Baby, It’s Cold Inside

It seems a bit ridiculous to be writing about a blog about the effects of cold on the psyche when it hit 100°F today and this room is sweltering in the evening stillness, but it’s what’s on my mind. Right now I crave the feeling of a cold breeze washing over my body, but in a darkened room or a moonlit night, such a cold breeze is far from welcome.

Many years ago I was stranded in Wales on business. While the countryside is gorgeous and lush, Wales is cold. In the middle of summer on a sunny day, it is cold. Late at night, while the wind & rain pelted down and soaked through my clothes as I walked back to the hotel after dinner, it was truly bone-chilling. Even after drying off and climbing into bed under every blanket I could find, I was shivering. Unable to sleep, I turned on the TV and found an old B/W movie from 1963 called The Haunting.

Several scenes actually sent chills down my spine that night – one of the few films to ever do so. Since then, I have wondered if the movie was really THAT scary or if it was my being so cold. It was the cold. I watched it again while I was nice and warm and it really isn’t scary. Not in the least. The scene I distinctly remember giving me chills is wholly forgettable. It’s a simple jump scare where someone suddenly pops out of an access door to the attic – standard fare these days. I think if you watch the scene below you will agree that it pretty humdrum, never mind shiver inducing! It must have been being so cold that made all the difference – created all the fear.

Cold is generally associated with bad things, with a lack of humanity. “Cold blooded murder”, “cold-hearted”, “That was cold!” after an especially brutal insult – cold is almost exclusively used in the negative. Ghost hunters speak of the temperature suddenly dropping when a specter is near. Maybe it’s that a dead body feels unnaturally cold or it could be the vulnerability we naturally feel when cold. Whatever the reason, entering a space that is drastically colder than expected is very unsettling. It puts you on guard and heightens the sense of danger.

So, how can you set that up in your haunt? It’s actually fairly tough to instantly drop an entire room’s temperature by 20 degrees. It takes a large amount of equipment and energy to accomplish that, and must be constantly maintained. Size is the enemy here, so a narrow hallway that your guests navigate is an ideal candidate for providing a brief shot of unexpected cold to set them on edge as they enter the next scene. I think prefacing Robyt’s white fog room with a freezing corridor would really increase the effectiveness and sense of disassociation. I imagine actually chilling the white fog room would multiply the two effects, but again, we run into the difficulty of cooling an entire room significantly, not to mention the poor actors having to work for hours in those conditions.

A clever compromise could be to chill the fog coming from a fog machine positioned directly over the entrance to a room to create a cool, dense curtain that guests must pass through. Chilling the fog for an effect like this is as simple as running a fog machine’s output through a secondary chamber filled with frozen water bottles. It will not have the same effect as a fully chilled space, but is the easiest way to add an element of temperature change without special equipment.

Air conditioners are obviously good for cooling down spaces, but consider the noise level. Walking into a room with a dozen window AC units on high might deafen your guests, but it won’t scare them. Some level of noise can be disguised with the soundtrack to your haunt, but the noise issue further makes the case for only attempting to cool small spaces. Curtains and doors let you close off the cold room/corridor after a group has passed to let it cool way down before the next group comes through and reduce the energy you need to expend to maintain the temperature difference.

Even the largest blast of cold will never stand on its own as a full blown (get it?) scare. It’s not the psychotic butcher in the abattoir; it’s the sound of knives being sharpened as you approach the door. It can be an effective means to increase the tension and set your guests’ nerves on edge in a subtle way. It’s just subtle enough that some clients might not even realize why they suddenly have goosebumps. So, when you want to amplify another scene or set your guests on edge, you might use that short corridor or weird little space to amplify the effectiveness of the next scene with a bit of bone-chilling arctic air.

We at Horror Consulting have a few other ideas floating around to create instant – and very localized – blasts of cold that we can direct towards your guests. Possibly even singling out one or two guests within a group! But right now these ideas live solely on the drawing board and we want to prove them out before we share them with you. But let me just say this – frozen fog!

Main image from Rue Morgue.