It takes a lot to scare people these days. We wouldn't have an entire genre of horror movies known as "torture porn" if that wasn't the case. Unsurprisingly, the move toward making horror-based entertainment more like watching a person get murdered for real has extended to haunted houses in recent years. It's also not much of a surprise that, in a lot of cases, they mess it up terribly. We talk about that on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Vanessa Gritton and Cracked editor Josh Sargent. It's also what I'm talking about in this column today. Spoooooooky! Here are some of the most common failings of every haunted house experience.
5Jump Scares are Easy to See Coming
One of the problems with any haunted house is that, unless you're signing a waiver first, what you're in for is just going to amount to a series of jump scares, maybe accentuated with the occasional pitch-black room for variety. Most family-establishment-type haunted houses rely on the fact that there are some people who will just never be immune to the inherent terror of being caught off-guard ...
My friend Adrienne, for example.
... to set the mood for everyone else. If you're standing outside in line and hearing bloodcurdling screams from inside, rest assured they're coming from the most easily scared among us. However, if you're in the borderline group that knows damn well there isn't a single thing to be afraid of inside that building, but still gets creeped out by the very idea of a haunted house anyway, just hearing those screams will be enough to make the first few moments inside at least a little bit terrifying.
It's when everyone walks through the door that this group splits into two distinct halves: the people who just stay terrified the whole way through, and the people who, after those first couple of scares, realize that this is going to be a bunch of county fair bullshit that they've seen a million times already. Sure, as things progress, different elements (loud noises, strobe lights, a dude wielding a power tool, etc) will be added to intensify the experience, but it all mostly relies on you not being ready for what happens when you turn the next corner.
I'll admit that this was unexpected.
So, you know, to make things easier on yourself, just buckle the hell up whenever you turn a corner. Especially if you're in front. If I'm walking through a garden-variety haunted house (the kind that lets high school kids through with parents and such), two things will happen: 1) someone between the age of 14 and 16 will ask me to pretend to be their dad so they can go in (and I will do it, because kids need to learn to disrespect authority and trust strangers as early as possible), and 2) I will demand to be in front of the group.
Other people's panic (OPP) can be contagious. That's why in a perfect world, every haunted house would make the most clearly terrified person lead the rest of the group. Instead, they usually just let the group decide. If the person in front isn't losing their shit at every turn, that will rub off on the more moderate members of the group, just like panic might.
What I'm getting at is that I'm the asshole who ruins every haunted house for everyone else by going through it with the attitude of the dude in the front row of a comedy show who just sits there with his arms folded, refusing to laugh. Sorry.
I'm fun on April Fools Day, though!
Of course, all this only applies to the more family-friendly haunted houses, where things like touching are off-limits. As mentioned in the intro, there's another class of haunted house that's gained popularity in recent years. The kind that promises an experience more shocking than anything you've ever encountered before. They're so intense that you have to sign a waiver absolving the operators of any liability for what might transpire inside.
It's true that these types of places do a much better job of finding ways to legitimately scare people, but they aren't without their faults. For example ...
4There's Too Much Information Available Online
My first dalliance with the more "brutal" variety of haunted houses was back in 2012, when Soren Bowie and I heroically took on the notorious Blackout Haunted House. I wrote about that experience in detail back then, and my overall conclusion was that it wasn't as terrifying as it could have been. A lot of that was my fault.
One huge problem is that with any of the more "shocking" operations out there, word of mouth and online buzz is mandatory for their business to flourish. What that means is lots of scary trailers ...
... and even more articles and blog posts about the horrors that await anyone who dares go inside. Again, this is great for getting the word out and letting people know they truly should expect to be at least a little bit horrified by how these places reward your bravery. Unfortunately, what all of this information also provides is a quick and easy way for a renowned fun hater like myself to over-prepare for what lies ahead and ultimately end up disappointed.
Now, don't take that to mean that you can read an article from previous years and use it as a road map to conquering your local "extreme" haunted house without fear. Any place worth the ticket money will not only change and improve from year to year, but should also change things up a bit from night to night, or even throughout the night, so that people who decide to go through twice are guaranteed a slightly different experience each time.
Still, there's usually enough information available to piece together a rough idea of what the more unexpected moments will be like. For the Blackout Haunted House, my research let me know to expect a lot of being grabbed or otherwise touched unexpectedly in the dark, some mild torture (more on that later), and ample amounts of unsettling sex stuff. Being ready for it all made the experience a lot less of a scare than I imagine it could have been. But I also have my suspicions that even if I'd gone in completely unprepared, it might not have been all it was built up to be. One reason for that ...