Monday, October 15, 2012

The Shower Room and Toilet Stalls

This is going to be unpleasant.

By and large, the lighting level in spookhouse rooms is dim. This quality allows not only a more forgiving attitude toward quick scenic finish jobs, but moreover, it obscures the more obvious boo-holes and mechanisms for launching fright gear, and most significantly, it allows the viewer’s imagination to create the most personalized horrors to loom in the shadows.

So when a room in a spookhouse suddenly takes the effort to be brightly lit, you just know it's going to be horrible. The producers want you to know that no expense will be spared in securing your queasiness.

A deliberately translucent plastic curtain initially separates the guest from the rest of the path through the Shower Room set. It's translucent to the point that Just Enough visual information is given to indicate that a corpse hangs beyond. A trail of blood on the floor confirms the inevitability of this dread.

A steel-nerved push of the curtain aside will indeed reveal a skinned animal carcass suspended from the ceiling, exsanguinating the last it has to give. Is this a grisly lesson in self-sufficiency through dressing game? A vicious warning? A beloved woodland mascot killed as a test of fealty? The aforementioned darkness that gave malevolent life to the shadows also gives the most malevolent purpose to an unpleasant discovery.

A specifically designed motorized gobo on a light focused upon the suspended artificial carcass can add an extra layer of repulsiveness to the scene: if one sculpts maggotlike bumps upon the body of the carcass and highlights them with reflective paint, a flickering point source of light can simulate the writhing of larvae to a hasty eye. A concealed audio speaker replaying a near-subliminal popping and clicking sound will further convince the passerby that the body is infested.

Rounding the corner, the visitor is confronted with the demoralizing discovery that it is not just animal carcasses in the room. As it is now established that the staff of the camp are dangerous, the time is appropriate to visually announce that the nature of this danger is ultimately deadly. A pair of dismembered human legs are propped up in a toilet stall, a morbid visual pun that provides a distraction from the actual legs (those of a Counselor ready to pounce upon guests) that a person may see in the furthest toilet stall. That stall is where many guests will pause.

And why would one pause right outside the stall where a jump-scare is engineered? Because that is the exact spot where courage is needed to be mustered. The terminus of this room is designed to look like an out-of-service toilet stall that looks less like it needs cleaning and maintenance than it does the services of a Haz-Mat team bearing flamethrowers. The vinyl curtain used to break sightlines and control foot traffic is scenic painted to match the tile walls surrounding the passage, and is as enthusiastically stained with simulated feces as the floor. A "Scent Cannon" charged with a feculent sewer smell provides a ghastly and convincing stink to the setting. Despite one’s rational mind reassuring one that this is all make-believe, it will take a moment to psyche oneself up to step across what looks like an open drain clogged with filth to pass through a wall that an entire lifetime of conditioning tells one to not to touch.  I would expect many will take these steps at a fast pace to break through...

...right into the grasping range of a homicidal maniac who lurks in the next scene.

Tomorrow: Meet The Lurker


  1. Good stuff. Out of curiosity, you have gags that are within reaching distance (legs, hanging animal corpse), how will you make sure the guests don't come up and touch/grab/vandalize the material?

  2. Always a problem. If you read my October 22 post on my own Halloween Horror Nights 2011 Memories, you'll see there are no "velvet ropes" separating the guests from the props, so there's always the Knucklehead Contingent taking the opportunity to mess things up for everybody. The best one can try to do is distribute security personnel throughout the venue as evenly as possible, install cameras to monitor and record every room (which Universal Studios does, for example), and use a combination of wire, adhesive, and shellac to secure the props to the substructure as best as one can.

    As for touching the hanging corpses, don't worry. Just about all the mazes now have some gantlet of rubberized bloody bodies that one is expected to walk through.