How I spent my Halloween 2014: A photo album of fear

I laugh in the face of fear -- when that face is a wonderful product of practical effects and is leaping out at me from the dark.

Haunted house attractions are a place of joy for me. When the terror of anticipation gives way to the horror of an actor in ghoulish makeup grabbing for me, my natural reaction is to laugh. This is not a disrespectful response, as if the actors and the haunt are silly for even trying to scare me, but one of pure happiness.

And I suspect many of you out there know precisely what I’m talking about.

Psychologists tell us laughter as a fear response is a defense mechanism. It provides a release valve for the tension built up from getting scared. Additionally, that laughter serves to signal to others that we’ve got this covered; not only are we not freaked out, but we are not a target for fear stimuli. 

That explanation never felt quite right for me. Maybe it would if I were in actual danger, but not when roaming through an attraction, or watching a scary movie, for that matter. It isn’t as if I don’t get startled or freaked out but, just as a kid on Christmas morning might stare wide-eyed at the loot that’s appeared under his tree, I soak in the magic of a Halloween haunt with a goofy grin and a big giggle. I encounter the fear and love it.

So every year, I try to make it a point to visit multiple haunted house attractions during Halloween season. I covered a lot of ground, though consistently my two favorites are Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights and Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls in Philadelphia.

At the beginning of its 24th season, I visited HHN to check out its take on the Halloween movie franchise, Alien vs. Predator, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Walking Dead, an evil clown factory and a “dollhouse of the damned,” among others. The incredibly high production value and attention brings favorite scary films to life while also breathing life into entirely new and surreal settings. In between the eight houses, the experience continues through scare zones scattered in the streets with themes such as The Purge or a Bayou of Blood.

Want to know what it’s like to encounter Michael Myers as he emerges to slash through promiscuous teens and unsuspecting tourists? This is the place to be. For a haunt junkie, HHN is the equivalent to getting front-row seats to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and riding on the float with Santa (albeit a maniac, killer Santa). 

Meanwhile, Terror Behind the Walls is located at the 185-year-old penitentiary (the first ever). Famously haunted (supposedly), the fortress takes up a city block, and the historic structure does the job of creeping out most people before they enter. There is a homegrown craftsmanship to the haunt that makes it a favorite to haunt fans. I especially love the decay and at-times pitch black setting of Detritus (imagine a green house tended by the devil) and The Workshop, where I managed to get a nail gun to my hand, shoved into a crawlspace and attacked with a chainsaw (it was worth signing the waiver allowing actors to touch me).

But like other joyful moments, the scares I faced this Halloween have become a part of me. They are life experiences, much as other holidays or celebrations. And though Halloween season is winding down, there is still time to make those moments at the haunts I mentioned, and others.

With that said, this year I wanted to create a photo album of sorts of my scare memories. It is grainy at times, with poor framing and captured while moving fast, but what follows is documentation of me being chased, grabbed, shambled toward and leapt at at the precise (or close to) instance of my Halloween 2014 scares. 

I laughed in the face of fear, and took a picture …

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