RENDERING THE PIG-NIC TABLE!
One of the more impressive looking denizens of the USS Nightmare, currently terrifying landlubbers at its berth on Newport Landing, is the Pig Lady. The result of a gene-splicing experiment carried out by the Ship’s Doctor, you could say she’s a real ‘boar’. “Speaking of pigs,” said the Nightmare’s Captain, Allen Rizzo. “We put a real pig’s head on the table last year for our extreme show. I couldn’t tell you the number of people we had come through that night that were kissing the head thinking that it was a prop,” he laughed. Luckily, dead pigs don’t kiss and tell. That’s just how things go on board the ghost ship, where the pig-nic table is rendered in more ways than one!
Virtually every available inch of the former William S. Mitchell is used in the haunt. Other than a makeup room, the mess hall, and the part of the upper deck that was crushed on the Mitchell’s final voyage (when it broke free from its moorings and crashed into a bridge-you can see actual news footage of the crash while waiting in line), the decks of the ship have been reclaimed and fitted out for haunting. This even extends on occasion to the Mitchell’s large dredge pipe which has been traversed by several hardy haunters. This season the Captain ordered the galley expanded, the crew’s quarters refitted, a pantry added, and most impressively, the all new head (restroom to non-seafaring types). Located in the former laundry room, it features ghostly writing on the wall, a shower (albeit of a type you won’t be expecting), and an attendant that might be a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man. Or something. We’re not sure, and when it was having trouble with its pants on our second trip through, we didn’t stick around to find out.
The Klown’s area has also been expanded, giving them a small but effective maze of curtains that usually turns hauntgoers back into the vortex tunnel for a second trip through. And unlike many haunt Klowns who only want to rip out your entrails and kill you (a LOT!), these guys were actually FUNNY! Well, they also wanted to rip out our entrails and kill us (a LOT!), but they somehow managed to do both. Yeah, their jokes were corny as any vaudeville routine, but we still laughed out loud at the Peter Pan joke. Make sure they tell it to you. Anyway…
The Nightmare’s cast has won several ‘Best Crew Of Actors’ awards from The HOD!!! and are in the forefront for yet another one. Many of them engaged us in lengthy conversations and never ran out of bizarre and maniacal retorts-and improv is not an easy thing to do. Particularly outstanding were the vampires, the Captain’s family, the infirmary staff, the cleaning lady in the crew’s quarters, and the deckhands in the cargo hold. Best of the bits was the running gag about the First Mate’s missing whiskey bottle which was a constant topic of conversation around the boat. It never did turn up, although we did spot a few cans of beer in the crew’s quarters. The actors also did well at setting up the next scene-as the Mate did when he told us “Either come back with my bottle or next time I see you, I’ll blow your dirty head off”. Next time proved to be in five seconds when we parted the curtain of the next area-somehow the wily Mate had gotten there first and was leveling a machine gun…
Also outstanding were the Nightmare’s animatronic actors. Led by the 13 foot Impaler (passed three times during the tour at various elevations and stages of aggravation), they fulfill their duel functions as eye candy and providing distractions to hauntgoers that the live actors can exploit. We were pleasantly pleased to rediscover the Dredge Pipe Snake and its mutilated victim-once installed in the room the Impaler now occupies, it’s now tucked away in a corner of the cargo hold, waiting to remind you just how cool it is. The Nightmare is also loaded with all sorts of animals (animatronic and stuffed)-dozens of them, as we found out several seasons ago when the staff had a ‘spot the animal’ contest. The most notorious animals belong to the Rat Lady-this season she has more impact than ever, lying down and looking like she’s a rat snack before springing to life with several furry beasts clinging to her. And when you see a large river rat splashing in the water while waiting in line, that’s likely to be real too!
Every scene on the Nightmare fits seamlessly into the nautical theme, and maximum advantage is made of the boat’s massive machinery. Often covered by plywood in the early days, the machinery gives the Nightmare a massive credibility boost and makes it one of the most realistic haunts around. Now, it’s obvious that a boat would contain a cargo hold, Captain’s Quarters, infirmary, galley, engine room, machinist’s shop, and the like. But you might wonder why there are klowns and vampires. As we’ve explained before, riverboats often were home to troupes of traveling entertainers (ever heard of Showboat?). The Klowns were unfortunate enough to be berthed on the Mitchell when it met its end. And the Vampires? Well, remember, Dracula had his coffins shipped to England from Transylvania via ship. The vampires here, unable to cross running water on their own, prey on trespassers and wait for the day when someone can carry their coffins to shore.
Knowing what not to do in a haunt is as important as knowing what to do. Actor safety is paramount. As any haunter worth their salt knows, there are effects that sound awesome in principal but don’t come off as well when put into practice. As an example, Allen brings up the ‘flying clown’ from the old Nightmare I. “That was a great effect,” he says. “But we couldn’t get actors to do it. The harness would dig into their legs and would be unbearable after a couple of hours, even when we added lots of padding”. Another example is the Octoman mask from last year’s show, custom made for the Nightmare in conjunction with its appearance on the cable show “Making Monsters”. “The mask looks great, but is way too big on an actor’s head. It constantly moves around, fills up with condensation, and the eye holes are too far away from the actor’s eyes to be useful. Until I can mount it on a helmet or rig to keep it stable, I don’t want to use it,” he expounded.
As Allen goes on to give us the origins of several nautical terms (like port, starboard, and the head) and the difference between a ship and a boat (ships are generally seafaring but virtually all river vessels are boats), it occurs to us that not only does he play the part of the Captain while making promotional appearances for the Nightmare, but for all intents and purposes he IS the boat’s real Captain. The Nightmare needs to be towed, moved around, berthed, and access to the boat adjusted as the river rises and falls. Allen got his start as a deckhand and that experience (along with his business acumen and haunting expertise) makes him the ideal person to be running the Nightmare. In fact, some of the Nightmare’s staff are also experienced deck hands-the crew member stationed at the entrance told us several stories about battling high waters in past seasons.
The Nightmare was also the first local attraction to stage a darker, more sinister version of their regular show. Now an annual event held late on the last Saturday in October, Extreme Night sees the event pull out all the stops. Dialogue is far more confrontational and explicit. The lights are turned down as far as possible. Heavy blankets of fog fill certain corridors top to bottom. Hauntgoers are told that they WILL get wet. The Nightmare went the extra mile this season-it brought in a truckload of cast-off offal and animal parts for the galley and other areas, giving them the most realistic scenes possible! Those eyes you see on the Captain’s dinner plate might be the real thing. The Rat Lady also came out from behind the glass and walked the decks with several rowdy rodents crawling on her (kept there by the liberal application of peanut butter and other enticements). The large Klown head by the vortex that usually just emits wind spewed dense layers of fog throughout the deck. Hauntgoers were kidnapped out of the queue line and drug screaming inside the superstructure. It’s proved a favorite of many local hardcore haunters and to the Nightmare’s credit, they’ve kept it to a single night, ensuring that it remains ‘special’. The success of Extreme Night has filtered down to the regular show in many instances. For example, the wheel wells (where you walk over open catwalks over the waters of the Ohio River) have been left in virtual darkness and also have a small cascade of water that needs to be passed under. The regular show also gets a bit darker as the nights get later on Friday on Saturday.
Extreme Night is so extreme, in fact, that it even lures longtime Nightmare staffer Steve Schreibeis out of retirement and into an acting position. Steve, acting as the Nightmare’s head of make-up these days (as well as being involved in construction and security), hasn’t acted on a regular basis for several seasons but the lure of being able to use his thespian talents to maximum effect was too great for him to resist! However, it turns out Extreme Night isn’t going to be the pinnacle of his acting career. Instead, that would be his appearance as Michael Myers (of Halloween fame) on the Cool Ghoul’s Halloween Special way back in 2001. The legendary horror host was a longtime friend of the Nightmare, making appearances at their annual media/family night (we have a great video of the Ghoul on the bridge of the Nightmare introducing the boat’s cast). When he needed some horrifying creatures to dance the Monster Mash on the special, the Ghoul turned to the Nightmare to supply several of its actors. There were zombies, infirmary patients, Steve as Myers, and even the Nightmare’s Captain (not played by Allen Rizzo in this instance-a shame, because a video of him dancing as the Captain would be absolutely priceless!). Other veteran Nightmare actors like Dave, who’s currently one of the wise-cracking Klowns, make appearances as well. It was quite the coincidence when Steve related this to us, since The HOD!!! had just acquired a copy of the Ghoul’s classic “Phantasmagorical Funky Fonograf Record)” issued back in the 70’s. Getting the record inspired us to pull out our taped VHS copy and have an impromptu screening of that same special a couple of weeks ago-both Steve and Allen seemed surprised that the footage still existed. One of these days we’ll have to figure out how to convert the tape to a movie file and then stick it on Youtube so Steve’s slick moves will be on display for the entire world to see!
The Nightmare also caters to the opposite end of the haunt spectrum as they have a ‘lights on’ show for youngsters (and cowardly…err, we mean more family-oriented adults). As well as turning up the illumination, the event posts signs along the path warning customers that a scary effect is coming up. “We try to put on the most entertaining show we can that will meet the expectations of any type of group. Obviously, you’re never going to have a haunt that does everything 100% the way everyone wants it. Some people love seeing the clowns, some people hate them. Some people want the animatronics and others don’t. Some people want confrontational actors and others want more clever ones that interact. Some people want it pitch black and others want to see all the detail”, explained Allen. “But if EVERYONE’s expectations are met around 90%, I think we’re doing a fantastic job”. The real key to this approach is the actors and having them alter their performances based on the group. “I tell them there are some people you’re never going to be able to scare, but that doesn’t mean you can’t entertain them”. And simply being entertaining is the key to success for any haunted attraction-while haunt patrons claim they WANT to be scared, that’s almost always untrue. Anyone who’s actually scared at a haunt is never going to go back. What they really want is the “Thrill of Fear”, the same adrenaline rush you get from a ride on a roller coaster or watching a horror movie-and at the same time the feeling of safety that comes from knowing you’re not in any real danger. Entertaining haunts deliver this type of experience and almost always are the ones with the biggest crowds.
And for the icing on the cake, the Nightmare is an outstanding bargain for a top-notch pro haunt. On Wednesdays, you can come aboard for only $13-not only do you save a bundle but you’ll avoid the long weekend lines and also insure that the actors can give you their undivided attention! Yes, on Wednesdays you’ll still get the full complement of the Nightmare’s crew but now you won’t be able to safely slip past them when they’re distracted! Now, we at The HOD!!! think that’s a good thing, but you may think otherwise-particularly when the Captain begins to accuse you of going after his daughter, or the vampires have a debate over the best way to drain your blood. But whenever you go, the Nightmare provides everything you could want in a haunt-elaborate scenes, a long tour, animatronic goodness, Hollywood quality sound and lighting, and a talented crew of memorable characters in the best makeup and costuming. One could say they’ve rendered a real smorgasbord for haunters on the ol’ pig-nic table!
The Klowns Told Us Anna Was Bustin' Out
Looks Like They Weren't Lyin'
Freezer? Coffin? Jacuzzi?
In The Pantry, It Could Be A Little Of All Three!
Someone's Getting Ready For The Peter Pan Joke
Just Pray That You're Not The Punchline!
2013 EVENT INFORMATION
The USS Nightmare is located on Riverboat Row behind
Newport Landing. It's open Wednesday through Sunday, September 13th-November
2nd (not open Sunday September 15th, Wednesday September 18th, or Thursday
September 19th). Hours are 7 PM-1 AM Fridays and Saturdays (regular show closes
at 11 Saturday October 26th), 7 PM-11 PM all other nights. Tickets are $18
Thursday through Sunday with $22 RIP EXPRESS also available. All Wednesdays are
only $13! $3 military discount coupons available. $3 off coupons (good until
October 13th, not valid on Wednesdays) and $2 off coupons (good until November
2nd, not valid on Wednesdays) available. Group rates available online in
advance for 15 or more people-$12/$17 Photo Package, or with RIP 'skip the
line' passes for $16/$21 Photo Package. Get a Captain's Season Pass for only
$40 (in advance online)! The Family Four Pack is $50 (in advance online, one
member of the group must be an adult). The Super Saver Six Pack is $66 (in
advance online) and is valid on any Wednesday. Finally, there's the
Nightmare/Laser Rage Combo for $20 (in advance online).
The Nightmare has teamed up with St. Rita's Haunted House to form The Dark Combo for a special two haunt combo package. Only $20 for both haunts ($17 for groups over 15) or $26 for RIP EXPRESS ($22 for groups over 15). See The Dark Combo site for more details.
There is a special Lights On Matinee for children on Sunday, October 20th from 4-6. Kid's Matinee is $7 ($6 in advance online).
For the Ultimate in fright, try the Unrated Captain's Tour from Midnight-2 AM on Saturday, October 26th. It's $22 per person or $20 in advance online.
You can also rent the Nightmare's Mess Hall party room for groups of 20-40 (greater than 40 by arrangement). For two hours starting at 7 you get an unlimited VIP (no waiting in line) admission to the show (with an extra party slot opening at 10 PM Friday and Saturday), use of the Mess Hall (and its scare station, audio equipment, and video equipment) for that time, and beverages with one pizza per four guests. Cost is $25 per person with the Photo Package being $30.
Call (859) 740-2293, email the Captain at captainATussnightmare.com (replacing AT with @), visit the Nightmare on Facebook or Twitter, or check out the USS Nightmare website for more information, coupons and other discounts. Presented by BB Riverboats.
THE USS NIGHTMARE 2012
...And The Guys In The Engine Room Are Real Gearheads!
One Of The Machinist's Creations
KILL 'EM, GRILL 'EM, AND CHILL 'EM!
This year the Nightmare’s gotten its share of national exposure, starting with being named one of Hauntworld’s Top 13 Scariest Real Haunted Houses in America. But it really got its chance to shine when it appeared on Travel Channel’s “Making Monsters”, a program that explores the world of Distortions Unlimited’s animatronics and special effects. The appearance has been in the works for a couple of years, as Allen has been in contact with the show about featuring a segment at a haunt. Since the Nightmare is a longtime Distortions customer (plunking down $35,000 for props in their first year alone-the Distortions crew was happy to see a long out-of-production Psycho Wheel of theirs still in top working order after 15 years), it was a natural. When asked by Distortions owners Ed and Marsha Edmunds what he wanted for the segment, Allen told them to create what they wanted instead. “It was a chance to get something fresh and a different approach than what we might have done,” said Allen. “I really wanted to see what they could come up with”. Setting the new scene in the Nightmare’s final room for maximum impact, the Edmunds’ came up with a series of faux metal tanks with portholes featuring experiments put together by the ship’s doctor. The first two would be animatronics and the last would house a live actor with an elaborate Distortions custom mask.
The final product was a masterful blend of the expertise of Distortions and the haunting expertise of Allen. He deemed the original idea of making the boxes 30” square impractical. Rizzo realized that even with a chair inside for an actor to sit on, a couple of hours of getting up and down would wreak havoc on their knees. The boxes were enlarged a bit so that the actor would be able to stand up. The final product featured a flailing octopus tentacle that had broken out the porthole in the first box. The second had the head of a drowning man displayed, grimacing in its death throes. The final box held the ultimate product of the evil experiment combining man and cephalopod-the beauty you see pictured on this page. It was also altered-originally the plan was to have each of the actor’s arms covered with a tentacle, but this would have made it too difficult for him to continually open and shut the box. And just to add an exclamation point to the scene, the Doctor’s lab (which appears several rooms prior) was used to foreshadow the final scare. There, a bubbling tank houses an octopus that has a human head growing from its side.
And since the first and last rooms of a haunt are the ‘impact’ rooms that people tend to remember, the first room (the Mitchell Museum) has added an effect that was perhaps first seen in 1584 (from what the crew tells us, Allen was there to witness it)! We’re talking about the famous ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ illusion. This effect uses a dual compartment separated by glass-alternating the levels of light on either side can make it appear that a character is changing into something else (say, ‘girl into gorilla’) or in this case, making a translucent ‘ghost’ suddenly appear in a scene. And that ghost is none other than the Captain himself-not quite in the flesh (that comes later), but he just wants you to know he’s watching. A similar illusion was on the Nightmare I for a short time but hasn’t been seen for several years.There are other simple effects that make a big impact. One of these involves the Captain’s daughter, Anna. When first spotted, the impish murderess appears from nowhere on the reverse side of a mirror in the wall (also using the idea behind ‘Pepper’s Ghost’). She certainly looks demented and scarred up, but recognizably human. When she pops out of her clothes closet to confront hauntgoers seconds later she has a completely different and bizarre look thanks to the black lighting used in the hallway. This has been done since the early filmed versions of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, and is extremely effective. We wonder why haunts don’t make more extensive use of this-it could even be done by changing the lighting inside a scene, allowing a character to instantly change from being human to demon possessed, for example.
Other effects were born out of opportunity. Allen’s always loved the windstorm that was a big feature of the original Nightmare I. The Nightmare had a snow machine that it had stopped using because the oily residue from the ‘snow’ left the floor too slick to be safe. Rizzo instead filled the machine with water to see what would happen, and voila-instant rainstorm! “The actor in the ghillie suit in that scene loves it-it helps keep him cool on the hot nights we have early in the season”, laughed Allen.
There are also the scenes that continue to be crowd pleasers season after season-perhaps the most long tenured and unique being the Rat Lady. Most haunts bypass any effect that requires live animals simply to avoid the extra expense and time needed to care for them properly, but the Rat Lady (some years being eaten by a horde of scampering rats, some seasons crooning over them as beloved pets) remains a staple and something that people expect to see when they come on board. The Portrait Ghost in the Mitchell Museum and the 13 foot tall animatronic Impaler that follows have reached that status as well. Most of the other areas tend to be grouped into themes-like the several rooms we mentioned earlier that comprise the cooking area. As you’d expect to see them on board a real ship, they stay roughly the same from season to season with new props and different actors helping to keep them fresh. The Captain has a group of several rooms (including a new one this season that has been transformed into his personal cabin). The Engine Room has been opened up a bit more, with the section of it that precedes the Impaler having a wall removed to expose the engine along with several grisly displays of tortured crew members. The cargo hold is a massive, sprawling space that houses a plethora of bizarre exhibits and treasures. The Infirmary takes you from the patient’s rooms to the ship’s surgery and beyond. Much of the machinery on the first deck has been converted into a lab by the Ship’s Doctor. The passenger’s cabins have been co-opted by members of a circus troupe, giving the rationale for having haunt Klowns on board. The laundry room filled with bloody sheeting, the ‘fence maze’ and its clambering ghouls, the Night Watchman’s guard dog, even the paddle wheel wells that put hauntgoers on a catwalk above the waters of the Ohio River-all of the scenes stick to the ‘death dredge’ theme and are filled with the appropriate actors.And what actors they are! They supplied us with what might have been the best overall performance by a group of actors that we’ve ever seen. All the work the Nightmare has put into working with their actors and giving them the best in makeup and costuming has paid off. It’s a mix of startle scares and interactivity, with the actors displaying the more elaborate facial appliances doing most of the startles and the ones with more traditional looks doing most of the talking. And boy, do they like to talk! Particularly good in this regard were the Mitchell Museum Curator, the Night Watchman, the Ship’s Doctor (with a stereotypical German ‘mad scientist’ accent), the ‘Hang Around Klown’, and the Captain (who rampages through several rooms while recapturing his latest victim, a young lady who had been tied to a chair several scenes earlier). The ramblings of the Night Watchman continued over several scenes as he angrily ranted about spending two months’ pay on a bottle of Jack Daniels only to have the Captain steal it-so HE says. Personally, we think he’s already sucked the whole thing down himself-after all, he did feel to need to make us understand three things, and number one on the list was that we really was sober, really. Sounds like denial to us! At any rate, this guy appeared from inside a number of hatches and around several corners, never letting up on the crowd and spouting dire threats should they ignore his order to get his bottle back.
We also received our only startle at any haunt this season when an especially ugly specimen flipped upside down into our path while clinging to his perch on a coffin that spanned the area above our heads. After that, he leapt backward off the coffin and scurried off to reappear from the many hiding spots afforded by the ship’s maze of machinery. The ‘action’ characters tend to be the ones created by the Ship’s Doctor or her rival the Machinist. If it’s organic, it’s the Doctor. If it looks mechanical and steampunk, it belongs to the Machinist. Some characters just defy classification, like Stretch the Klown and his ‘Rave Dance Party 2012’ located in the center of the Nightmare’s vortex tunnel. To top it off, the Nightmare has an all-adult cast (Rizzo won’t even use underage volunteers). Makeup artist/roustabout Steve Schreibeis has been one of the major influences on not only the upgrades to the Nightmare’s makeup but also to improving the techniques of their actors. Eschewing store-bought pieces, Steve and his crew of several local makeup artists sculpt original prosthetics that give the actors the chance to be unique-as well as helping outline the ‘rivalry’ between the two mad geniuses on board. The emphasis on interactivity also has an added bonus for hauntgoers-as Allen explains, “We’ve told the actors we want them to try to hold the customers in their scenes longer. In too many haunts people are pushed through, told to ‘get out’, and end up missing a lot of detail and effects. Here we want them to see everything in the rooms, see the great makeup on the actors, and feel like they’re actually part of what’s going on rather than just witnessing it”. So you’re not only getting a better performance, but the tour time goes up as well, giving the Nightmare even more value.As Allen is quick to point out, value is one of the things the Nightmare prides itself on. “We haven’t raised our ticket price in several years-it’s still $16. We’ve got actors and real news video of the Mitchell’s wreck to keep people entertained in the line as well as other distractions along the way. Once people exit the boat, they come out in the Family Fun Center where they can play laser tag, buy a variety of food, souvenirs, or play one of our many arcade games. You can get a photo of yourself and your friends posed in front of several scenes on the boat (and in the picture The HOD!!! had taken, Allen had told the photogs to give us Devil horns-way cool!). We’ve got convenient parking and we’re easy to reach from the highway. Newport Landing is right there for people who want to go the movies, eat, or enjoy the nightlife. The boat is, and always will be, the main attraction, but we’re always looking to add something extra that people will enjoy”. One season this might manifest itself in a second attraction, something the Nightmare has been trying to put together for years.
The sound aboard the Nightmare has always been among the best of any area haunt, and the lighting has kept pace as well. The Nightmare was the first haunt in the area to feature an ‘extreme night’ that turned off much of the lighting in the house, allowed the actors to use harsher language, create more extreme characters, and allowed limited contact with hauntgoers. In fact, it seems that the Nightmare is noticeably darker this season and some lighting is controlled by the actors. Perhaps some of the lighting was never turned back on after Extreme Night, but Steve and fellow crew member Jason Ervin swear they wouldn’t know anything about that. The darkness was used to great effect by (who else) the Vampire Overlord-at least we think it was him since he was never seen. Long an HOD!!! favorite, the crafty vampire kept to the shadows, only being glimpsed for a split second at times, but always continuing to talk with the crowds and let them know he was there…somewhere. It was an excellent demonstration of how not being seen can be more effective than laying it all out.Rizzo himself enjoys becoming part of the entertainment. He activity chats up groups as they exit the boat, finding out what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they remember most, what scared them, and has been known to ambush them with the event’s old ‘machine gun’. Several seasons ago, he learned how to eat fire from the Pickled Brothers (we really miss seeing these guys at area haunts) and good naturedly repeated his performance so we could get a picture for the HOD!!! He’s quite active making appearances as the Captain, even going so far as to conduct an entire interview with Channel 12 news in the makeup and in character. We can’t help but mention one of the funnier things that we experienced at a haunt this season. Allen was off talking with a group of VIP’s that had just arrived. We decided to go check out the snack bar and see if we could buy one of the cool ‘Nightmare Captain’ T-Shirts that Allen had on, but unfortunately they were completely sold out. When he found out, Allen asked what size we wore and then, on a freezing cold night, took off his jacket and proceeded to remove and hand over his shirt! Sure, he was probably just trying to impress the girls with his physique, but it’s not often that you meet someone who will LITERALLY give you the shirt off their back! Muchos arigatos, Allen.
So killed, grilled, or chilled, the Nightmare is cooking up the scares and serving them up to hungry TriState hauntgoers. It’s a nationally ranked attraction that’s less expensive than some charity haunts. It’s a virtual feast for the eyes and ears that constantly strives to improve and add value. And if you watch yourself around the Captain, everything might turn out OK. Unless you run into Anna. Or the Overlord…and then there’s the Watchman…all things considered, maybe you’d be better off dropping from the feeding balcony and into the waiting maw of the Impaler. That’s one thing about a ship-the crew always appreciates fresh meat on a voyage.