Love it or Hate it: Haunted houses

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Love itI recently read an article about why anxious people love horror movies. It has something to do with psychological distance; we can deal with the negative emotions induced by a scary movie because we know it’s not real, and the fear is manageable. We might even become more comfortable with certain dread-inducing scenarios via exposure to them on film.

Haunted houses offer similar therapy. I don’t like roller coasters or dangerous fair rides because I have too active an imagination, and I have seen “Final Destination.” I can picture the wheels spinning off the tracks, the whole thing careening into the abyss below. Activities like skydiving seem life-affirming, but I’ve read too many stories about parachutes failing to deploy, and I don’t think such an ephemeral thrill is worth potentially dying for. But watching scary moves and traipsing through haunted houses allows a comparable adrenaline rush. It’s terrifying and electrifying with absolutely no risk. (Except maybe the risk of wetting yourself.)

Attending a haunted house means you get closer to the people you’re with. You might cling to them. It’s a good idea for a first date, because one of you will inevitably need comforting. You’ll see people’s true colors, too. You might witness a grown man scream like a little girl, some guests covering their eyes and cowering in corners, others punching an actor square in the face, startled out of civility. Perhaps a husband will instinctively shove his wife in front of him like a human shield, and she’ll finally learn what kind of man she married.

And you get the sense those actors are having the best damn time. Dressed up like zombies, escaped mental patients, chain-saw murderers, whatever. Chasing you, taunting you, leaping out at you in the dark. But they’re not supposed to hurt anyone, so where’s the harm?

— Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldHate itPerhaps it’s for the same reasons I am viscerally opposed to rock climbing or scuba diving or any other activity where people get thrills, in part, from the chance of almost dying.

Perhaps it’s for the same reasons I have a fear of clowns: Whether it be a harmless rodeo clown or a crazed, good-god-i-hope-it’s-all-one-big-urban-legend clown stalking the streets at night that little switch in my brain says this is not a person in costume or makeup, but an actual beast, another creature altogether, a real-life monster that wants to do something to me, to harm me, torture me, to steal my being.

I do not like to be scared to death. It does not make me feel more alive. It is not something I seek to conquer so that my life has more meaning. My heart pounds plenty reading the news.

Haunted houses are a dark escape for many, an examination and embrace of fears, both rational and irrational. I can see the value there. For me, my imagination is too powerful and overwhelming. After I saw “The Sixth Sense,” I saw dead people as well.

For the same reasons a number of my friends have turned off Facebook lately, have avoided political conversations and have refused invitations to presidential debate parties, there’s already enough fear and dread in my life. I don’t need the moaning, gauze-wrapped, dimly-lit zombie rolling out in front of me on a skateboard in my world right now.

— David Holub


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