While I was in the second round of the extreme haunt, I saw another extremist on his fourth round. Not me. I made the decision that I would just head straight for the door upon exiting the second round. Which I did on a run.
I had had enough of this and didn't care if I ran away like a coward to the laughter of the staff. Yet, for all the unpleasantries, I knew it could have been much worse. This is an expression of gratitude, not a challenge. Asylum 49 injured my defenses, but they didn't destroy me emotionally. This is a good thing, but within this restraint exists a fatal flaw with all extreme haunts.
Among the critics of extreme haunts are other haunters, both professionals and amateurs. Their unique criticism among the others is that extreme haunts lack any craft. Skills like prop making or makeup & prosthetics don't exist in extreme haunts. Instead, they resort to the lowest levels of hackery to get their scares. It destroys the true spirit of the haunting season.
Extreme haunters counter-argue that for all the craft of props, costumes, and makeup, they lack authenticity and fail to truly bring the fear out of people. They assert that they are trying to get to the primal emotion of fear to a more pure and evocative experience.
Both positions are based on the same false premise that impacts the value of this debate. Both assume that the extreme haunt is a means to its own end. Even though I was taken to private areas and treated differently, I traveled the same haunt path as non-extremist attendees. It seems clear to me that none of the haunters realized the truth of what happened to me between the times when I was further broken down.
My fear had become heightened such that even the more mild parts of the haunt and the less convincing cast members made me nervous. Their efforts to break me also made the haunt more terrifying. They enhanced the impact of the traditional haunt while I journeyed to the next extreme experience. This is revelatory. You can make a haunt stronger by impacting the emotional stability of the attendee. It's an experience can be best termed as The Raimi Effect.
Sam Raimi is the master of horror. His Evil Dead trilogy was once seen as a collection of cult classics. Now they are revered as horror classics. I love the trilogy and it is part of my Halloween must-see list. But for my money, Drag Me To Hell is his finest work and the best horror film ever.
What makes this movie work so well as a horror is how well is disturbs your equilibrium before it wrecks you with fear. Many of the scenes have aspects of horror, but instead of using blood and gore, he uses other disturbing things like the two wrestling matches with the gypsy woman; one before she's a corpse and one afterward.
These scenes may appear as gratuitous gross-outs, but they serve a specific purpose. They break your defenses. The eww factor reduces the blood flow to the brain as queasiness awakens in your stomach. The jump scares become jumpier and the horror more emotional.
Any scene that can screw up your steadiness in horror is a success for follow-up scares: watching Nicholson make out with an old rotting corpse, a close up of a needle, even the permanent smile on a clown doll. The most common, of course, is gore.
Raimi tried other aspects of this before. The Evil Dead used the tree rape scene to similar effect. In The Evil Dead 2, things like the eyeball projectile set you off balance. But in Drag Me To Hell, Raimi reaches full genius. Allison Loman battles the gypsy's hair pulling, slobbery dentures, and fluid ejection all of which grosses you out and sets you up for the horror payoffs. There’s a lot to learn from Raimi’s work when establishing an haunt.
Extreme haunts view your emotional destruction a success unto itself. They're wrong. Emotional damage alone is incomplete. Emotional damage makes the rest of the haunt more effective. Leaving them in a fragile emotional state without providing some aspects of a traditional haunt is a half-baked beef wellington.
Imagine a haunt where after being destabilized, you're now walking alone in a near full blackout, maze-like structure. It doesn't even have to be a maze. The narrow corridor with it's sudden and invisible right angle turns would be enough to convince the nearly panicked attendee that he is lost in a maze without one even being there.
Envision a room where the breaking extremist is now seated on a bench opposite a person also marked for the extreme haunt, but hasn't been through yet. The opposite and inexperienced extremist would be nervous, and sympathetic to the breaking one. This would put the breaking extremist at ease. When they are allowing themselves to be vulnerable and the breaking extremist feels relief, he learns in the worst ways possible that the opposite and inexperienced extremist is nothing of the sort, but another part of the haunt.
Comparing haunt experiences to film horror can help, but there is a major difference between the two. Film relies on the suspension of disbelief; acceptance the film’s universe is the investment. Having that universe deliver emotional returns is the payoff. Haunters don't use the suspension of disbelief. They attempt to make the unbelievable believable. This is a much greater challenge.
Haunters also use strong audience control by creating haunt paths that enable deceptions for effective jump scares. They pursue graphic realism. They put forth tremendous efforts to create the belief of fearful things that are otherwise unbelievable. Extreme haunting pushes boundaries and makes plausible, what might otherwise be incredulous. Extreme haunts up the paranoia and reduce the disbelief.
Haunters can exploit these changes in perception along with the mental and emotional fatigue to employ fear-inducing deceptions and surprise with much greater effect. A person covered in whatever they believe is on them, who has undergone intimidation accepts a new normalized world before they entered. This person can accept the more of what is happening around them as real. This increases the power of the haunt experience for the extremist. It may even mean that extreme haunting may not need to be so extreme and that employing some of these with full contact haunts may be enough for most without the extreme experience. This way, all who seek either haunt experience may be brought to this greater level of fear. The haunter must first begin by accepting the premise that the extreme haunt is not an end unto itself before any of this can succeed.