Tropes are not clichés, which are dull and uninteresting. These are common scares that come back year after year because they work, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re highly repetitive. Join us every Thursday as we explore these Haunted Tropes.
At some point, someone decided that it didn’t make sense that a serial killer or a group of cultists or a camp of cannibals would have just one group of victims. After all, if you, the haunt-goer, are meant to be walking through the home of a mass murderer, there should be some evidence to support the claims of their psychopathic murdering ways. And so, whether it was to lend credibility to the stories the haunts were trying to tell, or just to add a few more screams and chills to your wanderings throughout the haunts, actors started being cast in the role of fellow victims instead of just crazy people and monsters.
This was a great idea, or at least it was on paper. The problem, as is so often the case, came in the execution. Haunt actors are very commonly left to their own devices when it comes to creating their own parts, relying heavily on improvisation, perhaps with some occasional dialogue written for them. This is usually good, as haunt actors have a passion for what they do. Very few people, as it happens, are willing to show up at 5 PM, have 10 pounds of makeup slapped on with a trowel, and stay out until the wee small hours of the morning looking more and more hideous as the hours wear on (well, very few people who don’t hang around on Colfax Avenue, anyway), and haunt actors have a tendency to be very creative with their characters as a result of being given a lot of control.
On the other side, there’s one thing that haunt actors who aren’t given a lot of direction tend to be notoriously bad at, and that’s interacting with audience members. And the point at the intersection of improvised characterization and bad audience interaction is the unholy portal from which springs an endless slew of voluntary victims.
Picture it. You’re slowly inching along through a haunt that purports to be the home of a serial killer who’s been skinning and eating his victims. Alright, it’s a good backstory, but how does the haunt owner make you believe that you really are in the home of such a deranged person? Corpses and missing persons posters are a great idea, but someone who can speak for themselves is even better. So it’s not uncommon for actors inside a haunt to play the role of a victim instead of one of the sociopaths. Usually these people will beg for assistance when the audience walks through their scene. Maybe it says something about our society, but the general sense I get is that haunt actors never expect a shred of decency from any individual human being, ever. The entire worldview must be based on one singular idea:
If you offer to help one of these poor people, their response will usually be to ignore you. They haven’t prepared for the eventuality that someone might actually offer to do something heroic or self sacrificing and help. The really unfortunate thing is that this singular act shoots any single shred of credibility the haunt had right in the foot. At point blank range. With a bazooka.
The mildest cases of this trope occur when the victim is seemingly locked in a cage or shackled to the wall or floor, with heavy hardware to which the audience does not have the key. The very worst offenders, on the other hand, will have a poor tortured individual run screaming into the room, begging the audience to, “Please, take me with you!” and then staring like a deer in the headlights when someone actually stretches out a hand and says, “Come with me.”
Here’s a nifty scientific chart that I designed to show just how bad some instances are based on others, because as we all know charts are the hallmark of a scientific publication (forget all those people who try to tell you “peer reviews” mean anything – they’re probably just trying to sell you something). Charts prove things, damnit, and I’m about to prove the hell out of this point. Check this graph out!
As you can see, the more genuinely trapped a person is, the closer we get to the smiley faced side of the graph, showing that I’m happier when… uh… I mean, that isn’t to say that I’m happier when people are stuck in tragic situations from which there is no escape. I’m not some kind of weird pervert or anything, but then again I did stay up late on a Sunday night making an obnoxious chart in Photoshop, so you be the judge of my sanity level.
The saddest part of all this is that it can be so easily avoided, but nobody ever takes the opportunity to fix it. A person barges into a room begging me to help her escape and then refuses to come with me? Bad acting. A person barges into a room begging me to help her escape but is dragged away by a psycho before I can do anything? Authenticity!
Another actor who got this right a couple years back was a ghost wandering around a cemetery, wailing about how much he wanted to leave. When I suggested that he do exactly that, just go, he replied that he couldn’t, his soul was bound here. Simple, effective, and it added characterization to him – not only could nobody help him, but it instantly made his story that much more tragic.
The thing that’s most surprising to me about this one, is that it’s even an issue at all. Just find some way to prevent your victims from just walking out the door. It’s what a responsible serial killer would do anyway.