Archive for the ‘Haunted attractions’ Category

My apologies. The blog’s been dormant for a while. A bunch of stuff came up — primarily a new job — and I was obliged to put it on the back burner. But I’d like to start it back up. So how about I begin with a new, original novelette, presented to you for free?

Here’s the deal. I have a young, talented friend named Frank who portrays a character known as “Cuddles McSpanky” at haunted attractions. He knows I’m a writer. At a recent party, we got into a discussion about our mutual love of horror and noir. And we agreed that it might be fun if I tried writing a story featuring his character. I found myself really getting into it. To my surprise, the short story I initially intended to write somehow expanded into a novelette.

I tried including it in my short story collection, “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests,” due out from Codorus Press early in 2016. But my publisher told me we’re a bit late in the process for that.

So I figured, what the heck. I wrote it mainly as a fun project anyway. And I’d like Frank to be able to share it with his friends and followers. So here it is, presented as a freebie. Enjoy. Share it, if you’re so inclined. And if you like it, keep an eye out for “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests.” Or check out my Pushcart-Prize-nominated debut novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.” You can find Cuddles McSpanky’s page here. And if you’re REALLY brave and/or crazy, you can go see him in person here.

For the record, this is a work of fiction and is not intended maliciously. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any other resemblance to actual events, groups or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

So here goes:

 

THE LEGEND OF CUDDLES MCSPANKY

By Tom Joyce

Based on a character created by Frank Paul Staff IV

 

 

Somewhere in the night-darkened pines to Kevin’s left, chainsaws buzzed like mechanical hornets. Followed by screaming.

Startled, a cluster of girls in Kevin’s group let out screams of their own, giggling at themselves immediately afterward. The Trail of Terror at the BloodShed Farms haunted attraction in Pierce Township, N.J., followed a snaking trajectory, frequently turning back on itself. Intermittent cries from the densely encroaching pines on either side signaling that the group ahead had encountered whatever as-yet-unseen horror would ambush Kevin’s group next, be it zombie, vampire or psychopath.

An unnerving effect, Kevin had to admit, jangling his already jangled nerves.

Kevin trailed behind a dozen or so teens and adults venturing through October darkness punctuated by pale lights on poles set at infrequent intervals along the paved path. Wishing that the night’s errand was already over. He yanked the brim of his baseball cap down lower on his forehead and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tighter about his face.

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cuddlesWhat makes for a good haunted attraction? Effective props. Scary costumes. Evil clowns with chainsaws, of course.

But how about this? Subtlety.

It may seem weird, using the term “subtlety” in association with entertainment that involves the aforementioned clowns with chainsaws. But when I visited Bloodshed Farms Haunted Fear Fest in Columbus, N.J., I discovered that a little bit of subtlety can go a long way in driving home the scares.

Too many haunted attractions rely almost exclusively on “jump scares.” Actors trying to startle you with some variation of jumping out and yelling “Boo!” Sure, jump scares are important. But when you have too many in succession, they get repetitive and lose their effectiveness — becoming more annoying than scary.

Bloodshed Farms isn’t the biggest or most elaborate haunted attraction I’ve ever been too, but it’s easily one of the best. A lot of that comes down to excellent acting and staging. And the relatively subtle touches that get under your skin.

Prime example. You have to walk through a short trail in a cornfield to get to the main site. I saw a guy in a mask lurking around in there, and figured he was going to jump out and try to startle me. He didn’t. He quietly stepped out and started following me, saying nothing. Much more disturbing. Another example. A deranged clown walking around and interacting with visitors, who goes by the name “Cuddles McSpanky.” Consider how disturbing that name is on so many levels.

In all likelihood, one of the reasons Bloodshed Farms is so good is that it isn’t really a business, so much as a collective of people who just love this shit.

Managers Clark Bish, Jim Reed and Kenny O’Ranger were kind enough to sit down and talk to me.

This is the first year for Bloodshed Farms, but the crew had been running the Haunted Prison attraction at the Burlington County Prison Museum in Mount Holly, N.J., for the past nine years.

Clark said they outgrew the Prison Museum. People started showing up by the thousands, resulting in two-hour waits.

According to Clark, the group that puts it on consists largely of “home haunters.” Those are the people who go all out with the Halloween decorations, turning their houses into mini attractions. Many of the props at Bloodshed Farms came from such home displays. The participants approach Bloodshed Farms as a labor of love, and most of the profits will go into buying more stuff for next year.

“We just want the money to play with it more,” Jim said.

The attraction now consists of an open, central area with a DJ and concessions. Visitors have a choice of the Funhouse of Fear, Hellsgate Prison, Necropolis Cemetery and the Trail of Terror.

Unique to Bloodshed Farms is an attraction actually called “The Blood Shed.” But expect variations on the concept to crop up soon at other haunted attractions, because it’s a winner.

Clark said the idea came from movies like “Saw” and “Hostel.” What happens is that you pay money to enter the shed, and get strapped into a chair. They give you a buzzer to hit when you can’t take any more. Then a demented ghoul enters and menaces you with a number of torture implements. As an added bonus, your friends get to watch on a TV outside, and laugh at your torment.

Sound sick and twisted? It is. Hey, if you’re a horror fan, “sick” and “twisted” aren’t necessarily pejorative terms. It’s also a blast. I’d highly recommend it.

Clark said their ultimate goal is for annual visitors to feel just as invested in Bloodshed  Farms as the organizers and actors.

“We want it to be like a tradition to come here,” Clark said.

Bloodshed Farms Fear Fest is located at Columbus Farmer’s Market, 2919 U.S. 206, Columbus, N.J. Tickets are available from 6:30 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Halloween. See more here.

 

I often experience a weird kind of cognitive disconnect when interviewing people who work in haunted attractions.

I mean, these are people who draw a salary by putting on ghoulish makeup and masks, enacting scenes of murder and mutilation, and chasing people around with chainsaws. They take an honest-to-God professional pride in terrifying customers to a point where they lose control of their excretory functions.

And yet, they tend to be the nicest people. Case in point – a very charming married couple from Menges Mills, Pa., named Adam and Ashley Burgess. But when they’re on the job at the Haunted Mill Scream Park in Spring Grove, Pa., they go by “Clown No. 47” and “Ms. Bloody Butcher.” (more…)

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a soft spot for Halloween masks. I just think they’re cool. The good masks are works of art – ones that allow the wearer to be a kind of walking sculpture.

So I took notice when I was at a haunted attraction in Central Pennsylvania in October, and passed a stand that was selling some REALLY cool-looking masks.

Obviously, some real skill had gone into designing and making the masks. But it wasn’t just that they were well-made. The things were genuinely spooky-looking.

The guy who’d made them was at the next booth over, wearing an awesome costume that consisted of a gory pig mask, a bloody butcher’s apron and a cleaver clutched in his hand. People were paying to get their picture taken with him.

I guessed – correctly, as it turned out – that he must be a pretty interesting guy.

His name is Steve Steele, and he runs his business called Lot 27 FX in his spare time. I’ve wanted to profile the business for a while, and Steve graciously agreed to answer some questions for me.

I’ll post some photos. I wish I could post a picture of every one of his masks, because every one of them is SO freakin cool!  Do yourself a favor and check out his Facebook page here:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lot-27-FX/122866001060788

On with the Q&A:
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Here’s a video of my trip to the historic Farnsworth House in Gettysburg.

So I was making a video at the Haunted Mill Scream Park in Spring Grove, Pa., when the managers suggested I go through with a group of kids between the ages of 11 and 14 and record the reactions. I, of course, thought that was a DAMN fine idea! Those haunted houses aren’t too well-lit, obviously, so a lot of the footage is pretty indistinct. But what  the hell. I think that gives it kind of a Blair Witch Project vibe. And yes, there were definitely some extreme reactions taking place in that haunted house. Screaming. Hysterical shrieking. Crying. After a while, the kids asked me to get a hold of myself and calm down because I was embarrassing them.

I paid a visit to the Field of Screams in Mountville, Pa., which is one of the most popular haunted attractions in the world. And I learned that when they scare the crap out of people, they don’t always do it on a strictly metaphorical basis.