For the last thirty-plus autumns, Gary will see a Haunted House billboard and say,"That sounds scary! We have to see it," and then every year we don't see it. We've never gone to any of these haunted houses because Gary always decides it won't be scary enough. "We have to see it" changes to "That looks dumb."
Still, I bought tickets for one of the Halloween Horror Nights. On those nights, Universal closes at five so that they can convert empty rides and spaces to haunted houses. These haunted houses are not dumb. They ruined me for all lesser, local haunted houses. These are top-drawer professional scary set design from movies like The Shining and Saw, populated with equally professionally made-up vampires and ghouls, and layered on top of it all is a hideous soundtrack of bone-crunching and blood-slurping.
For anyone else who has never been to a haunted house, you shuffle through a maze that winds through a set while terrifying creatures jump out at you. And even though I was expecting a scare around every corner, around every corner something jumped out and it still scared me! I screamed every single damn time. I can't imagine why it didn't bore me after a while, but they did such an excellent job of orchestrating the cadence of the scares that it was always a surprise.
The first house was scary, and each house after that was scarier. One house was designed so it pointed you toward a false exit then trapped you in a small corner with monsters. By the fourth house my psyche decided to fight back, and every time some thing clawed at my face and screamed at me, I screamed NO back. Yes, as if was the nineties and they were strangers in a dark parking garage.
They also set up "Scare zones" though the park where you could be frightened without waiting in line. This was personalized open-air scaring. Those ghouls had a harder job of it, because you weren't trapped and tense. On the other had, you never expected them. There was a nice man on stilts, for example, wearing a tuxedo and white face paint. I smiled up at him. He stared impassively. When I turned my back on him he doubled over so his face was hanging upside down in front of mine. I shrieked and saw him give a tiny little satisfed upside-down smile before he unfolded from his jack-knifed position.
You can get a peek at him, along with some other creepy characters in the dark video below.
Once the open-air ghouls realized we were easy marks (as opposed to the sullen teenagers), they played us like puppets. I gave the Grim Reaper the high sign and pointed at Gary, as if to say "Sic' em." The Reaper expertly side-swiped Gary and Gary screamed like a woman.
Since I'd been using the "NO" technique in the houses, I tried that on a street vampire who spotted me. "DID YOU SAY 'NO?'" he bellowed. "I HEARD YOU SAY 'YES, YES, SCARE ME!'" Then he lunged at me. I screamed and cowered.
Of course, the worst ones were the chainsaw-wielding clowns. As individual clowns revving up chainsaws, they were bad, but when they surrounded people and threatened them with a circle of chainsaws, well, I was glad I had not been targeted there.
Finally, one added bonus to the Halloween Horror Nights is that you also get to see the night-time version of this scary event: