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This weekend I went to visit my cousin in New Jersey for his birthday, and he had been planning on going out to the "Night of Terror" at a farm called Creamy Acres. The place featured funhouses, haunted hayrides and a few other attractions. This is one of the first halloween themed scary events I've ever attended. I kinda expected not to be thrilled and to be full of cheap scares, and I kinda got exactly what I expected. Still I chose to admire the scenery the best I could.
First I'd like to give credit where credit is due. For a $35 entree fee, you certainly get to see and experience things you wouldn't see at a park that costs $5 to get in. It certainly opened my eyes towards what you're capable of doing as far as creating a place like this. The place was broken up into 6 different attractions all featuring tons of actors that leap out from corners in front of you or chase you from behind. There was also a lot of strobe lighting, fog machines, and mechanical monsters/witches/dragons/whatever.
However, my biggest turnoff was.. thematically, it didn't make any sense. We started off going into this haunted house where the fear being exacerbated was clowns. All kinds of derranged clowns with maniacal laughter with creepy out of tune circus music. Next we went immediately on to the haunted hayride, which a smooth ride on a strict path where we saw robotic dragons breathing fire, zombie farmers jumping on and off our trailer, crazy guys with chainsaws, animated skeletons, and a ton of other stuff. The next part was the Frozen Tundra where we got off and walked through this manmade cave that had abominable snowmen jump out at you. Shortly after that, we entered the Pirate Playground, which was another haunted house with pirate actors jumping out at you, cobwebs, gypsies, etc.
See what I'm getting at? The entire theme park revolved around the theme of being scary, which is a lot like creating a wad with the theme of Doom. Also, each haunted house thing was a strict mazy layout where there was only one set path to go. Admittedly, it was nice knowing that I entered the park and left knowing I didn't miss anything, but the feeling of fear was totally removed from the equation, knowing that the entire experience was completely 'contained' and therefore safe.
My favorite part by far, was this attraction called "Mayhem of Darkness" which started off kinda slow but cooler as we went on. We entered this barn with fake plywood walls to create an extensive snaking hallway, although it was pitch black, with the exception of a few dim flashing lights. There were ominous howling noises and screams and stuff. It didn't feature anything to scare you but the noises were a pretty cool effect. After you get out of the barn, you're immediately dropped off into a cornfield maze, where there are actors hidden behind bushes. If you go into a dead end, an actor will stalk you from behind and leap out at you as you turn around. Unfortunately the maze was horrendously easy to solve and some of the actors didn't really put their heart into their acting. After that maze, you enter another barn with a similar layout to the previous barn, except with chainlink fencing instead of walls, and instead of darkness, there was a really thick fog created from a fog machine. You literally couldn't see more than a foot in front of you, and actors hidden behind the fences didn't even have to really do anything, because you didn't even realize they were there until you were too close to run away.
I guess my gripe with this theme park was that I was expecting more of a cinematic experience, and an important part of many horror movies is to have a lot of unknowns and places to explore. Also if something like this were a horror movie, it wouldn't make any sense. There's like 500 billion antagonists, and you only encounter them one by one and you know that once you pass one you move on to the next one. I think the best approach to creating a really frightening theme park is to make whatever is trying to scare you implied instead of spoonfed to you. Everything was just way too stagey and you basically just walk through the defined path that you know there isn't any real danger. Something scary would need to be ominous. If people were unsure they were going somewhere that is the
"right way," they can't be sure of what horrors lie ahead, if any. Also darkness would need to be used to it's fullest advantage. A lot of their special mechanical monsters were pretty well lit so you could get a good look at them, and in turn, see how horribly robotic they are, doing their one animation. I think if they had created similar monsters that were less detailed hidden in fog or bushes or darkness, it would leave it's scariness totally to the imagination, and how scary it is relies entirely on what you percieve it to be, not what it actually is, which IMO is a stronger.
I'm planning on writing down some kind of a plan to create the ultimate horror-theme-park using ideas I got from this event and my knowledge of making good Doom maps. I was going to inherit many of it's good ideas and set up some kind of nonlinear forest with different trails leading to different attractions so that each can be approached from any direction for a different experience each time. Actors skulking around scaring people, in addition to actors pretending to be tourists getting mauled by other actors. It would rely less on manufactured decorations and electricity and more on naturally aged materials and makeshift decorations that look real even up close. I think it would also be scary to come up with a way to seperate people in a group so that they need to find each other. I'm still in the conception stage but I'm sure I can throw out some more realistic details soon.
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Interesting stuff. I personally enjoy the low budget, sometimes tacky quality that comes out of a theme park of this fashion. It adds to the charm. The inconsistency is something I think we could probably all do without, but the different themes usually succeed in providing varying flavours of scare; a multitude of environments in which to run amok and get lost in. I'm not entirely sure how the kind of park you envision might pan out, but I'd pay top dollar to have a good run through it. Here are a couple of things I like about haunted theme parks:
- Maps. I lov'em. The colours, the sketches, the legends and pathways... struggling to keep the wind from blowing the paper out of your hands. Maybe I've too great a thing for cartography, but I really enjoy memorizing the places and locales, working my way round the park and visiting all those nooks and crannies that most people miss: often (and favourably) the kind of places that become deserted around closing hour. If I spot a map, be in the pamphlet in my hands or the signs about the intersections, I immediately want to get lost, and possibly not find my way back until I absolutely have to... Damn. I really wish I was a kid again, if only for these moments.
- The old, the broken and the antique. It builds the perfect atmosphere. If something is ancient and relic-like it creates mystery and intrigue. If it looks broken (and especially if you're standing on it) it creates uncertainty and desperation. I can't see myself walking into a modern building and being frightened by a piece of minimalist art or something. Although on second thought, that sounds like a pretty neat concept...
Mmmm. Brain burger...
I'm not sure how it is in New Jersey, but in Pennsylvania Haunted Houses you're prohibited from a lot of "interactive" scares (ex: You can't touch anyone).
Yeah I'm aware. I think however, that it would be awesome to go into a park with actors that try to jump out and scare you, in addition to actors that pretend to be tourists and dress up casually just like everyone else in the park, and have other actors run up and attack them like the zombies in Left 4 Dead, so that the people who paid to get in can watch them get mangled. It gives the impression that "laws don't apply here" even though they do.
I like st. alfonzo's suggestions. Getting lost would be a definite plus. Nothing is scarier than being unsure where you are and having to navigate your way out. The environment would need to be naturally scary. A park like this would need some very versatile property though. Maybe a rocky mountainous area with caves, a swamp, a forest with trails running all throughout it, and some plain fields of tall grass, some areas to put grave yards and build crypts in.
While the theme park I went to had some awesome effects, I honestly think the less electricity the better. It needs a lot of naturally occurring visuals like torches and aged bricks, or man-powered effects. One thing I thought would be neat is to have a forest where some trees have fishing line tied to them, and actors will lightly tug on them so that the branches sway unnaturally and give the impression of the forest being "alive"
Another thing I thought would be really neat, since people almost always attend these events in groups, is to find ways to separate groups into different parties so that they need to find each other. This can be done unintentionally by having some kind of pitch black area have multiple exits that drop off in different areas, or forcibly, by causing a door in a haunted house to slam shut between people in the same group. Bonus points if one part of the group gets mercilessly scared to death (not literally) by actors and stuff while the other part is on the other side in shock of the other group member's screams. Awesome.