Horror Writers Association Blog

Halloween Haunts: Haunted Houses

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by David Sharp

 

One of my favorite Halloween traditions is going to haunted houses—not breaking and entering into an abandoned places where ghosts may dwell, but going to the commercial ones. Chasing the dragon of the adrenaline of fear is harder with age. In youth, I could find terror lurking in the shadows after watching a scary film or riding a roller coaster. Finding the frisson as an adult takes more effort. One of the best ways is to feed off the fear of a like-minded group—Imagination is the key. An ideal setting to psyche myself out into the Halloween spirit is a well done haunt.

I always have been an avid horror fan and began a subconscious quest to find some of the coolest haunted houses over the years. One of the earliest haunts I went to was in the late 80s in a Texas Baptist church. As a teenager I used to talk to the minister about The Book of Revelation from the bible and got a kick out of our debates on what was “real” in The Omen films. I am sure the only reason he put up with my young punk self was to get me to go to his church services. On his word, I did go to the church’s haunt one year. It was weird in that each horrific room told a moral story, including the dangers of drugs. The different rooms had strung out zombies with needles in their decrepit arms, a nightmarish abortion clinic with a ghoul doctor and an undead mother holding her dead baby, and one about the devil. A pamphlet was given out at the end explaining the relevant scripture for each scenario. I went to my first real haunt shortly after in an abandoned business in downtown Houston. I had been turned on to buying underground VHS horror films by a friend who did makeup effects for the haunt. His monsters and masks were creepy and effective. Walking the hallways and rooms also gave off the unsettling feeling that the actual floor could have given away at any moment by the sound of its creaking. (The haunt was eventually closed down due to safety issues.) I briefly flirted with the idea of working that haunt, but it did not pan out. Years later, I worked at one in Phoenix as an overnight security guard. The setup was a haunted village spread across a large parking lot. Walking the perimeter late at night brought back a fear that the haunt could not generate in its open hours—all imagination in the dead of night.

Sharing the experience with a significant other ups the fear factor in the same way as being on a date and seeing a scary movie through someone else’s eyes is a thrill. When I met Bo, I inducted him into my love of horror. Houston haunts were our closest go to while we lived in Texas, starting with one on the bayou. The haunt was inside and around the warehouses of a party supply company. The memorable point came at the end of one maze that led to a claustrophobic nightmare of squeezing between two huge rubber rollers. For a few long seconds I could not breathe, or move backward or forward, and freaked out—frantic to pull myself through to the other side. Hyperventilating, I came out, looked around, and saw no costumed employees and wondered what would happened if I would have suffocated and died. How long would it have taken anyone to find my body? These thoughts swirling, I looked to the other side of a chain-link fence and saw some real tombstones in the dark. Bo made it through and we shared the creepy moment of fog drifting up from the bayou through a small family cemetery. We explored other haunts over the years with a few memorable thrills from a chainsaw chase right out of the 1974 film with a real (albeit chain-less) saw to a black light haunt, disorientating and tricky on the eyes, with its glow in the dark zombies and clowns. Similar to watching or reading horror, it takes a bit more to scare after continued exposure. Fear is a drug in that sense. And like any good horror fan, I wanted more of it. A past issue of Fangoria magazine listed the best haunts in America, so Bo and I planned a drive to the closest one in Baton Rouge. Louisiana has a special ghostly vibe full of curses and black magic that adds a unique, imagined darkness while driving through the swamps. Our destination was a sketchy downtown warehouse. Once through the line, a dozen people would be let inside to an elevator. After going down, the group was broken up into threes and fours and told to pick a way out. We and another couple went into a morgue part that included an autopsy bay with a dead end. The only way out was to open the iron door of the crematorium and crawl through, one at a time. Bare hands feeling the soot and presumably fake bones, I felt a wave of claustrophobia and disgust of getting dirty. I feel the more dangerous a place seems, the better the fear. Voodoo rituals and zombies outside the interior of the haunt had nothing on the simplicity of imagining being trapped with something waiting in the dark.

 

Last year in Iowa, Bo took me to a corn maze. Growing up in the city, I never had experienced one before. There were not a lot of people and it was a perfect October day. Images of Children of the Corn flashed through my mind with each turn down an empty tall row of dying corn stalks. The maze ended in a pumpkin patch in a sublime way. We also tried a family orientated haunt set in a park that in winter has a small ski slope. Strangely, the lifts were running. The scene reminded me of a bigger budgeted version of the haunt I saw as a teenager at the Baptist church—without the moral issues and proselytizing. We ended the season with true depravity at a Slipknot inspired metal haunt in an abandoned slaughterhouse. Dangerous clowns and rejects and a serial killer bent dominated the scene with intensity. In line, some of the performers would slide on the ground shooting sparks from knee plates. Inside the haunt there was a cage where, for a quite a long time, we were trapped. We were surrounded by deranged performers who got closer and closer, banging on the bars, only to slowly open the cage to go inside with us. It was freaky. The fear was a rush similar to the feeling I used to get as a kid after a slide, a fast ride, or a chase.

Haunted houses will always be a draw for me. Some are bad, some are okay, but every once in a while the thrill is there and that is one of the things that truly brings the Halloween season to life.

 

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David Sharp is a writer of Punk Fiction. A dreamer, he grew up identifying with the outsider from his teenage punk years on. His stories are filled with characters on the fringe of society, from troubled youth and thrill seekers to hardened gunslingers and mysterious loners. Each one is on a journey to find themselves and pursue their desires across exciting and sometimes dangerous landscapes.

 

www.davidsharpwriter.com

 

Follow my punk fiction blog at davidsharpwriter.com and receive a free copy of my horror story, Under the Moonbow.

 

Under the Moonbow—Maleki, tattooed with the story of his past, desires to be free from his cell in the Ponoko Asylum for the Criminally Insane. He is not trapped by the walls, but is bound by a covenant to his captor, Dr. West. Through intense sessions, Maleki and the doctor delve closer to the supernatural truth, the key to freedom from the pact, and the secret of the faraway place that lies under the moonbow.

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