okay, can I grab a sidebar for a second? I tried to find a picture of one of those shitty DIY haunted houses from the suburbs so I searched crappy haunted house, and Google was like "did you mean creepy haunted house?" Erm, no, I meant crappy haunted house. I dunno, I thought that was funny. Anyways, instead I have chosen my favourite haunted house, 1313 Mockingbird Lane (which you may know as the Munster family home). Seacrest out.

Back to my story. So I think there are 4 major haunted houses on Clifton Hill: The Fear Factory, Dracula's Castle, Frankenstein's...um, castle (?), and another one that has just as terrifying a name and plays the scary music from Halloween onto the street. I had already been to Frankenstein's House (I honestly cannot be bothered even to Google the name, it's that unnecessary to the story) and it sucked pretty hard. I scare very easily and even I walked through without so much as a scream. Maybe it was the overpowering smell of Burger King, maybe it was the chainsaw-wielding maniacs checking voicemail messages on their phone. Either way, it was a pretty big waste of money. I told my friends this and we went to Dracula's Castle (not to be confused with the haunted gay bar down the street, Dracula's Asshole). $10 and we got to pick how scary we wanted it, which just involves the woman at the front running back and telling the kids (sorry, "actors") to keep it tame or scare the shit out of us. After hemming and hawing, we decided to walk up the street a bit to the Fear Factory to see if we could get more scare for our dollar.

Entering the vestibule of Dracula's Castle was mildly frightening, but walking through the doors the Fear Factory was downright grocery store. It was brightly-lit, they were playing a Top-40 pop radio station, and you could purchase body jewelery and West Coast Choppers apparel. Add to that the juice-head behind the cash, and I felt like I was in the t-shirt shop from Jersey Shore. Fear Factory was a little bit pricier - $14 to get the pee scared out of us. They even had a list on the wall of how many people had "chickened out" (I believe the number was somewhere near 101,509, but I call shenanigans on their dubious accounting system. If that was the case, by their logic they have made $1.5 million. The rusted '97 Toyota Tercel in the parking lot with the Fear Factory bumper sticker says otherwise). Regardless, all 5 of us walked through the haunted house together to the sounds of rattling chains, rusty chainsaws, screeching ghosts. I won't lie - I screamed a lot but not because I was actually scared of the Fear Factory; it's because I hate when people jump out at me to surprise me. I grew up in a house where my sister and I were constantly hiding behind bathroom doors, in closets, under beds or piles of clothing in hopes to grab a leg or jump out and really terrify the other person.

After we left, I kept thinking to myself "wouldn't it be amazing if someone made a haunted house filled with things that were truly terrifying?" One of the scariest haunted houses I was ever in was at Screemers called The Haunted Asylum. It was modeled after an institution from the 50s, so there were plenty of lobotomized patients shuffling around, drooling on themselves and people crouching in corners laughing and picking at the wall. It was really disturbing and weird, especially because it was sort of real; institutions back in the day were pretty creepy and sad, so this haunted house was pitch-perfect. No one was jumping out at you or wearing phony looking masks, but you kept entering rooms thinking "oh my god, I just really don't want to be in here anymore..."

In the car ride on the way to Niagara Falls, we were talking about the worst things we have ever seen and I mentioned how just two weeks ago I was driving home and there had been a jumper from the bridge above the highway. Emergency crews hadn't yet gotten to the body, so cars were driving super-slow on the shoulder to avoid it. That meant that everyone got a good look at the recently-deceased body of a middle-aged man who killed himself. Two weeks later, and I still can't close my eyes without seeing his bloated face looking at mine. It got me to thinking - if someone wanted to make a truly scary haunted house, why don't they just fill it with really horrific, depressing imagery from real life? It makes sense - when I was a kid, I was more scared by movies like Silence of the Lambs than Friday the 13th. Anything you could actually see in real life is much scarier than a guy in a latex mask jumping out at you and your friends. Here are some things I would put in my haunted house (if I ever made enough foolish decisions that got me to that point in my life, of course):

- An actor in old-man-makeup hunched over a cane and several heavy bags of groceries trying to cross a busy intersection, then repeatedly dropping the groceries while an unkind motorist honks his horn and screams at him to hurry up.

- A mother and her children watching as a house cat gives birth to kittens on their kitchen floor. The kitten that the youngest child picks up is stillborn, and begs her mother to bring it back to life.

- A congregation attempt to exorcise the demon of homosexuality out of a young man.

- A cancer patient quietly weeps in a hospital bed.

- Restaurant patrons watch as a man chokes on his dinner; no one knows how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

- A couple is sitting with their children explaining to them that they are getting a divorce.

- A prostitute, threatened by an abusive pimp, nervously turns her first trick.

- A television playing the television broadcast of the Challenger explosion on a loop.

- A completely black room with nothing but a tape recording of the conversation between a kidnapper and the hostage's family.

- A crying baby

- A 3-legged dog

- A man trying to pull his friend's body from an overturned vehicle that's been engulfed in flames (this one will require a pretty flexible budget).

- The lower-half of the body of a person who has hung themselves (I got this idea from Girl, Interrupted when Brittany Murphy's character hangs herself to Skeeter Davis' End of the World. Actually, that scene is pretty bleak - just having that projected onto a screen would be disturbing).

- The voice of a child reciting The Lord's Prayer.

- Images of the Sharon Tate/Manson Family murders.

- The Oprah interview with the lady who was mauled by her friend's pet monkey.

- Clips from A&Es Intervention or Hoarders (actually, that would be sort of funny).

Welp, now that I'm sufficiently depressed and bummed-out, I think I'm going to read some Dlisted and LOLcats. Note to self: never EVER make a sad images-from-reality haunted house.

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