We’ve all heard it, right? Halloween is for kids. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s a chance to put on a costume, go around your neighborhood with your friends, get bags of great, awesome, life-sustaining candy, and maybe raise a little hell. All in good fun, of course.
But kids grow up. And sometimes some of their best memories come from that one night of the year. Sometimes they have an artistic or creative tendency, and they hold Halloween in their hearts. They keep Stephen King in business. They decorate their houses for Halloween. The most fanatic (and in my opinion, the luckiest) of them open Haunted Houses. People who just don’t get it call them bizarre, or the neighborhood weirdoes. But there’s another term that applies. We call ourselves Haunters. It’s a name we use with pride; it’s our badge of honor. It’s a term we have to explain to the who just don’t get it.
We’re fully into the Haunter’s season, and I’ve already visited my favorite two Haunted Houses, Manor in Taunton, Massachusetts and Fright Kingdom in Nashua, New Hampshire. Classic, classy haunts. I’ll visit others, be assured, but these two are can’t miss/won’t miss for me every year. (Haunted Overload in Lee, New Hampshire is my third on this list, but hasn’t yet opened as of this writing). You go through these haunts, and you will see details, decorations and designs that are works of Halloween Art. The actors are professional and are appropriately scary/creepy. More importantly, they know – they understand – that Halloween is supposed to be fun and a pleasure for kids of all ages. I walk through these haunts with a big, dumb-ass smile on my face because this is what being a Haunter is about.
But there is a new trend developing that, in my opinion, threatens everything that true Haunters stand for. I’m talking about these “extreme haunts,” that advertise things like “extreme physical contact”, “violence”, “sexual undertones”, and other such unnecessary ridiculousness. This is not Haunting; these are felonies. Is “full frontal nudity” necessary to Halloween? What do “simulated drowning” or “light torture” have to do with a haunted house? When did being a masochist become pre-requisite for going into a haunted house, and when did being a sadist become required for working in one? Did I miss a memo?
I mean, to a certain degree, I get it. Being “faux-water-boarded”, “forced to eat disgusting things”, and “bound, gagged, and crawled on by roaches” are scary things. And Halloween is about being scared, right? Uh, no. Not really. Halloween is about being scared and enjoying the sensation. If you enjoy the feeling of being “rolled naked in a sheet of plastic”, “being forced to walk barefoot down a used condom-covered hallway”, or being “stuffed into a clothes dryer”, you don’t need to go to a haunted house. You need to go to a therapist.
(NOTE: Anywhere you see quotations in this article, I am quoting either an advertisement or review of one of these so-called haunts. I’m not making this up.)
The appeal of these haunts (I call them haunts only because I don’t have another term that I can use without resorting to offensive language) is lost on me. You are required to be 18 years old to enter (I did see one that allowed 17 year olds to go through). You are required sign a waiver to go through. You are in there for extended periods of time (in some cases two to three hours). In many, you are required to go through alone, but if not, they are free to cull you from the herd for some special attention. I’ve already indicated some of the highlights of these haunts and see no reason to list them again.
I can hear some of you already: Lighten up, old man! It’s a different world. Times change. Kids are growing up watching the Saw movies. Old style haunts just don’t cut it anymore, these new haunts are the wave of the future.
I hear your arguments, I get your points. And I reject them thusly.
Brothers of Las Vegas, Nevada has a haunt called The Victim Experience. (NOTE: These “extreme haunts” are all over the country, and are all offensive to me, but this one set my blood to boil.) You must be 18 or older and you must go through alone. “Participants will experience extreme physical contact, light torture, simulated drowning, and more.” Other advertised “features” include “Sexual Undertones, Electric Shock, Must Sign a Waiver, There is a Safe Word.” Oh, a safe word? Thank goodness! Well I guess that makes it okay. But what if you’re bound and gagged when that line is crossed . . . ?
And this is where the industry as a whole is at risk. Real haunters – Pro-Haunters – spend their lives perfecting their art. They know and understand the Cardinal Rule of Haunting: Touch Nothing and Nothing Will Touch You. By breaking this rule, by violating this covenant, by requiring a freaking waiver, they are crossing the line from Haunter to Felon. They no longer need to be actors, they can just be thugs. What kind of people apply for jobs like this? Who is drawn to this line of work? How are these people vetted? Are background checks parts of the process? They are putting innocent people in harm’s way for some kind of twisted entertainment, yet I’m sure it is far easier to get a job in one of these haunts than it is to get a gun in Texas.
How many women are routinely molested in these places? How long will it be before one is raped, if it hasn’t happened already? What recourse do they have when it does happen? Remember, they signed a “waiver”. I wonder if that waiver will work when the wrong person goes in, is forced to do something disgusting and aspirates into his or her gag and drowns in his or her own vomit. What about if one of these “attackers” drops someone on their head, or if they accidentally hit someone while swinging something causing an inter-cranial bleed leading to blindness or death? It’s coming, trust me. And when the reports start coming in people won’t hear the words “extreme” or “waiver”; they’ll hear and remember Halloween and Haunted House. They’ll kill the industry we love and the season so many of us spend 334 days a year waiting for.
Listen, if a person gets his or her jollies by being hit, intimidated, humiliated, peed on, crapped on, forced to crawl through filth and eat maggots and get tortured, fine. There are clubs in cities and towns all over the country – hell, all over the world – that will cater to whatever their freaky little thing is. You want that treatment? Buy some ass-less chaps, a submissive hood and a set of handcuffs and hit these clubs. Or take out a Craig’s List ad. Or meet someone in an on-line chat room. Or date an NFL player. But don’t try to legitimize it by trying to make it a Halloween thing. That crap has nothing to do with Halloween.
In the end, what I say doesn’t matter. It’s just one man’s opinion, and apparently there is a whole collection of people who think being killed in a horror movie is a cool way to go, or think that paying for “The Victim Experience” is fun. But there’s a better way to get it. Don’t pay some maniac to torture or molest you; go to a shelter or support group and listen to people who really were – and still are – victims. It didn’t cost them any money; all it took was a chunk of their soul. And they get to live with “The Victim Experience” for the rest of their lives.