A few parents will ask you beforehand if there is a way to make the trail more pleasant, but that chiefly depends on the willingness of those who run it. Some of the bigger trails have different options for different age ranges. I've never been on one specifically formulated for stroller luggage, but I imagine it's a bunch of people dressed as Dracula, talking amiably about how it's OK to be unique.
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You just have to be OK with never having friends.
The trail I work at doesn't have that luxury, so providing entertainment for a toddler basically amounts to grabbing your walkie-talkie and trying not to sound disappointed when you say, "We've got a little kid here." This leaves you hoping that all the people wearing heavy masks can quickly acknowledge the equivalent of: "Bzzzt. This is Daniel. Fuck my life. Bzzzt," coming through the tiny speaker, and adjust accordingly, rather than going through the normal motions and giving newborns an encounter that will set them on a path to becoming future haunted trail actors.
Kids Will Question Everything
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The last haunted trail that I went to as a customer was in 2003 on an evening that included a viewing of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which became my second-favorite film at the time, only behind Freddy vs. Jason. The film occupying the second-place slot has since changed). The people who ran that trail, in an effort to capitalize on the loose knowledge that something involving a chainsaw and a massacre was popular, decided to include a man running towards the crowd while revving the titular weapon. Their fatal mistake, for me, was the trail guide's insistence that no one knew the name Leatherface. Hadn't he seen the movie, which explicitly states the character's name? Why is he being such a massive idiot about this? Why is the world trying to ruin everything for me?
How much studying do you need to do before you recognize this as scary?
The accuracy of things is surprisingly important to some children, or, in the case of the above, some 14-year-olds (I'm a Freddy vs. Jason-loving child at heart). They can't recall years' worth of different portrayals to compare and contrast. So, if something seems a bit off, it's hard for them to reconcile this discrepancy with the one pop culture image that they have in their brains. I acted as the trail guide in the first trail I helped run, and while mentioning vampires, a little girl stopped me to tell me that my information wasn't gelling with the things she'd learned from watching Underworld. And her tone wasn't "I think vampires are real, because my parents haven't taught me to separate fact from fiction." It was "If you haven't seen Underworld, then why in the hell are you talking about vampires? You words mean nothing, dismal stranger."
I suppose it's a valid point.
I received comments like this all night, and they often started with, "But I thought ... ." That's why the go-to haunted trail costumes are the ones that require meager explanation, like deformed clowns or zombies. Those things are very openly frightful, regardless of context. But if, like I've done, you're a guide claiming to be Van Helsing, a character that hasn't been legitimately relevant since 19-goddamn-58, the kids start out by losing interest, because you're making them jump through mental hoops just to get to the scant story that you've created that ties all the monsters together. A good haunted trail usually includes some kind of narrative, but that narrative needs to be a simple and direct one so that you don't have to explain to second-graders that you're a Dutch metaphysician from the Victorian era.
By the end of the night, most children had forgotten my name by the time I said "Van" and deciphered my character through my physical appearance. As a tall, skinny guy with a neck beard at the time, hundreds concluded that I was Abraham Lincoln, leading kids on a mission to be scared because that's just what former presidents do when they're out of office and lack a purpose. Considering the names that I got called when I was a kid, one who was principally interested in horror films and Halloween activities, it was kind of an honor.
Somewhere, Daniel is lurking. And that "somewhere" is probably Twitter.
For more from Daniel, check out The 5 Unexpected Downsides of Working at a Movie Theater and 5 Harsh Realities of Life as a Video Game Tournament Winner.
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