I spent Sunday with nervousness in the pit of my stomach, that psychic sense of unease that comes up when I have to speak in front of an audience or I have a job interview. The reason for it on Sunday was for something completely different, though, something quite preventable, and something I paid thirty dollars for—Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House. My sister Kristi found out about this serial killer-themed haunted house in September, and as horror aficionados (knowing more than our fair share about serial killers) and after coming off of my accidental haunted house experience last year, I was ready to go. Funny how that went away the day of the experience.
The half hour Kristi, Sarah, and I spent walking to the haunted house after our last supper of hot dogs, fries, and Diet Coke was almost completely silent. I don’t know about Kristi and Sarah, but I was spending that half hour completely freaking out—would I have a panic attack while inside? Even worse, what if I peed myself? I was wearing black pants and had a relatively empty bladder, so I thought I would be okay on that count.
We had a mix-up with the tickets and had to get to the haunted house early to get everything fixed, but the staff was very gracious and accommodating toward us, even though it was my error. There was a good-sized crowd, and we were herded into a labyrinth-like line similar to what you wait in while at an airport check-in counter. The staff pushed us in tight and close, starting with the horrific, claustrophobic feeling early before we even entered the haunted house.
While in the pens, two members of the haunted house staff walked the periphery, trying to scare the audience. One wore a multicolored clown wig and plastic mask like the killer in Alice Sweet Alice and would stand silently next to members of the audience while rubbing together a thumb and forefinger that were tacky with a bloodlike substance. This character wasn’t so much scary as awkward, making me think, Go away already. The other guy wore a long blond ponytail and lab coat; he went around asking audience members, “Do you want to play?” Kristi and Sarah signed up for this right away. When the man asked me, I frowned, which I guess he took as assent and painted a line on my cheek. The fake blood felt cold and weird so I drew away and let him go paint other members of the audience.
As we got nearer to the door, I overheard the guard of the haunted house giving the group in front of us the rules for the tour. Number one: Don’t touch the actors. Number two: If you are painted with a red X, that means you’re allowing the actors to touch you. I started cowering. I couldn’t have anybody touch me, or I would freak out for sure. Sarah dug in her purse and found a balled-up Kleenex so I could wipe off my half-assed X. We were in position to be the next group to enter the haunted house, and the staff found a lovely, well-dressed couple to go with us so we were a nice even six. We were warned, “If you can’t go on, say, ‘I need to leave,’ and somebody will escort you out of the haunted house. If you think this is going to be a problem, do it earlier rather than later. The further you go, the scarier it gets.” The guard asked if there were any questions. I asked how long it lasted and was told twenty-five to thirty minutes. Surely I could make it that long. With that, the door opened, and I pushed my friends ahead of me while clinging to one. I sure as hell wasn’t going to go in first.
In the first room, we were subjected to a searchlight in our faces, and various members of our party were called out, told to come to the middle under the light or to face the wall. Sarah was wearing slippers and showing some skin, and her leg ended up getting snuffled by our first serial killer. (She was the one most often called out when we went into the different rooms, but she was also the lippy one in our group.)
Each room of the haunted house is themed for a different serial killer. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, Lizzie Borden, H. H. Holmes, Elizabeth Bathory, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Jack the Ripper all make an appearance, along with others, and in each room, there is an out-of-nowhere surprise. I was menaced with sniffing, balloons, open wounds, an ax, and a chainsaw. I screamed and grabbed onto every member of our party (including those who I didn’t know), crying, “You go first,” “Don’t leave me here,” or “No touching” (this to the actors). And it was cathartic and a lot of fun. The staff of Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House are an enthusiastic bunch, and they do their very best to give you a scary good time.
Families of some of the serial killers’ victims were quite upset to hear that serial killers would be glorified in this exhibit. The architects of the haunted house were sensitive to these remarks and included an exhibit that focused on a parent’s grief and the victims of the various serial killers who are featured in this haunted house. That was the one nonscary room of Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House; for the rest—well, gird yourselves!