[As you may recall, we once got in touch with one Mr. Bertram Bertram, soliciting his expert opinion and analysis for our readers. You can find his prior contributions here, here and here. As one of the foremost Haunt Experts around , we remain incredibly pleased to host his words here. He continues to educate us with his Alexandrian fascinating dive into the world of Haunts. We are once again honored to present his writing here at GdL16.]
A short while ago I presented to my esteemed colleagues in the front office of Gravedigger’s Local 16 parts one and two of my essay on guest behavior at haunted attractions. My intent was to finish up part three earlier today. However, after seating myself at my writing desk with pen in hand, I was disturbed by barely perceptible movement on the edge of my vision.
I do not wish you, dear reader, to think your author to be unduly imaginative. I have long since become accustomed to strange activity in the forgotten corners of my family manor that runs the gamut from indistinct to positively obscure. But this agitation seemed more material than the shadowy stirrings that usually transpire in the Bertram manse.
Upon investigation, I found the south wall of my study to positively teeming with hundreds of small beetles of the family Coccinellidae, known by the more common gynic nomenclature as Lady Bugs. The summer heat had apparently driven the speckled Polyphaga indoors in search of a cooler climate. Their unceasing motility proved to be too distracting to my work so I called for my manservant, Walter, to deal with the invasion.
Walter attempted to shoo away the insectae, first with violent gesticulations of his limbs, then with a stout broom. But he only succeeded in scattering them further about the room. As he chased the speckled pests throughout the study, I had a flash of inspiration. I remembered that several years ago on trip to the sub-continent a distant relative had gifted me a small box containing some rather special eggs.
I must admit to not being too flattered at the time I received the present. Upon return from my travels, I carelessly placed the box in a rarely used basement storage closet on a shelf near Walter’s dusty collection of Aerobics workout video cassettes.
After locking the door to the study to ensure that Walter did not abandon his task, I ventured to the basement. I made my way to the dark closet, but was confused to find the shelves glittering with what appeared to be hundreds of tiny glass beads. I have never been one given to domestic craft hobbies so there was no reason for there to be any sort of bangles, baubles or beads in my storage.
Confounded, I reached for the pull chain to the electric bulb to aid in my search. At the first slight movement of my hand, however, all of the small, shining beads positively twitched in my direction. Squinting, I made out fuzzy, lumpy outlines of black bodies surrounding the sparkling orbs. It was then I realized that what I had mistook for costume jewelry supplies were the bright, reflective eyes belonging to a rather large group of spiders. They appeared to be close cousins to the arachnid Solifugae, known in the Middle East as the Camel Spider.
I laughed heartily to see how my untended gift resulted in such an unintended legacy. The spiders were unfazed by my merriment. After I caught my breath, I explained to them how pleased I was at their positively profound proliferation. I also thanked them because I finally understood why the basement vermin population had ceased to be troublesome in the last few years.
I then explained the reason I had so rudely intruded upon their nest. Upon hearing of the problem, the arachnids were more than agreeable to lend their aid in clearing out the insect invasion. It seems they had been feeling a bit peckish so the timing was perfect. After I described where the study was located, the entire arachnid clan skittered away into the darkness, disappearing through gaps between the manor’s ancient foundation and walls.
It occurred to me that I might alert Walter to the imminent arrival of our eight legged allies so that he could abandon his fruitless efforts and begin preparing lunch. But the distant sound of his screams indicated he had already made their acquaintance.
I decided to let the action in the study play itself out while I finished my writing in the library. What follows now is the third installment of my discussion of guest behavior at haunts. In this final missive I propose a theory to explain the bewildering actions committed by attendees at haunted attractions.
Real Danger in a Fantasy World
A haunted attraction creates a fantasy world in which the guests experience extreme sensations and witness horrific events with the understanding that the guest will never be in any danger. As Daniel Shaw is quoted, “If one were really in danger, one would not feel the terror as pleasurable.” This is the same implicit expectation that visitors have for a roller coaster or other thrill ride. The experience may be jarring or even violent, but every rider knows that they will walk away from the attraction safely no matter how frightened they might be during the ride itself.
Correspondingly, visitors at a haunted attraction may be chased by chainsaw wielding maniacs, see seven foot tall snarling werewolves, and even feel the heat from exploding fireballs, but the guests always know that what they are experiencing is fundamentally safe. This allows the audience of a haunt to be comfortable enough to suspend their disbelief and become absorbed in the action around them.
When the guests are immersed in the haunt environment they are not thinking critically about their surroundings. Instead they are just, in a phrase, enjoying the ride, much like on a roller coaster. A well made haunt can give the visitors the feeling that they have walked into a movie–a horror movie of course. This allows haunt actors to interact with the guests in-character and further reinforce the illusion that that guests have come to enjoy.
The shadow side of this experience is that it not only allows, but actively encourages, visitors to view the haunt workers only as fictional characters and not as real people doing the difficult job of entertaining an audience all night. This is the fundamental reason for the rules that I have discussed and the underlying motivation for the reprehensible actions by some guests.
Most people, even after imbibing a bit, are unlikely to bite a stranger’s crotch, strike someone with no provocation, or spit in the mouth of an individual they just met (as I described in my second article). Yet, all of these dreadful acts and more have been done to haunt actors by the very people who paid to be entertained by them.
If Nothing is Real, Then No Harm Can Occur
I found these actions incomprehensible until I realized that, to the haunt guest, our actors are not perceived to be real people. Under the influence of the fantasy world, the actors are just as fictional as their surroundings.
Further, in the fantasy world of a haunted attraction it is accepted that nothing the visitor experiences is actually dangerous. Ergo, to some guests, nothing they do in this fantasy world could be dangerous to themselves or to anyone who inhabits it.
Hence, a perfectly normal woman can find it acceptable to bite the groin of a young man in public. To her, the young man is not a volunteer actor performing at an exhausting pace for hours on end until he can finally go home, rest and watch popular televised programs while sipping hot chocolate. Rather, he is a ghoul, already injured, covered in blood, bandages and barbed wire. This ghoul is menacing her, but she knows that he will not actually harm her in any way. So she can prove her bravery to herself and her friends by attacking him and maybe even frightening him. Later, she will not be bothered by the thought that she possibly injured a young man. She will just be entertained by the memory of overcoming her own fear by attacking the thing that was attempting to frighten her first.
Delving a bit deeper into this phenomena, I have noticed that actors who wear costumes that fully conceal their faces are more likely to be attacked by guests than actors who wear only makeup. I suspect this is because a mask erases all the humanity of an actor.
This is not to say that such attacks are overly frequent. Indeed, some actors can work every night in any given October and not be touched by any guest at all. Many actors will experience very minor assaults such as being yelled at or lightly grabbed perhaps twice in a month. But others,–especially those in full face masks–may be quite violently attacked once or even twice a week.
Every actor who has worked for some years in the haunted attraction industry, gradually develops methods of handling such assaults. Most actors keep a sharp eye out for potentially problematic visitors and will simply avoid them. This is disappointing because it means that any other member of a group with an erratic customer will not have a fully entertaining evening. Then again, I have, on a few occasions, seen a group of guests discipline one of their own who was acting out and spoiling the experience for the others. Sadly, this happens far less frequently than it should.
An actor who becomes aware of a problem guest is expected to contact security staff so that the guest may be escorted out of the facility. Particularly violent guests may be turned over to the local constabulary for further legal action.
Effects on Other Guests
The real misfortune of such episodes is not the attack on the actors. As I said, haunt actors learn to expect such assaults. It is not even the damage to props, sets, or the potential injury to the foolhardy guest. It is that the immersive experience is destroyed for all the guests who witness the altercation. Further, the actor who has been the target of the aggression is thrown off their mark and must take time to recover before returning to entertain the other guests.
There is irony to be found in the direct correlation between how effective a haunt is at creating a believable fantasy environment and how aggressive the haunt’s guests will be. In turn, talented performers are likely to suffer more indignities in a season than are inexperienced actors who are perceived by guests more as people in costumes rather than as the characters they are portraying.
How Do They Do It?
So how do haunters endure such routine discourtesies? An informal nightly chinwag provides a much needed space for performers to commiserate and receive support from their fellow actors.
At the end of an evening’s performance, haunt actors routinely swap stories about the troublesome guests who came through that night as Strange Jason himself experienced when he volunteered at the Trail of Terror. Actors attempt to top one another with tales of the most boorish guest behavior or the most violent outburst. This recounting of the night’s offenses would be enough to scare anyone off from applying to work at a haunted attraction. But the haunters take pride in their endurance and particularly dramatic altercations can become the stuff of legend.
It is testament to the dedication of haunters that they continue to perform, night after night, year after year, in the face of such perils. But, as with any actor, the desire to entertain can overcome nearly any obstacle. Indeed, once it is understood that the periodic misbehaviors of the guests are, in some ways, a direct result of the careful craft of the talented performer, then the haunter can end every night’s performance with pride.
Thank you, dear reader, for taking time to peruse my musings on this strange vocation of live horror entertainment we call the Haunted Attraction.
Now, it seems that my manservant’s screams have diminished to mindless gibbering. I take that as a positive sign that the spiders have finished their bug buffet and my study is free of infestation.
Hopefully Walter will recover his senses enough to return to the kitchen. I find myself nearly as ravenous as the arachnids now that my literary exercise is at an end for the day.
I bid you farewell until next time.
I am, as always,