I was chauffeuring my Scouts on a supermarket field trip (they're working on their cooking badges) when they all stumbled upon the topic of haunted houses, which completely reminded me that I have somehow not made room in my Halloween vacation plans for a trip to a haunted house. Blasphemy, I know. Perhaps there is one in Virginia.
Getting back on topic, one of them started talking about how she would design a haunted house if she could make one. She wanted a haunted house/maze combo where if you went the wrong way, or opened the wrong door, then the monsters would pop out and scare you. I thought it was a pretty nifty idea. I really don't like jump scares. I think they're cheap and they leave me feeling annoyed and paranoid, but I really like mazes and labyrinths. I think I would love a haunted house like that, my love of mazes would trump my annoyance at jump scares.
It got me thinking about what type of haunted house I would have if I could design one. I think instead of going the route of so many haunted houses and relying on dark lighting to create a spooky atmosphere, most of my rooms would have bright lighting. I would want everything sharp and in focus. Also no loud sounds or booming mood music laden with screams and chainsaws. I would want the silence to basically engulf you at times. I want to really utilize the silence to amplify the sounds I actually wanted you to hear.
And I'd have to enact two major rules:
1. No groups - I really want to play on people's feelings of vulnerability.
2.Monsters can't touch you - Or if they do it's very limited. No arm grabbing or anything like that, that always annoyed me. Plus it's an easy way to get actors cold cocked by a scared teenager or adult. I've heard stories. Poor monsters.
To give an example of how I would incorporate my ideas for a haunted house, this is how the first three rooms of my ideal haunted house would go:
You arrive at the haunted house and are immediately split up. Each of you entering one at a time. You enter the first room. It's brightly lit and very white. Looking around you see that along the walls to your left is an immaculate looking kitchen set up. Clean, white sink with chrome handles and faucet. Shiny metal refrigerator, empty except for a single child's picture. Walking past the white stove on your way to inspect the picture, you can see the only instance of a mess is from the pot on top. The lid is slightly askew and a thick, red stream of, what you hope is anyway, tomato sauce has bubbled out onto the stove top. You walk past to look at the picture. It shows a small, sad child in chains next to a fridge. The picture also has an overly large pot with two stick figures inside labeled 'mommy' and 'daddy'. As indicated in the picture, you follow your hunch and bend down to inspect the alcove made by where the fridge meets the counter.
Underneath is a small, dirty boy chained to the sink. He's huddled in the corner at the back of the alcove. The child puts a finger to their lips and makes a shushing sound then points behind you. You spin around and, for the first time, fully notice the petite looking, young woman sitting alone with her back to you at the dinner table. With her white-blond hair, pale skin, and white dress blending in with the rest of the room it was quite easy to miss her. She's not moving or making a sound. Then you realize she is sitting next to a door with an exit sign above it, and it's the only door in the room.
You begin to walk back the way you came, wanting to keep as much room between you and this woman as possible. Slowly, quietly you walk straight towards the door. When you have almost taken one step past her, she turns her head, quick and sudden, to look at you. She is sitting in front of a plate, empty except for some red remnants that look like they have been licked off. There is nothing else in front of her except for a large, serrated knife and a fork. Her face is calm and devoid of emotion. Her mouth is parted showing the tips of her sharp teeth, and she has a mouth full of them. The pink lips seem blood stained on the inside. Her eyes are black and every so often she licks her lips. You turn away again to make your way to the door and get the hell out of there, then you hear the sound of a chair scooting across the floor. You turn back again to see where she is. She's still sitting, but this time the chair is further back. Her upper body is leaning forward towards the table, hands still palm down on the table top. She doesn't move while you are watching. She is still emotionless, still calm, and still licking her blood stained lips every couple of seconds.
You turn back and bound to the door, quickly grabbing the handle and turning it. Then the sound of heavy breathing reaches your ear. Whirling around, you see she is less than a foot away behind you. She stands stock still, breathing heavily, one hand behind her back. A quick glance at the dinner table shows what you guessed all along, the knife is missing. In one fluid motion, you turn back around and bust through the door, slamming it shut behind you.
Stumbling into the next room, you are immediately plunged into darkness. It is a black so deep you can't see an inch before you, never mind where the door is supposed to be, and there is no exit sign to help you. Holding your hands in front of you, eyes wide desperately trying to acclimate to the darkness, you cautiously inch forwards going straight to what you hope is where the door should be. There is the sound of someone walking back and forth, chains following them on one side of you. Behind you can hear breathing and the shuffling of feet. You try to take solace in the fact that if you can't see, neither can they. But unlike the person on the side, the feet behind are following you, getting closer. The breathing gets louder. You stop in your tracks, hoping perhaps the cessation of movement has thrown them off and, whoever this person is, they will move on.
You were wrong, they're getting closer but you're scared and don't want to move. Joints locking up, squeezing your eyes shut, hands clenched at your sides. The breathing is right behind you now. Opening your eyes as fingertips graze your shoulders, a bright neon exit sign lights up in the darkness a few feet from where you are blinking your salvation. Racing towards the door you steal a glance behind you to see a man cloaked in black wearing night vision goggles. He blinks in and out with the sign's light.
You run into the next room and stop, clutching your eyes. You're back into a brightly lit, mostly white room. You take a moment with your eyes closed, thanking that you can hear nothing going on around you. When you open them again your gaze is drawn to the center of the room. There is a dirty, bloody mattress laying there. Candles are everywhere, the only place where there aren't candles is the straight path to the door with the exit sign above it. Blood drips from above the mattress where there is a sagging portion of the ceiling with a small hole in it. You stand and not much happens except the blood begins to drip quicker. You walk to the door to find out that it is locked. There is a key hole in this one. You get a bad feeling and look back, there is a key on the floor by the mattress. The hole in the ceiling is now pouring blood onto the mattress where it's starting to soak onto the floor.
Practically running over, you bend down and pick up the key. Then there is a loud shriek from above. You look up and see two long blood soaked arms ending in clawed hands coming from the ceiling. They are waving around, the shrieking getting louder. The arms are trying to make the hole wider and you can see that something is pushing through. Not wanting to stick around you grab the key and race back to the door, unlocking it and leaving to see what the next room has in store for you.
So there you have it. No touching, no groups, minimal set up and noise, lots of theatrics.
What type of haunted house would you have?