Over the years I have posted about my general disappointment with the direction the horror genre has taken in the western world. it’s gone from something genuinely scary to something generic and mass media, packaged for profit and not to be scary.
But this got me thinking about a beloved tradition of Halloween, the haunted house, and how they have suffered the same fate. It’s not just the big commercial ventures that have become neutered, even the small private houses, the ones that have survived at all, seem to have wimped out.
The reason I brought up horror movies is because I think it’s all related. The whole purpose of the horror film has changed. It used to exist to truly scare the audience. Now, they exist so that guys can bring a date that will cling to their arm. It’s made for mass market appeal.
Our culture has changed and now it is no longer acceptable to make movies, or haunted houses for that matter, that terrify people. You’re not allowed to do more than jump scares, moments of adrenaline-laced fear that immediately go away so you can laugh about it. But as far as I’m concerned, haunted houses aren’t supposed to be something you can laugh at, they’re supposed to produce a lasting scare that sticks with you long after you go home. That’s how I built my houses and that’s really why I no longer bother going to them.
My wife will tell you how bored I got going to haunted houses. Everyone else going through them would be screaming and laughing, I’d be shaking my head. I’d be walking through, pointing out all of the obvious jump scares before they happened because they’re so ridiculously predictable. Not once did my heart rate ever get elevated because I knew it was all coming.
When I used to do haunted houses though, I never relied on the jump scare. I actually had a story, simple as it might have been, and people going through actually had a fear for their lives. It’s like roller coasters. Roller coasters scare you. Intellectually you know they’re perfectly safe, but instinctively, they’re terrifying. You can rationalize your way around it all you want, your body is going to react whether you want it to or not. When you get off the roller coaster, you feel that you’ve survived something, not that you just sat in a seat and experienced something. That’s important.
But of course, everyone just wants to make money now and the best way to make money is to dumb down the experience to the lowest conceivable denominator so that nobody gets really scared and everyone, young kids included, come out laughing. And because we have such a ridiculously litigious society, you can’t do anything that someone will want to sue you over and you have to carry a ton of insurance in case some idiot does something stupid and hurts themselves. When I was doing haunts, a ton of people would literally run to get out of the house. You can’t do that now. Someone might stub their toe. Someone might get knocked over. It has to be safe and sanitized for your protection, whether you want to be protected or not. The days where haunted houses were fun is long gone, just like good horror movies. It’s all packaged and commercialized nonsense, made for the money, not for the joy. And that’s just pathetic.