When it comes to visiting Halloween haunted houses, let’s just say that I sprout feathers and lipitor and pregnancy Newark is sizing me up.
My earliest recollection of visiting a spooky attraction came when I was about four years old. My dad and I went with a neighbor to the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey.
We went on Casper the Friendly Ghost’s Ghostland ride and I recall being positively petrified, clinging to my dad and screaming my brains out.
It was Casper the FRIENDLY Ghost, for crying out loud.
Fast-forward almost 50 years, and little has changed.
For example, my friend Silvio posted on Facebook a story about a California attraction that is so scary that you need to sign a waiver and it has a safe word, “mercy,” to let you exit.
He asked when we could go. I replied: “Does ‘never’ work for you?”
So you have to wonder what I was thinking when I suggested to my About Men Radio brethren that we visit a Halloween attraction in Wharton, N.J., called the Haunted Scarehouse.
(They called my bluff since I never thought anyone would actually take me up on the idea!)
So it was that John and Rich, accompanied by one of Rich’s daughters and two of her friends, plus my brother-in-law Ed gathered at a warehouse transformed into what Scarehouse described as “two terrifying attractions…spread over two floors of fear.”
Pffffttt. Mere Halloween hyperbole, I thought. This will be as spooky as Disney World’s Haunted Mansion, right?
My first mistake was somehow ending up at the head of our group as we made our way through darkened mazes, creepy sets and blind turns.
So I did what any full-blooded, macho manly man would do: I pushed the three 14-year-old girls to the head of our group.
Haha! Just kidding: No, instead, I pushed John to the front and then held onto his jacket like a security blanket.
John was fearless, moving through the corridors like a linebacker. But my admiration wore off when he began cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” and making all kinds of spooky noises in an effort to freak me out further.
This, in turn, prompted me to frequently threaten to kill him.
(Sorry about that, John.)
The sets had high production values, with moving walls and floors, huge hydraulic-powered monsters jumping forward at you, strobe lights and loud sound effects that left you disoriented and breathing heavy.
I was sweating and my heart felt like I had just gotten off a treadmill.
As we pushed onward, more and more costumed characters jumped out at us, from behind, from the sides and from hiding places.
While some of them scared you silly by screaming or revving up a chainsaw, others just silently got in your face, like this one actress with a crooked Joker-like smile caressing a headless doll.
What. The. Hell?!
The real trick came when you saw what you thought was a mannequin – was it a mannequin or was it a costumed character staying real still? I made a several wrong calls and the damned fright they gave me had me doing plyometric cardio.
It also prompted me to swear. Colorfully. Often. And loudly. Very, very loudly.
(Sorry about that, girls.)
When we got to the second floor, the attraction operators split up our group, so that it was now just Ed, John and I. Yeah, just like in the horror movies, the group gets split up and you know what happens next!
I tried at this point to keep a sense of humor, such as when a character with a stump of a wrist waved it in my face and I told him I could not lend a hand.
But in the end, I did a lot more screaming (OK, shrieking) than I did laughing.
What I discovered was that yes, things really DO go bump in the night — though actually that was me stomping on my brother-in-law’s foot when I jumped back in fright.
(Sorry about that, Ed.)
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