Halloween Haunt 2013
As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, Halloween is one of my favorite times of year, and pretty much all of October has become a way for me to experience it. I’m surprised I hadn’t written a post earlier in the month, after I had gotten a chance to watch the classic silent film “Nosferatu” in a historic cemetery, accompanied by a live band. Or how I co-wrote and helped shoot a short comedy-horror film about a haunted garage.
Nope, apparently I had to wait ’til All Hallows’ Eve itself to write this, because that’s how much I care. And really, I might have had a tough time getting to a post last night as I had planned, because I ended up facing and overcoming one of my fears.
I’ve always been fairly apprehensive, nervous about handling things I don’t know. And I startle easily, often not handling surprises very well if they’re sudden. So never in a hundred years did I think I’d find myself at the Knott’s Berry Farms Halloween Haunt, wandering through the fog-thick streets of an authentic old ghost town or stumbling through mazes while ghouls and monsters leaped at me from the shadows; despite my curiosity over these events, I always thought thought I’d look on from a distance, content to hear my friends talk about the scares.
But I went last night. And I had a blast!
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I was. Still am, actually. I spent so long dreading the effect jump scares and loud noises would have on me in this environment that I felt relieved when it wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out to be; so relieved, in fact, that it seemed to liberate me and made the whole night more enjoyable for it. Let that be a lesson to you, kids: the anticipation is almost always worse than the thing itself.
So now you know I had a good time, so I bet you’re wondering: what did I do, exactly? And what did I think of it overall?
Well rather than break down my night event-by-event, I’m going to present my opinion as the ever-popular “Top X” list, from least to most. In this case, I want to list my thoughts on the offered mazes in this format, since that was what I came to see. But I also attended a show or two, and I’ll relate my experience with those at the end.
First, I should mention two mazes will not be on this list: Delirium and Uncle Willy’s Slaughter House. I opted not go go into either of these, though I’m sure they’re both good in their own way. With Delirium, I don’t much care for the grisly and grotesque themes put in there, since the maze relies on unnerving and often disgusting things to frighten, and I’m not a gore hound; similarly, the Slaughterhouse is representative of the cannibal hillbilly theme, which I find tired and uninteresting, and not very evocative of Halloween. If you’ve been to Haunt and like these two mazes, then more power to you. I just happened to skip out on them.
I did manage to get into every other maze at least once (and sometimes twice) throughout the night, and my opinion of them is as follows:
A post-apocalyptic trek through blood-spattered corridors, complete with chain-link fences, weird mutants, and death metal pounding in the background. The idea is that you’re making your way to an arena while dodging the attacks of your fellow combatants, in this case a cast of ghoulish gladiators. I didn’t get a chance to really take this maze in, partly because it’s appropriately stark for the setting, and partly because the cast was really good at keeping my attention on them: one woman kept stalking me through the arena, and I was so focused on her that I barely noticed the huge monster that was supposed to dominate the center of the ring. Again, great cast, good atmosphere, but not my favorite theme. I would have liked to revisit this one if just to see more of it.
7) Pinocchio Unstrung
I knew I was in for something twisted when Pinocchio’s narration played over the queue called the Blue Fairy “that blue bitch.” Apparently, the little puppet’s been denied his wish to be a real boy, and has decided to get the flesh he wants through other means. This is a macabre jaunt through classic scenes in the story of Pinocchio, from Gepetto’s shop to the marionette theater, Pleasure Island and the belly of the sea monster (which was a really cool looking angler fish-like thing on the outside), revisited by a bunch of evil puppets and the occasional donkey-headed man. Scares were good here, and I liked the theme, though it always bothers me when there’s an air blast in a maze (the giant Mr. Punch heads that flank the entrance to Pleasure Island shoot air at you as you pass), which feels cheap and annoying. Not sure why we never saw the Blue Fairy either, who I heard was in the maze last year.
6) Dominion of the Damned
I can’t fault this one for itself, and I would have liked to visit it again when I felt like I wasn’t being rushed through it. This is a very elegant maze, Gothic in tone, filled with classic vampires. It was too dark in places to really admire the detail, but some places I was impressed by the work done to make it feel like one was traveling through some sort of art gallery or museum run by the undead. I might have placed this higher had I had chance to revisit it and take in more, but it got really packed later on that night, so as it stands this is based on my first impressions.
5) The Gunslinger’s Grave
The Red Hand Gang made a big mistake when they tried to kill a legendary Gunslinger. They didn’t do a thorough enough job, and so he’s come back to wreak is vengeance on the town that harbored them. There’s no real ghouls or ghosts in this maze, only gunmen and townsfolk either pleading for help or looking to fight. While the initial story is set up well, I get confused about who’s who and what’s what in this maze – I don’t think its very clearly conveyed which of these characters is the Gunslinger, not even at the end. To this maze’s credit, the actors try to interact with guests, being ornery and threatening, but its hard to hear them over the blaring music. I think this is one where they could tone the noise down and it could be improved.
Of all the mazes, this is the one that genuinely spooked me the most. You follow the trail of the Forevermore Killer, who tortures and kills his victims in methods based on stories of Poe. There are a lot of eerie, elaborate sets that evoke Poe’s work, the most impressive of which is a giant swinging pendulum and a pit filled with water. The atmosphere is genuinely unsettling, and because I was so taken looking at the setups and being reminded of the work of Poe, I got caught off-guard all too often by plague doctor-looking maniacs – minions of the killer, I guess. One room is frustrating in that it plays a really obnoxious screeching sound over the whole thing, nails-on-a-chalkboard level of cringe-worthy, but it dawned on me that its a reference the light-and-sound sensitivity suffered Roderick Usher from “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Nice touch.
3) Mirror, Mirror
This was actually the first maze I went into, a way to wet my feet with the Haunt experience, and I think it was the perfect way to start my evening. For one, its literally a maze: a seemingly endless array of mirrors and arched doorways that look like mirrors. One gets disoriented and lost very quickly, and soon enough silent specters with gold harlequin masks loom out of nowhere, eerie but ever outright threatening. I later learned that the walls in the maze get moved around, and that you actually cannot leave until the time is right, at which point the specters point the way through the maze and guide you out, perhaps before you too are trapped like the,. The maze is the smallest in terms of space, but it feels massive in scope. I love it.
2) Black Magic
I’m a sucker for a cool setup, and this one is fantastic: Harry Houdini’s ghost has finally been contacted in a seance, held in an Art Deco theater on Halloween night. But he’s none too happy about his rest being disturbed, and he brings a posse of dead magicians and performers with him to torment the living. From the outset, this maze is well done in all faucets. The tropes of stage magic and illusion run rampant through the maze, from a knife-throwing act gone wrong to a set of spiked walls closing in; and the cast for it is top-notch and always in character – many of whom show obvious signs of how their failed stunts killed them. One woman in a Venetian long-nosed mask seemed to take great delight in playing with me, and actually followed me outside to continue threatening/poking fun at me with a knife, which I repaid in kind by interacting with her. Fantastically done, and I hope it returns next year.
1) Trick or Treat
This is the epitome of what I want in a Halloween maze, and it delivers. The premise is simple: Halloween night, you ring the doorbell of a witch’s house and step inside. And once inside, I was blown away by the staggering amount of scenic detail. The front room of the house alone is a feast for the eyes, with its multitudes of glowing jack-o’-lanterns sitting on the staircase and the hall running past an open closet, stuffed with shirts and coats, where you just know something is going to jump out at you. This one is a bit lite on scares (though I mean no disrespect to the Tricksters, the witch’s minions that add to the fun with their undead faces hid behind dime store Halloween masks, who never failed to make me jump) but that doesn’t bother me, because the immersion is so superb. It really feels like you’ve stepped into a haunted house on Halloween, and that in itself is key; to me, it evokes the spirit of All Hallows that is so often missing from other events. It captures the fear and the delight, the magic and terror, of the night when the veil between worlds is thin. Easily my favorite maze, hands down.
In addition to the mazes above, I also got to see a show or two. Elvira’s Sinema Seance had all the camp you’d expect from the Mistress of the Dark, and it’s good to finally see the woman herself live on stage, a great performer who puts on a grand show.
Speaking of performances, Blood Drums got me pumped. Excellent percussion on seemingly simple objects, and a good use of sanders and sparks to add character.
Finally, I ended my night with Carny Trash at the historic Birdcage Theater. This was a small show, put on by one talented old barker with a curled mustache that would put Dustin Hoffman’s fuzz in Hook to shame. I ended up being a volunteer from the audience, and for the whole show he performed all sorts of fun sideshow-style tricks with me as one of his sucke– I mean, helpers.
In the end, I already look forward to next year’s Haunt, and am glad I faced my fears head-on and discovered how fun and exciting such an event can be. But alas, I must go. Halloween night is coming, and I’ve got a party to run.
Happy Samhain, everyone!
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Sigh. Really? There’s more? Fine…
Here’s a couple of shameless plugs for you. For one, one of my short stories has been accepted and presented today on Creepypasta.com. The story is called “Fangs,” and is very much a Halloween tale, so feel please check it out if you can! You can find it here.
Also, I’ve begun a series of radio plays that are adaptations of Creepypasta stories. The pilot episode, based on the classic so-bad-it’s-good pasta “WHO WAS PHONE?” is all up and ready for your listening pleasure. Check it out below, and if you’re feeling generous, like it and perhaps share it with others? Please?