Monday, November 3, 2008

Boo!, and Other Forward-Thinking Scare Tactics Used at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights

One of the first dates Brooke and I ever went on was a Halloween party. It was 2006, and despite the fact that we had only met a few weeks earlier I decided that this would be the perfect time for her to see me dressed up as a member of The Karate Kid’s Cobra Kai.

Brooke showed up with her friend dressed as a Duke lacrosse player (how dated!), and the scariest part of the whole thing was when I had to kiss her at the end of the night. My bandana smudged the black lines drawn under her eyes, and though it was never said out loud, it was decided then and there that whether we liked it or not, we were going to be one of those couples who enjoyed celebrating Halloween. (We kept the streak alive last year by attending a Nightmare Wedding theme party dressed as “the strippers from the night before.” I was a cowboy, she was a garden-variety whore.)

This year we decided to do something different. Our old neighbors from Brooklyn (who we have managed to stay in touch even though all empirical and anecdotal evidence points to the sheer impossibility of befriending your neighbors in New York City) talked us into going with them to Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. Having historically treated Halloween more comically and less to the point of its creepy, crawly, Saw I-VII roots, we figured we would give it a shot. (Although Brooke did warn us all that the last time she went to a haunted house, she got so scared that she crawled up in the fetal position and said, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” to which all of us said, “This is going to be great.”)

So how was it? In a word, eh. I’m not saying it isn’t fun. On the contrary: In terms of fun ways to celebrate Halloween, Universal’s event is right up there with banging a Sarah Palin look-alike. (Statistically speaking, someone reading this probably did bang someone dressed up as Sarah Palin on Halloween. If by some chance you both banged a Sarah Palin look-alike and went to Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights, e-mail me at with some comparative details, pictures, etc.)

The problem though is that I don’t think Universal Studios really taps into people’s inner-most fears. They had eight haunted houses, each with a different theme (e.g. backwoods locals fighting off undead creatures, or the “reaper virus” running rampant in post-apocalyptic Scotland, which actually is, for some weird reason, more scary sounding that post-apocalyptic Indianapolis.) The sets were elaborate, the costumes detailed in their ugliness, and the liquor all bottom shelf. Scary enough, I suppose.

But after you were there for a little bit, you kind of caught on to the racket. “Wait a minute,” you would say. “That guy isn’t really half-lion, half-skeleton. And in all likelihood, that girl’s arm wasn’t really cut off with a chainsaw moments ago. I watch a lot of House and with that much blood loss she would likely be in anaphylactic shock right now and much more focused on getting a tunicate to control the bleeding than in jumping out from behind that wall every few seconds.”

Which brings us to the second problem, and that’s how they scare you. When it comes to their methods of fear, they are old-school one-trick ponies – jump out from behind a wall and make a sudden, unexpected noise like boo, grr, argh, or bwa. It’s effective, of course. I’m not wholly unconvinced that Brooke didn’t pee herself a little bit when one particularly aggressive zombie leapt out from behind a closed door and nearly bonked heads with her. But at the end of the day, they aren’t scaring people so much as they are startling them. It’s a physical reaction, not a mental one. For example, when my college girlfriend came to me and said she thought she was pregnant, I was scared shitless. And she wasn’t even wearing a mask at the time. Now that’s genuine fear.

So they have a good foundation to work with, but here are just a few suggestions on how to improve the quality of the experience – to elevate it above and beyond some intricate parlor tricks into something truly terrifying: everyday life.

1) More punching. Have you ever been punched? It may not be eerie, but it really fucking hurts! And most people are afraid of pain. Of course I understand that due to some legal restrictions Universal Studios can’t exactly have their employees punch customers. But they can certainly bus in a bunch of parolees from the local prison. A few shots of bourbon and they’ll be as punchy as ever. Heck, throw in some of those IV bag Jell-O shots and they’ll probably even escalate to rapey.

2) Public speaking. At the end of the horrific haunted schoolhouse, everyone is trapped in a large classroom. No one is allowed to leave until a chosen student gets up in front of the class and delivers a presentation on both the immediate and lasting economic effects of FDR’s New Deal on middle-class America and abroad. In their underwear.

3) Detroit. One unlucky visitor wins an old house in Detroit.

4) “Two and a Half Men.” One of the haunted houses is actually just a locked room with “Two and a Half Men” playing on loop for hours.

5) The dentist. Upon entering the park, have customers sign a waiver consenting to have purely unnecessary dental work done if you are one of the unlucky people caught by the roller-blading dentist and his troop of ghoulish dental assistants. If they do manage to drag you kicking and screaming into their back alley, you get a root canal right then and there.

6) Hire this kid to walk around singing.

I’ll tell you one thing that was terrifying though: the size of the turkey leg I ate while we were there. (IMAGE IS ACTUAL SIZE.) By my calculations the turkeys these legs come from must be 50lbs easy. You want to scare people, let some of them loose in the park. Not the actual ones you got the legs from, of course. That would just be gross.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will be the first -
A few more details about the pregnant college girlfriend, please. That thought not only mentally scared the bejesus out of me but did make me pee a little in my pants.

November 3, 2008 at 6:35:00 PM EST  
Blogger Airblaze said...

Your blog rocks, thanks for entertaining. Halloween is really important to me, and my hangover from this year's festivities was so fear-inducing, that I wanted to add my two cents here (more like two dollars, but whatever)...

I think the combination would be where you really have the opportunity to traumatize some folks. How about making them speak publicly about Two and a Half Men (while watching it) while getting punched in an old house in Detroit while a rollerblading dentist waits for them to finish so he/she can perform a root canal with no novocain.

The fear would only be compounded by the anticipation of waiting for the rollerbladey root canal and knowing the longer you watched/spoke about Charlie Sheen and Duckie, and got punched, the longer off that dental work would be.

And if you really wanted to mess with some heads and scar people for life, you could have the dentist wear a Cobra Kai costume and scream "sweep the legs, Johnny" and "your girlfriend is pregnant" every few minutes.

November 3, 2008 at 7:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger sid said...

The "I'm pregnant and it's yours" is classic.

November 4, 2008 at 12:51:00 AM EST  
Blogger Katie said...

Mimes + Kirstie Alley + The little girls will their faces 'stuck like that' from "One Crazy Summer" + oversleeping the morning of the SATs + Sean Hannity = pee your pants terror.

November 4, 2008 at 1:19:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! I'M from Detroit! I am OFFENDED by your Detroit comment.

I mean, I don't actually live in Detroit... I live in a sweet little town 30 minutes away... facing away from Detroit... where we pretend it doesn't exist.

Okay, okay. Not offended. Psh.

Being forced to watch Two and a Half Men on repeat would scar me for life. Totally.

November 4, 2008 at 1:35:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that people fail to see the true genius of "Two and a Half Men."

Charlie Sheen's character is a rich, drunk womanizer, so the producers have to keep bringing in hot new actresses each week to play his conquests.

You haven't seen a collection of tail like that since The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders used to appear on "The Love Boat" once a season. (Crap I'm old.)

November 4, 2008 at 10:48:00 AM EST  
Blogger SlippingAway said...

The best haunted house I've ever been to was here in Colorado. You got there and had to sign a waiver giving the "actors" permission to physically engage you. Basically they take you into the house in groups for that security feeling then as you go deeper into the house they start reaching through the walls and grabbing you and pulling you into separate parts of the house. No one jumped out at your, you just had to find your way blind through pitch black rooms feeling your way along the walls and occasionally running your hand over/through really awful things. Then they set it up so you see flashes of people or things out of the corner of your eye but then it goes black again. It was the most intense, mentally terrifying thing I have ever experienced. It was awesome!

November 4, 2008 at 11:15:00 AM EST  
Blogger Talullah said...

How about a voting booth where the only option was McPalin...and the machine would trap you inside til you voted....uuughghghggghhhh the horror.

November 4, 2008 at 1:03:00 PM EST  
Blogger Natasha said...

that kid just made me cry

November 4, 2008 at 5:52:00 PM EST  

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