Haunted Tropes – Introduction

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It happens every time.

I’m getting ready to start my fourth year as a haunted house critic now, and I have to say, I love them. I wasn’t sure at first – going into my very first haunt back in 2011 I had to wonder what I had gotten myself into. But it’s been a tremendous thrill ride since then and I discovered very early on that I love not only a chance to be scared, but to see the kinds of things that you don’t get a chance to experience any other way.

BUT. But, but, but…

There are a few things I’ve noticed… things that I’ve seen a bunch of places, over and over again, that I can’t quite shake off. You have to understand, I love a unique haunt experience – it’s the thing that gets me excited about every review season, each and every year. There’s this sense of excitement that picks up around mid-September every year, where I realize that soon, very soon, I’m going to see something that I’ve never seen before. Ever! And you can imagine how that might be a good thing for a guy like me, who spends most of the day every day in a rut. In fact, if you looked up the word “rut” in the dictionary there’d be… well, there’d be a little description of what it meant. But there ought to be a picture of my life in there, because that’s what it is. Get up, go to work, Be Incredible (that’s not in my job description but it’d be a fairly accurate one if it were), go home, cook dinner, a little TV, then sleep. Then I do it all again.

You can see how something to shake up the routine would appeal to me. And then every year, along comes Haunt Season! Huzzah!

BUT. But, but, but…

Then there’s the opposite. The bits of a haunt that are the same no matter where you go. The pieces and parts that start to feel a little bit… samey. The undeniable sense of deja vu when you see them… the stark realization that you’ve stumbled upon a Haunted Trope.

What’s a trope you ask? The good folks at TV Tropes define it this way:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite.” In other words, dull and uninteresting.

I agree with that sentiment – these things certainly aren’t dull or uninteresting, they’re just not very unique – they don’t stand out from other haunts. That’s not a bad thing. This just means that they’re the kind of thing that’s supposed to be able to frighten a large cross-section of people. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” my dad used to tell me, and despite the fact that he apparently couldn’t wax poetical without dropping into the speech patterns of a 1950s farmer, there’s definite wisdom in that statement.

So yes, there’s a reason these pieces show up again and again, but I think they’re worth a little exploration anyway (and perhaps poking a bit of fun at). Yes, these are things that get added in time and time again because they work, and because we’re familiar with them from years and years of scary movies and TV shows, but they’re also very tired, well-worn set pieces. I can understand and even appreciate that there are certain standards that one just expects from a haunt experience, but those aren’t the pieces that anyone’s going to be raving about, remembering years and years later.

"I have fond memories of that utterly generic scare from 2011 that I'd seen fifty times before. Well worth the twenty dollars!" said no one ever.

But I got a dollar off for bringing in some baked beans, so…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost’s famous poem sums it up so well. Read some of our past reviews: every year, the things we applaud are the new, the innovative, and the exciting. Sometimes you need to use the more-traveled road, but it’s nice to take the scenic route as well from time to time. So join me every Thursday for the foreseeable future as we explore Haunted Tropes, and maybe get a few ideas for forging your own road.