Haunted houses provide fear without fun

Combine smoke, low lighting, sudden noises and uneven floors, and what do you get? An insurance agent’s jackpot.

Or just the standard haunted house.

Despite the obvious safety hazards, hordes of “thrill seekers” flock to haunted houses every October. And every October, I stand back and shake my head like the weird old cat lady who lives down the street. You know, the one who reeks of Vicks Vapo-Rub and never changes out of her bathrobe. The town kill-joy.

I’m certainly afraid of those attractions, just not for the same reasons. Haunted houses utilize darkness, and darkness is no friend to the uncoordinated. As someone who frequently trips over her own feet, I worry about hidden ramps, exposed electrical cords and rubber matting everywhere. God forbid a tram. I’d leave on a stretcher.

I worry about carbon monoxide poisoning from all the chemicals piped in to create fog and the actors who reach out to grab you. If I wanted to be groped by shifty characters, I’d hang out in the Crackdonald’s parking lot on a Saturday night.

The last time I toured a haunted house, when I was 13, I swore I’d never go again.

The building was relatively small, broken into a maze of cramped rooms that aggravated my claustrophobia and smelled like sweat. It was blur of strobe lights and sound effects. The actors scared me, but I hardly enjoyed the experience.

At the end, my group of friends talked excitedly about how much fun they had.

“Let’s go through again!” they cheered.

I opted to wait outside. A man with a missing hand asked how old I was. I told him “almost 40,” and he laughed so hard I’m pretty sure he soiled himself.

In Niagara Falls, a haunted house called Nightmare Fear Factory remains open year-round. I wondered how on earth that type of business could operate apart from Halloween. Then I remembered that Niagara Falls attracts tourists, and tourists will buy anything that isn’t bolted to the ground.

The Fear Factory takes high-quality photos of patrons during a particularly shocking part of the tour. Many of them are posted online. It also keeps a “chicken list” of those too wimpy to make it through. More than 100,000 names make up the list, meaning that more than 100,000 people paid at least $10 for less than 15 minutes of “fun” and public humiliation.

To each her own.

People want the the stomach-turning, scream-inducing rush that comes with being absolutely terrified, yeah? They’ll happily open their wallets and risk their health for it.

There are worse ways to have fun – things that involve stints in rehab and on-camera interviews with Dr. Drew – but there are also cheaper ways to get scared. Consider how much student loan debt you’ve accumulated, sit in a public restroom or drop your iPhone.

No one does those things for kicks, though, and I guess that’s the reason I don’t understand the idea of scaring oneself on purpose.




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