I slowly stepped up to the hearse and peered in, hoping to catch a glimpse of a monster — or Morticia — before whatever was lying inside could scare me. I could barely see through the darkly tinted glass laced with musty spiderwebs when I heard a blood-curdling scream coming from the woods.
“That’s not part of the haunted house over there,” I said to my co-worker. He looked into the distance, perplexed.
And this was just the line to get into the Darkside Haunted House in Wading River. So there we waited, flinching every time a terrible cat-hissing noise echoed from the woods. What was over there? That wasn’t part of the haunted house either!
As someone who believes in ghosts, has seen “Friday the 13th” Parts 1 through 9 and has participated in witch chants (OK, not the last part), I couldn’t wait to walk through Darkside Productions’ famed house of horror, but to say I was a little on edge is an understatement; I’ve always been paranoid that a haunted house would be a great, unsuspected location for a real serial killer to hide out, lurking in dark corners waiting to commit a real-life Halloween horror.
But my co-worker and I forged on, entering the haunted house through a dense fog while aggressive strobe lights created a very palpable sense of vulnerability.
A tall man in a long black robe sprang from behind us holding an axe and screaming. This is the serial killer, I thought. I covered my eyes with one hand and grabbed my co-worker with the other, pulling him out of the room.
We hurried through another tiny room where what looked like a mannequin was chained to the wall but she suddenly fought ferociously in her chains. I jumped away, backed against another wall, trying to flee as the room seemed to shrink. Oh, wait, that wasn’t a wall. A man roared into my ears from behind and I screamed and darted after my co-worker through the next partition.
This room was even smaller than the last and had only one door — the one we just came through. The floor beneath us began to vibrate as howls and sounds of a human in pain reverberated off the ceiling. I clung to my co-worker in a borderline-unprofessional canoodle, trembling. I wanted to leave. The room started to ascend and the door of what we realized was an elevator opened.
I shut my eyes, hoping my co-worker wouldn’t notice, and walked through much of the rest of the haunted house this way. I couldn’t take anymore. Then I bumped into a hard, slimy punching-bag-like object dangling from the ceiling. I opened my eyes and all I could see was raw meat. Lady Gaga would have had a field day.
My co-worker and I navigated through the meat room, slapping at the meat obstacles in our way, reminding myself the meat was from animals and not the handiwork of some plotting killer.
With my partner leading the way, I shut my eyes again as terrible sounds blared all around me. I suddenly saw some menace flashing a huge chain saw — with an almost equally huge grin on his face. The mongrel was having such a great time scaring us, he couldn’t contain himself. Then we escaped into the balmy air — my heart racing and my body soaked with adrenaline.
Who did this to me?
“I was one of those people who would hide in bushes and wait for people,” Mike Meola, owner of Darkside Productions told me earlier that day. “I loved going to haunted houses when I was a kid.”
He said his haunted house, one of Long Island’s most popular and now in its 13th year, has become a family tradition, and that he’s in the business not for the profit — the haunted house industry has not been immune to the economic recession — but for the love of fright.
“You get to be the star of your own horror film, but you don’t get to die,” he said of the thrill of being scared. “You have that feeling of impending doom. People really believe they have to get out of there even though they’re in a safe environment.”
Mr. Meola said people who wear unsupportive footwear, like flip-flops, in the haunted house often lose their shoes but are so scared they don’t go back for them. He has a collection of flip-flops from the frightened, he told me. I scoffed. The flip-flops probably belong to the victims of the real serial killer.
And the noises in the woods? I’m still not sure.