Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Enter If You Dare

Spent Halloween enjoying what used to be one of my favorite Halloween experiences: a haunted house.

Obviously I don't mean a literal house that's haunted, but a temporary labyrinth for the innocent to walk cautiously through, filled with darkness and atmosphere and good solid screams. As a child, I loved them. Netherworlds of unknown terrors surrounded by benign suburbia. There's something ingenious about them; portals to a whole different world, contained in a confined space. It's what I still appreciate about Disneyland, despite the whole corporate Big Brother police state aspect of it. When I was growing up there was one haunted house in my area that I always heard about, but never found, which supposedly had six floors and if you made it all the way to the top floor you got your money back. Looking back, it seems a bit dubious... but at the time it was legend.

I built a haunted house in my home every Halloween. One year, I did aliens - the best effect was a small sponge alien that crawled across the floor with the help of some thread. When I was in sixth grade I broke my leg and was confined to a body cast - hence, a mummy theme.

This gave way to a different passion when my dad brought home a new toy for my seventh grade Halloween party - a rented video camera. In a sense, you could say that my passion for making haunted houses became my passion for making movies. I wrote a 45-page take on Frankenstein, "The Creation", that took several days to film. My dad was one of three people to portray the Frankenstein monster at various points in the movie. I edited it with two VCRs and the "audio dub" function that really old units had. I utilized only the finest music for the soundtrack: Mick Jagger's theme song for "Ruthless People" and some choice cuts from Bruce Willis' "Return of Bruno" album. Classic horror fare.

So when I returned to the world of haunted houses as an adult, many years later, I made a discovery. "Wait a minute - haunted houses SUCK!" They're mostly unimaginative mazes of plywood walls with strobe effects and teenagers in rubber masks, waving plastic knives or chainsaws with no chain on them. No atmosphere, no aura. No portal to another world.

The haunted house we visited on Monday didn't cost money to go through. It only existed for a few days before Halloween to entertain locals and trick-or-treaters. It was normally someone's front lawn, converted into a rather busy cemetery. After walking up the driveway, you turn along the front of the house, and then back down the other side.

But make no mistake - this was a serious effort. We're in LA, after all - the land that takes the artificial and superficial to new heights. There were so many details it took about twenty minutes to go through and see it all. No human performers - it was all animatronics and lighting effects: a skeleton playing a harp in the living room window, eerie glow on a pale nun's face chanting by candlelight, dancing lights in the fog and faces carved in the trees, ghostly figures with no legs pacing among the headstones, fireflies dancing around a tomb with an unearthly glow deep inside. For thirty-three years this house has been host to a Halloween spectacle. We immediately assumed the person behind it all was in the film industry, but instead of the obvious (lighting or construction), it turns out he does sound work. Which made sense - the whole experience was an aural odyssey. Latin chants, ghoulish howls, distant music, otherworldly drones.

Normally it's disappointing to live here during the autumn. I miss it - the colors, the trees, the cool brisk air that whispers of snow, the sweet aroma of rotting leaves on the ground, the deliciously carcinogenic smell of burning leaf piles, the cornfields and barns saying "This is our time," the sense of the whole world bracing for winter, apple orchards, actual pumpkin patches, actual trick-or-treaters. But LA knows how to put on a show. It may not have had six floors and a money-back offer, but it was the stuff of legend.

4 Knee-jerk Reactions:

Blogger Urban Bella said...

That sounds pretty cool. I miss autumn in Wisconsin, too. The leaves, the smell, the autumnal feeling.

I love that word.


12:04 AM  
Anonymous Dominic said...

It's probably just a

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Dominic said...


6:38 AM  
Blogger JudgeG said...

I miss the kids now taht we live in the sticks.. Used to get dozens and dozens.. now I decorated for 5. 8 if I include my kids.. sheesh..

9:28 AM  

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