haunted house attractionI speak here of the entertainment attractions, not the places featured on certain reality shows and cheep “found footage” movies. The ones that provide us all with a good (relatively) cheep visceral season thrills. You know, Haunted Houses.

My earliest memories of these attractions come from the summertime county fairs, where you wander around a maze in the gloomy darkness of a modified trailer, a Scary Sound FX record playing for ambiance, with various costumed mannequins and dummies waiting to blast you back when you stepped on that trigger in the floor. A good laugh when you were older, true, but when you’re only 7 or 8, it’s kind of a right of passage. The first time I attempted it, I chickened out. The second time, though…yeah, I was rattled, but it was almost like a spiritual experience. A spiritual experience that required a change of shorts.

Over the years, I’ve been to some really good Haunted House attractions, and some really bad ones. The very best one I’ve ever been to, hands down, would be The Haunted Mansion at Disney Land. I visited there in the summer of 1984, and by far that was the most memorable ride I went on. Pirates of the Caribbean coming in a very close second. If you’ve never been to either DisneyLand Park or Disney World, and/or never rode the Haunted Mansion ride, put that sucker on your bucket list NOW. And don’t try to pull one of those “I’ve seen the movie, that’s enough” crap. GO ON THAT RIDE BEFORE YOU DIE.

The worst Haunted House attraction would be The Haunted Barracks. They were hosted in the abandoned Army Reserve Barracks on north 72nd street in Omaha; I went with a couple of friends back in 1999, and I don’t know if it was just close to their close-down time (it wasn’t even 8pm that night, what Haunted House does that, really?), but when we got there, someone took our money, then ran into the barracks to tell everyone to get back into their places. Seriously, while we were waiting, we heard the sounds of shuffling and banging and running into one another, which killed the atmosphere enough. But then, our “host” didn’t even bother putting his Phantom of the Opera mask back on–it just dangled around his neck. Everyone there just half-arsed it, making it quite the mediocre experience. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering: Gas-powered chainsaw in a small enclosed space = scary. Electric chainsaw being used several feet away in a spacious room = NOT SCARY AT ALL.

Haunted Houses are something I try to do every year at least once, with a friend or several. As I age, though, I do tend to find gratuitous pipe slides annoying.