Wednesday, October 14, 2009

things that go BANG in the night

Less than 24 hours after discovering the existence of Rampage!, I was in it.

After talking to my friend Andy about it he suggested we go check out The ScareHouse. So we headed over a little before 7 p.m. this evening. At the ticket booth in the huge brick building that held the attraction I reluctantly handed over $17 for a ticket. Then we followed a long, twisting roped line to the end of the line in a lobby of sorts- I'm not sure what the building used to be. I noticed everyone staring at me and laughing and, for a second, I wondered if there was snot hanging from my nose. But before my hand could cover the perceived embarrassment I heard a heavy breathing in my ear.

I turned around to find a decrepit face of rotting gray flesh right in my face. Laughter erupted from the others. I waved and said hi to the zombie. He continued to leer at me, so I shrugged and turned back to Andy. The bothersome man took the hint and left.

We waited in the lobby for over half an hour, which seemed ridiculous at the time because we barely moved at all. But they had a good idea behind the snail-paced line. Instead of sending, say, groups of 6 or 8 people in at a time just to keep the lines moving, each individual group of people who had come together went through together. So a group of four went in front of Andy and I, but we ourselves only made a group of two, and we were sent in alone. This system made for a long wait, but made it much scarier for my small group, obviously. The actors could concentrate on scaring each group and hardly miss anyone hiding in the middle, as commonly happens in scary attractions in which a larger group goes through.

During our long wait Andy enjoyed watching all the old horror movie trailers projected on a wall opposite the entrance to The Hall of Nightmares. I had five minutes of panic when I couldn't find my ticket, but I eventually found it.

We finally got to the front of the line. Andy and I were directed shut off all cell phones and cameras (sorry, no action shots for this blog) and told to stand in single file, with the last person holding onto the shoulders of the person in front.

Logically, I should have been in front. I'm 5'8", and Andy is about 6'1". I couldn't easily see over him if I was in the back. But I'm a wimp. So I made Andy stand in front. Then our group of two entered the first haunt.

This haunted house was about 1,000 times better than the haunted houses at Phantom Fright Nights at nearby Kennywood Park. Better props and scenes of ghouls, creaking coffins, and zombies. We got lost a few times and couldn't find our way. But still... not all that scary. I jumped at loud noises, but that was about it. Seriously, a loud BANG behind me is scarier than anything jumping out at me. I wasn't really all that scared, and by the time we donned the 3-D glasses issued by the loony girl at the entrance to the next haunt, Delirium 3-D, I almost told Andy to let me switch places with him and let me go in front.


Delirium was much more impressive than the Hall of Nightmares. The walls and costumes of the clowns (yes, there were clowns) were covered in a fluorescent paint on black walls that just popped out at you, making walking hazardous. This was especially problematic in the trippy spinning tunnel at the beginning. I had to hold onto the railing of the bridge that went through the tunnel to keep from tipping over. Actors wearing all black spotted with neon paint literally blended into the walls, which was quite a shock when the walls started to move and then lunged at you.

At one point we got completely lost in a maze and just couldn't find our way out for some time. We abandoned the buddy system for just a few moments and ended up losing each other. A comedic minute followed of yours truly pitifully calling for Andy while tentatively checking behind the curtains of the maze to make sure a mad clown didn't pop out first. He eventually came to my rescue, but I wonder if he tarried a bit just to raise my level of panic.

When we finally made it out we deposited our 3-D glasses into a bin and headed to the highlight of The ScareHouse and our main reason for coming: Rampage! Finally having gained some nerve, I boldly insisted that I go before Andy and guide us through the final haunt. But instead of applauding me for my fortitude... he laughed at me!

Inwardly grumbling about his lack of faith in me I ignobly moved in front of him. He placed his hands on my shoulder and we entered the winding maze of slatted wood walls and red flashing lights.

Well, it certainly was unique for a haunted attraction. Mutants roamed the walkways, jumping out and screaming at you. A mad doctor asked Andy for organs, while we pushed our way through a forest of hanging bodies in clear plastic bags. Two machine guns shot at us, another guy came after us in a chainsaw, and totalitarian propaganda poured forth from the mouths of some of the actors.

It wasn't at all what I expected, and I was a bit disappointed by the attraction. First of all, the back story to Rampage! that I gleaned in my internet researches yesterday can be best summed up in what Scott Simmons, The ScareHouse's creative director, said in an interview with SF Universe:
Our attraction has a definite story. The idea is that the workers and scholars within this facility have been oppressed and victimized by The DieRector and his well-armed security forces for years, but now they have finally risen up to fight for freedom.
That back story was not really obvious, from what I saw. Sure, we understood there was some sort of fight between the forces, as the actors who jumped out at you just screamed things like: "Are you with the Rebellion or The DieRector?" We'd just respond "We're with you guys," and they'd let us pass (in retrospect, we should have said "We're with the DieRector" when talking to a rebel or vice versa when talking to the DieRector's guys, just to see what the actor would have done.) But the oppression was not all that clear. Perhaps it couldn't have been, given the rapidity at which this information was spewed at us.

image source: ScareHouseScott's photostream on Flickr
What I perceived, especially from a skinned body with the limbs cut off and a very 1940s operation room in which experiments with bodies, body parts, and the like were on display, was a homage to the horrors committed by Nazi Germany. That dehumanizing medical scene especially reminded me of a concentration camp I had visited in France called Le Struthof, especially the "scientific research" rooms at that camp. And somehow, that part of the attraction seemed too real and lifelike to me. It felt like a cheap shot at using the ultimate 20th century definition of real evil, Hitler's Germany and the Final Solution, to make a few bucks.

My other beef concerns the steampunk aspect- it wasn't there! Sure, there were some machine guns, and those were pretty cool. But no mechanics, nothing decorated in brass, and nary a machine (other than the machine guns.) I expected to be in the middle of some sort of climactic battle that never happened, no one was really dressed in very steampunkish attire except a few individuals, and three of them were at the very end of the attraction. Everyone else looked like they were soldiers or WWII partisans.

The ScareHouse was the best haunted house attraction I have ever attended, don't get me wrong. But it wasn't worth $17 by a long shot, and this is coming from a girl who made her friend stand in front of her for two-thirds of the attraction because she was too scared to go in front. Sure, I jumped a few times, but that was about it. Andy admitted that he was disappointed I never screamed or cowered.

Scott Simmons and SF-Universe also need to be reprimanded for making the attraction sound more steampunkish than it actually was.

1 comment:

  1. Rampage was influenced by steampunk... it never claimed to be "steampunk"- just thought I'd point that one out to you