Death of a Haunted House!
It is with sweet regret that I announce our haunted house is slated for demolition. I say "sweet," because of all the time and money I'll be able to divert to new projects. I say "regret," because of the fun I've had designing and running the Mystery Playhouse of Terror for the last four years. I always wanted to put together a haunted house but didn't take the plunge until I discovered a neat abandoned restaurant for sale. The owner agreed to rent it for cheap. Along with a friend who knew construction, the two of us poured three months and $10,000 into it. We both lost a thousand dollars that first year, but it was such a blast scaring people, I couldn't wait to do it again.
The next year, I was on my own. I invited a variety of non-profit groups to participate each night and gave them 20% of the ticket sales. The groups that benefited included the college radio station, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tallahassee, and our local Animal Shelter (where I adopted my cat). It turned out that these groups were not only very helpful filling basic staff positions, but they also helped pacify the many governmental agencies that otherwise throw up roadblocks to running a haunted house. (Once they realized we were raising money for charities, they were much easier to work with.)
The biggest challenge was trying to fill 6,000 square feet with enough thrills and chills to make people run from the building screaming. I'm proud to say that goal was not only met, but also exceeded!
Despite the fact that FREE admission was offered to anyone who showed a copy of The Wrapper magazine to the cashier, no one ever took us up on it. Many expressed interest but too little time and too great a distance always discouraged arrival. So why not bring the haunted house to The Wrapper instead? There's even a card connection (more on that later).
You begin your imaginary tour at a large green door with a brass lion door knocker. An older tour guide with peeling skin answers the knock. He takes your ticket and introduces you to the head of the house. It's a decapitated head that sits in the lap of a bleeding corpse. The head comes alive and tells visitors to never to let go of the rope. You then proceed to Hell's Kitchen, a large cooking area full of ovens and demons. They warn you what's in store for future inmates. A quick turn down a tight alley takes you past a prisoner suspended by chains. He pleads for help but no one gives it. You meet the spider woman. She has a human head, but a crab-like spider body. She entices you into her web. You wisely refuse. She angrily shoots you with webbing!
You retreat down the Psycho Tunnel. It's a large collapsing tunnel with flashing strobe lights. The walls appear to jump back and forth between flashes. A turn takes you to the Chronic Suspension Chamber. Two skeletons rot inside freeze tubes, suggesting something is terribly wrong. An injured man warns you that aliens are lose and to flee for you life. Before you can respond, a bloody snake-like creature explodes from his chest! It's time to move on!
You pass a closet with a floating ghost inside it. There's a sleeping bride on the other side of the isle. She awakes and smiles, exposing sharp fangs. She screams for your blood! You attempt to exit the building but are blocked by a man in a wheel chair who is staring out the window. He spins around to reveal both his legs are severed at the knee. He is helpful however, and offers you escape. He leads you into a fenced area under the moonlight. An eight-foot tall giant steps forward to escort you further. His name is "Luke," and he carries a menacing six-foot long cane. You enter the area and the steel gate slams behind you. A ghost glides by overhead toward the roof.
You pass a group of witches under a dead oak tree. They are stirring a cauldron with a severed leg. They warn you of your doomed future. A werewolf charges out of the tree base and lunges at you. Luke fends him off with his cane.
You proceed to a large cage. Luke calls out to "Eli", the starving prisoner. All seems quite. A skeleton suddenly falls from the rafters and slams against the bars. Luke laughs and leads you to a covered amphitheater. A short man with a bloody saw steps forward and explains he's cutting up bodies for the doctor. What he fails to mention is that the body he's cut is his own. He proceeds to separate his top half from his bottom half, and waddle after you as Luke leads you away.
The next stop is a visit with the lunatic eyeball eater. He sits inside a shed with all his assorted cannibal parts laid neatly before him. He offers to share his human delicacies with you, but you're not hungry. He reaches into a jar of pickled eyeballs and slips one in his mouth. As he bites down, it squirts wet contents over you!
Luke orders you back inside. You descend some steps to another door with a large "keep out" sign. Once again, you pound a large brass knocker. The mad doctor answers. He's miffed that you interrupted his experiments, but welcomes the "fresh meat." Once inside, your eyes adjust to the dim light. It's a giant room that runs the length of the building. It's filled with scientific equipment, test tubes, and phantasmagoric specimens. The doctor offers to show you a real vampire. Before you can answer, he opens the casket. It's filled with a large skeleton. He removes the stake from its heart and closes the lid. He shows you the weapon and explains how it works. He also explains how difficult it is to get the stake into the vampire's heart, since they have very keen hearing and sense when they are being hunted. He opens the coffin to return the stake but a live vampire jumps out and hisses. The doctor forces him back inside with a crucifix and locks him inside. You both give a sigh of relief.
Someone shouts from across the room. It's a man locked behind bars. He urges you to say his name. The doctor explains that he is Beatlejuice, but insists you NOT say his name three times. Unfortunately, in the course of his explanation, he mentions the name three times and all hell breaks loose. As Beatlejuice laughs maniacally, his arms stretch out 14 feet across the room and he grabs at you. The doctor beats back the giant hands and pulls you away. He takes you to his transformation chamber. He produces a young woman who he places in the chamber. He turns some dials and a plasma ball glows. You watch through the caged opening in the front. An eerie sound buzzes, and the girl's form begins to blur and form something new. She turns into a monster! The creature feels her deformed face and screams. She charges through the front, pushes open the bars and disappears into the darkness. Nothing is quite what it seems here.
The doctor calls for his assistant. Algore appears, complete with an obligatory hunch on his back. The doctor unveils his latest creation. It's a large Frankenstein monster. Algore activates the power and a Jacob's ladder loudly zaps while spinning lights and strobes light up the room. The doctor jolts the monster alive and it attacks Algore, ripping off his arm and beating him with it. The horrified doctor subdues the creature with chloroform. He tells you he can make millions of monsters because of an endless supply of spare parts that he has at his disposal. He leads you to a dark room to make his point. He turns on the lights and reveals a convict strapped to a chair. He throws a switch and sparks fly. The convict's mouth glows as the power surges through his convulsing body. The doctor laughs as Florida's infamous electric chair claims another victim.
The doctor invites you to see his cemetery. A caretaker appears carrying a glowing lantern. You follow the caretaker outside toward a flickering street lamp. Old crumbling tombstones are surrounded by a white picket fence. "Just think," the caretaker warns, "You could die tonight driving home, and wind up here feeding the worms." He points to an open casket and urges you to take a whiff of the cadaver within. As you bend over, another ghoul pops out from the corpse's chest.
The caretaker chuckles and leads you to a small clearing. A woman and a large box await there. The caretaker latches her inside the box, then proceeds to cut her in half. Blood spills from the saw. He separates the two boxes, but assures you it is only an illusion. Then he notices the blood on the floor. He checks the girls pulse and turns pail. He covers her face with a small sheet and hastily leads you back into the building, apologizing along the way. He's new to the magic biz.
The caretaker introduces you to Mortimer, and then disappears into the night. Mortimer is the hellevator operator. He escorts you to a wobbling freight elevator. You both enter and the door slides shut. The small room rocks and you see several floors rush past the barred opening. The lights go out and the machine stops. You are stuck between floors. Mortimer rings the emergency bell for help. The lights flicker back on and the room plunges deeper into the abyss. You reach your destination and the back door slides open. You are in sub basement. The tight concrete pathway leads through a black light hallway. A cabinet bursts upon and a glowing skull laughs at you. You proceed into a voodoo chamber. The upper torso of a victim is impaled on a stake, yet it still lives. It begs you to let it die, but you are helpless to interfere. A voodoo priestess approaches and dangles a shrunken head before you. Mortimer pulls you away to "safety."
He takes you to a large tiled room. It's dark except for Mortimer's flashlight. There's a large walk in freezer and a stainless steel butcher block. Mortimer explains it is here where two students were found dead after they broke into the condemned building several years ago. The murder is still unsolved to this day. Suddenly, a loud siren sounds and lights flash as zombies pour in from every direction. Mortimer pulls you to the exit and you escape outside. You've just survived the Mystery Playhouse of Terror!
Although it will soon be torn down, we have permission to use the building for one more thing: We plan to photograph a narrative story there and turn it into a monster card set. So next Halloween, no more free tickets! They'll be a card set instead. Although the Mystery Playhouse may be gone, it won't be forgotten.