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Houses of Haunt

In my experience, trick or treating is a spooktacular privilege reserved for children 12 and under. Though there are plenty of adults that would probably still get a kick out knocking on a neighbors door dressed as a Smurf to score some candy, it’s pretty much agreed upon in today’s society that a phone call to the local police department would be the most likely result.  Still, there are those teenagers who try to push the boundaries of the age stigma, not realizing their peach-fuzz mustache is a sure give away that they are not fresh from Kindergarten.

I’m willing to wager that the majority of us have experienced the dreaded, “Aren’t you a little old to be trick or treating?” line from the neighborhood “Candy Police” at least once in our lives. It’s pretty much the most embarrassing moment you can have while dressed as California Raisin and that’s saying something! With this firmly established social guideline in place, what are those kids caught in the frenzy of puberty supposed to do with themselves come October 31st? One regularly resorted to option is vandalism.

Now I’m not saying that every criminal got started down their dark path once they were denied access to free door to door candy (or am I?), but I think we might be underestimating the addictive qualities of Shock Tarts and Pixie Sticks.  I mean is it any wonder that Smashing Pumpkins was such a popular band in their heyday? All those angsty kids in the 90’s had to get their adrenaline pumping somehow and that’s exactly how they were doing it, if the Halloweenie episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete is to be believed.

 

Behold the horrors of “Gourdicide”. I can’t say that I ever personally took part in such mischief by the light of the moon, instead I chose to experience the Halloween tradition that’s open to all ages who have the stomach for it, the Haunted House. Whether for profit or simply to give the kids in the neighborhood nightmares to remember, I give major kudos to those who make Halloween night a production worthy of the Monster Mash. Though I’ve been through a few “Spook Alleys” in my time, I think I can boil down the essence of my experience by telling you about where it all began.

My first experience with a live action haunted house was at a church Halloween carnival and boy, what an introduction. After they gathered enough kids to justify the tour, they walked us into a darkened room whose only illumination came from a table filled with beakers and tubes of brightly colored bubbling liquid. With an ear shattering cackle, a mad scientist complete with lab coat, goggles and poofy white wig emerged from the darkness. “Doctor So and So” welcomed us to his lab and said he had been working on some experiments he wanted to show us.

Next thing we knew a creeping Mummy emerged from a dimly lit sarcophagus and reached out a poorly wrapped hand toward his captive audience. Granted, Mummies are pretty much just scary by their association with the other classic monsters (really what are they going to do, make your allergies flare up with their dust?), but as a kid that scare cred is enough! After we escape the clutches of the "Toilet Paper Terror" we were quickly guided up a series of steps to make our escape and it was there that we beheld the true face of horror, Monkey-Man!

Hooting and grunting as his arms flailed wildly, Monkey-Man was obviously the product of genetic experimentation, since he was wearing a white shirt, slacks and a tie with only his ugly head and furry arms exposed. His simian dance of death was only enhanced by the strobe lights that revealed his horrific visage every other second. The freakiest part was that 1 second of darkness in between.  I could only imagine that I’d be staring at him one instant and then next he’d appear behind me to chew my face off. You better believe I bolted out of there and got back to bobbing for apples as soon as possible.

Monkey-Man notwithstanding, I felt a sense of pride for having “survived” the ordeal and felt ready to dive into more elaborate houses of horror like the very literal “Scary Dark Ride” at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach, CA. You probably experienced a ride like this at a carnival growing up. It was basically a car on a track that sluggishly moved you past “frightening” puppets and statues, while a scary sounds album played on a loop in the background.

Now they weren’t lying, the ride was dark, but the scares were pretty lackluster.  Consisting mainly of neon-painted skeletons with eye-patches and some sea monster wall murals, the glow from the black lights was about all the thrills this experience had to offer. Heart-pounding scares aside, the thing I find commendable about the Scary Dark Ride is that it managed to rip-off Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean simultaneously. With its undead buccaneers, ghastly apparitions and “Doom Buggy” like transportation, it was as close as you were going get to the House of Mouse for $2.00.

Whether you would classify this as a haunted house worthy of your time I can’t say, but every time we visited the Fun Zone the operators of the Scary Dark Ride made some money off of me, so I guess there’s something to be said for sanitized scares and goofy ghouls that make a kid feel as though they've conquered their fears. Then you show them the movie Child's Play and wreck them for life, but that's a story for another time. Speaking of stories...

As I bring this article to a close I have a weird bit of ghostly storytelling to send your way. Though not a haunted house I personally walked through, the legend  of this haunted structure was told to me by a sadistic babysitter at the young and impressionable age of 5. So here we go...

My Mom had dropped me off at this woman’s home in the late afternoon one day and as I looked out her back window I noticed a locked barn. Being from a very suburban area I had never seen a barn in person and wanted to explore it. When I asked the babysitter if we could go inside she said, “No”. When I asked the inevitable, “But, why?” She then responded, “It’s haunted…” and before I could even begin to imagine what ghouls were swirling around within she added, “…by the ghost of Scooby-Doo!”

Now understand, Scooby-Doo was my hero at the time. I actually had a hanging fabric poster of him on my wall and the year before all I wanted for Christmas was the Scooby-Doo board game. So the news that my favorite canine sleuth had died was shocking enough, but the idea that he was now a floating Scooby-Snacking Spectre confined to a barn just waiting to scare me out of the Underoos that bore his likeness was mind-boggling.

Stunned into silence by this revelation, I asked no more questions about the barn and waited for my Mom to pick me up. All the while My little mind was imagining how this woman had managed to capture the ecto-plasmic form of this once lovable, doggy detective. To tell the truth, I have no recollection of this woman other than the afternoon I spent at her home. She may have been a ghost herself for all I know, but the “Legend of the Ghost of Scooby-Doo” remains in my mind to this day. And one thing’s for sure, that woman is a jerk for trying to scare a 5 year old.

I continue to find excitement in the dark and mysterious realms of fear and fright, though it’s mostly confined to my front lawn on Halloween night (unintentional rhyme). Though my wife doesn’t carry the distinction of having “the scary house” as a badge of honor the way I do, I like contributing to one of the essential elements of the Halloween experience. If some kid tells stories for years to come about the creature that popped out at him from a trash can when he was 10, I know my work is done. Happiest of Halloweens, now get haunting!

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Jan 02, 2015 at 05:09 PM

@Fulton4V Yeah, the kids don't seem to appreciate the production aspect as much, but the parent's sure do. We got a lot of comments at our house this year for our Haunted Graveyard with serial killer motif.

Fulton4V Posted on Sep 18, 2014 at 02:14 PM

One of our neighbors was always setting up something like a haunted trail that let to their front door. So you had to make it through that to get to their house for the candy. I dont know if somethign like that would go over today or not as kids seem to only want to get the candy as quickly as possible.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 16, 2014 at 04:20 PM

Yeah, I hear a lot about Knott's Scary Farm this time of year, and they get some pretty big names in Halloween and Horror to take part in that. That has to be a blast.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 16, 2014 at 03:55 PM

A haunted Circus would actually be pretty frightening and I think I could get some mileage out of a corn maze (more of a novelty to us "city Folk" I guess). I grew up in Southern California but never made it out to Knott's Scary Farm on Halloween. I hear it was pretty awesome getting chased by all the creepers.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 16, 2014 at 02:26 PM

LOL. I love the "I just learned to count to 3" gag.

I think there is a good variety when it comes to Houses of Haunt, though that depends on where you live. Being here in rural Ohio, your choices are basically corn mazes and more corn mazes, with the occasional school "haunted house" interspersed in there somewhere.

As a kid, I was privy to a few school haunted houses, one cub scouts haunted house, and the like. In my twenties and into my early thirties, I got to see some of what was available to the "city folk". One particular event stands out in my mind... a festival of sorts with many different haunted attractions all set up in one place. Each took on a different theme, from a haunted circus to your standard haunted house. Lots of people running around in costume pretending to be after you. It was fun.

Sometimes you can catch some good haunted events at the theme parks. Those are usually pretty well done, with a hefty amount of time and money invested in them.

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