My god, isn't the news already scary enough?
October 14, 2018 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Business is Boo-ing! Every Halloween, theme parks like Universal Studios come alive with actors who are paid to startle attendees. And in recent years, elaborate haunted houses have gotten more popular each fall. But these seasonal events are merely child’s play compared to what is happening year-round in the underground world of immersive horror. (CW: Graphic descriptions of simulated violence)(SLNYT)

"On a recent Saturday night, ten anxious individuals were blindfolded and taken to a secret location in the desert, 40 minutes outside of Los Angeles. They were told that they would each be playing the part of a futuristic criminal who had been lobotomized and summoned to help investigators identify two bodies discovered on the grounds.

"Upon arrival, one of them, Taylor Winters, 33, a research and development engineer from Santa Ana, Calif., was ushered into a dusty RV. After a quick examination by an on-site emergency medical technician, he disrobed and was placed in a contamination suit. A disembodied voice boomed through a walkie-talkie, instructing him to trek into a hazy compound, warning that 'movement had been detected' and he might not be alone. For the next 45 minutes, a shaky Mr. Winters followed the voice’s lead, eventually being advised to 'take refuge' in a fog-filled tent."

And then it really started getting weird.
posted by holborne (48 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
This... actually sounds kind of awesome? A friend of mine is a choreographer and used to be involved with something similar (multiple participants, no actors, each person wears a headset with narration, sound effects and instructions and goes through a sort of spooky maze while interacting with the other “players”). I always loved those experiences. But they were more weird and uncanny than violent and terrifying.

This bit jumped out at me though:
Mr. Marcato said he stumbled into the business in 2013 after paying an unusual sort of homage to a friend who was murdered: re-enacting her death for a group of friends at his home. “Everyone that came through was completely terrified and loved it,” he recalled. “I thought we should just continue doing this and see what happens.”
Uh, ok!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 3:05 PM on October 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


I was a zombie at a charity fun run one year. Because I was placed near the end of the course, most of the runners were all rolly-eyed and oh-God-not-another-one-I-just-want-to-get-to-the-finish-line. But a few years later I found out that a married couple I know had met as fellow zombies that day. Monster Love(tm).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:16 PM on October 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


But a few years later I found out that a married couple I know had met as fellow zombies that day.

Zombie-my-valentine?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:24 PM on October 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


I guess I'm just old and also a bit scared because this does not interest me at all and it terrifies me, paying someone and giving them this kind of power to take you some place and I don't know, my mind goes to a really dark place and I just assume that people would behave badly and possibly cause you harm.

If others enjoy this kind of stuff, then good for them I guess. But thanks but no thanks.
posted by Fizz at 3:37 PM on October 14, 2018 [21 favorites]


I just don't understand the appeal of these things. I'm not a horror person. I don't want to be terrified. I don't like scary movies. I don't like being startled. I don't like a feeling of dread coming over me if I can help it. I've been invited to horror nights at theme parks and smaller events over and over by friends that love it, but I just don't want that.

Maybe it's the difference between anxious people and those that aren't. Maybe it's fun for them. But I get startled ten times a day just existing in the real world. I'm not going to pay someone to do that to me.
posted by downtohisturtles at 3:55 PM on October 14, 2018 [35 favorites]


I don't like scary movies. I don't like being startled.

I'm not a big fan of being startled, which is why I tend to love older horror movies, which were more invested in creating a pervading sense of, well, horror. I'm not in it for the jump-scares, which is why I've come to dislike even watching with most modern audiences.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:02 PM on October 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


“cannabis haunts,” where marijuana consumption, which often has the side effect of paranoia, enhances an already chilling experience.
HARD PASS. On all of it, tbh. This is like the opposite of anything I've ever wanted, but I guess it takes all sorts.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:19 PM on October 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


Not scary: grade school "haunted homeroom" party
Scary: old timey corn maze
Very scary: stumbling around in a smoke-filled tent in a hazmat suit
Terrifying: strapped to a chair while someone reads out loud the headlines off of Google News
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:28 PM on October 14, 2018 [15 favorites]


A disembodied voice boomed through a walkie-talkie, instructing him to trek into a hazy compound[.] For the next 45 minutes, a shaky Mr. Winters followed the voice’s lead
"Would you kindly check your privilege," said the disembodied voice on the radio.
posted by glonous keming at 4:36 PM on October 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


Nopenopenopenopenope
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:01 PM on October 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


But a few years later I found out that a married couple I know had met as fellow zombies that day.

Oooh! You and/or they might be interested to read Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead [excerpt, not full story] by Joe Hill.

You can find it in the (highly recommended) collection of his stories, 20th Century Ghosts.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:02 PM on October 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


[excerpt, not full story] by Joe Hill.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" says he
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:18 PM on October 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


But I get startled ten times a day just existing in the real world

Jesus pogo-sticking Christ in a Nando's: this; it me; hear hear; 💯, etc.
posted by scruss at 5:20 PM on October 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


Very scary: stumbling around in a smoke-filled tent in a hazmat suit

There is a Laird Barron story with this premise, sort of. It is, indeed, very scary.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:21 PM on October 14, 2018


Mr. Marcato said he stumbled into the business in 2013 after paying an unusual sort of homage to a friend who was murdered: re-enacting her death for a group of friends at his home. “Everyone that came through was completely terrified and loved it,” he recalled.

What the ever-loving fuck.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:24 PM on October 14, 2018 [25 favorites]


Mr. Marcato said he stumbled into the business in 2013 after paying an unusual sort of homage to a friend who was murdered: re-enacting her death for a group of friends at his home.
Was that murder ever solved? A suspect comes to mind.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:39 PM on October 14, 2018 [30 favorites]


Every few years I fall down an internet-hole of reading the walk-through's of these types of immersive haunts. I love them and I hate them. I WILL NEVER DO ONE IN REAL LIFE. Thank you to all the writers and bloggers writing about them.
posted by sweetjane at 5:44 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


That part caught my eye as well, chappell, ambrose and sevenyearlurk . Not quite a celebration of life.

The recent tv series Dark Tourist had an interesting bit about this extreme horror show, looking into McKamey Manor.
posted by doctornemo at 5:45 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


There was something similar posted on the blue a few years ago. I'll see if I can dig up the link.
posted by bendy at 5:51 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I will check that episode out doctornemo! I was researching that place a bit a while back and found a ton of angry former employees on Tumblr and in Facebook groups. It appeared like a group of people were trying to get word out that the boss was a real-life nightmare and unsafe. I just read this film review that cover's some of the related bullet points I remember reading about. Another internet-hole to fall into.
posted by sweetjane at 6:04 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I’m scheduling my next office team-building exercise right now...
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:15 PM on October 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


I love horror movies and none of them can really scare me anymore because I’ve sort of built up a tolerance, I guess. So yeah, I’d be totally down with this. I mean, as long as it isn’t like McKamey Manor. That’s really a bit much.
posted by holborne at 6:29 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Reported by someone who used to work for Disney. NYT really needs better freelancers.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:30 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I get startled ten times a day just existing in the real world. I'm not going to pay someone to do that to me.

I've been trying to explain this to people for years - I enjoy the campy, too-silly-to-be-scary type of horror, but I jump when someone taps my shoulder or slams a car door close to me. Actual scary movies/haunted houses absolutely wreck me. From now on I'm just going to link them to this comment.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 6:58 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's the difference between anxious people and those that aren't. Maybe it's fun for them. But I get startled ten times a day just existing in the real world. I'm not going to pay someone to do that to me.

I’m suuuuper anxious; among other things, I have such a heightened startle reflex that you have to peel me off the ceiling if someone in the office says “good morning” too loudly. I’m still a giant horror movie head. Go figure! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by holborne at 8:41 PM on October 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Sounds Like some of the old Cacophony events we used to do in the 80's and 90's.
posted by boilermonster at 8:52 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't like being startled.

Well, there goes my business plan for being a professional startler. You know, catering to those who don't quite have the nerves for a full-on horror experience, but might appreciate a fake fish being tossed into their lap at an unexpected moment.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:02 PM on October 14, 2018 [9 favorites]


There is a Laird Barron story with this premise, sort of. It is, indeed, very scary.

Title pls, GenjiandProust, if you have it. I've been meaning to check out Barron but he has quite a few collections.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:13 PM on October 14, 2018


I enjoy the campy, too-silly-to-be-scary type of horror, but I jump when someone taps my shoulder or slams a car door close to me.

I hear you! I used to work in an office that allowed dogs and all day every day I'd manage to get in the zone and focus on my work and then one or more of the dogs would bark and I'd completely lose the plot on what I was doing and have to take time to re-focus.
posted by bendy at 9:36 PM on October 14, 2018


Well, there goes my business plan for being a professional startler.

A friend used to do this in Edinburgh, in his early 20s. He was a professional “Jumper Ooter” on one of the ghost tours that they do around the Royal Mile. His job was to run between the stops on the tour and hide in doorways in a variety of silly costumes, before “jumping oot” at the right moment. (The pay wasn’t great, but there was ample opportunity after each tour to show off his Scottish accent to American women and subsequently take them out to see Edinburgh’s nightlife.)
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:19 PM on October 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


This will be the only form of entertainment if I go to hell.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:59 PM on October 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


This will be the only form of entertainment if I go to hell.

This is the Bad Place!
Almost literally, in this case.
posted by Quackles at 2:14 AM on October 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


There's no way I'd do one of these things without a way to shoot back. That's why they invented zombie paintball hayrides (which look completely AWESOME).
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:35 AM on October 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


Title pls, GenjiandProust, if you have it.

Sorry, I listened to it as an audiobook, and the stories don’t get titled in the collections very well, but I’m pretty sure it was “Strappado” from Occultation. It’s definitely in that collection, which is a good “taster” introduction to Barron’s themes and style.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on October 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me


Yep, author Joe Hill (a pen name which is part of his given name) was named for that selfsame labor leader Joe Hill.
posted by theatro at 8:10 AM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


"I'm not a big fan of being startled, which is why I tend to love older horror movies, which were more invested in creating a pervading sense of, well, horror. I'm not in it for the jump-scares, which is why I've come to dislike even watching with most modern audiences."

I'm not opposed to jump scares when used very sparingly and creatively, but otherwise I'm in complete agreement. I particularly dislike, and find tedious, slasher flicks.

But haven't you noticed that there's been a bit of a renaissance in dread-filled psychological horror? Such as, more recently, The Witch and Hereditary? What's interesting is that these movies are critically well-reviewed but audiences are much less impressed. I feel like there's kind of a cultural divide with horror films between the slasher/jump-scare movies and psychological horror which, in my opinion, better emulates that primal terror of certain kinds of nightmares, sleep paralysis, and that unforgettable temporary insanity you can fall into as a child in a dark room staring at a slightly opened closet door.

I enjoy the latter in a way that I somehow both love and hate, but the former just bores me. I'm okay with both some graphic violence, gore, and jump-scares if they exist in the service of occasionally punctuating or modulating the dread, but when that's really all the movie is I just don't get the appeal.

With regard to this live-experience stuff, I find the idea intriguing but wonder if it could actually be effective for me.

One reason for this is because when I was in grade nine, I was one of two people (myself and my date) who were the target of an astonishingly elaborate and terrifying prank planned and orchestrated by more than a dozen other teens -- it involved what was supposedly a triple-date drive to a secluded spot in the rural woods but became something else.

This was formative for me in several respects, as well as being a singular experience and a great story. Nothing I ever experience knowingly will compare to that night, given my age and relative naiveté at the time, the elaborate preparations, and the very credible performances by everyone involved.

Well into young adulthood I had a (secret) vulnerability to finding myself frozen in terror, late at night, often in bed, and sometimes for hours at a time. I would be sure something or someone was outside my window, or in the closet, or at my bedroom door and I would find myself unable to look away or move. By puberty, I'd hidden this from family and friends but it continued for years.

It only stopped when, one night when I was about 20, I reasoned my way through abandoning this sort of fear out of necessity -- I decided I couldn't live with it anymore and I was just simply done with it.

What's interesting to me is that I feel now, so many years later, that while I gained a great deal -- because not only was that terror usually deeply unpleasant, but also it often interfered with sufficient sleep -- I also sort of feel I lost something, something I miss just a little. Contrary to what you might expect, I think what I miss is the feeling of having no control, or, more precisely, having no control over myself. Which is odd, because lack of control is my biggest fear. In this particular respect, the fear was so large that it self-corrected. What I miss, I suppose, is the sense that I can't control these sorts of things because, well, it's exhausting. I'm always observing myself and self-modulating.

I do live with a lot of anxiety, so I'm not sure the theory that being anxious precludes enjoying being scared always holds true. On the other hand, two years ago, quite late in life apparently, I experienced my first (and only, so far) bona fide panic attack and, well, it's one of the two or three most terrifying experiences of my adult life. And it was so terrifying to me precisely because my mind (and body) were spiraling far out of my control, or so it seemed. I was certain I was going to scream, or run, or throw something, or even stab myself, and every instant I didn’t I couldn't believe I hadn't because these feelings were absolute, irresistible imperatives and as it went on, the severity and patadox fed on itself. Only medication broke the cycle.

I never, ever want to experience that again because the terror was not merely that I wasn't in control and something bad was going to happen, but because it was my mind itself that was disintegrating, feeling like it was obliterating the possibility of the idea of control, of safety, of the very integrity of self.

So what in the world do I enjoy, ever, about being afraid? What is it I feel I have lost? Maybe it's just that I'm exhausted by the vigilance and some relief from that, even if it's via terror, seems attractive.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:00 AM on October 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


There's no way I'd do one of these things without a way to shoot back. That's why they invented zombie paintball hayrides (which look completely AWESOME).

I've wanted some kind of paintball/nerf zombie attraction ever since my local amusement park started turning the wooded entrance/exit queues for their whitewater raft ride into a reasonable (but non-legally actionable) facsimile of the village level from Resident Evil 4, complete with rake-waving villagers and hooded chainsaw maniacs.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:07 AM on October 15, 2018


For those who (like me) are already prone to startling and are incredulous that some find haunted houses and the like to be FUN, the 'Science of Fear' episode of the Hidden Brain podcast talks about why some people crave scary situations and others abhor them.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 9:36 AM on October 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


I haven't seen The Witch or Hereditary yet, but now definitely will.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:51 AM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


There was something similar posted on the blue a few years ago. I'll see if I can dig up the link.

I remember this! And that one was about how one of these companies were kinda bad at the whole thing, I think? Like it went wrong in really wrong ways? It's driving me crazy that I can't find it...
posted by knownassociate at 9:59 AM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


That’s a weird damned LARP.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:29 AM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


When I was younger I had a bunch of BBS friends who worked the Knott's Scary/Berry Farm during Halloween, and they basically lived for it all year. Knott's Scary Farm was one of the very first major theme parks that started doing a Halloween/spooky theme that I know of, starting back in the late 1980s or early 1990s or so.

These were the same goth/spooky kids that did a lot of ren faire, theater and Rocky Horror Picture Show stuff, and I remember more than a few nerds that treated getting the gig like they were achieving the greatest job/thing ever, which was weird to me even back then.

Knott's used to not have a "no contact" policy for their actors/crew, so for a few years things got... wild. And in hindsight - they probably went well into assault territory. I remember hearing said BBS friends talk about their best scares and they were basically given carte blanche to scare the everliving shit out of people by doing things like strapping on skateboard knee pads and slide tackling people, grabbing people and more. I remember them talking about fights breaking out and worse.

I remember when Knott's changed the policy to a much stricter no contact policy and tightened up their hiring practices. (If I'm recalling correctly, there were lawsuits about it.) Also in hindsight, the actors/crew I knew that complained the most about these changes and/or not being hired back were the sketchiest/creepiest of the group, and I remember being really put off by their complaints about no longer being able to grab/assault people at the park.

And I'm with everyone else that doesn't really enjoy being scared or startled. Horror movies are mild compared to some of the PTSD nightmares I've had, and there's enough real world awfulness to be legitimately afraid of.

I remember reading Stephen King as a kid and being much more frightened by, say, the dystopia of Orwell's 1984 than King's It.
posted by loquacious at 11:50 AM on October 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of The Game, the Michael Douglas movie. Are we really this numb inside that we need manufactured death scares?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:15 PM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's the difference between anxious people and those that aren't.

I don't know. For me, this honestly sounds like something I'd enjoy, and I am an extremely anxious person. It comes in a lot of forms, most usually social anxiety but occasionally the completely unexplained sense that I've done something wrong, or I forgot something, or someone's mad at me, or I didn't do well enough at some inconsequential thing, or I can't forget that thing I said 7 years ago and it's still freaking me out, etc. etc. Panic attacks are less frequent now but they've happened.

I guess the thing about this that doesn't immediately trigger a 'nonononONONO' from me is that, like... the vast majority of what my anxiety stems from? Is things that my mind perceives of as far more important than they are. Like yes, some of it's important, ranging from marginally to moderately, but most of it isn't real, and the fact that I know that and can't do anything about it makes it all the more frustrating and upsetting.

So I get anxious about things that don't matter, and I know that they don't matter but I can't stop it anyway, and those two things clashing against each other just ramps up that tension and makes this feedback cycle that can get harder and harder to stop. But doing an activity like this? It sort of tears up that dichotomy. If I'm anxious while I'm doing something like this, it's because I'm in a situation where that would make sense. I absolutely should be anxious. And since anxiety seems to be my default setting it's almost like it soothes it if I give myself a reason to be experiencing it. It tricks my brain into coming to some kind of agreement with itself. And as a bonus if for whatever reason I'm not feeling anxious, because occasionally my brain just decides to shut down and enjoy the ride, then hey! I'm not anxious which is pretty great!

I don't know if that makes any sense, and I'm absolutely sure it's not the same for everyone. It's just weird how brains work and that's a realization that I came to the more I started doing haunted houses and other brain-/nervousness stimulating experiences like these.

All of that said this has been a complete tangent from the actual article, so I feel like I at least need to say: this looks like fucking fun to me, but considering I haven't even been able to get to haunted houses the past few years I don't think I'll get the chance to do something like it anytime soon.
posted by nogoodverybad at 12:22 PM on October 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


See, this

Mr. Marcato said he stumbled into the business in 2013 after paying an unusual sort of homage to a friend who was murdered: re-enacting her death for a group of friends at his home.

out of context, would leave me with no confidence at all that I wasn't going to be actually murdered, negating any possible fun.

I have not read the article because I'm waiting for someone to come home on this dark and stormy night. But I'm guessing I wouldn't feel any more reassured *in* context.
posted by tel3path at 3:13 PM on October 15, 2018


Not to mention the stuff that can go wrong on even ostensibly non-scary attractions... that kid who came to grief on that rollercoaster (can't even bring myself to repeat what happened to him). That YouTuber who broke her back jumping out of a hay barn attraction.

Since these LARPs are all most likely very different from each other, and aren't mechanical, it's not like you can engineer them for predictability or safety either. I would spend the whole time picturing myself in a very small headline in a two-inch column mumble mumble "death by misadventure".
posted by tel3path at 3:18 PM on October 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


i love horror flicks, both the slow burn kind and the jumpie outie kind, but this real life stuff just seems... tryhard. like i'd be admitting that my actual life is crippingly boring, which i dont think it is, and the actors would be having beers afterwards talking about all the dopey office drones that pay hundreds of dollars to get covered in fake blood. it's not even like LARPing, because there it's all fans and nobody is paying anyone. this stuff just seems like a sad bummer.
posted by wibari at 5:01 PM on October 15, 2018


Christopher Borrelli of the Chicago Tribune covers how we got from the 70s Jaycees' haunted houses to today's more mainstream version of the modern fright experience in Haunted houses have gone Hollywood.
posted by kgander at 5:49 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


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