It’s that time of year, and all of the LA Beat writers are giddily jumping on and off ghost trains and ghost ships and haunted hayrides. People ask me why I won’t go into even the tamest of neighborhood haunts. My usual line is, “I’m not afraid of ghosts or vampires. But I am afraid of overeager out-of-work actors.” I am also a naturally anxious and jumpy person, so sometimes even a plain old rollercoaster can freak me out.
I don’t tell anyone the real reason I avoid haunts, because I think I’ll seem too superstitious. I guess it’s time to ‘fess up though. I have bad haunted house karma. I spent every October during high school working at a local JayCee’s charity haunted house and we had no mercy. So a part of me thinks I deserve to get the shit scared out of me, and a part of me knows just what these people are capable of doing.
The first year, when I was a freshman, the haunted house was held in an abandoned part of the local mall. Each high school was given a different room. We decided to create a graveyard in our room. Since it was a dirt floor, we dug a hole, hid one of the smaller guys in it, and covered him up with the astroturf that carpeted the floor. As each group exited our room, he would reach up and grab somebody’s ankle. One night he grabbed a teenage girl’s ankle and she completely lost her shit. She was screaming and crying and shaking. No one could calm her down and finally she was taken away in an ambulance. But did we stop grabbing people’s ankles? Of course not.
The next year we moved to a huge old warehouse. The build out for the haunted house only took up about 1/4 of the space. With all of that open space, the JayCees built an epic maze. It was pitch black, but when you were walking through, you could tell it was narrow and that there was nowhere for anyone to hide. So the JayCees cut holes in the plywood and covered them up with black fabric. That way we could stand on the other side of the wall and reach in and grab people, then instantly “disappear.” It was fiendish and we loved it.
We once had an “insane asylum” room painted with big black and white geometric patterns that made it impossible to gauge the size and shape of the room. The back wall was built on rollers and very slowly the wall was pushed in so that the room kept getting smaller and smaller. As they were forced towards the grasping hands of the caged “maniacs,” people showed their true colors by pushing their friends into the bars of the cage to protect themselves.
But there was at least one story of true heroism. I had a room one year where I was a creepy old lady with a crazed axe-killer son (see picture above of a 15 year-old creepy old lady). The “son” hid in the grandfather clock and would suddenly jump out and grab our plant from the audience. The axe-killer would pull the kid into the clock with him, and scene. The kid would then slip out of the hole in the wall behind the clock, walk over to the dark maze and mingle with the next group coming in. During one attack scene, a man in the audience jumped out of the crowd and actually fought with the axe killer, rescuing our shill. The kid had no choice but to act grateful and continue through the haunted house with that group, and we had to find another shill fast.
So yeah, I’m not putting myself at the mercy of any “monsters” if I can help it. But if I do, I hope one of you will jump in and rescue me.