Vintage Scares #26: Haunted Attractions

Do they even have scary carnival attractions like this anymore? Sure, they were a bitter disappointment once you got inside, but that wasn't the point.  The name of the game was (1) conquering your fears and (2) having something to brag about later.

The fact that it was not nearly as terrifying as the horrifying exterior would lead you to believe was a actually a good thing.  You manned up, pulled the trigger, and came out on top.  The fact that it wasn't particularly scary merely meant you were a Man of Bravery and Courage.

Of course, you would be sure to embellish the truth the next day at school.  I once went to a carnival attraction that consisted of the lights being turned off and a shitty Halloween sound effects record being played.  You could even hear the scratches on the record.  Nonetheless, I was sure to tell all my friends (and any girls who cared to listen) that it was a full-on balls-out horror extravaganza complete with a beheading and freak that got loose from its cage.

One of my scariest memories comes from a fun and innocent little Halloween party held at my elementary school.  The party itself was fairly benign - it was held in the evening in the gym.  It was the 1970's, so I guess my parents felt it was okay to ditch this early and have me walk home by myself.  Big mistake.

I was wearing a Frankenstein costume, it was pitch black and I got lost. I thought someone (or some thing) was chasing me, and I kept seeing and hearing weird shit. I think I ran frantically up and down dark and deserted streets for three hours nonstop.  I was too petrified (or stupid) to even take my plastic mask off, so my vision was severely impaired, causing me to trip and fall repeatedly.

I returned home a bloody sweaty shell of my former self.  My costume was ruined, but worse than that, I probably have emotional scars that I'll carry with me to the grave. Thanks mom and dad. :-)

Speaking of walking home alone in the dark, have you ever watched a horror movie and then made the horrible mistake of heading home solo?  As a teenager, I saw Halloween II in the theater and then walked home alone.... I guess "walked" wouldn't be the best word to describe my homeward pace.  "Hauled Ass" would be more accurate.

I remember whistling along a lonely street, just slightly on edge - but not too scared.  Then I looked up into an upstairs window of a house, and I could have sworn I saw The Shape staring back at me.  In a split second, I was hauling ass down the street like a goddamn cheetah with its ass on fire.

Of course, I haven't yet mentioned the Mother of all Halloween Attractions: The Haunted House.  It doesn't get much better than this for quality scares - its like a horror movie, but you are smack dab in it.  The best ones, the ones that do it right, employ the following tactics:

First, they need to prep you before you even enter.  God knows, teenagers are fucking annoying little bastards, and nothing can take you out of the mood more than a congregation of them talking about typical teenage garbage.  I'm ready to be scared out of my mind, and 6 chicks talking about how drunk Kristy was at the party last night just takes me out of the mood entirely.

What I need is an atmosphere of unease before I enter.  It's got to be at least slightly intimidating up front, or else everybody's just going to clown around.

I need plenty of "jump scares".  That way I'll be shitting in my pants every time I round a corner... even if there's nothing there.  The possibility of a scare is often just as effective as an actual scare, if that makes sense.

And more important than being graphic, a haunted house needs to have the unexpected.  A corpse lunging at you from a coffin is a lot more scary than a diorama of grotesqueness.

Note: Check out http://www.haunted--houses.com/ (a banner is located in the sidebar) for haunted houses near you. A highly recommended source.


  1. In the late 60's, my sister and I used to create a "Spook House" in the basement of our N.J. home. My sister was the ghostly tour guide, and I controlled the (not scary) attractions. We invited all the neighborhood kids for a walk-thru. Earlier this year, a girl from the old neighborhood contacted me on Facebook. The most vivid memory she had of me were these spook shows. I was so happy to hear that....

  2. "cheetah with its ass on fire"- That, sir, is poetry.
    Another great post.

  3. The best party I went to as a kid had this stuff in bowls in a dark room and had you handle it and they told you the peeled boiled eggs in water were eye balls, the spaghetti was brains, etc. Of course before hand we hadn't seen it so we didn't know it was eggs, pasta, etc.

  4. Sorta looks like the "Son of Sam" himself, David Berkowitz in that second haunted house pic.