Norman's 'Beside' Himself!!!
Why's That, You Say?
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!
2012 EVENT INFORMATION
2011 MT. HEALTHY HAUNTED HALL
THE MOST BLUNDERFUL NIGHT OF THE YEAR!
sucks. Just ask Bug Boy, the Mt. Healthy Haunted Hall’s insect infested
derelict corpse. Only a few years ago he was a young buck cruisin’ the hood in
his fly hoopty and ducking the cops. Moving back to his TV Room for a couple of
seasons, he was spotted last season throwing down drinks and serving blood up
at Spooker’s Bar. But the Bar was closed down and an Ice Scream parlor now stands
in its place-time marches on. The Bugster’s now ensconced at the Tired Bones
Retirement Castle, cheating at Bingo and hogging the remote. They just grow up
so fast! This of course begs the question if Bug Boy should now be referred to
as “Bug Daddy” or “Bug Fogy”. Luckily for him, his old analog TV still works as
fine as ever even without a convertor box, since it never got anything but
static in the first place. Unluckily for him, those darn kids keep barging into the room and they need to be chased off. Now, the Bugster's not as spry as he used to be, and there's a tottering chandelier nearby that's waiting to squash the unwary-and sure enough, he stumbles into the rope securing it. The Blundering Bugster is on the fast track to becoming roadkill...
The retirement castle is just one of the crazy and unique rooms in this year’s Haunted Hall. The logo on the event's T-shirt reads “Still Cookin’ After 22 Years”, and once you reach the Sin City Bar-B-Q, you’ll know why-but more on that in a bit. For now, the HOD!!! took time to catch up with longtime staffer Betty Hancock and the rest of the event’s organizers. Once again they’ve created a completely entertaining haunt masterpiece, an event with a vibe all its own. In our review elsewhere on the HOD!!!, we called the Hall the Tri-State’s most schizoid haunt, and they make it work for them. Humor is mixed with horror, old school haunting with new, veteran actors with those performing their first roles, masks used as much as makeup, classic haunt characters mix with slashers and original characters, and low tech effects share the spotlight with high tech. The haunt’s theme is best summed up as “Anything goes, and the crazier the better”. The fact that the haunt is 100% constructed from scratch every season has no doubt made it easier for the organizers to work in outrageous new concepts on a yearly basis-the gag rooms are usually only featured for one season, so the Hall’s never guilty of beating a dead horse (although I think I might have seen that in one of their rooms once…). One staffer said that “Betty, the Millers, and others are here pretty much every day for those three weeks and work like crazy to get it done. I really have a lot of respect for the effort and creativity they put into things”. And did everything get done? “Everything but the chainsaw-we’ll be getting one of those tomorrow”.
Anyway, Rotts prepared to deliver the gospel to the HOD!!!’s companions this evening-two giggly ten year old girls that were too scared to go through alone. Their reactions to the manic proceedings made it a most memorable tour. As Rotts took us to the floor we requested (666-hey, everyone knows we always look forward to seeing Satan at the Hall), they alternately cringed in fear and laughed as the spastic preacher threw himself around the interior of the elevator car. When the door opened, we all hustled out before Rotts had a chance to deliver his message of damnation-those preachers do drone on, you know, and we wanted to see the rest of the Hall before it closed. What follows are the highlights of our walk through with the young hauntgoers-there were more rooms and surprises along the way, but you don’t want us giving away everything, do you?
“You mean there’s MORE?!?!” they asked us incredulously. Yep-a whole lot more. The old contamination area had been replaced by a Werewolf attack, and this led into an eerie room of glowing Jack-O-Lanterns-and the Pump-King. Letting their guard down for just a second, the girls scattered for cover when a large crate suddenly opened up on their right and disgorged a nasty surprise. Then it was time to visit the Bates Motel, another Hall mainstay-Norman was particularly effective this year, crooning in a falsetto one moment and then switching to a guttural growl. And after almost taking a pratfall on the Hall’s spinning floor, we came to the area we mentioned in our opening paragraph-the “Ice Scream” Parlor that replaced Spooker’s. A clown behind the counter called out cheerfully, “Who wants Ice Cream?” Well, we sure as heck did, and so did the girls-but another little girl shot past all three of us and got there first. While reaching for her cone, a guillotine came down and…well, do you need to hear the gory details? After seeing that, we’ll be buying our ice cream in pints from now on.
Satan is always at the Hall-in fact, a cartoon version of him is on this year’s T-shirt. His digs have certainly become more elaborate over the years. This season, he’s “Still Cookin’”-you’ll meet his Chef when you first enter Sin City. As the Butcher asked the girls to open his freezer door to check on the stock, they gave out a collective “EuuuUUUWWWW!” as they saw the severed head in the bubbling jar inside. Of course, while they were occupied with that, the Butcher took the opportunity to sneak up behind them with a cleaver almost as big as they were. They left the room in a flash and immediately were confronted with a coffin that had become a rotisserie oven, with a wildly spinning body roasting to perfection. And then there was Satan-resplendent on his throne and arrogant as ever, he insisted we all bow down before him-and everyone at the Hall does, because the ONLY way to get out is to crawl under his throne. He may not be the nicest guy is the world, but he’s a crafty devil.
And of course, there’s the black maze. By now you all know the story-two tents, pitch blackness, walls that are frequently changed during the season, and only one way out. Once a common feature in many haunts, the black maze now lives on in a select few-and the Hall’s is a masterpiece. Many people simply skip it or go in, wander around for a couple of minutes, and then march back out the entrance. Others have the time of their lives groping their way through. It’s easy to get lost, especially for neophytes. But after showing the two ten-year olds I was with the correct choice at the first intersection, they scampered through the rest of the maze like lab rats heading for cheese. No hesitation, no wrong turns. It was an amazing performance that capped off one of the most enjoyable tours we’ve ever experienced in a haunt. These two little girls were scared, laughing, grossed out, excited, and completely delighted-it’s the reaction every haunt hopes to get. When last spotted they were exuberantly running down the street waving their arms in the air and happily screaming.
what it’s all about. More so than any other area haunt, the Hall focuses on
being fun and entertaining (without skimping on the horror). You’ll laugh, you’ll
cry, you’ll smell the burnt flesh and watch folks die. Handless children and
squashed insect men were never this much fun. 45 actors, over 25 scenes, a long
tour time, and Bug Daddy-all for $10. Sounds like a deal to us! Every night at the Hall is Halloween, The Most Wonderful Night Of The Year-except for the Bugster, for whom it's The Most Blunderful Night Of The Year. Come on down to the Hall and help keep him from becoming an endangered species.
That Big Ham!
Dracula's Been At The Hall For Years. And He Never Gets Tired Of Posing For The HOD!!!
The Grim Reaper