Anyone Who Thinks Child Actors Aren't Scary...
If Satan's In The House, We Run His Photo!
IT'S A GAS!
Longtime Mt. Healthy Haunted Hall staffer Betty Hancock wasn’t performing inside the haunt as usual-instead she was working the ticket booth as a result of a broken foot. We’re assured there’s no truth to the rumor that this was a result of kicking the behind of a local haunt reviewer. As we talked to her about this year’s Hall, we surveyed the graveyard behind the ticket booth. There was a shambling zombie with its neck tilted to the side as if it had been broken. With its hair in disarray and splattered with blood, it drug a large stuffed toy behind it as it lurched slowly ahead. As it turned its head towards us, it exposed its mouth-an area of nothing but teeth surrounded by a raw area where the skin had been ripped away to expose the glistening muscle and sinew beneath. What made this particular zombie really impressive is that it was one of the Hall’s pint sized volunteers-a little girl that one suspects has watched a LOT of the Walking Dead on TV. She’s only one of the ghouls who call the Hall their home-a collection of some of the most memorable characters in the area. Between the characters and some of the new scenes making their debut this year, it’s a gas-and in more ways than one, as we’ll see.
In this, their 24th season, the Hall’s motto as reflected by their cool looking T-shirts (featuring artwork by ‘Haunted Hall Matt’ Gratsch) is “24 Years to Life”. The Tee shows one of their longtime scenes-A Fangfaced demon grasping the bars of a prison cell). It’s not long before you’ll be faced with his toothy visage in person! He’s imprisoned in the Hall’s first scene, which is sort of a ‘Haunted Hall’s Greatest Hits’ compilation. First, you’ve got the Hall’s ‘greeter’ character-what they are varies from season to season (sometimes a hotel manager, a maid, an exterminator) but their function is the same-to interact with the audience and draw them into the proceedings, making them part of the story. This year the greeter’s a surly cop determinedly scarfing donuts behind a desk. Brusquely taking down on a clipboard the names of group members (the better to pass ahead to the other actors so they can harangue audience members by name), he cuts off any questions or ‘back talk’ and hustles the hauntgoers into the darkened room next door for their ‘trial’. Trial? Trial for what? Well, once you get a load of the judge, you’ll know it doesn’t make any difference-you’re screwed. The room is suddenly flooded with red light to reveal Hall mainstay Satan-and he’s in quite the judgmental mood. Before a word can be said he screams out “Guilty!”, slams down his gavel, and points off to the side of his throne-where this year’s T-shirt model Fangface waits inside a dilapidated cell with a filthy toilet and a dead body lying on the cot. Since there are no appeals in Hell, hauntgoers are prodded towards the cell by Donut Cop. Muttering that “I’m really looking forward to you” and commenting on how fine the male members of the group look, Fangface rolls back the cell door...Assuming no one ‘meats’ with a terrible ‘end’ at Fangface’s hands (here’s a hint-just like Bug Boy’s barbershop from last season, DO NOT tell Fangface you want it “long in the back”), you’re hustled past some holding cells with other prisoners equally eager to make your acquaintance and into the Hall’s Hellevator. No choices given this season-it’s straight on to Floor 13 and your appointment with the gas chamber. Clouds of toxic gas fill the room-this is the first gas attack on today’s tour, and by no means the deadliest. Still, it looks like its curtains-at least until a hooded silhouette enters the room and shows you the way out. Relief washes over the would-be victims until the figure draws back his hood to reveal the grinning, gap toothed visage of the Right Honorable Reverend Emmett Rotts. Played by Eric Sterwerf (the brains behind many of the Hall’s craziest scenes the past few seasons), apparently Rotts has decided to do some moonlighting as the prison’s executioner. What could be better for a killer klergyman than getting to wipe out the sinners AND have it all be sanctioned by the state? It all leads to here-the electric chair room, with not one but two dead man’s thrones. Unlike other haunts where hauntgoers idly view an animatronic thrashing around as its fried in the chair, here it’s a do-it-yourself project. Yes, this time it’ll be YOU getting fried!
Electrocuting the audience members is a great idea that the Hall came upon providentially rather than planning out. As two of the Hall’s longtime volunteers, Andy Schehr (a veteran of all 24 years) and Mark Roetting (not far behind at 18), tell us, time was running short on putting the haunt together. The Hall only has a couple of weeks to construct the entire event from the ground up, and there wasn’t going to be time to finish the animatronic that was planned for the chairs. Instead, a vibrating mechanism was attached to them and members of each group get to experience the ‘jolt’ of being electrocuted. Other than actually killing off hauntgoers (we’ve been told that’s being planned next year for the big 25th anniversary), it’s the ultimate in crowd interaction! A grinning Rotts leers and croaks “The ladies just love it!”, a claim that’s echoed by the staff.
As one might imagine, the Hall’s prison ends with the ‘last mile’ to the electric chair. The rest of the scenes inside the actual Hall feature popular recurring characters. There’s Dr. Crazy, still trying to reanimate the dead after his epic fail from last year. He’s SURE he knows what went wrong and that he’s got it all figured out. Us, we’re not so sure. But you’ll never know until his newest experiment under that bloodstained sheet is revealed! Another Hall favorite is the Grim Reaper, stalking the blackness of the cemetery in the final room. In between these two scenes, back in his accustomed ‘digs’, is classic haunt character Count Dracula. Dracula was a staple of the very first Cincinnati haunt in 1970 and while you don’t see him at other attractions much these days, he continues to show he still has what it takes every season at the Haunted Hall.
And speaking of recurring characters, the saga of The HOD!!!’s favorite haunt scaractor continues. We’re speaking of course about Bug Boy, the Hall’s ‘notorious derelict corpse’. Easily identified by his insect covered white shirt and grinning skull face, he was first glimpsed 20 years ago or more. Sitting in his sleaz-y chair watching a static filled TV in a room where the walls were filled with crawling insects (the same walls currently found in Dr. Crazy’s lab), the Bugster has thrived. The years go by, the costume and mask changes along with the actors who portray him, but the legend lives on! The one thing that never changes is the trouble he finds himself in from season to season! He’s taken a job at a barber shop, tried his hand at rapping, been bartender at a local hangout, been on the lam from the cops, and even tried fleecing old people out of their social security checks by cheating at bingo. And this year, he’s facing the ultimate sticky situation-marriage! Yes, this season the Hall’s storage shed (usually the setting for the year’s most whimsical scenes) has been converted to a chapel and is home to the unholy union of star crossed lovers Bug Boy and Bug Girl. Bug Girl is the large, mutated version of one of the insects found on her prospective husband’s shirt. We’re not sure if you can refer to an insect’s antennae as ‘horns’, but if you can, you could say that Bug Girl has quite the rack! But this evening, things aren’t working out for the poor girl-Bug Boy has seemingly gotten cold feet (not unusual for a corpse) and has left her at the altar. One of the Hall’s staffers was busily questioning hauntgoers if they had seen the elusive groom lurking nearby, but to no avail. We couldn’t understand why-maybe it had something to do with insects devouring their spouses after mating. It does seem as if the story had a happy ending as we did glimpse the Bugster, resplendent in his top hat, fawning on his new bride after we had found our way out of the maze. Could Bug Baby be far behind? The Hall’s old shed has been home to the Monster Maternity in the past-maybe it’ll need to be brought back for the 25th anniversary!
After the “Wee Chapel of the Bugster”, there’s a series of tents and outdoor tableaus with scenes both new and old. Returning from last season is Crystal Lake, featuring the Hall’s awesome home-made lake with rolling fog and atmospheric lighting. There’s an old-time special effect utilizing mirrors that makes it look as if slasher Jason Voorhees’s latest victim has been chopped in half and stuck on a pole, where she screams for help. And of course, where you find victims, you’ll find Jason. The fast-moving Vortex tunnel spins hauntgoers on their way into the ‘sliding scarecrow’ field. A mirrored funhouse (three times bigger than last year) is home to several Klowns and a haunted toy box-it also has the Hall’s unique spinning floor. According to Mark, when installed years ago, it was four times as fast as it is now-and it’s still fast enough to make even the most sure-footed hauntgoers into a stumbling buffoon. The fog-choked werewolf woods are as spooky as ever, with an excellent performance from a hyperactive wild werewolf who could really belt out a HOOOOOOWWWWWWWWLLLLLLLL!!!!! (she’s also the mother of the little zombie out front-it’s almost a modern-day Munsters!). A witch brews up trouble right next door. Pumpkins big and small infest a room, along with the Pump-King. The most chilling scene, though, was the blackened mine shaft. From the darkness, some sort of unseen creature crawled about on the ground, getting closer and closer. The sounds it made were the ultimate in creepy-a cross between a hissing rattlesnake, a gurgling slashed throat, and a swarm of insects. The actor’s vocal talents impressed even this veteran haunter-he’s the early favorite for haunt actor of the year even though he never came out into the light. We snapped a photo to see what he looked like later, and the visage was every bit as impressive as the voice-check out the photo for yourself (it’s in the group before this article).
The Hall’s legendary final ‘room’, the black maze, was scaled back from two tents to one this season. That isn’t to say it’s any easier to negotiate-it took us longer to get through this season than the two tent version from last year. And while a tent was eliminated, they did add a piano this season. You’ll find it if you get lost, and playing out a spooky chord on its out-of-tune keys is sure to send a chill down the spine of anyone lost in another part of the maze. But that raises the logical question...”What in the hell is a piano doing inside the otherwise empty maze in the first place?”. Mark explains “We had a piano in the maze in years past, and lots of our customers from last season asked us to bring it back, so we did”, conveniently ignoring the fact that his explanation doesn’t address why the piano was put in the older maze. Still, we suppose that’s every bit as logical as Bug Boy’s wedding and having an elevated outhouse on the grounds. What’s that? Oh, we haven’t mentioned the outhouse yet? Well...and the scene of its second gas attack. You know things are likely to get messy when a mine worker wearing a gas mask bursts out of the outhouse and jumps down into the path of your group. Pointing to the tunnel under the outhouse, he says “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you!” Clambering up a ladder back to the outhouse, he enters the structure and slams the door. It isn’t long before a waterfall of yellowish liquid is cascading from the bottom of the outhouse onto the ground along with sh...uhhhh, other stuff. Sighing with relief from inside, the worker informs you it’s now OK to pass (he sure did). The only thing we can think of that’s less appealing than walking through the mess left on the ground is to have been standing there a few seconds before! It’s a classic haunt gross-out moment. The disgusting bathroom isn’t new-Club Blood at Kings Island gives you the world’s filthiest public restroom, and St. Rita’s, Dent, USS Nightmare, and Dungeons of Delhi all have variants of it. But the Hall is the ONLY place in town where it’s a totally immersive experience-although hopefully it won’t be your shoes or the top of your head that are immersed. As a bonus, the scene also provides an opening startle scare when the miner comes hurtling down from above-our friends at Ohio Valley Haunts were taken completely by surprise as they approached. Only the Hall would have the imagination to think of an elevated outhouse with the tour passing underneath, and then have enough nerve to actually go ahead and build it! Eric and Matt began work on the outhouse/cave/mine complex months before construction started on the rest of the Hall. Eric's only regret in the matter is that they didn't use his suggestion for this season's Haunted Hall T-Shirt: "24 years of scaring the sh-t out of you!"
There have been some rumors that plans were afoot to take the Haunted Hall to its 25th anniversary next season and then shut it down. Not only would that be a great loss to the local haunt community, but on a personal level, we don’t think there’s any haunt that’d we’d miss more. The staffers admit that the rigors of putting up the attraction in such a short time have been compounded by dwindling assistance from volunteer groups and that shutting down had been brought up. However, as Betty told us, “When October rolls around, you get started putting things together, the adrenaline and excitement kick in, and nobody’s thinking about calling it quits”. Andy and Mark also concur that the Hall will survive its 25th season and return to provide its unique blend of horror, gross-out, startles, whimsy, humor and fun to Tri-State haunters. The Hall already has ‘screened’ plans for its ‘silver’ anniversary, and keeping it ‘reel’ is a major part of that. From the descriptions of the planned line-up of rooms, classic props being resurrected, and refitting done to some existing scenes, it sounds like it could be what we here at The HOD!!! would consider our dream haunt. It’ll be fresh, unique, and throwback all at the same time. It couldn’t be in better hands and we’re already excitedly looking forward to it. But that's looking a bit too far ahead-looking back, the Hall has long been one of the best haunt values in town, and you can still get in for less than ten bucks with the donation of a canned good. Just don’t bring any cans of beans-the miner in the outhouse doesn’t need any more ‘encouragement’. Many things have been said about the Hall over the years, but this year no one can deny that…it’s a gas!
Rotts Is Cooking With Gas
2013 EVENT INFORMATION
MT. HEALTHY HAUNTED HALL 2012
Because the Hall's A 'Smashing' Success!
WORKING THAT HAUNTED HALL MAGIC!
In a quavering voice, sideshow magician “The Great AliKillzam” described in graphic terms the results of his unprecedented feats of prestidigitation. Unprecedented in terms of epic failure, that is. The escape artist that he buried alive? Now a heap of bones in a coffin. The woman sawed in half? Well, neither part of her ‘SAW it coming!’ giggles AliKillzam’s flunky. The daring challenge of escaping from a water tank ended with the ‘glass half empty’-the body being freed, but not the head! And the daredevil who tried the ‘Bullet Catch’? Well, that ended in failure, not to mention a big red splotch on the wall. But perhaps the greatest feat of all is that AliKillzam mysteriously managed to come through all of this completely unscathed. TA-DAAAAAAAA!!!!!! This proves once again that magic is best performed on someone else, especially if you’re also a psychotic serial killer. Want to catch his show and perhaps be one of the lucky few chosen from the audience to take part in this amazing display for young and old alike? AliKillzam assures us “I’ll be appearing all week”, working that Haunted Hall Magic!
The HOD!!! was ushered into the 23rd
year of the Haunted Hall by longtime staffer Betty Hancock, who
according to the rest of the crew (and certain other haunt reviewers)
inspires more fear than the monsters inside the hall. Despite having
doubled the salaries of all the Hall’s employees (“From zero to double
zero” adds one of them), she’s currently getting a razzing from the
assemblage. “Hey, I’m trying to work here”, says Betty. “And where else
are you going to find someone whose hair color matches a red costume?”
The easy camaraderie shown by the organizers goes a long way towards
explaining how they are able to pull off building the event from the
ground up in only three weeks-not to mention tearing it down in a single
evening! It also explains why the event has managed to retain its edge
for years and remain fresh with several generations working together to
put on the best show possible.
The Haunted Hall has grown from its humble beginnings where it comprised only the rooms inside the main building. It now stretches across the Hall, at least four tents, a jail complex, a shed, the double sized Black Maze, and a lake. Yes, the Hall now has a real lake in its backyard, constructed out of planking, piping, and a huge liner. With the fog billowing across it in the dark, it looks so real we wish we’d brought a fishing pole. Of course, this is Camp Crystal Lake, so throwing your line in there is apt to have disastrous results. And the bridge across the lake doesn’t look too sturdy, either, especially if, say, some psycho were to come out of one of the tents and begin chasing you with a chainsaw. Not that that would ever happen, y’understand. Or would it?
As our description of the magic show indicates, the Hall isn’t afraid to throw in a large dose of grisly humor with its scares. This sense of mirth extends down to even the small details. Perched on a shelf inside the mirrored walls of the funhouse is a small Jack-in-the-box with a sign above it exhorting hauntgoers to ‘turn if u dare’. It’s something most people might not even notice since you’re usually being pursued by a haunt klown at that point. But we saw it and couldn’t resist. We turned it and were greeted by a little creature popping out that featured its own tiny custom makeup job. Not coincidentally, it also acted as the cue for yet another deformed greasepainted freak to come leaping out from behind a mirror.
And speaking of returning rooms, there’s the Hall’s pièce de résistance, the Black Maze. Sure, Black Mazes are used by most attractions to cut down on costs and extend their attraction’s time. But the Hall’s has achieved legendary status. Now twice as large (taking up two tents instead of the original one), the haunt is the ultimate reconfigured room-it’s changed on a weekly basis, or even more often at the whim of the designers. With no monsters inside, you’d think it would just be a fun walk in the dark for hauntgoers, but it inspires more raw fear than anything else in the Hall. It really IS pitch black in there, and it’s horrendously easy to get hopelessly lost, turned around, or cut off from your friends. Stand outside one night and watch as a group enters, only to see the two or three groups that entered after them emerge first-or witness how members of the same group emerge individually over the course of fifteen minutes. What really makes the Hall’s Maze special is that there are so many textures inside-wood panels, half panels, chain link fences, even what felt like a smooth Plexiglas sheet at one point. It’s hard to get a ‘feel’ for direction when the surfaces you’re touching are continuously changing.
We’ve already discussed one of the new additions-the Dead Magic Show area. Following that, continuing the ‘carny’ theme, is a bizarre circus tent with skeletal clowns in the strangest looking big top imaginable. With an abstract set and plenty of fog (and a rat inside a ‘popcorn’ machine), it scores high on both the ‘weird’ and ‘creepy’ meter. There’s a witch room with a child inside a cauldron, and also a room with a spiked wall that you’ll likely be dying to meet up with. And of course, there’s the Hall’s infamous outdoor shed where the craziest room is traditionally located, a different scene each year. But we’ll talk more about that and its current famous resident after we look at some of the creeps spotted lurking about the Hall…
Like most charity haunts, the Hall of necessity uses a good amount of younger actors. Unlike some, they put their youngsters into positions where they can succeed. On our trip through, most of the kids had on masks designed to give them as fearsome a visage as possible and put behind drop panels or inside cages where their small size wasn’t as obvious. They were given the opportunity to startle the audience and disappear quickly before hauntgoers knew what hit them. Even some of the more visible ones, like the two scarecrows in the small cornfield outside Crystal Lake, have such disturbing masks and are so creepy looking that they fit in well. And when it comes time to have up-front characters that interact with and carry on conversations with the crowd, that’s where you find the adults and older teens, almost all of them seasoned veterans of the Hall…
We’ve already talked about ‘Haunted Hall’ Matt Gratsch’s turn as the Great AliKillzam. His partner in crime (the two have collaborated on several award-winning short films here in Cincinnati), Eric Sterwerf, is currently playing Emmett Rotts. Rotts, the Hall’s preacher-turned elevator operator (one thing you can say for the Hall’s characters-they’re flexible!) is now also doubling as an exterminator. Seems there’s a room crawling with bugs leading into the Hellevator. Rotts decides that taking it up to the 13th floor will make everything better-hey, it makes perfect sense to us! After spastically throwing himself around the elevator in a performance guaranteed to end with him in an upside-down heap on the floor (and that was so violently enthusiastic it temporarily knocked the Hellevator off-line), the bugs still seem to be there-but now Rotts isn’t the only thing that’s had its world turned upside-down…
Crazy (well, that’s what his name tag says-and since he's Matt's older brother Will, probably accurate) attempts to bring life to
the dead, but he’s no better at it than the Great AliKillzam is at
magic. He’s the ultimate mad doctor, with a crushed cigarette hanging
from his mouth and mismatched eyes. Pulling back the sheet of his latest
exercise in reanimation, hauntgoers are treated to the sight of a pile
of bloody meat and bones. One might think he’s fumbling his dialogue,
but when he’s corrected by the audience it turns out he just wanted to
assert his authority, screaming out that “Don’t correct me! I’M the
Doctor here!” Since our gal Ayame is a Doctor, we hear that quite a bit,
so we dropped into step REALLY fast.
At one point early in the tour panic set in for The HOD!!! as it looked like Dracula had finally been retired, ending a long run as the sole surviving representation of the classic Count in the Cincinnati area. In his old digs was a witch who had thrown an unwary child into her cauldron-only the coffin that concealed the way out remained from Drac’s glory days. But after pushing our way through the rear of the casket into the Hall’s last room we saw what appeared to be a familiar funeral parlor. Could it be? Yes! Relief washed over us as Dracula rushed from his hidden vantage point. To show his appreciation for our concern, the Count beat us about the head and shoulders before showing us the door. There’s nothing like staying in touch with old friends.
Speaking of which, one character we didn’t have to wait for at all was Satan. Long a staple of the Hall, for years he’s succeeded in making even the most devout Christians bow down before him-sure, it’s through dishonest trickery and manipulation more than anything else, but isn’t that what Satan’s all about? At any rate, this season the Prince of Darkness is in the Hall’s very first room, occupying a space beside the stairway that seemingly defies gravity-in years past, the Hall would usually just have a ghost hanging there. One staffer couldn’t believe that they managed to get him up there safely. While Satan isn’t getting anyone to bow down this season, one of the construction crew states that next season you may not see a Stairway to Heaven, but one to Hell…
Rotts Ain't Fraid' Of No Ghost...
But Bugs-That's A Whole Different Story!
If Satan's Inside Your Haunt...
The HOD!!! WILL Run His Photo. It's That Simple!