Memories of Haunted Houses

Here are some recollections of visits to haunted houses and my thoughts about them (as well as a brief thematic taxonomy).  By the "haunted house," I'm referring to theme attractions, not current or former residences allegedly occupied by ghosts.  The first entries are things I wrote up specifically for this page, but all entries from 2013 on are from my journals.

Types of Haunted Houses

In general, haunted houses can fall into one of three categories.  These aren't terribly rigid; they're more of a continuum, but you have a general sense which an attraction belongs in once you've been through it.

Atmospheric - These haunted houses like everything in soft focus.  They don't try to be very specific but instead work with vague, broad brushstrokes.  The killer isn't based on any particular movie character; he's just a guy with a knife.  There aren't monsters, just blood.  The lights aren't there to direct your attention; they are their own effect.  It's a very generalized approach that can be very effective if done right, but it leaves a lot to the imagination.

Theme parks - The idea is that the entire attraction is built around a single theme.  Everything feeds into reinforcing that: the props, the actors, their costumes, the sets, sound effects, etc.  The approach requires a lot of specifics, but sometimes it's too derivative of the sources of its inspiration, and that can kill the suspension of disbelief.  However, its biggest enemy is monotony.  One-note haunted houses leave you bored with repetition by the time you're all the way through.

Smorgasbord - A little bit of everything, even if it doesn't all fit together neatly.  It's like all of Halloween is crammed together, and each room of the haunted house delivers around one sub-genre.  This is my favorite approach by far, but I've only run across one haunted house that did it extensively.  Although the lack of a cohesive theme can detract from the overall impressions of the attraction, the sheer variety can be over-whelming enough that you remember so much that you want to go back through for a second look.

Memories of haunted houses I've been to

Boy Scouts (Louisiana; early '80s)

The first and probably only haunted houses I went to in my childhood were those put on by the Boy Scouts in my neighborhood.  I was never a member, although one of my friends was, and his dad was a scout master (or troop leader or whatever it's called?) and loved building things in his garage woodshop.  It made perfect sense he would be involved in something like this.

They usually set up the attraction in a park on the edge of our subdivision, just a bunch of black plastic walls for the most part, but they managed to have a lasting effect on me.  I think they were on the school property near the back of the subdivision another time.  They usually had a little graveyard set up at the edge to keep you entertained as you were waiting in line.  All the gravestones had comical sayings painted on them, which were obviously influenced by the gravestones outside of Disney's Haunted Mansion.  I carried that through to this day with things like "Here lies Fred; he still isn't dead" which was taken directly from one I remember as a kid.

To this day my assessment of haunted houses is largely based on the quantity of Halloween clichés included within more even than the quality of presentation.  The Boy Scouts put on a generic haunted house, but they were all about variety.  Every room was some cliché: Frankenstein's lab or a murder scene or whatever.  Spaghetti used for blood and guts, that sort of thing.  There was an electric chair in one room made out of the front (or maybe it was the back) of a VW Bug.  The orange and red lights flashed, and someone was strapped in it feigning being electrocuted.  All sorts of craziness like that.

Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts have staked out a position today as an overtly Christian organization with homophobic policies.  Sure, that flew during the Reagan administration, but it's the 21 century, and they're even rejecting kids with atheist leanings (i.e., brought up by atheist parents).  As a result, I'm not going to support any endeavor of theirs for the time being, even if it is related to Halloween.

Unknown (NRH area; 2003)

This was the first haunted house Dani and I went through together, and it remains my all-time favorite.  It was set up in an abandoned Walmart, so there was an enormous amount of room to work with.  More important was what they did with the space: Everything.  Rather than so many of these one-note haunted houses you've probably been to as well, this one attempted to cover every possible genre of Halloween-themed scares.

Each section had a room dedicated to each theme.  For example, there was an alien room with blinking lights, kids dressed up as "grey" aliens in silver jumpsuits, etc.  Another room was designed to represent an Egyptian mummy's tomb with hieroglyphics on faux sandstone bricks, mummies coming out of sarcophagi, and so on.  Then there were other areas with the obvious horror scenes out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre with redneck slashers chasing guests around.  There was a little of everything on display.  You didn't get bored with it because you never knew what was going to come next.

The most effective thing about the place for Dani was the creepy kids.  Rather than the screaming, banging-on-the-walls zombies you see at every other haunted house, this place had swarms of tweens and teens all gothed up.  They were wearing dark clothes and scary make-up.  Basic minimalist Halloween attire, but they would sneak up to you and quietly stand there until you noticed them.  It was very, very effective.  The fact that they were much shorter than average meant that they evaded your line of sight for the most part (I'm not especially tall, and it worked on me).  Dani described them as scurrying little cockroaches.  Even years after the fact, this remains the most salient feature of the haunted house for her.

Another thing I liked about the place was that it had wide-open spaces.  Places like Zombie Manor (below) did the same old thing as so many others and just turned everything into a series of corridors.  Rooms were narrow, then halls.  The props were nice, but the layout was repetitive.  This house had large rooms, so you could be swarmed by the aforementioned zombies or aliens or whatever.  It was much more effective than the tired and annoy tactic of a lone character jumping out from behind something or (worse) banging on a wall as you pass.

Cutting Edge (Fort Worth; 2007)

I've only been in one that was built with this degree of minimalism.  The idea was to achieve pure atmosphere without relying on a lot of set decoration or costumes.  It was very effective, but I was left with the feeling that, frankly, they didn't put a lot of effort into it.  There were virtually no props or decorations throughout, merely things like plates of sheet metal and chains.  This is a well-established haunted house set in a permanent location, so this was the norm, believe it or not.

My biggest gripe with the entire experience was the inordinately steep price of admission (plus still more for parking).  Given the paucity of material goods on display, I wondered where was my money going?  It wasn't for props, personnel, or decorations.  The parking situation felt a bit like extortion.  The haunted house is located in a notoriously bad part of town, arguably the worst in the entire city.  It is next to several homeless shelters, and the entire area is rife with vagrants at all hours of the day, including under nearby overpasses and such.  As a result, you feel there's little choice but to pay for supervised parking.  But $10 to park for perhaps an hour or so to get through the entire attraction?  That's bullshit.

Although the haunted house itself was too sparsely decorated for my tastes, there were a couple additional components to the attraction that were noteworthy.  For one, there was a maze in the basement of the building.  That was interesting, although there wasn't anything especially Halloween-ish about it.  I would have added costumed killers so that the maze has some sense of urgency, something to make it more than just a puzzle.

The other feature that stands out is the finale.  This is a SPOILER, btw, so skip it if you ever plan to go through.  Granted, it reads a lot less impressive than it actually is in person because, frankly, bubbles don't sound scary.  As you exit the building, you have to pass through a mass of soap bubbles that is literally several yards thick.  It's hard to say just how deep it is since you're engulfed in bubbles, so there's no frame of reference if you aren't counting your footsteps.  It's genuinely and surprisingly claustrophobia-inducing.

Unknown (Arlington; 2007?)

I can't remember what this one was called anymore.  A handful of friends (i.e., Katie, Kristin, maybe others?) went to this one with us.  It was set up in part of an older mall, believe it or not.  It was generally effective even though it leaned more toward the atmospheric side than most other haunted houses I've been to.

The stand-out memory for me was one area where a room was filled with hundreds of flexible plastic drainage pipes hanging from the ceiling.  Guests had to force their way through this sea of vertical tendrils, which was a very novel effect that I've never seen/experienced before or again since.

Dallas Scaregrounds (Dallas; 2008)

I didn't find much especially interesting about this place other than the chromodepth section, which I'll get to in a minute.  Most else seemed really straightforward and ordinary about it.  Nothing terrible, just nothing terribly interesting.  My only real complaint was that it seemed particular short-lived.  We waited in line longer than it took to go through it, which wasn't especially long.

The stand-out feature for me was the chromodepth effects.  They required 3D glasses, of course.  This was simply a bunch of two-dimensional wall paintings, but it was effective and made me wonder how the technique worked.  I immediately sought out information about it for future use.  I've tinkered with it a bit, but it's a bit involved to have everyone at a party put on 3D glasses, so maybe it's not in the cards.  However, there are great applications of the effect.  See below.

Hangman's House of Horror (Fort Worth; 2008)

Unfortunately I really can't give a decent assessment of Hangman's.  We showed up on a "lights-out night," meaning that they literally turned out almost all the lights.  Guests were given small flashlight with which to navigate the attraction, but it wasn't much use.  As a result, I honestly couldn't tell you anything about the decor (assuming there was some).  I really felt like it was a waste of time and money.  I would like to re-visit the place at a later date for some of the other attractions (which I'll get to in a minute),

More interesting than the blacked-out haunted house were the side attractions.  There were four of these.  One was a house populated by zombies who would jump out and scare you.  But by far the best of these was the chromodepth house.  It should have been boring.  There were no actors, no animatronics, no blinking lights.  It was simply a house filled with objects covered with fluorescent paint.  Blacklights made the fluorescents jump out, then the chromodepth glasses on top of that made them jump even more.  That much had been done before with the chromodepth pictures at the Scaregrounds.  What made it work even better was that the effects were on three-dimensional objects.  You can imagine seeing 2D things in 3D.  Now imagine taking 3D props and adding an extra dimension on top of that.  You can't, and that's what's awesome.

The Munster Mansion (Waxahachie; 2009)

This isn't a a traditional house at all but rather a private residence custom built to the exact specifications of the original Munster house from the show.  You can read more about it on various places around the web, but it was built by the couple (The McKies) who live there largely by gauging the dimensions from watching the tv series, then lovingly populated with replicas of the props and decor of the original series.

In addition to the main attraction of the house itself, there's a slew of other things going on all throughout the expansive yard surrounding the place.  For one thing, the McKies also get decked out as Herman and Lilly Munster.  They have a fairly convincing-looking Grandpa Munster on the grounds as well.  Then there are the indispensable replicas of the famous Munster Coach and the customized coffin known as Dragula.

Since so many visitors arrive in costume (especially the kids), there is a costume contest hosted by the DJ who is keeping the music going.  And there's a trivia contest about the original tv show.  And carnival-style games.  And even former cast members from the show.  In the early years of these open-house nights (which are usually only for a weekend or two around Halloween), Al Lewis (Grandpa) made an appearance, as did Butch Patrick who played young Eddie Munster.  The most regular cast member to turn up has been Pat Priest who was Marilyn in the majority of the show's episodes and who has been at most events at the Munster Mansion.  She signs autographs and poses for pictures with guests.  She and the McKies are very personable and love visiting with the guests.

The only downsides are that the house is relatively far-removed from the metroplex, as Waxahachie is almost an hour's drive for most of us.  However, the trip is made worth it by just how much there is to do during the event.  Unfortunately, pictures aren't allowed inside the house, which is odd considering you can see essentially the same thing in syndication.  There are pictures of the place on the web already regardless.

The price of admission was more than reasonable, and the proceeds all go to a different charity each year.

Zombie Manor (Arlington; 2010)

We got in here for free since we were working for a Halloween store at the time, so it wasn't a big loss if the place was lame.  It wasn't, but it wasn't very good either.  I get a bit bored with haunted houses that stick too rigidly to one theme.  Zombies are cool, sure, but not to the exclusion of every other monster.

This was one of those one-note attractions built entirely around the idea of zombies (duh; re: the name!).  There wasn't a central narrative that was communicated by the exhibition itself, so it seemed pointless even though there was a lot of craft in what they put on display.  There were great rooms like the child's nursery and such that worked really well.  But the show grew repetitive before very long.  There was also a lot of the over-used attempts to scare guests by banging loudly on walls, frying pans, etc., and that's a trick that would have worn out its welcome quickly if it was ever welcome to begin with.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not/Wax Museum (Grand Prairie; 2011)

We did this one at Leiann's recommendation.  She had been to it years earlier and had lasting impressions of it.  By day this is an attraction (or rather two under one roof) that is open year-round.  However, around Halloween the lights are lowered at night in the wax museum half of the complex, and the obligatory teens-dressed-as-ghouls creep up behind you as you wind your way through the displays.  Thematically, many of the exhibits in the museum are already geared to a Halloween-hungry audience.  There are sections dedicated to movie monsters and infamous slashers.  Some sections were blocked off for the Halloween tour, notably all the biblical exhibits, which is ironic considering how Jesus is the original zombie story.

Sadly, the part that Leiann remembered most fondly wasn't part of the show this time around, a Black and White section in which everything (ghouls included) were painted in grayscale to make you believe you are seeing a black and white movie come to life.  I have seen this done elsewhere, but I had really hoped to see it presented here, especially in the context of old movie characters and such where it would have fit best of all.

Another portion of the attraction, something like a smaller third component of the complex, is the Mirror Maze.  Again, this is always present, irrespective of Halloween, but it blends in nicely with the Halloween theme, like something out of an early Hitchcock film.  We didn't do it on this return trip for the haunted house, but it was enjoyable the first time through.

Hangman's House of Horrors (Fort Worth; 2013)

This was a mid-season thing.  Stan and I went on our own.  I didn't text anyone until around 7pm, so it was short notice, but everyone was already in the middle of something, sick/tired, or just scared of haunted houses, which is ironic because Stan couldn't wait to go, and he is only 3 and 3/4.  Stella had only just been born not quite a month ago, so Dani stayed home with her.

It wasn't very crowded at all, which was a little surprising since this was the last night they were open (of the two weekends).  I would have thought that might have brought on a small surge in attendance, but I wasn't there other nights to compare, just around Halloween.  This was nice because there was no line to wait in, and there were so few people that we were able to take it at our own pace.  If anyone came up, I just let them pass us.  And since we were on our own, we didn't feel like we had to keep up with anyone.

The only other time we did Hangman's was around the time Stan was born, but I had the worst luck and ended up there on "flashlight night."  The concept sounds like fun, but it's kind of a rip-off from my perspective.  I mainly go to haunted houses to see how they decorated it, but on "flashlight night" they literally turn off every light and give you only a little flashlight.  When we went, we were each given a small penlight with a single LED bulb.  About half of these didn't even work properly, so it was just a group of us stumbling around not seeing anything at all.  From what I read on the site, they now give just one flashlight to the group, so maybe it's a bigger flashlight and you can actually see some of the decorations, but I don't care enough to try that when I could go on any other night and not worry about what I'm missing.

Since I was able to see the decorations this time around, I can actually describe a lot of them.  For example, the room at the entrance was set up like a haunted movie theater.  The workers were dressed like theater employees (albeit made up all ghastly).  There was a cloth screen hanging over the entrance with projected silhouettes of murder scenes, a hanging, etc. like there was a horror movie playing.  Along the wall was a concession stand with eyeballs in the popcorn machine/cartons, and the glass candy case was filled with skeleton hands, etc.

As soon as you went in they had the "vortex tunnel," which is just a long walkway through a rotating brightly-colored tube that completely disorients you even though you know exactly what's happening.  Here's a video of one of similar design: although Hangman's version was just a lot of bright colors rather than ghosts.  Stan was immediately disoriented by it and didn't want to go any further at all, but we pressed ahead.

There was a motion-activated dinosaur head that roared and lunged (well, slowly) when you passed it.  Stan didn't think much of that.  He was more concerned about people coming up and talking to him.  Not scaring him; he just didn't want them to talk to him.  He was pretty much silent the whole way.  The funniest thing was that at one point he was starting to get scared because a couple people were coming toward, and I said, "They're zombies, like on 'The Walking Dead," then he was fine with everything.  He knows "Walking Dead" is all fake and the zombies rarely ever even catch anyone, so no big deal.  Follow that logic for a second: He was reassured when I told him they weren't people, they were zombies.  I have a weird kid.

Not too long after we got inside, an older lady who worked there doubled as a guide and got us through maze-like sections.  There were a couple of these: one with canvas/tarp-like strips hanging from the ceiling, and another with plastic tubing (like perforated corrugated French drain pipe), so that helped speed our way to more interesting sections where Stan could look at fun decorations.

For example, there was a room with a "crashed" airplane as though from a polar expedition that went awry.  There were bodies frozen in ice along one wall.  Another room had Frankenstein in it, a mannequin that was sitting in a big chair with lots of science equipment around him.  As few times Stan would tell me "I want to get out," but as soon as we were in a room full of things to look at and there were no costumed workers around, he would immediately become talkative and would start exploring.

On the way out, you go through another "vortex tunnel" (same design and appearance as the entrance), so I let him walk it on his own rather than carrying him.  I even went way ahead of him so that he had to walk by himself, which was hilarious.  He was holding onto the railing railing and walking at a 45 degree angle as though he was about to tip over.

Several teenagers passing through at various points said he was the coolest kid ever to go through the attraction, and I think he took that to heart, though he wouldn't actually acknowledge them.  People kept trying to get a high-five out of him, but he wouldn't have any of it.

In addition to the main haunted house, there were two other attractions.  The first of these we went through was "McDagenvile," a redneck village along the lines of something out of the "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" with rustic country stores and Americana.  People were dressed up like hillbillies.  I think it was previously a zombie attraction, so I told Stan that's what they were supposed to be, which seemed to fit since they had torn clothing and dirty faces.  One of the "zombies" gave Stan a piece of candy.  Stan reluctantly took it, wouldn't say "thanks," then immediately handed it to me.  Typical.

The other attraction was the "3-D Wonderland" which this year was designed around an "Alice in Wonderland" theme.  The entire experience is build out of the use of chromodepth glasses with fluorescent paint and blacklights to maximize the effect.  Chromodepth works best with solid colors where there are sharp edges (i.e., no blending), and the blacklights make the fluorescent paints really pop out.  The chromodepth glasses produce a 3-D effect, but you get a mind-blowing effect when you apply 3-D effects to an already 3-dimensional environment (as opposed to just on 2-D walls or paintings).

The first room you pass through represents the fall down the rabbit hole.  It had simulated rock walls with various objects embedded in them, all painted fluorescent colors.  You went down a ramp the whole length of the room (like you're "falling") toward a small white door painted on the bottom of the big door at the end of the "tunnel."  Next you're passing by the caterpillar's toadstool, which looked really cool because the fabric was done like a Jackson Pollock with splatters of the paint all over it so that it looked like the surface was swimming.  Maybe there was supposed to be someone dressed as the caterpillar, but only his hooka was there, also painted up in several colors so that it looked like it separated into different pieces.

Eventually you meet Alice (a poorly-cast teenager or maybe early 20s who was chubby and brunette) along with the Mad Hatter, who introduce you to the tea party where a table is set with books and cups and saucers all painted bright colors.  Poor Alice kept apologizing for being "unprofessional" because she was laughing too hard to remain in character.  Stan was just so stoic and wanting nothing to do with anyone that it threw her into the giggles.  We moved on to the next room where the walls were adorned with various clocks all done in different colors so that they appeared to be floating (note that the walls generally appeared blue-ish purple due to the blacklights, so most colored objects jumped out from the background).  Additionally, there was a light effect I had never seen before, a device that had a few small colored LEDs that projected through a rotating semi-transparent piece of plastic.  The result were these smeared, nebulae-like "ghosts" moving across the floor and over the walls.  Since they were red and green (probably blue as well, but that color got lost in the blacklight), they popped out at 3-D as well among the clocks.  This added a new effect since most else were static props, but here we had dramatic motion so that the lights appeared to hover above the floor.

Next was the hat room with many multi-colored hats and other accessories all over the walls.  Finally you get to a chess room where there's one of the Queen's card men against one wall, surrounded by baskets of blue heads ("Off with their heads!") and shelves with even more heads.  The most striking effect was the checkerboard floor of alternating red and blue "tiles."  The blue of course sunk "into" the floor alongside the red, and Stan stated that "The floor looks like water."

Even though he acted at times like he wanted to get out of it, on the way home he was constantly telling me about things he saw.  I was quizzing him and seeing how much he remembered.  I struggled to recall a lot of it even immediately afterward because there's just so much to take in, let alone for an almost-4 year-old.  The kicker?  In the car he asked me, "Can I have that candy the zombie gave me earlier?"

Screams (Waxahatchie; 2013)

Even though it's a pretty long drive for us, we got in free!  A lady in the parking lot gave us two free complimentary tickets that she got when she bought hers.  It was just Dani and I with Stan (Jessica babysat Stella), so the whole thing was a free ride, other than gas.

There were five haunted houses on the grounds that year, plus smaller booths and gift shops.  I had hoped for more and stanger things, but is was on a much smaller scale than when the same site and facilites are set up for Scarborough Fair in the spring/early summer.  Here's a description of the haunted houses with the quoted portion coming from the website summary of each:

Ghoulish Graveyard - "Do you have courage? Are you brave? We dare you to test yourself. You haven't lived 'til you've been scared to death."  This was just a long walk through a series of (mostly) animatronics and static scenes.  However, there's a novelty in having that much real estate.  Usually haunted houses are a tight little maze, but this was a long walk in the open air.  Nothing terribly scary, but it was perfect for Stan.

Castle of Darkness - "Visit a new dimension in terror, for fear dwells in the depths of unknown darkness - what is it that will make you scream? Literally, scream? Find out in the Castle of Darkness."  This was set in the castle attraction on the grounds and was probably the most elaborate attraction because of the scale and decor.

Hotel of Horror - "Try to escape the narrow hallways, hidden passageways and possessed guests of the all new Hotel of Horror and experience the unknown terrors around every corner."  I really enjoyed the fact that this was a largely original theme (at least to me).  While hotels (think Psycho) and rustic Midwestern locales (like Texas Chain Saw Massacre) are common in movies, you just don't see haunted attractions set up to combine them in this way, and by creating an unfamilar setting, it is unsettling in that there are no expectations to prepare you and dull the surprises.

Unkel Koy's Klown Maze - "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants. Whats to be afraid of? All you have to do is find your way out while being menaced by clowns. That's It."  This attraction was a huge maze that was filled with clowns and other circus types, including at least one guy wielding a chain saw.  There wasn't really anything in the maze itself (it was just alternations of plywood and chain link), but the scale alone was impressive.  I think it took us more than 30 minutes of running around inside it before we found our way out only with a "hint" from a worker inside.  Stan high-fived the clowns and such in this attraction and the next.

3D Pirates of Peril Point - "When you enter the floating island of Peril Point, you will experience your own vision of terror in larger than life 3-D."  This attraction took advantage of chromadepth 3D effects coupled with blacklighting on fluorescent paint.  The theme was a pirate ship, so there were fluorescent strands of seaweed all over the "planks" of the ship.  Other areas had sea monsters pop out of the walls, etc.  It wasn't especially scary in the execution, but I always enjoy seeing someone do new things with the chromodepth approach.  For example, one little thing I thought was neat was paintings of spirals that ran through the spectrum of colors.  With the chromodepth 3D glasses, the spirals appeared to be coming out at you.

We stayed around four hours altogether, although much of that was just waiting in line, of course.  As I gloseed over above, there was much more on the grounds like eateries, gift shops, face-painting, and even Scareoke (i.e., karaoke).  We might have spent longer had it not been chilly and our little one was getting worn out.  Just the same, we had a great time.  I know Screams has had a tough time attracting and earning the respect of hardcore haunted house afficianados, but the flip side of that is how perfectly appropriate for younger kids.  I mean, Stan loves anything with monsters, so he's not your average kid, but he was only four when we took him to it (and Hangman's), and he absolutely loved it.

Hangman's House of Horrors (Fort Worth; 2014)
Took Stan to Hangman's House of Horrors in the new location (first year in the old FCC complex).  He had a lot of fun.  We did the two smaller attractions first.  First was the 3-D Wonderland, which was essentially the same as before (which we did 1.5 years ago, shortly after Stella was born): A 3-D/chromadepth take on "Alice In Wonderland."  Next was a zombie haunted house that was lifted right out of "Walking Dead," including them playing a heavy metal version of the theme music (which at one point some months ago Stan stated was his favorite "song").

After both of those we went into the big attraction, which took up a huge chunk of the building.

A lot of the features of the building were incorporated into the place this time.  For example, bathrooms were retained as such, albeit with the toilets busted up and/or mannequins placed on them.  In other areas, metal pipes, gauges, walls (including some nice rusty metal ones), etc. were retained.  However, some walls had to be broken through (e.g., the bathrooms) in order to allow traffic to flow rather than resulting in cul de sacs.

Some other sights I recall:
*Maze made out of curtains (walls were solid, but the space was broken up by curtains).
*Crazy nursery
*Funeral scene (complete with coffin, pews, and a couple mourners).
*Two vertigo tunnels, one of which is supposedly the longest one in existence.
*Slanting walls/floors (Stan was very upset by this for some reason).

On the way home I quizzed him about what we saw, and he asked me why the crazy girl was crazy (i.e., an actor in a sort-of insane asylum setting; she had a vaguely Harley Quinn style about her).  I told him she had a chemical imbalance.  He kept saying she had chemicals in her brain, which I'm sure will get repeated tomorrow and confuse everyone.

At the end of everything, there were three guys with chainsaws waiting.  I don't think Stan paid all that much attention to them since the saws weren't running, but they asked me if it was okay to scare him.  I said yes, and asked which way was the exit, so I could tell him to run in that direction.  He didn't like the noise, but honestly, he wasn't especially scared; I think he just wanted to get away from the racket from the saws more than anything.

There wasn't a lot else happening on the property other than a few concession stands and a few wandering characters such as a hangman, scary clown, and grave digger.  They had a stage set up, but we were there on a Thursday, so there were no bands playing the way they have on weekends.

Regardless, we did it on a Thursday on purpose.  As on previous excursions, the lack of crowds made it possible to approach the attractions at a leisurely pace.  Stan was very pokey going through most of them, more out of trepedation this time around than blithely admiring the scenery like when he was three-going-on-four.  He'd take little tiny steps like his laces were tied together.  However, I put him in the lead and made him walk independently (i.e., not holding my hand or anything).

My main criticism of the place this time is the lack of variety or references.  While there was variety from one room to the next, there really wasn't a lot that didn't fall under the heading of either "crazy people" or "zombies."  For example, there were crazy children, crazy doctor/nurses, crazy killers, crazy clown, etc.  There was no specificity to anything such as a mad scientist making a monster (let alone a Frankenstein).  In fact, there were no monsters per se: no werewolves, mummies, etc.  On a similar note, there were no sci-fi references: robots, aliens, etc.  It wasn't exactly one-note, but it was all in the same key, other than the Wonderland section.

Hangman's House of Horrors (Fort Worth; 2015)
Went for "Scardy Cat Night" which is half-price but with the lights on.  Also, it's 5pm-7pm, so it was during daylight.  We bought Stella this time, so it was the whole family (Dani included), instead of just us guys like on previous trips to Hangman's.  We took lots of pictures since the guide who read the rules before letting us through said it was okay. 

General notes:

I thought Stella would be somewhat timid about things, but she just plowed right ahead.  I purposely put her in the lead, and she did fine, probably bolstered by Stan's confidence, and definitely driven on the hunt for candy (The actors all had treat buckets with candy for the kids).  It was mostly lit up, but there were plenty darkened areas throughout. 

Because it was "Scardy Cat Night," the actors weren't allowed to scare anyone, and in fact there were a lot fewer actors than there usually were, which was a little disappointing for Stan who was used to much greater intensity.  At one point he kept anticipating people jumping out, but no one ever did.  Every corner he'd go around for a while, he'd say, "They're going to try to scare us!"  The fact that no one did probably heightened the fear for him, so it was okay.

I've got a video of it, but Stella went through the vertigo tunnel and, at the end, yelped, "I did it!" which was hilarious because even at age 5 (i.e., last year) this was the thing Stan was most scared of.  He did fine this time though.

Probably the scarriest section was a series of metal grates that carried you up to the now-open 2nd story of the place.  Unfortunately, the 2nd floor was only sparsely decorated as yet.  The scale of the place is impressive, so I'm looking forward to them developing it fully in years to come.

One of the funniest things was that an actor playing a crazy girl had a bunch of plastic roaches she described as her pets.  She offered one to Stella to pet, and Stella took it and put it in her treat bag!  She definitely didn't inherit Dani's fear of roaches!

We did the "Wonderland" section after the main attraction.  There weren't any actors in it, unfortunately, but that was fine.  I took loads of pictures since no one was around (and they said it was okay in the main building anyway), so I can look back through them for ideas.

The most surprising thing was that Stella fearlessly walked right up to zombies in the last section, a post-apocalyptic zombie area they called "Outbreak!"  (They did essentially the same thing last year; it's a "Walking Dead" knock-off).  A very effective zombie character (long beard, scary contact lenses, etc.) showed up and followed us around.  Stan ran away from him, then back, just so he could run away again.  When we left, Stella waved and said, "Bye, Zombie!"

We hadn't originally planned to take Stella.  Dani was going to stay home and work on the costume(s), but Stan pressed us to bring her.  (I thought it would be free for her, but they charged for her anyway.)  He took plenty credit for suggesting including her when we got home since she was so entertaining.

Ripley's/Wax Museum haunted house (Grand Prairie; 2015)
Dani found a Groupon for $11 each instead of $18, which was probably about all it was worth.  It felt a bit smaller than when we did it a few years ago with Leiann and her kids.  It was also badly planned since we were pushed around to the back of the place (even though we got tickets at the front), so we had to go all the way around the outside of the building in the rain (There is hurricane weather at the moment due to currently-Category 5 Hurricane Patricia!).  Stan was cranky when we got there, having slept in the car on the way (worn out from going right from school to playing with Vi).  It took him a bit to warm up to being at a haunted house.  He wasn't terribly turned-on by it, but I was impressed at how he challenged the "monsters."  He'd scream back at them or stick his tongue out.  However, it really wasn't much more than the regular wax museum with some actors in various scary costumes.  One of the only rooms that stands out as something different was a collection of baby dolls suspended from the ceiling by strings so that there was a constellation of them to navigate through.  That was early on, but then everything beyond that was pretty straight-forward, unfortunately.

Cutting Edge (Fort Worth; 2016)
I finally took Stan with me.  He sees the place pretty often since 1) They have a monster on the roof during Halloween season, and you can see it from the interstate, especially at night and 2) The entrance is a giant skull, and we pass that regularly on our way to one of my favorite guitar shops.  Needless to say, Stan was pretty excited that he was finally "old enough" to go to this one.  Somehow this was where the bar was set for him.

There was almost no one there on this night which happened to be the first night they were open for the Halloween season (Sept 19th).  I was fine with that, plus it was a bit cheaper for that reason as well (i.e., all of September was more like $20 instead of the usual $30).  Also, I had Dani drop us off rather than paying for parking which would have been an additional $10 (We live less than two miles away).  We had to wait in line for about 30 minutes before we got in, but it wasn't too bad since there was some limited entertainment out there.  They were showing videos of horror bands projected on the wall.  There was also an animatronic gargoyle (apparently remote controlled) that would occasionally open his mouth and spit at people in line.

There were a lot more decorations than last time we did it several years ago.  It was still largely atmospheric, but there were props and set pieces to create scenes rather than simply relying on keeping everything dark with sparse, spooky lighting and excessive sound effects.  It's still much darker in most places than what it should be.  For example, there's a section with dinosaurs, but you can hardly make out that they're there, even when one comes roaring out of nowhere at you.

Stan screamed several times throughout.  The biggest time was near the end when we were cornered by a couple guys with chainsaws.  The ghouls throughout showed no mercy, which was great.  At several points (especially in the beginning) he would scream, "I hate this place!"  He acted like he couldn't wait to get out, but afterward I think he was full of pride that he made it all the way through.  There were several stopping points along the way (e.g., before the maze) where folks who worked there checked with him to make sure he was doing okay and complimented him for pushing through it.

Some other features I noted:
-Vertigo tunnels - there were three of these, 2 at the start, and another later on.  They weren't as impressive in length or in design as the ones at Hangman's, however.  Just glowing stars.
-Moving walls - This was a good effect.  The walls seemed to fall toward you in one section, although they stopped just a foot into their movement.  It was large enough to scare though because there was no way to know wether they were going to stop before they landed on you.
-There were long racks of clothes in one room, and the "monsters" could shake those to create the effect that you couldn't see where the walls were from all the movement.
-We did the maze in the middle of the place, but we didn't make it out before time ran out.  Apparently few ever do.  I heard one of the workers said that only a couple people had so far that night.
-There were other settings as well.  Some I recall: Cemetary, jungle with dinosaurs, Aztec (They did a really good job of airbrushing stone walls to make them look like ruins and metal railings to look like bamboo), nursery, etc.  Unfortunately, most areas didn't have much of a theme; there were simply dark areas with something implied so, for example, there might be dead bodies and/or barrels of radioactive waste.  It didn't always go together.
-There was a neat section where dead bodies were being moved as though on meathooks by conveyor.  It was large enough to seem real.
-SPOILER: The one thing that really had Stan worried was the bubbles at the end.  They result in a claustrophobic effect where you're literally suffocating in them.  I had Stan digging through the bubbles, but even then he couldn't create enough of a pocket.  I had to get ahead of him and walk backwards so that it created a tunnel where he could breathe.  He came out absolutely covered in suds and looked like he had been through hell.  I have a video on my phone of me interviewing him after the fact.

Incidentally, before we went in the place, I was talking to one of the guys who worked there and I asked him if the bubbles were there.  He said when they first did the bubbles, they did a survey afterward, and the majority of folks said they didn't want the bubbles again.  So the next year they didn't have the bubbles, and people were complaining, some even demanding their money back because there were no bubbles.  Apparently it was a hit!

It took Stan a little while to recover, but we had time.  I called Mom to pick us up, so he I talked about the haunted house.  He seemed absolutely exhausted by the experience, but the more he talked about it, the prouder he grew with himself.  He realized he had survived it, and that no one else his age could have managed it, so that was something indeed!

Screams (Waxahatchie; 2016)
Dani and I took the kids out.  It was mostly the same as last time we were there three years ago, but we hadn't been in a while, and this was the first time for Stella.  The attractions were almost all exactly the same.  Here they are in the order in which we did them:

Zombie Wasteland (replaced Ghoulish Graveyard, which I think was in a different location) - Just a straightforward zombie haunted house.  The more interesting thing was that they had a few sections where they used lights to throw you off, like having a fog-filled area with a stage light at the opposite end that threw moving beams of light through it.  That made it so it wasn't clear how far ahead the wall might be or even if you were heading in the right direction.  Stella started waving at zombies, and that set the tone for the night because absolutely nothing scared her.  Even Stan jumped a few times over the course of the trip, but Stella was unphased.

Carnevil Clown Maze (previously Unkel Koy's Klown Maze) - Not really all that scary, but like I said before, it was at least impressive in scale.  They did a good with the design so that it was frustratingly hard to get out of.  Admittedly, I let Stan and/or Stella lead us for much of the time, only correcting them occasionally when it was clear we were just circling back to the area we had come from.  In the end I took over and led us to a new section based on the (thankfully, correct) assumption that the exit was going to be toward a back corner.  My sense of direction (and having the moon in view overhead) helped get us out of the small area the kids had us circling for a long time.  We never ran across the guy with the chainsaw, although I think we heard him.  (As a matter of fact, we never ran across anyone with chainsaws!  I was curious how Stella would have handled that.)  The maze was supposed to be carnival-themed, but they really didn't play up the clown angle as much as they did before.  The staff just seemed to be generic monsters, mostly.

Afterward Stella remembered that she had brought candy to give to the clowns, only we had forgotten it in the car.  (I didn't know about this until she mentioned it.  Dani had packed something for her while I was getting Stan ready.)  Update: The next day Stella was again bringing up the candy that she had forgotten for the clowns.

The Castle of the Doomed (previously "Castle of Darkness") - I was kind of underwhelmed by this, probably because we had just gone through it at Scarborough six month earlier, so it was relatively fresh in my mind.  As a set, the castle itself is inflexible, so it doesn't allow the place to reinvent it from year to year.  Also, it was a little all over the place.  For example, the first thing we saw when we entered was a neat grey alien in a glass tank with scientific equipment.  But in a castle?  I thought maybe they were going for a sci-fi theme, but instead it was just a random item mixed in among all sorts of other scenes.  There was a sort of a Frankenstein lab, but then most of the rest of the castle were generic dead bodies/skeletons.

Hotel of Horror - This remains probably the most artistically successful attraction of the bunch.  It managed to come up with a fresh aesthetic and sticks to it all the way through.  All of it worked together, unlike the mix of aliens and medieval elements in the castle.  Also they had a good mix of scares or at least things to see along the way such as a falling chandelier that dropped every minute or so (i.e., enough time between drops to surprise some of the next group to pass through).  I liked nearly everything I saw along the way and wasn't disappointed by much of it, whereas usually I'm constantly thinking of ways I'd like to improve on it.

3D Pirates of Peril Point - This gets the silver medal from me.  It's really good, but it's just too repetitive.  The description from our previous trip covers some of what there is to see.  However, the theme never develops beyond being a pirate ship and zombie pirates.  There are occasional sea creatures, but the place relies almost entirely on the chromadepth effect rather than developing things over the course of the journey through it.  For example, while we might see an octopus, it's just lying there.  No animatronic tentacles.  No new sea monsters.  Where's Cthulhu?  Instead we get crabs on the wall.  Sure, the crabs looked great in 3D, and, granted, there are some animatronics, but they almost entirely featured mannequins dressed as zombie pirates.  A lot of these are thrust out of the walls at you, and that's pretty effective, but it happens several times.  My favorite was a zombie pirate mannequin that was launched on a pole that extended several feet out into the room, which was very impressive.  I liked it, but it was yet another zombie pirate!  I went into some detail about the chromadepth effects previously, but those are definitely worth seeing, even if they don't scare so much as just elicit ooos and ahs.  Sadly, Stella wouldn't wear the 3D glasses, so she missed out on most of the effect.  Dani was carrying her since this was toward the end of the night, otherwise I might have been able to get her to appreciate things more.

As for other attractions on the grounds, there were a handful of extra things like a head toss and a pretend electric chair, but the only extra thing we did was let Stan do the tomato toss where you throw parts of tomatos at a guy whose head is sticking out of a hole.  Dani got a bag of popcorn and, later, a couple drinks, but we didn't get anything to eat while we were there.  We probably could have gone back through a haunted house or two, but the kids were clearly exhausted, and even I was having problems with my back toward the end of the night.  I was tired, but mainly it was the bad spot on my back flaring up again.

Stella high-fived or waved at all the monsters.  Stan was more reserved this time around, unfortunately.  I had hoped he'd be more outgoing.  However, he did seem to enjoy himself.  Dani and I talked with another couple in the line for Hotel of Horror, and we compared notes on haunted houses around the metroplex.  They had done quite a few, so I'm thinking that Stan and I (and maybe Dani and Stella) might extend outward more next year rather than return to the same handful we've rotated through in the neighborhood lately.


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