And I feel fine!
This week those of us in the US got to see a very rare event – a total solar eclipse. While total solar eclipses happen fairly regularly across the globe overall, they rarely pass over so much land, so for an individual to see one IS a rare event. With the path that the eclipse scribed over the US, it allowed millions of people to witness this earth-shattering event.
In days of yore, it was considered to be a sign of the apocalypse. Actually, I need to revise that, people STILL think it’s a sign of global destruction. Yes, really. That sound you hear? It’s only me shaking my head in despair.
But, hey – I LOVE (love, love, love!) a good apocalyptic story. It’s probably my favorite horror film genre, although there really aren’t many good apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic movies out there. I know. I’ve looked. Could it be that it’s just too depressing a concept to be used as movie fare? I don’t think so, since zombies are essentially a type of apocalypse. And zombie movies are everywhere.
I think it’s more likely that the challenge of putting someone into the mindset of being in a dead radioactive wasteland is just too difficult. While movies can successfully convey it, they have at their disposal a plethora of special effects, unlimited locations and 120 minutes to draw you in. Haunted houses don’t have those advantages. They are all about scaring people. An immediate threat challenges you – a crazy clown, a psychotic surgeon or a maniacal murderer. You poke at the adrenal gland and it responds! It’s a short, sharp shock.
The apocalypse isn’t that, it’s the slow burn of dread realizing the world is now a dead place and all you know is gone. It’s a sense of angst for the future, not a sense of fear of the immediate. I just don’t think it’s something you can do in a haunted house. I hope I’m wrong about that and out there somewhere is an apocalypse themed haunt that can transport the mind to a radioactive wasteland of nothingness.
So, am I saying that I have given up on incorporating my favorite genre into the world of haunted houses? Yes, I am. I have spent hours considering what exactly it is that draws me to the post-apocalyptic genre. I then spent hours trying to devise ways to share that with you and with guests. It just doesn’t work – at least I can’t figure out how to do it. To be certain, I have some ideas for individual props that I want to explore in the future, but these are about creating fear, not dread.
For those (like Robyt) wondering about the point of this entry it’s to share some lessons learned while writing this. As humans it’s natural for us to keep struggling forward on the paths we have chosen (or we were put upon). We grab the machete and hack at the weeds blocking our path, determined to move forward with our plans. This can sometimes result in fantastic archeological discoveries like the “Lost City of the Monkey God”, but it usually only gets us more lost in the jungle.
While this post has been long, painful and frustrating (and that’s just for me!) I think it might end up being my favorite so far. And not just because I got to sneak in a little Pink Floyd, but because it made me stop and think about concepts I believe can help elevate the overall quality of every scene or prop I work on.
Trying to devise an apocalyptic scene for a haunted house forced me to really examine WHY the ideas didn’t quite work. There were a number of apocalyptic concepts that would have been OK for a haunt, but they were off somehow. Once I realized that apocalyptic worlds revolve around dread and haunts run on fear, I could understand why all my ideas were falling flat.
That’s my first big take-away – there’s value in deeply, painfully even, examining the basis of things. While the apocalypse is a staple of horror, I had to peel back to onion to understand why it doesn’t work in a haunt. But in doing so I think I understand a bit better what really drives terror so I can create props and scenes that really hit that fear response.
The other take-away – really more of a reminder – is that sometimes you have to stop flailing with the machete and head off in a new direction. It’s against our basic instincts to just set aside all the work we’ve done and start afresh, but occasionally it’s what is best. Sometimes, it’s the only way forward. I intended to imagine apocalyptic landscapes and props for haunts, but instead ended up with an altered approach to creating horror props and scenes.
While there are no new props for you to build or add to your list of haunt ideas, I hope these lessons will serve you well as you progress in your haunt building endeavors. I know they will help me. And I do have some cool props I can take from the genre for future scares.