The Halloween season is upon us. You can feel it in the air like a dark, heavy mist, carrying the creatures of your nightmares into reality for one entire month. What a shame that it only lasts one month.
Now is the time when every shadow holds a secret, every bed hides a monster, and every house is haunted. With that, we bring you House Haunting, a new feature where we review haunted houses for your benefit, that you may get the most fear for your buck.
All houses will be rated on our SCREAM Scale:
Our first house this season is the House of Torment, located in Austin, Texas. House of Torment has been open for ten years, and is currently finishing its final year at Highland Mall, in preparation for a new location next year. However, they intend to go out with a bloody bang. There are three attractions this year: The Awakening, Cursed: The Howling, and The Slaughterhouse.
Story is one of the most overlooked aspects of the horror genre, most particularly in haunted houses. Who needs a story when you’re in the middle of it, right? Wrong. A story allows you to be immersed in the house. You know what the stakes are, you know who these creatures are, and you know why you are fighting to survive.
House of Torment has done something impressive by not only creating an intriguing story, but also one that has spread across the past several years. The Awakening picks up years after a devastating apocalyptic plague has ravaged the planet, giving an evil alien army the opportunity to conquer what remains. Yet, the hordes of monsters have proven too much for Commander Nemesis and his army, leading him to one final, and desperate, war crime.
The horror continues as you make your way into an ancient Temple. We learn that the cataclysmic events are tied to the Mayan prophecy of the end of the 13th b’ak’tun. This evil place may hold the answers that we seek, but be warned. Macabre rituals of blood have awakened the dead pirates of old, who battle the dark wolves for control of these thick, jungle lands.
If you have survived, you will be corralled into The Slaughterhouse. With the remains of the human species facing annihilation from the monsters of the undead and the alien armies of Nemesis, there are those who will do anything to survive. The armies of Nemesis crave the flesh of humans, and one family in the outskirts of what was once Austin, Texas are more than willing to provide.
House of Torment is an attraction that is not afraid to push the extremes, blend genres, or terrify its audience at any cost. It is this desire to try new things that sets Torment apart from other haunted attractions. As a patron of the dark arts, I have seen many haunted houses. Many of these houses are good, but feel a need to play it safe. From a business standpoint, this is a sound decision.
But, I would hazard that what keeps the crowds coming is Torment’s desire to be different. You will be hard pressed to find any haunted house (or horror film, book, or comic) that isn’t afraid to try something that others might shy away from. And as faithful readers will know by now, I am always going to run towards what is new and different, and away from what is old and familiar.
You will not find many recognizable horror creatures or motifs at House of Torment. Not on the surface, anyway. However, you may recognize some of the inspiration. The Slaughterhouse is quite reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other such slasher films. Torment is also playing quite creatively on the fear and (illogical?) paranoia brought upon by the Mayan apocalypse of 2012. But it was the realization that my group made while waiting in line for the second house that sticks out most in my mind.
I cannot say that I was the one who came up with this analogy. Rather, it was a collaborative effort of others in the group. The plot of The Awakening centers around an alien invasion, and human survivors fighting both this interstellar army and the monsters that walk the Earth. It seems oddly reminiscent of Plan 9 From Outer Space. You know, if Plan 9 had been scary and actually good. This harkens back the the cleverness of Torment, and its desire to take what is different, and twist around the necks of our subconscious.
Having been to House of Torment for three years in a row, I have to say that one of the best aspects is its ingenious environment. The pathway will take you up stairs, through buildings, city streets, and into a room tilted at an extreme angle. House of Torment has been housed in the same building for several years, but sometimes it is hard to know that.
While you will see some familiar sights, such as the twelve-foot tall monsters and maybe a familiar set or two, the path will never be the same. I don’t know the inner workings of the construction of the house, but it is very obvious that the creators have the ability to shift walls and paths, never having the same track more than one season. This led to the feeling of never knowing when the house was going to end. Every corner seems like it is going to be your next escape, but don’t be so sure.
Special mention has to be made in regards to The Slaughterhouse. This year’s final house stands independent from the main building. It is a wooden structure, and appears relatively small. The sounds of screams and chainsaws roar from within. My group was already high on adrenaline from the first two houses, and while we were looking forward to this small, third installment, we were expecting a simple walk through a makeshift corral.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
I won’t give away too much, but suffice it to say, The Slaughterhouse is much, much bigger than it looks, and the monsters . . . well, let’s just say that this is the first time my group became separated for a length of time. In this maze, you will feel like cattle. You will feel helpless, and you will feel like nothing more than food for the horrors waiting at the end.
Hand-in-hand with environment is the atmosphere a haunted house creates. How does this place make you feel? House of Torment is dark, but you can still see just enough to wish it was darker. Fog and mist roll through the city streets. You can feel a presence all around you.
Torment creates a sense of being lost, and a sense of hopelessness. You know that there is a war being waged; a war for the survival of humanity. But every time you see a SWAT officer turned into a murderous zombie, or a monster bigger than a house reach for you as though you were a tasty snack, you realize that this war has already been won. We are not the victors, but we most certainly are the spoils.
The entrances may be filled with safety warnings, and you may constantly remind yourself that none of this is real, but the monsters will never let you believe that for a second. It starts on Twitter, with replies and retweets promising threats of violence. While you wait in line, monsters roam the corrals, taking pictures with the brave, and chasing the cowardly. After giving you a quick safety briefing, the crew alerts the monsters to your presence with the call of “fresh meat!”
Once inside, you will be surrounded. While these monsters will not intentionally touch you, they will get very, very close. They will jump out at you, run towards you, grab at you, and stand in your path, waiting to see if you have the nerve to walk around them. And that’s only after they let themselves be seen. Often, you won’t even know your sharing the same air as a monster until it’s breathing down your neck.
House of Torment employs some of the best actors I have seen in a haunted house. They are physically fit, always stay in character, and never seem quite human. A nod has to be given to the makeup artists in this last aspect. Even though you’ll spend most of your time in the dark, Torment does not skimp on the details. Once your eyes adjust, you’ll be able to see that Torment does not use the dark as an excuse for poor creature design. This total commitment to the craft is truly what sets House of Torment apart from all the others.
Be sure to check out House of Torment at their website here. Mighty Cthulhu demands that you attend.