Shivering from the cold, I’m one of many students waiting outside of Silliman’s entryway M on a crisp Tuesday night. We’re all here for the same reason: the college’s venerable haunted house. The line stretched far down the courtyard, and the anticipation after a year of the Halloween staple’s absence was evident. Needless to say, the wait was long, but I eventually found myself at the front.
The first impression formed was one of playfulness. Two silent, masked actors wandered up and down the line that had formed, one passing out candy while the other overdramatically sulked about. With the rather cute decorations gracing the master’s house and the laid-back chatter that filled the atmosphere, the event seemed more lighthearted rather than fright-filled and serious.
As the tour guide led my group down into the basement, my preconceptions were merely reinforced. The guide explained to us that we were about to enter a mental health care center for celebrities, and that we would meet Britney Spears, Kanye West and Miley Cyrus. Yet, as the door opened and we all shuffled into the grimly lit basement hallway, it took a turn.
Just enough light slivered around the corners onto the walls for the tour group to make out their surroundings. Immediately, one could tell that the decorations were minimal and sterile, yet a little off-kilter — quite befitting of a dilapidated mental health hospital. Plastic covers taped to certain corridors acted to funnel the group into one-way tunnels, and while the plastic and tape did appear a little patched-up and crude, the overall claustrophobic effect it created was surprisingly heavy. The haunted house used the natural eeriness of the basement to its advantage, exposing it instead of drowning it in decorations.
Entering the hallway, the thud of the closing door was quickly followed by screams. A girl previously hidden in the dark had crawled forward in contorted lurches, causing shrieks and panicked shuffling all around. Face shrouded by tussled hair, dressed in a dirtied white patient gown, the “patient” kept on walking until she was breathing down the neck of whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the back. Yet, unlike many of the actors and actresses in the haunted house, this patient, rather than becoming humorously melodramatic in proximity, remained truly hair-raising. This first encounter instantly set the tone for the entire experience.
Walking through the “care center,” the group was led to a few wards that housed the celebrities. However, these wards, generally better lit and more open than the corridors, often lost the oppressed atmosphere that turned out to be the forte of the haunted house. In walking through the hallways, there was a constant fear that something would jump out at the turn of the corner or sneak up from behind; it promoted a kind of anxiety and panic that built on itself through paranoia, much of which was lost in the rather static moments when the group was left standing still. In fact, these moments often took away the mystery that accompanied movement into the unknown, giving time for the group to become familiar with their surroundings and making apparent the slight theatrical ridiculousness of the actors.
In the narrow hallways that the group snaked through, the ambiance was unexpectedly ominous. From an actor stumbling down the hallway and “vomiting” next to the group to a man popping out from a ledge positioned six feet above ground, the erratic and distorted activities kept the atmosphere tense. And somehow, through it all, the haunted house still managed to keep its initial playful charm. The frightening moments were the kind that left me laughing at the fact that I was actually frightened — after all, having Miley Cyrus jump out at you quickly turns entertaining after the immediate shock.
The haunted house proved not only to be fun, but atmospheric and well produced. While not taking itself too seriously, the haunted house was not the purely lighthearted joyride I anticipated going in, but it was this very contrast that made it all the more memorable.