My Favorite Haunted House
By Leigh Perry
As I worked on The Skeleton Haunts a House, my forthcoming Family Skeleton mystery, I did quite a bit of research about running haunted house attractions. Naturally, I remembered some of the haunted houses I’ve gone to over the years.
There was the one at my elementary school Halloween carnival, which was big on other kids’ parents dressed as cackling witches who made sure nobody got overly scared. There was the dark ride at the boardwalk in Daytona Beach, FL, notable for having a speaker installed so people waiting could hear the people inside screaming. (It was also notable for having a cute guy running it, which is why my big sister Connie took me on it multiple times.) There was the haunt sponsored by the Nature Museum in Charlotte, NC, which I attended many years and eventually worked at myself. Charlotte’s Carowinds theme park had a Scooby-Doo themed ride where I could shoot at Creepers and Ghost Clowns. All were fun—and scary—in their own way.
But my favorite haunted house will always be the Haunted Mansion at Disney. Both the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom versions have everything I want in a haunted house:
· Atmosphere. Though the mansions are different on the outside, inside they’re both dripping with the same spooky atmosphere: macabre props like gargoyles and paintings whose eyes follow you, moving suits of armor, withered plants, alarming sound effects, and graveyard scenes.
· Colorful scare actors. Most of the scares in the Haunted Mansion or mechanical or Audio-Animatronic, but there are a handful of doleful hosts in gloomy outfits around to add to the experience. If you go to Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween party, some of the characters even come outside the mansion to tell stories and join the parade.
· A storyline. Actually, there are several storylines as you go through the house: the Ghost Host’s story, a bride’s many marriages and their subsequent ends, dancing ghosts and dueling ghosts, Madame Leota’s tales from the crystal ball. It’s not just a random zombie jumping out at you from behind a corner.
· Honest frights. As many times as I’ve gone through the Haunted Mansion, every time I listen to the Ghost Host in the gallery giving his spiel about the house, knowing what’s coming next, when the thunderclap strikes and it’s revealed just how the Host became Ghost, I jump. Maybe I even scream a little. And that’s just to start!
· Boos without gore. I don’t mind a fake puddle of blood now and then, but I really don’t need a fountain of the stuff. For me, haunted houses work just fine when less is more.
· Humor. Humor and horror go together—I like to alternate them to make the scares scarier and the jokes funnier. Whether it’s riding in Doom Buggies, the Grim Grinning Ghosts singing, or the Hitchhiking Ghost at the end, as far as I’m concerned the Haunted Mansion strikes that balance perfectly. (The puns on the tombstones tickle my funny bone, too.)
Now that I look at this list, I realize it’s kind of what I was going for with The Skeleton Haunts a House: the atmosphere of a haunted house, a university, and a college town; plenty of memorable characters; a storyline, of course; scary moments; violence off-screen; and with Sid the Skeleton around, there are going to be jokes.
Well, if I’m going to borrow ideas, at least I’m borrowing from the best!
Leigh Perry writes the Family Skeleton mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. The Skeleton Haunts a House, the third, is due out October 6, just in time for the start of the haunting season. As Toni L.P. Kelner, she’s the co-editor of paranormal fiction anthologies with Charlaine Harris; the author of eleven mystery novels; and an Agatha Award winner and multiple award nominee for short fiction. No matter what you call her, she lives north of Boston with two daughters, two guinea pigs, and one husband. For an excerpt of The Skeleton Haunts a House and far more information than you probably want about Leigh, visit her online at www.leighperryauthor.com.