Horror Grips The Globe
Terror rears its manifold heads across the world. No, this is not a reference to the blossoming of extreme, often fascistic, political factions the world over but to an international proliferation of live and interactive horror experiences. We took notice of this phenomenon while site seeing on a recent trip to central Europe, quite unrelated to any Traumaturgy business. Our team members could not help but notice a plethora of haunted houses, haunted rides, haunted virtual-reality challenges, and horror-themed escape rooms everywhere we ventured. Naturally, we could not resist sampling some of the finest chills and thrills Hungary, The Czech Republic, and Austria had to offer.
We first noticed the prominence of horror-based activities in Budapest, where a number of haunted houses could be seen advertised around the city. Unfortunately, the timing of such offerings did not coincide well with our itinerary and we had to depart before we could arrange to visit any of them. However, seeing such popular support for the art form put us on alert; we must make room in our schedule for the possibility of more accidental contact with paranormal play.
Our most delightful encounter with the frightful happened in Prague, the next leg of our tour. Randomly walking up and down its wending, un-American streets, we discovered Thrill Park, what would reveal itself to be a veritable dungeon of dread.
Hidden behind its inconspicuous facade was a trio of terror, three extensive and immersive horror experiences from which to choose: a virtual-reality zombie apocalypse simulator, a virtual-reality escape challenge that promised to trap you inside the mind of a psychopath, and finally a massive underground “Dungeon of Horror.” Being the lengthiest and least digital offering, we chose to explore Thrill Park's dark underbelly.
Confirming the wisdom of our choice, the front desk attendant promptly produced an ominous sounding waiver for us to sign. Then she began going over the rules. First, she told us, it was dark, very dark, and we would have to navigate via small blue lights hidden throughout the space. We could not move around quickly or violently. We could not bring anything with us. And we must not let anything separate us; we had to be in physical contact at all times. Although it sounded foreboding and a bit strange at the time, the importance of this rule was not overstated. Finally, we were given a standard safety phrase. If either one of us yelled out “I'm a chicken” the lights would come on and the experience would end for both of us, but we would be added to the tally of patrons who could not complete Thrill Park's main event. She brought to our attention a chalkboard on the wall next to her desk with the number 250 written out across the top, followed by some 40 or 50 tick marks to round out the accounting of individual failures. And with that possibility of mild public shame hanging over our heads, should we not suffer through each and every scare to victory and freedom, we were taken to the dungeon's entrance.
At the bottom of a short staircase, a gloomy looking door slowly swung open, exposing the pitch-black awaiting our descent. What followed was a tense and terrifying squeeze, climb, crawl and fall while clumsily holding hands, belts, legs, arms, pants and shoes to keep safe and maintain orientation. Each twist and turn produced some new sudden poke, prod, outburst or other surprise sensory input, smell included. The darkness, at key moments, was punctuated with bright flashes that illuminated the horrors surrounding your otherwise blind navigation. The need for the waiver was obvious.
After a heart racing finish, we were met at an exit door by the the attendant who promptly returned our stuff and assured us we were not the slowest participants they ever had. But our resilience was rewarded with documentation of our fearful travail and coupons to Prague's only horror themed bar, Nightmare, providing us with welcome savings and a destination for the remainder of our evening.
Like many locations in Prague, Nightmare appeared suddenly from an unassuming turn of the corner. The bar projected a strong horror theme with large scale models of Pinhead, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Leather Face, and Michael Myers disappeared to prominent positions throughout and a television cycling through still images of famous horror movie moments, in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
The menu featured cocktails and shots with horror themed names and lengthy ingredient lists. Our coupons entitled us to free shots. We each picked the Zombie Embryo, the drink being named for the aesthetics of its appearance and not its flavor, I would have to assume; it was clumpy and fetal in appearance but overwhelmingly sweet and uniform in texture.
Two more beers in and it was time for us to return to turn down for the night, our horror excursions in Prague coming to a close, but at the time we had no idea what we might find next in Vienna.
Random encounters were resolving in our favor, so while wandering Vienna, the final stop on our European sojourn, we once again stumbled upon a horrific find, a collection of horror themed attractions. With the sole aim of covering as much of Vienna's square footage as possible, the Traumaturgy team incidentally discovered Prater amusement park. As we walked around, the number of rides and entertainments that featured ghosts, zombies, witches, evil clowns, and other paranormal terrors stood out. During our visit, we found nine discrete attractions that were wholly horror oriented: Hotel Psycho, Jack The Ripper, Red Eagle Ghost Train (Geisterbahn zum roten Adler), Great Ghost Train (Große Geisterbahn), Haunted Castle, The Clown, Hallo Wien Mirror Maze (Hallo Wien Spiegelkabinett), and The Laboratory (Das Labor). By a count taken from Praterfolder 2018, nearly ten percent of major interactive attractions were horror themed. This does not count the various shooting galleries or arcade games that may have had zombies or haunted hotels or paranormal creatures at their cores.
With each option having its own admittance charge, we elected for a meager sampling; we decided on only one of these to try, Praters newest terrorizing force The Clown, not to be confused with the longstanding Spectacolo The Clown.
The Clown was a virtual reality on-rails video. At the outset, a manically looking clown beckons your train car down the rails and into the belly of the beast. Without divulging too much information, there were a few clear lessons to be drawn from the ride. Unsurprisingly, matching physical movements to visual cues was effective—less effective were the visual frights that assaulted you along the obligatory way, actions that threatened you based on movements that were outside your controls. Ultimately, moments of richly composed depth or potential movement, especially falling, produced the most engrossing effects.
This cutting-edge mixture of digital immersion and live interaction, however limited your choices—being only able to affect the direction of your attention, the rails taking you where and when they will—turned out to be a fitting end to our experiential experiments. Our remaining days were filled with Hapsburg history, but the unexpected saturation of standing horror experiences signaled again the teeming ambitions of the whole spectrum of live horror theaters and experiences out there, everywhere, right now.