Halloween is big business in the US and in the lead up to 31st October, old warehouses and derelict buildings are turned into frighteningly good attractions, which are certainly not for the faint-hearted.
The UK is slowly catching on to the phenomenon, but health and safety being what it is, we cannot see the same level of devilish delights and punishing pranks being given the go ahead over here. Hoot editor Sara Stewart tells us about her experiences of Halloween horror Stateside.
My first experience of an American Halloween was several years ago whilst I was staying in Kansas City. I was bewitched, if you’ll pardon the pun, by the lengths the US go to in order to get into the seasonally spooky spirit.
People go to extraordinary lengths to decorate their front yards, whether or not they have children living at home. Ghoulish gravestones, shrieking skeletons and pumpkins a plenty are to be found at every throughout entire neighbourhoods.
Likewise, all the stores are filled with green, purple and orange goodies and gifts to part consumers from their hard-earned dollars. Even the fast food outlets offer treats such as pumpkin spiced ice cream – in fact, pumpkin spiced everything from lattes to popcorn. And I have to say I revelled in all these celebrations, despite the fact it is all terribly commercial.
However, my favourite experiences by far were the haunted houses I visited over two consecutive nights. These are rather like taking part in a horror film, complete with insane characters and impressive set design.
The first was located in an old, four-story warehouse in downtown Kansas City called The Beast. It’s been going since 1991 and is said to be the biggest of its kind in the US.
As we queued to go in, we were harassed by endless extras dressed up as hideously horrible characters. Despite being in his mid-teens, my son was totally freaked out by one of the characters who stood about 6’8 and carried a very realistic looking boa constrictor.
I had caught the haunted house crew around the back of the building doing their pre-opening pep talk at the start of the night and there were scores of them, all taking the proceedings very seriously. I was impressed.
People were allowed into the house in small groups to ensure the experience was more personal – first stop, a photo opportunity with the original and genuine TV superstar Elvira.
Following that was an hour of shocks and screams. As you went from one dimly-lit room to another, things leapt out at you, actors lurched at you on trapezes, with mock chainsaws and you became increasingly disoriented staggering through rooms with uneven floors or no obvious way out.
During this we made our way up to the fourth floor where the final scare was a twisty slide taking us from ‘heaven to hell’. Truly hair raising and a lot of fun.
So the next night we decided to head to one of the nearby theme parks that boasted eight different themed haunted attractions including The Abattoir, Victorian London, The Insane Asylum and, the scariest of the lot – the Creepy Cornfield. At one point during the latter, a scarecrow came to life and I turned into such a gibbering idiot, the poor guy playing the part fell about laughing, coming completely out of character.
Theme parks in the UK are now starting to emulate their American friends, including the Cotswolds’ very own Over Farm with Frightmare – an attraction very much aimed at older teens and adults.
It features five terrifying live-action scenarios – the Haunted Hayride, Fright House Playtime, Séance, Caged and The Offering – each more dastardly than the next and not recommended for anyone who doesn’t enjoy being frightened. It runs from the 21st to 31st October and tickets can be booked via their website.