Haunted Tropes #006 – The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders

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.

People are afraid of a lot of stuff. That’s normal, it’s just in our nature. Do a search on your favorite search engine for “most common phobias,” and you’ll get a. lot. of. results. A whole. lot. Including some of these elements in a haunt to unsettle people is a very good idea, but these are spices and seasonings to be sprinkled around strategically, not the crux of the matter. When a haunt consists entirely of a series of mildly unsettling images one right after the other just because they’re unsettling to a certain subset of the population in general, it becomes a Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.

So, hypothetical scenario. You’re setting out to build a local attraction where you’re hoping to bring in a whole lot of people and get them so scared that they need a change of pants. You know that people get scared of different things; in addition to the crapload of phobias and fears out there, people love horror movies too. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most talked-about horror movies in years, and the latest Saw movie made something like nineteen bazillion dollars.

You could try to do the same thing those directors did, and make a creepy, psychologically frightening experience from beginning to end sure to lull your audience into a deep sense of foreboding, but to hell with that! How about we just pick the most iconic, goriest scenes from those legendary films and just throw all them in? Brilliant!

I’m sure you’ve guessed where this is going by now if you’ve watched the video (and if you haven’t, you ought to, it’s pretty hilarious). In summary, it’s a trailer done by Saturday Night Live imagining what a horror movie would look like if it were directed by the magnificent Wes Anderson of The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel fame. And while it’s a great mashup of horror cliches and Wes Anderson’s remarkable one-of-a-kind style that made me laugh out loud repeatedly, it is most assuredly not scary in the slightest. Thus, it illustrates the point perfectly: a series of frightening images one after another without paying attention to the tone of the setting overall is a recipe for disaster, or at least un-scared patrons, which is basically the same thing in a social media driven world where people can be tweeting about how not scary your attraction is before they’ve been chased to the parking lot by a chainsaw wielding nut-job.

In one particular scene from the sketch, Owen Wilson (as portrayed by Ed Norton) peers through binoculars at the crazy people on the lawn as an upbeat, jaunty Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard by Paul Simon plays in the background.

“Yeah, look at ’em all!” he says. “There’s a guy with a meat cleaver, and an old record player. One’s carrying a falcon, there’s twins in matching track suits… hey, look at that! Why, that’s Danny Glover!”

Danny Glover


Look through the review archives and you’ll see this played out over and over again. We want experiences, not cheap scares, and the ones that deliver on that are the haunts that score a lot better, every time.

A lot of newcomers seem to think the best thing they can do is try to induce terror by tapping into these primal fears – snakes, spiders, darkness – with just a dash of whatever the most iconic movie creepers happen to be at the time. You’ll probably scare a lot of people doing this. You’ll probably get a lot of screams. But you won’t get people to remember you. You won’t be the experience people are still talking about years later, that they keep returning to year after year after year. If that’s what you want to achieve, do something new. Wow your audience with original ideas, things that they have never seen before, and that they can’t find anywhere else.

Or as Richard Gere said in the movie Chicago,

Razzle Dazzle ’em, and they’ll make you a star!

Haunted Tropes #005 – The EPA Is Going To Tear Us Apart If They Find Out About That

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.

“Hey what’s that green crap? What is this? Jesus Christ, look at this place! This is a disaster! That’s gotta be toxic. God, the EPA is going to tear us apart if they find out about that. Well I’m not saying anything. I don’t wanna get called into court as a witness on this once the cat gets out of the bag.”
-Gordon Freeman, Ross Scott’s “Freeman’s Mind”

Haunted Houses are the most disgusting places on Earth.

I could just end the article there, honestly… I mean, what more do you need? You’ve got a GIF of a giant robot cleaning up nuclear waste, and a statement about grime that leaves nothing to the imagination. What more do you want from me? I don’t want to think about it again. If I envision the kind of grime we’re talking about, I’ll have to wash my brain out with Purell again, and I’ve never been the same since.

Alright, fine, you want me to go on? I will, but on your own head be it.

The best way I can illustrate the point is with a side-by-side comparison. So you know what? You can participate in your own mental abuse. Be prepared to wash your eyes out with bleach – I know I certainly did. I’ll probably have to Lysol my internet history as well; I don’t even know how that works but I’ll do it.

[mlw_quizmaster quiz=1]

See what I mean? Disgusting. Nasty. Filthy. I suppose I understand what they’re trying to accomplish here – the kinds of houses that really look this way clearly belong to the 1%… no, not that 1%. The other 1%, the ones who are utterly deranged, totally off their rockers, and I get that’s who you’re trying to represent in a haunt, but for cryin’ out loud, this is beyond a dilapidated building, this is beyond being condemned. This is insanity, pure and simple. How does anything ever get this dirty?

If you’re going to grunge up your haunt to this degree – and that’s a perfectly valid choice, I’m not saying it isn’t – then you need to make your story match. If it’s supposed to be a sanitarium that’s been abandoned for 50 years? Cool, I’ll buy this. If it’s a haunted house in suburbia where paranormal investigators are supposed to be working? Not so much.

If you’ve been reading the whole series then by now it should be pretty obvious that the things that stick out like a sore thumb are the ones that reek of inconsistency – with established story, with the experience at the beginning vs at the end, or just with the basics of human behavior. You can definitely do this if you want a total gross-out experience, and that’s a reasonable thing to want (in this industry, anyway, it’s slightly less acceptable in fields like rock music, auto mechanics, and decreasingly so for psychology, dentistry, and NASA engineers). You just have to make sure the story you’re telling matches with the setting the audience can see with their own eyes.

Haunted Tropes #004 – No One Likes You Here

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.

GET OUTIt’s hard to go through a haunted house anymore and not suffer feelings of unwantedness, anguish, regret… The sad thing about this is that it just all feels so… unoriginal. You see, I remember the good old days… the days when ghosts and ghouls would speak terrible things to you, words and images that would chill you down to your bones, and then down to your soul, and then down to the souls of your bones after that. (Bone Souls are real. People have been trying to tell me they aren’t for ages. Don’t listen to them! Trust me instead. I’m a highly reputable source. Osteo-Souls, they’re called. Google it. It’s a thing.)

Those days are gone now, though. Most ghouls, goblins, and zombies that you meet inside a haunt anymore won’t try to terrify you into submission. They’ll simply insist that you get o-


Achem. Get Out. Yes, that’s what I was saying. Look, I understand that I’m a trespasser here. I know I wasn’t actually invited to this crazy person’s house, and I don’t exactly expect to be given a tray of sandwiches and cookies when I barge my way into somebody’s living room. But there comes a point when it’s too much, when every single inhabitant of the place just wants you to…


Look, I’m pretty accepting when it comes to these sorts of things. But it doesn’t help me feel scared or threatened when you’re telling me to…


after every single corner I turn. In fact by the time the 4th or 5th person has told me to…


it starts to have the opposite effect. This isn’t frightening anymore, it’s just annoying. Sometimes I’m trying to admire the setwork, or take in all the details that someone painstakingly put into the room during the build, but try as I might to linger for just a moment and drink in the details there’s always someone there pushing me forward, screaming at me. It starts to make the whole haunt feel rushed.


It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just the ghouls or the zombies or the nutjobs either, but sometimes even the voluntary victims start screaming at me to…

It’s the phrase I’ve heard inside haunted houses over my cumulative reviewing career more than any other. I’ve been told to…

probably thousands of times by now, and it’s never scary and it’s never anything but…You need to GET OUT

OK, seriously? I was in the middle of a sentence that time. That wasn’t even the right cue, you’re supposed to say it when…GET OUT OF MY HOUSE

Look, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but this is my blog, and I’ll stay here as long as I damn well please! Look, it’s not my intention to offend you. I’m just trying to explain to these nice folks why this particular trend is somewhat annoying. It’s nothing personal, you understand. Really, this is your fault, you’ve been relying on this old phrase for far to many years now. If you can’t come up with something new and original to say, then I’ll have no choice but to…GET OUT NO! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! Do not fight with me this way! Seriously, you need to step back and take a look at yourself. How scary do you even think this is? Come up with something else. ANYTHING else! Anything would be scarier than this. Any single thing you could say would be less trite and overused than “Get Out”. Do you hear me? Literally anything! This is the most utterly generic phrase ever uttered by anyone inside a haunt or out, and if I never ever hear it again as long as I live it will be too soon!