“A Quiet Place” horror film review

Heart-pounding. Spine-chilling. A creepy creature-feature that will leave you speechless. The demonstrable excellence in terrifying visual storytelling can effectively be summed up by the queen of silent film herself Norma Desmond, “we didn’t need dialogue, we had faces” (Sunset Boulevard). A Quiet Place truly earns its place among “certified fresh” horror films. Not since Don’t Breath and 10 Cloverfield Lane have I encountered such a thrillingly intelligent motion picture. Writer-director John Krasinski’s post-apocalyptic horror masterpiece showcases the power of visual storytelling within the horror genre. Furthermore Krasinski brilliantly channeled the soul of the iconic (mostly Universal Pictures) silent and early horror films for his modern interpretation of the creature-feature. No gimmicks here. Only a solid plot that builds an incredible, immersive cinematic experience upon the foundation of a simple plot with simple limitations. Simple plot, complex characters. That basic screenwriting principle is where so many filmmakers and writers go astray. Film is a visual medium, often supported by well-crafted, lean dialogue, and this film has visual storytelling in spades. This film represents one of the best examples of embracing the concept of “show don’t tell.”

Shhhh. Don’t make a sound. One family finds themselves surviving a post-apocalyptic world now inhabited by an alien species that hunts by sound.

There has certainly been a resurgence of exceptional horror films over the last few years. I mentioned Don’t Breath and 10 Cloverfield Lane earlier, we also have the Academy Award nominated Get Out from last year and many others. While many may shrug their shoulders at horror because it is a proliferated genre with many cheep, tawdry horror flicks, this same genre can be incredibly intelligent in how it makes an observation of society and offers commentary, a new perspective, or provides a means to a discussion. Some of the most critically acclaimed films over the decades have been horror. Being among the first films commercially released, horror has also stood the test of time and provides audiences with a experience that challenges worldviews, provokes physiological responses, and fuels nightmares and imaginations.

One of the most brilliant aspects to A Quiet Place is the film’s innate ability to instantly hook the audience with loud silence. Going into the movie, audiences know that the arachnid-like creatures kill anything within an earshot. Therefore, the audiences hang onto every bump, snap, or thud as the tension rises and suspense is drawn out to terrifying levels. Impeccable audience engagement. It takes a special kind of movie to completely immerse the audience into the world of the film in a multidimensional way. In terms of viability of the film and cross-promotion, this movie certainly has what it takes to be a popular and successful adaptation for a house at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights or Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream. Definitely has a place among the best horror film experiences to date.

The successful suspense and tension building can be attributed to seldom getting a good look at the alien-arachnid-like creatures. Had the audience seen the creature repeatedly throughout the film, it would lose fright value. As Hitchcock stated, “there is nothing scarier than an unopened door.” Meaning, the filmmaker’s ability to transfer the terror on screen to the minds of the audience is far more powerful and impressive than relying upon on-the-nose scares and jump-scare gimmicks. Well-crafted suspense and rising tension carries far more weight, and has the ability to support a narrative so much more effectively than a cheap scare. Although the atmosphere in this film may remind you of Don’t Breath, and rightly so, Krasinski’s film does not quite measure up to the macabre, terrifying atmosphere that Fede Alvarez provided audiences; however, Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is extremely close to the aforementioned and deserves the accolades that it has received.

In terms of how to closely read A Quiet Place, the film provides exceptional social commentary on the perils parenting and, by extension, protecting one’s offspring. In fact, I imagine that the experience for parents watching this film exceeds the levels of terror felt by those of us who do not have kids. There is also plenty of material on how far a parent is willing to go in order to protect their children. I also appreciate the film’s commentary on expected mothers, and how they stop at nothing to protect their unborn child from that which seeks to do it harm. Responding to and working through grave tragedy is another heavy and shocking subject matter in the film. We all respond to death differently; many of us grieve differently than one another. Some bottle up all the negative feelings for fear of how to deal with them, and others blame themselves because they feel that there is something that could’ve been done differently to protect a lost loved one. On a lighter note, the film also provides metaphor on how to work with and handle your older kids when they seek to push the boundaries–boundaries that may be dangerous and place them in harm’s way. There is so much here to talk about, and I have just touched on the surface. That is why horror is the best genre for creatively exploring psycho-social constructs and other observations about humanity and the world in which we live.

Quietly make your way to your seat in the auditorium. A Quiet Place is definitely a film to be experienced on the big screen with a theatre full of others who seek to be frightened. Enjoy the refreshing originality of a film that could have so easily went by way of so many other creatures features that lack anything memorable, and just blend into the background with countless others in this subgenre of horror. It may not have the well-defined external goal and end game of Don’t Breath, but it is certainly exciting and fun! You’ll certainly be absorbed into this terrifying post-apocalyptic world, where YOU are afraid to go bump in the night.

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Full Review of Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa

“Enjoy it while YOU last!” Howl-O-Scream (HOS) opened at Busch Gardens Tampa this past weekend! With two new houses, new scare zones, and the Fiends show’s new venue, it’s definitely an exciting event to attend this Halloween season, and one you don’t want to miss. More apparent than in years’ past, HOS is definitely growing in production value as it continues to draw upon the same visitors and locals in central Florida as HHN does. I’m often asked which event is better. And there is no one answer or even a simple answer, at that, with which to respond. The truth is, both events are equally enjoyable; but, it’s important to note that they are really two different experiences. What I appreciate year after year at HOS is the scare-factor. I’m consistently more scared at HOS than at HHN. Since Busch Gardens knows that they cannot compete with Universal on familiar TV and movie IPs that Universal can license, they choose to focus on the element of the jump scare–and it’s successful. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself jumping more at HOS than you will at HHN. On the topic of IPs and by extension, production value, HOS has delivered some excellent houses that are on the verge of being on par with the HHN original IPs. Once Busch Gardens is able to license a familiar horror/suspense/thriller television show or motion picture, it will be quite the rival for HHN. Another area that HOS has capitalized on moreso than HHN is the availability of full bars. HHN does not offer full bars at the event (instead they have specialty drinks and beer). HOS offers several full liquor bars during the event, so you can get basic cocktails and such to enjoy while you scream your lungs off. With the addition of Reoccurring Nightmare tickets, HOS now offers the equivalent to the Rush of and Frequent Fear passes at HHN.

Like with HHN, there is no better night to experience HOS than opening night! The scare-actors are at full energy, the houses are at full nightmare status, and you get to experience the horrors with others who comprise the fan base of theme park Halloween events. Since Busch Gardens does not replace all the houses each year, I usually like to start with the new ones. This year, Busch Gardens Howl-O-Sceam debuted Demented Dimensions and Undead Arena LIVE. Both are excellent! The first house my friends and I visited was Demented Dimensions. Since Demented Dimensions is located in the Pantopia area of the park, we had to brave the streets of a deadly old folks home and a sinister circus. We got the biggest kick out of seeing actual senior members of our community put on bloody garbs and scary masks and haunt our steps through their scare zone. Good for them! This is a sign that BG HOS seeks to involve anyone who wants to spend the evening scaring park guests. Following a daring escape from the dentureless jaws of the hoard of old folks, we proceeded to brave the insidiously fun Carnie Camp. Quite the freak show, this circus will have you narrowly escaping the sinister carnies as you make your way through the three rings. Lastly, we had to pass through Wasteland (a scare zone reprise from last year) that looks like something out of a nightmarish Mad Max world). Following our emergence from Wasteland, we crossed over into another dimension–a demented dimension. Demented Dimensions, taking the place of Zombie Mortuary, is filled with a sensory overload of twists, turns, and physics-defying spectacles as you walk though this homage to that which only exists in your nightmares. Having arrived before the majority of the crowd, my friends and I had the house to ourselves. The best part about that is being the target of every scare-actor in the house. The theme of the house was quite fluid and continually immersed me within the multi-dimensional experience.

From Demented Dimensions to the treacherous high seas, the next house on our agenda was Black Spot, the pirate themed house from last year. Largely unchanged, this house is still a top notch one and has a near-Universal quality about it. Feels like what you would experience if Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean ever became haunted. Such an enjoyable thrill! I enjoyed it as much this year as I did last year. Like with Demented Dimensions, we had this one to ourselves too, so the scare-actors were out in full force to frighten us as we navigated the dark seas. After making it safely back to shore, we decided to take in the first showing of Fiends now located in the Stanleyville Theatre in the round stage. Even before the show started, I was nearly convinced that this experience was going to be even better than last year because of having a more traditional house layout as opposed to the dining hall feel of Dragon Fire Grill. Prior to the show and between the trivia on screen, the audience is reminded that if you are easily offended by anything that you may want to sit out of Fiends. And that is quite valid. I’ve often thought that Fiends would benefit from taking the adult humor up a notch and taking that envelope and pushing it even further. That is exactly what you get with this year’s show. Having been a part of HOS for all 19 years, each year is a riff on pup culture much in the same vein as the Bill and Ted show at HHN. Fiends returns from the dead funnier than ever! With excellent writing, a hilarious cast, and strategic riffs on pop culture, you have got to make time to see this show when you go to HOS.

After laughing to death at Fiends, we had to face the haunted circus once again. On our way to Death Water Bayou we spotted a motel off the main drag on a side street. Looked quite lonely, sitting on the side of the road with its exterior that seemed frozen in the 1950s. The Motel Shellburn is home to Motel Hell, a house that debuted last year at HOS, and still my favorite house this year. What sets this house apart from the rest of the lineup is the attention to detail and storytelling. From the entrance to the exit, this house IS definitely of an HHN quality. Unless I am mistaken, the exit for this year is different from last year. When you exit the motel, you’ll find yourself in a memorial garden of sorts. And watch out, because you’ll encounter terrifying scare-actors in the cemetery too. Located not far from Motel Hell is the merky depths of Death Water Bayou. If you read my review of this year’s HHN, you’ll remember that I commented on how Universal essentially copied this house for their Dead Waters. Getting to compare the houses back to back, I am convinced that the HOS version of this concept is definitely scarier and just more enjoyable. However, Dead Waters is a little longer than Death Water Bayou. Like with some of the other houses, this one stands out to me because of, like with Motel Hell, the theming outside of the house. I like how it looks like we are walking though a bayou and into a shanty in the back waters of Louisiana. The story of the house begins to immerse you even before entering in through the shadowy front door.

One great aspect to Busch Gardens’ Halloween event is coasters in the dark! All the coasters are open this year at HOS–even newly refurbished Kumba. While a lot of the park guests are there for just the haunted houses, that leaves many of the queues sparsely populated, which means walking right onto the coasters! After leaving Louisiana, we flew to Egypt for Cobra’s Curse and my personal favorite Montu! Nothing beats riding a coast at night! At HHN, for traditional roller coasters, other then Revenge of the Mummy, you have to go from Universal Studios Florida over to Islands of Adventure. Fortunately, Busch Gardens has your coaster need taken care of with all six thrill rides open! That includes Montu, Cobra’s Curse, Kumba, Shiekra, Cheetah Hunt, and Falcon’s Fury. If you arrive early enough to HOS, you will definitely have time for the houses AND the rides! We certainly did. Well, we went to all the houses except Zombie Containment Unit. Wasn’t a big fan of it last year nor the year before, so didn’t want to wait for it this year. The Playground scare zone returns for another disturbingly frightening year, and you’ll have to pass through it’s haunts when you walk from the Moroccan area back towards Pantopia.

From coasters alive with excitement, to one that is a ghost of its former self, we returned to unearth something evil. Unearthed is now in its third year but still just as thrilling as it was when it debuted in 2015. The animatronic tree you pass before entering into the excavation chambers is still so incredibly impressive! Unearthed is another house that encroaches upon HHN quality. Although the house is not new this year, I am pretty sure that there were some extra scares in it this year as opposed to years past. The last house on our agenda was another new one. Just like with the Ringling Bros. circus, Circus of Superstition also closed after last year. But, Gwazi field is still bustling with live undead entertainment at Undead Arena LIVE. In the vein of the circus, this house takes a classic approach to haunts in that it really does feel like a traditional fun house, completely with dead ends, mirrors, and getting split up from your group. If you are more than a group of two, then the carnie barker will split you up into two separate groups as you make your way through the maze. There are scares round every corner as you desperately attempt to find your way out of the mind bending labyrinth of undead terrors.

Well, there you have it! A comprehensive review of Howl-O-Scream 2017. I hope you decide to face your fears at Busch Gardens’ annual event. HOS is going on now through October 29th (last Sunday of October). Tickets are reasonably priced but vary depending on when you choose to go. Consider upgrading to the Reoccurring Nightmare ticket to enjoy all nights of the event.

 

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay “Howl-O-Scream Evil Encore” Review

img_6708A frightfully fun experience where all areas of the park are fair game for a scare. It’s that time of year again. Time to place yourself in terrifying situations, and ‘live’ to be scared to ‘death.’ Instead of running away from that which would ordinarily repulse ourselves, we pay money for the experience of nightmare-generating haunted houses and scare zones. In Central Florida, we are definitely not short on Halloween events. All the theme parks, also zoos, aquariums, and even museums hold special Halloween parties or events. The four most popular events are arguably Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN), Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream (HOS), Disney’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and SeaWorld’s Spook-tacular. Of those, HHN and HOS are the most popular for a conventional “scary” Halloween experience. Although I have not been to HHN yet, I did attend HOS over the weekend, and would like to share my thoughts with you. The aim of this analysis is not to determine which is better: HOS or HHN, because they are totally difference experiences; but the idea is to reflect upon the event and provide you with a look into “Evil Encore.”

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img_6724The best part about HOS is the simple fact that every park guest, provided they arrive at or close to the opening time, has sufficient time to experience the 8 houses and Fiends show, plus the scare zones and photo-ops. You might even get a chance to ride some of the best roller coasters that Central Florida has to offer at night, including Busch Gardens newest coaster Cobras Curse. For most of the guests (who are generally locals from Tampa Bay, Sarasota, Gainesville, or Orlando), the main focus of the event and time is on the haunted houses. Although my friends and I got caught in the rain at the start of HOS, we were able to experience nearly everything! Unfortunately, I did not get to experience Zombie Containment Unit because the house was down for technical difficulties (but I did experience it last year). After reports of low crowds on Friday night, I was anticipating the event being slow and not crowded–I was wrong. Comparing Saturday night to past years, there definitely seemed to be more people than in the past. Still, the longest queue (wait/line) was for Zombie Containment Unit at 60mins; most of the other houses were 45mins or less. All of the rides also had low wait times under 30mins (except Cobra at 60mins).

Before breaking down the houses for you, I would like to provide further analysis of the event experience itself. There is no argument that HHN boasts a far higher production value than HOS. However, does that mean that HOS is less fun or less scary? Definitely not. In fact, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that HOS is scarier than HHN. Why is that? Supporting evidence of this anecdotal observation and opinion can be seen in the actual scare factor. I mentioned in my opening paragraph that the whole park is fair game. What I mean by that is the park is crawling with solitary roaming scare-actors and hoards of the undead. My favorite atmospheric jump scares is–what I call the–bush people. You never know when one of this camouflaged creatures of the night will jump up from the darkness and scare the s#!t right out of you! My friend Dani is practically never scared, but the bush people get her every time. I cannot take complete credit for the observation about the whole park being fair game; my friend Derek made that remark when we were reflecting upon our experience in the short car ride back home. It’s never a dull moment at HOS with my friend Brittany (who provided the tickets for our admission). She is so much fun o go with because of how intensely she gets scared and screams! Take my advice, find yourself a Brittany and attend a halloween event near you.

puppetmasterAlthough HOS does not have HHN’s production design quality, it does transform the whole park. The theming of the houses extends beyond the queue. Most of the queues themselves help to set the mood of the house. This idea is reinforced by themed scare-actors roaming the queue to keep everyone moving forward. Simply stated, since HOS cannot complete with HHN on IP and production design, it CAN compete with the scare factor; and time and time again, I am always more scared at HOS versus HHN. I am puzzled by one thing, and I cannot think of an explanation. If you’ve seen the Hulu ad or even billboard around Orlando and Tampa, there is a puppet master in a creepy circus or freakshow tent or workshop. Puppets are incredibly creepy and always make for an excellent horror plot device. I was really hoping to see a Puppet Master house or even puppets making a prominent showing at HOS. Unfortunately, there is not one puppet to be found and you’ll not find that puppet master from the Hulu ad either. Not entirely sure why Busch Gardens advertised puppets but failed to deliver any. Feels a little like a bait and switch. Other than being disappointed from the lack of evil puppets (I know it wasn’t supposed to be connected directly to the movie Puppet Master, but that movie terrified me as a kid and I was looking forward to reliving that frightening experience), I was delightfully impressed at the number of scares and increase in the production design and quality of the houses. This event is definitely showing signs of growth in terms of guest attendance and creative design.

img_6722The house closest to the entrance is Death Water Bayou. Upon entering this house, you are instantly transported from Tampa to the bayous of southern Louisiana. Setting the mood of the house and creeping you out from the very beginning is a voodoo priestess. Throughout the house, you will encounter much of what you expect, and even some unexpected deathly surprises. The quality of the design of the house is fantastic! I love the feeling of going in and outside of buildings. I have never traversed a swamp before, but I imagine that walking through a really creepy swamp in southern Louisiana would feel very similarly. Following a mostly safe return to Tampa, my friends and I headed for Zombie Containment Unit. Finding the wait to be more than an hour, we decided to head for one of this year’s new houses Black Spot. On the way to Black Spot we walked through a disturbing playground featuring some of the props from the former Dead Fall house. I recognized the merry-go-round and tea party and more. While we were walking though the scare zone, one of the scare-actors followed Brittany and Dani very closely. It was all Brittany could do to ignore his ominous presence. Black Spot was incredibly well done. It is located where Dead Fall used to be (former Tidal Wave). From the pirates to the sirens, the scare-actors truly brought the world of curses, pirates, and adventure to life–or death rather. The queue leading up to the main entrance was filled with props, scare-actors, and structures to effectively transport you to some remote deserted island somewhere in the caribbean.

img_6801The next stop on our terrifying journey was to visit some dearly departed loved ones at the Zombie Mortuary. This house has been around for a few years, and has pretty well remained the same. You make your way slowly through the scariest mortuary you’re ever been in. From the dead rising out of coffins to those trying to escape the flames of being cremated alive, this house is sure to please the zombie fans out there. Making a ‘return’ this year, is last year’s new house Unearthed. Largely unchanged, this house increased the production design and added more effects. Most notably is the incredibly amazing even tree animatronic in the queue just before entering the house. Derek, who is typically all about HHN, was extremely impressed. Moreover, we were all mesmerized by the sinister tree and the twisted, mangled branches that have destruction emanating from the few leaves left on the ancient bark. I was glad to see that the horned women was nowhere to be found. She did not really fit the theming last year either. Although Unearthed did not impress me last year, I very much enjoyed the experience this season. No Halloween event would be complete without a trip through the “greatest show on earth.” What is img_6729creepier than a sinister clown or circus? Not very much, especially if you are already terrified of friendly clowns. Circus of Superstition returns with the most macabre sights and sounds of the big top. With available “3D” glasses (more like augmented-ish reality), the colors and lights of the circus will be intensified. From breaking mirrors to walking under ladders, you are certainly going to test your luck in this house.

img_6752One of my person favorite parts of HHN and HOS are the live shows! These shows are always a fun way to break up the frights. Some of the best horror films have a splash of comedy in them, and the Halloween events are no different. HHN has Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and HOS has FiendsFiends is a Halloween themed show featuring hot shirtless guys, sexy female nurses, and the headlining antics of Dr. Freakenstein and his trusty sidekick Igor. Like with other parodies and satire out there, this one was quite political. The best part of any presidential election is the amount of material available to comedy writers and comedians. Between the sketches, there are dance numbers usually featuring whatever the most popular songs from vocal artists or bands are that year. Like clockwork, Fiends always ends with the cult classic Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you are one of those parents who brings their kid to HOS, I highly advise not to bring them to the show. The material int eh show is definitely PG13, if not for mature audiences. This year’s Fiends was completely irreverent and pandered to college students, just as it should! If you do not laugh during this show, then I feel sorry for you, haha. Since this is a presidential election year, I would have liked to have seen more parody and satire directly related to Clinton and Trump, but perhaps Busch Gardens didn’t want to push the envelop too far.

img_6759Last but not least, we checked into Motel Hell. Not to be confused by the 1980s movie by the same name, Busch Gardens’ Motel Hell is probably the best designed HOS house to date. It was arguably an HHN quality house and boasted so many scares! The best part: creepy old time 1940s scratchy music from a record player. I really felt like I was visiting an old rundown motel in some jerkwater town that fell to the wayside when the interstate or expressway can through. It was a motel frozen in time. Even the entrance to the motel looked like something right out of a movie. From the lobby to guest rooms to the pool, this is one motel that you will not find anywhere on TripAdvisor. For most of the houses, when you look above you, you see rafters or even the roof of the sound stage or tent; no so with Motel Hell. Although there are places where you look up and the illusion is broken, there were rooms in the motel that had a ceiling. This ceiling creates an instant claustrophobic feeling that does nothing but intensifies the scares.

Running on select nights from now until the end of October, Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream is not to be missed if you are looking for a fun time of scares and laughs.

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Reimagining Halloween in the Parks this Year: the Mind of Horror v. the Eye of Terror

After taking break from posting last week, as it was a holiday, I am happy to provide you with another stimulating article once again on the themed entertainment industry! All week long, I have been thinking about what to write this week. I’ve covered some of the recently opened or previews of attractions and theme parks opening soon; but, I thought that I would take a slightly different approach this week. Over the last year, the United States and other countries have been experiencing a rise in violence. Whether that violence has (1) always been there, but because of the great mediation of society (a proliferation of media capturing devices and distribution outlets), we simply see it more often or (2) if there truly is a signifiant rise in mass violence compared to past decades, is not what I am here to discuss. I would, however, like to discuss the upcoming Halloween events in the parks this year, and specifically, how they might have to adapt or change as a result of the recent mass shootings.

HHN2016Already, Universal Orlando has alluded to the fact that it may be revisiting some of its offerings for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN), and it would not surprise me if Busch Gardens Tampa Bay makes a similar decision with Howl-O-Scream (HOS), as both parks primarily draw from the Central Florida area and of course tourists still flock to the parks for the annual celebration of the macabre. The recent massacre at the Pulse Night Club will undoubtedly have an affect upon the planning and logistics of primarily HHN followed by HOS to a lesser extent. Since the horror film, and by extension the haunted house attraction (or scare zone) are both grounded in the same anthropological (inclusive of sociology) and psychological theories, there is definitely an opportunity to explore this area of themed entertainment. As Disney’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and SeaWorld’s Spook-tacular do not include glorified violence or death, I will not spend time analyzing how those events may change, because they are mostly benign. Suffice it to say, there will likely be some changes coming to HHN and HOS this year. What are those changes? Well, I am not prevued to those decisions; but can extrapolate from logic and theory what may happen in light of recent events in Orlando and beyond. It is important to note that both Universal Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay mostly likely have to revisit some of the scare zones or houses this year but not implement changes that may have a negative affect upon drawing from guests outside the Central Florida area. Striking a balance between curtailing some of the violence in respect to those who died and still satisfying those who were not emotionally or psychologically impacted is the key.

HOS2016The events certainly still have to feel like Halloween but perhaps reimagining some of the offerings will aid in finding that delicate balance. It is entirely possible that many who have enjoyed going to HHN and HOS in the past may back off this year in an effort not to come face-to-face with violence as it has greatly impacted many people. Here’s an interesting question: does horror have to be violent? Yes and no. Some of the greatest horror movies of all time are not terribly violent at all, but the eye witnessing violent acts certainly creates terror in the minds and bodies of the audience (or park guest). Alfred Hitchcock once said, “there is no greater threat than an unopened door.” This is indicative of the master of suspense’s ability to generate the fear of something or someone that may not even be a threat. There is another Hitchcock quote (or, at least I believe it’s Hitch) to the effect of “greater is the fear that’s in the mind than on the screen” (if you know of this exact quote, please let me know). That being said, likewise, seeing Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, or Michael is equally terrifying because of the trademark violence they have displayed on the screen over the years. It is important to year-round or seasonally operating Halloween-themed attractions to include both the physical and psychological/emotional aspects of horror in order for the guests to have a dynamic and full experience facing that which terrifies them and from which guests would otherwise run away.

unheimlichThroughout history, from the fights in the Roman Coliseum to Michael Myers’ slaying of people in Halloween, audiences have been both entertained and repeatedly drawn to stories and shows that highlight horrific acts of violence or feelings of terror and anxiety. Perhaps there is a deep seeded reason as to why millions of people find entertainment value in horror films. This question has been tackled by many psychiatrists and psychologists, each has come up with a different explanation as to “why horror?” Most notably, famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud provided great insight into an explanation of why people find horror films fascinating in his essay on the Uncanny.  In his study on the uncanny, Freud takes on the literary imagination (this same literary analysis can and is used to analyze film and themed entertainment) by dividing his theory up into three sections. He first defines the concept of the uncanny, then performs an examination of the context required for understanding the experience of the uncanny, and finally explores the affects of the uncanny on the psyche through literature and fiction. Some of the running themes throughout his essay are loss of eyes, castration, the double-ego, and self-reflexivity. Through the framework laid out by Freud, scholars and film critics can explore the themes in horror film as it relates to the human subconscious; and for purposes of our discussion, the horror attraction.

Freud explains the realm of the uncanny as the place at which aesthetics and psychoanalysis merge, because it deals with a particular feeling or sensation combined with emotional impulses. The substances or manifestations of the uncanny are elements that are fearful and frightening. Proceeding with Freud’s definition of the uncanny being a class of frightening elements, plaguing the psyche, ushering an individual back to what is familiar (heimlich) and known (as opposed to what is unknown). Freud refers to the uncanny as that “which should have remained secret and hidden, but has come to the light.” Furthermore, he goes on to further describe the uncanny as the “mark of the return of the repressed.” The concept of the uncanny is a type of unwilling or mistaken exposure to something surprising, unexpected, or horrific. Freud claims that the source of the uncanny in literature is the recurrence of something long forgotten and repressed. However, not everything that returns from the psychic depths of repression is uncanny. The mere return of repressed feelings and experiences is not sufficient for the uncanny to occur. It requires something repressed having returned but represented by an unexpected and outside the realm of reality. This is easily accomplished in literature (and by extension, movies, theme park attractions, and plays) because fantasy is different from reality.

Just because something works as uncanny in a work of literature doesn’t mean it can work in real-life as well. During times of tragedy felt by an entire group of people or nation, the same concepts which work in literature and film may not work as well, for a period of time anyway, in themed entertainment. Within literature, if the author makes a pretense to realism, then he or she opens the door to supplying the story with the uncanny. Often times, the uncanny in literature and film is the projection of the psyche of the central character on another object or person combined with a warped view of the objective and subjective of a given situation. It’s like something within the fictional world creeps into the real world. Within the horror genre, there are many different stories or narratives that exist. And, each type of horror film tells its story in different ways; however, they are all concerned with getting the same emotional response from the “people out there in the dark,” as famously stated by Norma Desmond in the timeless film noir classic Sunset Blvd. Sometimes the audience will go on a journey into the crazed mind of a psychopathic serial killer or they may witness a supernatural monster terrorizing a small Bavarian village. In either case, Freud believes that the writers of horror, and by extension themed entertainment designers, are concerned with exposing the audience to “other” scenes. And, these “other” scenes are rooted in the subconscious.

eyeofhorrorMoreover, Carol Clover also provides insight into the fascination with the horror theme park attraction. After all, horror films and theme park attractions are mostly concerned with what you actually see. Horror attractions, much like their movie counterparts, are visual stories that are translated into experiential narratives. The Halloween themed attractions in the parks have to include different eyes. The three principle types of eyes used in horror attractions are the assaultive gaze (active, penetrating), reactive gaze (passive, penetrated, the most common in horror storytelling), and repeated gaze (masochism for characters and spectators alike). This is one reason why extreme closeups (ECU) of the eye are popular in horror films turned attractions. The eye is extremely symbolic in narratives driven by fear. The design of horror attractions and films is extremely fascinating because of the convergence of visual storytelling and engineering. It’s more than blood, gore, screams, and knives; there is almost a poetry behind it. A brilliantly insightful quote from Clover is, “Inasmuch as the vision of the subjective camera calls attention to what it cannot see–to dark corners and recesses of its vision … and what might be … just off-frame–it gives rise to the sense not of mastery but of vulnerability.” At the end of the day, both HHN and HOS highlight our vulnerability and prey on our fears of that which assaults the eye and should remain hidden.

corridorBut what about HHN and HOS this year? Looking to the past, and how Universal Orlando handled mass violence in society that had a profound impact on a group or whole culture of people may help shed light on what might be expected this year. During HHN XI (2001), Universal Creative pulled Eddie, the chainsaw wielding maniac with a complex and fascinating backstory, from the lineup after the attacks on 9/11/2001. It was decided that the mood of the United States was such that it would have been in poor taste to include such a violent icon in the theming. In addition to the removal of the HHN icon, most signs of blood, gore, and the glorification of violence were removed–even names of characters and zones were modified. Because of the recent deaths of nearly 50 people (some of whom were connected to the parks as employees, bloggers, or past performers), we might witness a similar reimagination of events at Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream this season. Hopefully, I have been able to open a discussion on how things could be reimagined at the annual Halloween events this year. An attraction can be equally terrifying even if there is no violence to be seen. However, the inclusion of cliche horror film violence is an integral part of the modern Halloween attraction experience. Even Carol Clover explores the importance of men, women, and chainsaws in horror storytelling. Perhaps the creative engineers and designers at the parks will look beyond what has typically been a staple of these events and embrace other avenues of terror that will still prompt screams. In all likelihood, we will probably see the dial turned back on the knives and guns during HHN and HOS but that certainly does not mean that the attractions will be any less terrifying. It’s entirely possible that the mind of horror will outweigh the eye of terror in the theming, planning, and design of HHN and HOS this year.

“On Cinema and Theme Parks” part 4

My Book

Continued from Part 3

One medium being the extension of, or exhibiting a direct connection to, another medium is not a new concept. In fact, this concept of media convergence has been around for as long as multiple mediums have existed. In order to better understand the convergence or synergy that exists between cinema, in particular horror film, and theme parks, it is crucial to understand how we arrived at this point. One thing that film and themed entertainment both have in common is that each tells a story—in a different manner. But, the narrative is often quite similar. Prior to theme parks and cinema (film), there were plays, novels, and oral stories/traditions. The novel is an extension of the oral story, the play is an extension of the novel, cinema is an extension of the play, and the theme park is an extension of cinema. According to Dr. Henry Jenkins, “there has been an alarming concentration of the ownership of mainstream commercial media, with a small handful of multinational media conglomerates dominating all sectors of the entertainment industry” (2004, p1). This is clearly seen in the acquisition, exhibition, and development of theme park attractions based upon movies and, to a lesser extent, television shows.

The first cinemas were setup more like attractions than actual theatres. Perhaps more than coincidentally, theatres began springing up at the same time Coney Island opened its turnstiles around the beginning of the twentieth century; and at this time, cinema itself was still very much viewed as an attraction (Gunning, 1986). According to Tom Gunning (1986), “it was precisely the exhibitionist quality of turn-of-the-century popular art that made it attractive to the avant-garde” (1986, p66). So this concept of the convergence of cinema and theme park (or attraction) is one that dates all the way back to the early 1900s. Since some of the earliest films were of a surreal or horror nature, it is of no surprise that horror played a large role in the development of the cinema attraction. Much in the same way that early cinema was essentially a variety show, in essence, lacked a continuous diegesis, or narrative, the convergence of cinema and theme parks offers a variety of cinema-based attractions that are, indirectly at best, connected to each other. However, instead of the film, itself, being the attraction, cinema-based theme parks and attractions use the narrative provided by a work of cinema and uses elements of that film that can be translated into a real-world experience.

But as with any media convergence, there are also pitfalls to such a synergy between two powerful media. In order to best understand the pitfalls and promises in such a meeting, it is imperative to discuss convergence of two media in and of itself. Understanding the concept of convergence will better prepare filmmakers and themed entertainment designers to select the best elements of films to translate into themed attractions based on movies, in particular horror or action. According to the leader of research into the area of media convergence Henry Jenkins (2004), “media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. Convergence alters the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences. Convergence refers to a process, but not an endpoint” (P1). Over the years, the relationship between cinema and theme parks has shifted. Before, cinema was the attraction; and now, the attraction is infused with cinema. And the handful of multinational media conglomerates own both methods of the exhibition of creativity. With the exception of the Walt Disney Company, many of the other media conglomerates have prominent interests in theme parks and film and television studios; and some also have interests in Broadway productions (i.e. Universal Studios’ Wicked and Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man).

Crossing over into new arenas of revenue requires access to vast media libraries, and that is what many of media conglomerates have at their disposal. This ability to converge areas of media interest in order to generate more revenue is something that contrasts with old Hollywood. Jenkins (2004) remarks that “old Hollywood focused on cinema, [and] the new media conglomerates have controlling interests across the entire entertainment industry” (P34). This convergence greatly influences the way society consumes media and entertainment (everything from movies to theme parks to music to toys and games). More than a cross-promotion of entertainment and media products, the convergence of cinema and theme parks is “a reconfiguration of media power and a reshaping of media aesthetics and economics” (Jenkins, 2004, P35). This reconfiguration comes in many shapes and forms. And, the horror film has found a place within the new configuration of entertainment media synergy. Specifically, the horror film has been used instrumentally in this reconfiguration; evidence of this can be seen in the prolific number of television shows (most popularly zombie shows), movies, and horror/Halloween themed events at theme parks (e.g. Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream and Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights). In these events, horror films provide a vast heritage from which theme parks can draw characters and plots to create temporary attractions to generate more income for the media company. Looking at many of the opening day attractions at movie-based theme parks, horror films were the first films to be translated into themed entertainment.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3