Wednesday, October 22, 2014

let's talk about haunted houses.


And Halloween is on a FRIDAY. YESSSSSSS.

Life is so good around Halloween. Though I am 27 (guh!), Halloween makes me feel like a kid again. Even though I may be far too old to trick-or-treat, I will never be too old to dress up and be filled with Halloween spirit. Do you hear me? NEVER.

I love almost everything about Halloween – ALMOST. I love the candy, the cheesy movies (Hocus Pocus, anyone?), the Halloween episodes of my favorite TV shows (Buffy!), the decorations, the costumes – all of that. But you know what I don’t love?

Haunted houses.

Allow me to clarify: I do love haunted houses that are “real” haunted houses: not one where you pay to go inside and there are people in ghoulish costumes hiding around corners and waiting to leap at you. I’m interested in the historical haunted houses: places like decrepit mental institutions and creaky Victorian houses where people have supposedly seen “real” ghosts. (I say and “real” because I subscribe to the Mark Twain system of beliefs when it comes to ghosts: I don’t believe in them, but I’m afraid of them.)

The historical haunted houses are the ones where the stories alone are enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. You’ll walk through these places and get the creeps just because a floorboard creaked somewhere, or you thought you felt a gust of wind. That type of scared is all in your head, and I love it.

The haunted houses I do NOT love are the ones that you stroll through with a group of friends and the lights are flashing and you are accosted by creeps who leap out at you and make you scream.

No. That is not my idea of a good time.

The first haunted house I ever attended was not a house at all: it was a haunted dorm. In Morris, the residents of Clayton A Gay Hall would turn the dorm into a labyrinth of garbage bags and fake blood. Seriously: garbage bags. They hung up black garbage bags on the walls and covered the floors and ceilings with them. They put on the old strobe lights, and a silent guide clad all in black would lead you from room to room. Each room (be they the community bathrooms, an empty dorm room, or the little kitchen on each floor) had a different horrific scene: the shower would be smeared with blood Psycho-style, someone would be conducting amateur surgery on the pool table, and so on. The actors weren’t acting at all: they kept perfectly still in their poses – be they holding a fake brain or being stabbed with a fork – and stared at you as you walked by. No one leapt out at you: you just took a peek at each staged scene and moved right along.

I went to the Haunted Dorm for two years, and that is the only kind of haunted house I can handle. How much did it cost to get in? One can of food.
Admission to the Zombie Prom was the same price.
The second time I went to a haunted house was in Connecticut. I visited my friend Sue 
towards the end of October, and Halloween festivities were in full swing.
Connecticut loves Halloween.
She suggested we go to the haunted house that her neighborhood put on every year. I was game, so off we went.

We stood in line in the cold for what seemed like ages. This appeared to be a common occurrence, as the proprietors had set up a tent with chairs, TVs screening horror movies, and free hot chocolate.

As soon as I walked in the door, I couldn’t wait for the haunted house experience to be over. This was the sort of haunted house where the main objective is to make you jump, and they did just that. There were people who would chase you down hallways and grab your ankles as you scurried by. (The employees of some haunted houses aren’t allowed to touch you – apparently, this was not one of those places.) People in horrifying clown costumes (!!!) would corner you and come within inches of your face, snarling and hissing. Once you snuck away, you’d be met with some other unpleasant creature. This particular haunted house was not guided, so you had to find your own way through the place.

Oh, and did I mention that my friend Sue has epilepsy? (Lest you think that I’m the kind of terrible person who would take her epileptic friend to a haunted house, I must remind you that it was Sue’s idea.) Haunted houses’ bread and butter are the strobe lights: they flash and disorient you and give you glimpses of something unfriendly hanging on the wall or running at you. Sue had to close her eyes with the strobe lights went off, so it was up to me to lead us through the maze. If there’s one place you do NOT want to be in a haunted house, it’s up front.

The haunted house itself probably only lasted about ten minutes, but it felt like HOURS.
The Connecticut haunted house was more than enough for me, and I had no plans to go through one ever again. But guess what I did last year?

I went to the haunted Canaries stadium with my friends Bob and Luke.

This was after the Zombie Walk in downtown Sioux Falls – we’d put on our zombie makeup, shambled along, and had had our supper of brains. (By brains, I mean burgers and beer.) Bob and Luke wanted to go to the haunted Canaries stadium – this particular haunted stadium was zombie-themed. After much hemming and hawing and them reassuring me that it wouldn’t be very scary (“zombies are slow! They can’t get us!”), like an idiot, I agreed to go with them.

We drove up to the stadium and could see the strobe lights and hear the prerecorded screams from the parking lot. We waited in line and ended up in a group with three little boys, who were so much braver than we were. Bob, Luke, and I traveled in a little nervous cluster, all with kung-fu grips on each other’s arms. A guide led us through, and he’d fake us out along the way: “Oh, I think we’re safe now!” Bob, Luke, and I were probably exactly the kind of people he wanted on his tour: we’d yell back: “We are NOT safe! We KNOW you’re lying!”

The guide took us through the locker rooms (zombies in the showers), down hallways (zombies eating brains as you turned the corner), through the stadium seats (which was the WORST because there were tons of creepy zombies hiding under seats and shambling across the open field), and finally, to freedom. Bob, Luke, and I – all in our late 20s – were relieved to see the end. All that screaming and the hiding and the scampering along while trying to stay as close together as humanly possible and the “OH GOD OH GOD WHAT IS THAT WHY IS IT RUNNING AT US” was enough for one Halloween.

Those little boys in the group with us?

Not scared at all.

It’s probably pretty obvious by now that these haunted houses are pretty tame by most standards. These haunted houses are for kids – and wimps like me. If I went through a legitimate haunted house – the ones that state they are for adults 18 and up and may make you sign a release to get in – I would probably have a full-blown panic attack. Having never had a panic attack, I’m not about to try it out by going into a super-scary haunted house.

So that’s where I stand on haunted houses. I can be peer-pressured into going to the so-called “family friendly” haunted houses, but there’s nothing you can do (short of offering me large sums of money) to get me into an “adults only” haunted house. If little kids can’t handle it, I sure as hell can’t handle it.

But be warned: if you do convince me to go to a wussy-by-anyone-elses’s-standards-but-completley-terrifying-by-mine haunted house, I WILL be attached to your arm at all times, and I WILL sacrifice you to whatever zombie happens to be chasing us.

Which is why you probably shouldn’t invite me to haunted houses. 

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