Mr. Barnett, I am horrified, and not in a good way.
Since age 6, I have cherished this community’s annual Jaycees Haunted House, looked forward to it for weeks, and mailed copious suggestions every year to the organizing committee. And though they have never seen fit to invite me onto the committee, I have never held it against them until this year. Put bluntly, sir, your abject ignorance of classic horror leaves you woefully unqualified to run this haunted house.
I realize your budget is limited and we’re not going to get the Haunted Mansion’s spectral ballroom, but the least you could strive for—for the sake of horror and those who love it—is accuracy and verisimilitude in your depiction of classic horror characters and tropes.
Consider your entrance: As the guests sidestep cobwebs (about eight dollars’ worth at any Halloween superstore, I estimate), hidden speakers blare Bach’s “Toccata And Fugue In D Minor” on pipe organ. While I appreciate that you were looking for something spooky, this overworked musical cliché is only associated with horror due to the 1962 Hammer Films remake of The Phantom Of The Opera (yawn) and is, frankly, the musical equivalent of yelling, “Boo, I am a ghost.” Compare the opening credits from 1931’s Dracula: The unsettlingly soft, low-fidelity passage from Tchaikovsky would jangle anyone’s nerves, if only for its creeping incongruity. Hell, the “Silver Shamrock” jingle from Halloween III would raise more neck hairs than your choice.
Moving deeper into your crypt of banalities, the guests pass through a not-even-winding corridor of fog and strobe lights—evoking what, the grim terror of Studio 54?—to find themselves in your zombie room. But zombies from which franchise? Two of them are grunting “brains,” per the Return Of The Living Dead films; the girl up front bafflingly growls, “We’re gonna get you,” from no zombie film I have seen (unless it is a mangled “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” which is the Romero series); and one guy darts back and forth like a new-millennium fast-moving zombie. Certainly, not knowing where you are is scary, but ought not the guests understand which zombieverse they’re even in?
Who, Mr. Barnett, could be frightened in the midst of such horror-blind incoherence?
Then we have your Dracula scene. I’m quite confident the sumptuous furnishings in Castle Dracula didn’t include a 1950s sectional sofa or a motel-room landscape painting. And it’s clear that you never bothered to even coach your actor—or, if you did, utterly lacked the knowledge base to elicit more than the most inept Slavic apery. On my mercifully brief walkthrough, I heard “Velcome” and “Von’t you stop in for a bite?” before completely losing interest in whatever else the man in the, ahem, glow-in-the-dark fangs had to say. Frankly, I felt more threatened the time I was thrown out of Park Street Video for complaining when they missorted Beetlejuice onto the horror shelf.
This is elementary stuff I’m pointing out! I’m not suggesting you tile a floor in high-definition screens and recreate the hockey scene from Damien: Omen II, but you wouldn’t scare Abbott and Costello with these ham-fisted ostentations.
But your inane Frankenstein dungeon is by far the most egregious crime, the chained Monster snarling and snapping at the guests like a histrionic junkyard dog. James Whale’s Frankenstein chills us to the bone by eliciting pity. Karloff’s Monster speaks to the most primal and universal human anxieties: loneliness and isolation. Are we not all The Monster in his embodiment of such traumas?
By Forry Ackerman’s memory, Mr. Barnett, have you never been afraid to sleep with the lights off? Never heard monsters whisper under your bed or seen glowing eyes in your closet? Because the measure of a haunted house is not in money spent, but whether you found the shivering, defenseless child inside the guest and confronted them, however briefly, with oblivion.
Oh, and if that ratty gauze man is the interpretation of Universal’s Mummy you’re going with, might I suggest one more bandage over my eyes?
Larry Groznic is a noted fan-community luminary and sought-after expert on the topics of British television, spy-fi memorabilia, cosplay, RPG adventuring, and limited-edition collectible maquettes. He lives in Cedar Rapids, IA, and is single.