Sunday, October 9, 2011

Haunted Houses

It’s that time of the year again; the time for witches and ghosts and other creepy things that come out top frighten us at night. In recent years, Haunted Houses have become big attractions. Scarier and scarier effects, live actors and actresses made up in ghastly displays, multiple themes are all created to make us scream, cringe and soil our underwear.

I have to admit that I’ve only been to a few haunted houses over the years and these have been at commercial theme parks. The Haunted House at Disney World is a tame, whimsical ride that barely calls for a peep of fear; the one at Universal Studios is a bit more frightening, but still pretty innocuous. One thing that almost all commercial haunted houses share is the certainty that, no matter what may seem to be happening, the visitor will, physically at least, be left unharmed.

But, suppose this wasn’t the case? Suppose the evil characters were allowed to touch their hapless prey. I believe there is one haunted house in New York that requires its patrons to sign a release which specifically allows physical contact. Certainly, such contact, even if relatively benign, considerably heighten the scare factor. But, suppose it is taken a step beyond mere incidental touching. Suppose, the character was allowed to accost his “guest” and cart him or her away. Allow Vampires to grab the unsuspecting soul about the neck and pretend to drink his blood; faux mass murderers could throw their victims onto a table while a buzz saw hovering overhead descends ever so close to their uncontrollably quivering torso. Scenarios like these and others would be overnight smashes. People looking for the extreme fright would line up days in advance for such an opportunity.

What about taking it all a step farther? Introduce the real possibility of physical harm. Not for customer; perhaps one out of every thousand or so visitors would actually be attacked and have to to fight off Leatherface’s chainsaw or battle ghoulish Zombies or face the consequences. Let’s have a random client be locked in a room overrun with live rats and scorpions and snakes and then have the room gradually shrink in size until our poor visitor is buried beneath a mountain of deadly vermin and reduced to shaking bowl of jello. That would be a real scare and well worth the price of admission. I’m sure there would be endless self described macho men who would go through the house over and over, just to have the opportunity to show their stuff.

What about going even beyond? Instead of bored, out of work actors pretending to be monsters, psychopaths and villains, employ the real thing. When I was in medical school I spent at day at the state psychiatric hospital and I can attest that the patients there were beyond bizarre and I wasn’t even allowed to venture near the high security ward for the criminally insane. Let’s give those inmates a meaningful job, doing what they do best. Instead of a fake ax murderer chained to a wall brandishing a rubber ax, bring in the real thing and, just for screams, let him loose every thirty minutes or so. The pyromaniac behind bars? Give him or her some real fire to play with. Hannibal the Cannibal? Keep him locked away, but every so often give him a knife and fork, open the bars to his cell and let him provide the smug visitor with a truly worthwhile and cleansing scare.

You, dear reader, may think all this far too extreme, but in this day and age, where we read about murders and arson and violent assault on a regular basis, where such evil is all around us, on television, our computers, in our schools and workplaces, it is necessary to push the envelope if one wants to be a success in the fright business. And if someone ends up injured or worse, there are always a gaggle of lawyers ready and waiting to step in.

Now that’s really scary.