Scary Good Times
Those are real quotation marks (the kind I approve of) because the web site calls it that; but they are also scare quotes because except for one amazing corridor, none of the horror is ghostly. Primarily it is meaty and visceral, often literally. Each room or corridor had a theme: an antique parlor where someone keeps the bodies of guests; two rooms with mad surgeons; a meat locker where some of the meat is human; a dining room offering us guests to join an speakable repast; anthropophagous living dead (one on a surgical table that lost its entrails a la Day of the Dead); deranged killer clowns. One other clinical room had a figure that I thought might be a CDC agent but Womzilla delighted me by dubbing the Mad Gasser of Mattoon.
Neither of us actually peed ourselves--I thought about it, for the free t-shirt!--or even screamed, but the whole experience was indeed very unsettling, even scary. even before we entered, I was encouraged by the two rules: don't touch the actors and don't touch the setting/props. I inferred from this that the actors were not allowed to touch us, which greatly heartened me & turned out to be true. Mind, they could and did come up right in front of you & scream or shout, but that I could handle. I also inferred that the settings/props could not touch us, which was less of a concern for me & was generally true: you couldn't navigate the meat-locker without hitting some of the spongy torsos, but nothing was thrown. Still, the combination of coherent sets, actors, some audioanimatronic figures, and disturbing special effects was every bit as adrenaline-producing as I expected. Womzilla and I hold hands or somehow touched the entire time; I started out letting him go first, sometimes clinging to his backpack, but by the end I was first.
I had read in Time magazine just that week that these entertainments are becoming more and more hi-tech and more and more popular. This one used luminescent paint, including in 3-D (at one points we were given 3-D glasses) and various types of video and projected images. For instance, a "window" in one corridor showed a living-dead male running toward it; just as the creature was about to hit, a human behind it shot its head away, but the window was seen to shatter, accompanied by a puff of air. In the dining room, a rotting steer head on the wall was surrounded by a projected video of skittering cockroaches. But the most amazing was the one ghostly effect: somehow, a neon-green strobe made it look as if we were walking in the iconic corridor of light of the afterlife, with a cone of ghosts all around us.
Our only complaint was that we were rushed through too quickly, presumably both to maximize profits and to keep up the scary surprise factor. The detail in each room would have rewarded close attention that just wasn't part of the experience. Thus, we enjoyed comparing notes later: W. hadn't noticed all the snakes hanging above our heads in the jungle corridor; I decried the lack of rats, but W. said he thought the unspeakable dinner included dead rat (better than nothing).
The next night, I on Shark Tank (a semi-guilty pleasure), one of the investors offered something like $10 million for a 20% share in a California company that does these attractions and is branching out to year-round sites. He said that he felt this interactive, unique-experience entertainment is the wave of the future. I can see why! It doesn't really take more creativity or personal initiative than a movie or play, yet it seems much more like real life and is emotionally more participatory and hence more intense. The actual tour is short, but the memories linger.
I strongly suspect we'll go each year. And despite Womzilla's scoffing beforehand, he admitted how right I was: paying the extra $15 apiece to go in the much-shorter VIP line is definitely worth it. Someone called it "the rich people's line" but I called it the line for people "old enough to have both a higher income and tired feet."