I haven’t been to too many haunted houses in my time, which is a shame: the thrills of a ridiculous and macabre haunted attraction are great fun. And stress-relieving! You can scream and it’s expected, considered better than applause. There just aren’t many haunts of quality around my hometown: I went to the “Judgement House” once in high school, but that was a dreadful experience full of religious admonishment. While I was in Japan, I unfortunately missed out on the Haunted Hospital (which is actually housed in a creepy old hospital). At least I’ve managed to get to NetherWorld in Atlanta (good fun, amazingly elaborate, but a bit busy).
I do have ONE great haunted house story to my name.
About ten years ago, the Zombie Hunter in the Desert and I got to go to an excellent little Vegas joint: Hotel Fear. It was one of those ubiquitous haunted houses that pop up all over the place around Halloween. The atmosphere Hotel Fear managed to put together was impressive, with a disfigured doorman riddled with nails and bolts at the entrance, to an exit passage echoing with chainsaws and screams. Laughing and screaming guests surged out at intervals.
(Note: I don’t remember it looking like this when we went in 2005.)
Jamelle and I arrived around seven, after it was dark, and secured tickets from a very serious woman who admonished “No refunds!” with every sale. We joined the sizable line snaking through the parking lot, watching the screamers who ran out of the attraction. Hotel Fear paced their groups, as any good haunted attraction should: they let in groups of about six people, allowed them to get part way through, then let loose the next party. The six-person group was a requirement, which meant smaller groups – like the duo of Jamelle and me – would be combined with some other guests. We realized this with some “oh hell no” trepidation while standing in line, sandwiched between two groups of four. Behind us stood a family of four, father reeking of alcohol and children squalling. The most offensive crap kept coming out of that dude’s mouth. His son copied him loudly, braying he bet the supposed chainsaws we heard were just leaf blowers. (Spoiler: they weren’t.) When it came time to choose, Jamelle and I leapt at the chance to go with the four trash-talking ten-year-old boys in front of us.
Yeah, these four little boys talked big. One of them had toured Hotel Fear earlier in the afternoon, so he was confident he knew where all the tricks were. (Apparently one of his dad’s friends worked on the crew or something.) They were raucous and bold and joking about how stupid the whole thing was. But it only took walking up to the door for cracks to show in their bravado. Before we even went in, the boys kept turning to us, saying we could go in front and that they were thankful we’d ended up in their group. Ten-year-olds, y’all.
The doorman, leering with his leech and bolt-covered face down at the kids, unceremoniously ushered us inside and slammed the door behind us. We stood in a dimly-lit and small reception area, where they’d managed to encourage pooling shadows in all the corners. A reception desk stood at the brightest point of light. No one was behind it. A stack of luggage rattled immediately next to us, and a well-dressed if macabre concierge crawled and undulated across the floor to the desk. Or maybe he was a bellhop. Either way. As he went, he harangued us in a high-pitched and otherworldly screech; he moved and sounded EXACTLY like Bengé from Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Once behind the desk, the figure drew himself up straight, and demanded, “WHY HAVE YOU COME TO HOTEL FEEEAR?!”
The boys had immediately quailed into me and Jamelle, nearly clinging to our waists. It wasn’t even a moment before one boy yelled back in a shaky voice. “Because we paid! The lady said no refunds!”
I almost died with laughter. It was classic. Mirth danced in the concierge-hop’s eyes, but he managed to keep a sinister face on, urging us on into the hotel’s many bizarre and disturbing rooms.
And then it was a breathless and exciting trip through Hotel Fear, alternating creeping with dashing through the haunted house. At first Jamelle and I were behind the boys, but the kids’ general response to the monsters and surprises was to freeze and not move anywhere. Let me tell you, it’s hard as hell to shove against four ten-year-olds rooted with fear. And get them moving again? Please. It’s easier to drag a mule.
One kid kept trying to stay behind us all and, like an idiot, I told him that it “was worse to be the last.” Next thing I knew, I was shoved to the front and forced to lead the way into every pitch-black or strobe-lit room. The kids were a tight-packed conga line behind me, with Jamelle at the rear. At every door, I had to remind myself to be the adult, and STILL found myself saying crap like “Two of us should go together!” Hotel Fear was proper scary, okay? But Jamelle gave me one of those “seriously, what the fuck” looks by merely saying my name, and I straightened up quick. The boys’ bravado was utterly gone.
Apparently, my reaction to jump scares in-the-room-right-now is to turn into a crab. (And press A.) I duck and cover my head with my arms, then scuttle sideways and forward. It’s a valid choice, even if not proper conga line etiquette. And that’s how we proceeded, albeit with a few hiccups – like in the pitch black hallway with sudden turns, when I got crushed into a wall by a four ten-year-old pile-up. I had to explain my movements out loud to get the quivering kids to follow me through, as otherwise they dragged me back.
The final gamut was a crowd of terrifying characters, from broken doll women to mad scientists in high heels to scarecrow folks and unhinged surgeons, before an unevenly lit corridor haunted by chainsaw-wielding maniacs. I refused to run out, though the kids broke cover and hightailed it. I walked briskly after, my pulse beating a terror staccato. Jamelle jogged on in high spirits (she’s always been one hell of a horror fan).
Hotel Fear was legit. That’s all I can say.
(And it’s still around! Be sure to visit if you’re in Las Vegas during the Halloween season.)
Now: Come one, come all! Step up and don’t be shy! Let’s hear about your best and worst haunted house experiences!