Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Frightworld Review 2016

     At long last, What aWitch and the Ghost have made our annual visit to “Frightworld: America’sScreampark,” voted the 3rd best haunted attraction in the nation byBuzzFeed.  This year, Frightworld again delivered on the scares,atmosphere and jumps, even though there were few new or redone haunts.

     This year, the “Condemned” house featured a swamp, and expanded on the outdoor setting. We at ghostuponthefloor love the realistic and eerie atmosphere that a few dead leaves and branches can create in a haunted house. It is amazing what some realistic trees can do, stepping out of the house and into an outdoor woods, a cemetery with leaves fallen on the ground, and walking through fields of corn stalks—there are few things we love more than being scared in this environment.

     New this year in “Condemned” was a series of hissing raccoons. In retrospect they seem a bit predictable, yet we fell for every single one of them! And literally found ourselves clapping in approval. Other standing ovations were given to a dead end in the last room of Eerie Asylum—we won’t spoil it for you, but we will say it was genius. 

     Celebrating their 15th year, Frightworld seems to have stepped up the makeup effects. This was especially—and epically-- noticeable in the “Night Stalkers” house, an attraction where you only have a flashlight to guide your way through. At turns, we found ourselves truly frightened and then wanting to see more of some of the actors We glimpsed in the halls- their makeup work was so detailed and haunting, their faces stayed with us long after we stepped out of the door and into the light. The Ghost, who counts “Night Stalkers” as one of his favorite fright experiences, was impressed yet again by how the most perfect fear can be given by the house’s controlled flashlight, some hooded figures, good actors and darkness.

     We must admit that we did not go through "Insanity,” as we are not afraid to say that we are labored by mazes with strobe lights. While the opening for this style haunt at Frightworld has given us some of the biggest jumps in our haunted history, when it comes to the mazes, we don't put them in the same fear category as the other houses, especially after a half hour of walking into the same walls, and the same people. Frankly, this is a theme we hope haunt makers everywhere start to move away from.

     As haunted house technology evolves, we look forward to seeing how Frightworld continues to evolve and make use of higher and higher technology.  Some of Frightworld’s greatest assets, though, are the way they employ subtle low tech but effective scares in their haunts- a curtain blowing in the breeze, a row of what looks like people real humans—living or dead?—covered by sheets—this is what gets this Ghost and Witch’s heart racing.

     As always, Frightworld’s staff were a friendly, passionate and genuinely excited to be working there. And we can’t blame them. How it must be to go to work every night, ready to go bump in the night and scare Frightworld’s attendees—we can only imagine.

     Oh and one last thing. Chainsaws never get old.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Frightworld 2016: Behind the Scenes with Stephen Szortyka

     There are few things this Ghost and Witch love more than being scared. For us, the haunted attractions the Hallowed season brings are a highlight of our year. Here in western New York, we are beyond lucky to be the home of "Frightworld: America's Screampark."

     Frightworld is one of the highest rated and regarded haunted attractions in the nation. Like we have in years past, we recently sat down with Stephen Szortyka, GM and Director of Operations for Eerie Productions and Frightworld, and pick his brain about what it's like to run one of the biggest haunts in the country, and what it exactly it takes to make us afraid.

Stephen Szortyka interview:

What a Witch: "Thanks for sitting down with us, Stephen. One of our favorite things about your houses are the balloon bag—rooms?—that never fail to get our claustrophobia going. They never fail to scare us every year. Why the lack this year? What is the upkeep for the “balloons” like?"

Stephen: "Every year, we like to switch things up and keep things fresh. Sometimes that includes moving, changing or removing things. “Claustrophobia” is a highlight of many customers experience here at Frightworld. Upkeep on the “balloons” is a process. Sometimes they are ripped and need to be sewn. This year, we have 1 of them in 1 of the attractions. Not going to tell you where, you will have to find it yourself!"

Ghost: "Haunted attractions have made the news lately for being forced to- under pressure- remove or close houses down that make use of asylums and psychiatric facilities and patients. We love Erie Asylum, and think it is one of your best houses. What are your feelings on this—is political correctness going too far? Or does the history of what happened at these abandoned places and deserve a place in the American consciousness of fear?"

Stephen: "This is a great question, but also a very tough question. Society has become more adaptable over the years. What used to scare customer back in 1990, with black walls, a strobe light, and some fog, no longer scares them. With society changing, so has haunted attractions all over the world. Our event is a high tech Screampark with top of the line technology that has evolved over the years to become the park it is today. Haunted attractions with asylum themed houses have been around since the start of haunted houses, for 1 reason, and 1 reason only, the customers want it. Speaking on behalf of our event and many other events out there, it’s not our intention to ever criticize or make light of any event, in favor of entertainment."

What a Witch: "We noticed you have a theme night for younger kids planned this year. What made you decide to do that, and what does it entail? How do you make Frightworld less scary for the ankle-biters?"

Stephen: "Our customers asked for it! The popularity of our event, both locally and nationally, has drawn interest from all ages. You’ve asked for it, so we are providing it: Little Frights with Lights. October 29th 2016, our little friends can come to Frightworld and check out the park with the lights ON and no monsters! To make this event “less scary” we cover up some of the more mature scenes, add lights to the event, and turn off the sounds. The kids go trick-or-treating at all the attractions, enjoy balloon animals and face painting. If they are brave enough, they can check out the attractions with an accompanying parent."

Ghost: "Technology in haunted houses has become a big issue. What are you opinions on high tech (the use of tv/computer screens, etc) versus more traditional scares? (One of our favorite things this year were the curtains blowing in the wind. So atmospheric, so affective.)"

Stephen: "Today, we have no choice but to incorporate technology! Its needed for many different effects. And that’s NOT a bad thing. Technology has allowed us to make our park more of an immersive experience for our customers. We now have full control of our customers and their scares when they enter our attractions. We focus on finding a happy medium between old school and new school. Like you mentioned, we still use something as simple as fans that blow curtains through the windows."

What a Witch: "What are you most proud of with Frightworld this year? Is there anything you can tell us about plans for the future?"

Stephen: "2015 and 2016 are mile stones for us here at Frightworld, for several reasons. #1: we are in the largest building we have ever been in. #2 We were ranked by BuzzFeed as #3 haunted attraction in the nation which received over 3 million hits in 24 hours. Along with other nationally acclaimed awards, we also hold #1 Haunted Attraction in Buffalo and the Northeast by"

Ghost: "What are your favorite and least favorite things about running such a large haunted attraction?"

Stephen: "This business is our passion. The best thing about this is that we love our job and we love what we do. We love coming into work every day! What started out as a backyard Halloween party is now a nationally acclaimed Screampark! Every day I get to go something different, today I might work on marketing, tomorrow I could me on the road doing sponsor distributions and then the next day I could be detailing an attraction. It’s never a dull moment during the Halloween season."

Ghost: "Bonus/current events question: What, if anything, is scarier than the reports of clowns trying to lure children into the woods with candy and waving at adults at 2AM?"

Stephen: "What began as a marketing Technique for a movie coming out 3 years ago has turned into a freak viral trend today. I laughed when I saw the craze start back up. What’s scarier is the clowns we have here at Frightworld. Come get a real scare!"

Frightworld: America'a Screampark is located at 800 Young Street, Tonawanda, NY. Open October 14-16, and starting October 20th, Frightworld is open every night through Halloween, and also November 4 and 5th. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

We Like Scary Movies: "Blair Witch"

      In 1999, the low budget horror film "The Blair Witch Project" was released. It's legacy would alter the course of popular horror movies for the next nearly two decades. The "found footage" genre went mainstream with the shakily shot film, alleging to have been real, found in the woods. The three people in the movie shown making a documentary of their own on a legend of the Blair Witch, a woman put to death for being a witch in the woods of Maryland, were also real. This was in simpler times, when the Internet did not so easily dispel (or, spread) rumors. The documentary, of course, was fictional, as were the actors, the film and the legend of the Blair Witch.

     However, that did not stop the film from becoming, at the time, one of the most successful independent films of all time, and a national phenomenon. The spirit of the "Blair Witch" would live on in parodies, a hastily produced sequel, and, most importantly, the formation of a genre. While lower budget horror films had experimented with the found footage concept-- where a film or portion of a film is presented as filmed from the characters' point(s) of view-- nothing so cemented the idea, or the effectiveness and bankable nature of the genre, in popular culture like the Blair Witch. While the hastily produced sequel, "Blair Witch: Book of Shadows," abandoned the concept, some of the most popular and successful horror films and franchises-- "Paranormal Activity" and "V/H/S"-- of the last 15 years took the found footage concept and ran with it to great fortune.

"Blair Witch" (2016)

 And so, roughly 17 years later, we have "Blair Witch," a sequel made and initially promoted in secrecy under the title of "The Woods." Nowadays, it is far easier to accomplish the marketing and buzz the original Blair Witch film did in 1999 without the aid of the social media we have today. While the years may have passed, little seems to have changed with how audiences are reacting to "Blair Witch." Critically and in terms of general audience opinion, the flick seems to have divided viewers. Some see it as an updated twist on a winning formula; others see it as derivative and dull. Yet others see it falling somewhere in between.

"The Blair Witch Project" (1999) 

 So what do we think of "Blair Witch"? In this reviewer's opinion, there is more here to enjoy than not. Surely, with the technology available today for recording trips into the deep woods in search of a supernatural entity, there were opportunities the film missed. While it did feature a drone camera, it seems that so many more scares could happen on today's recording equipment. Also, while the film takes a bit to get its footing-- telling the story of the original's Heather's brother wanting to go into the woods looking for her all these years later-- the narrative is less of a slow burn than Heather's movie. And while the original film can be looked at through eyes that don't see anything supernatural about it-- this new edition into the Blair Witch lore takes an early, and far more firm stance on whether or not a supernatural force, the Witch, is at play.

"Blair Witch" (2016) 

 For all the film's faults, it works so well by venturing in the footsteps of the original. There is a fear very primal about being lost in the woods, being hunted, and not knowing the nature of that which seeks you. There are some fantastic scares, creeps and questions in this film, and, this reviewer believes you can do far worse at the movies this theater than to see "Blair Witch." Scary, effective and shades of being both original and nostalgic, "Blair Witch," is one of the better scary movies to be released this year.

"The Blair Witch Project" film poster (1999)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Into the "Season of Shadows"

     If you scroll down the list of links here at Ghostuponthefloor, you will find a list of Halloween blogs, where I have linked to other Halloween souls who write about the holiday. At the top of that list is “Season ofShadows.” If you click on the link, you are taken to a website that is nolonger active.

     I will never take that name down, though, as without it I doubt we here at GUTF would have a blog for you to read.

     For anyone who may not know what “Season of Shadows” was, I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience the blog. “Season of Shadows” was the late John Wolfe’s labor of haunted love, writing about his home haunts and fantastic displays, and his love for all things Halloween, especially those nostalgic things—costumes, breakfast cereals, cartoons and commercials—for those who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s.

     When I first found John’s blog, I was quickly taken in by it. I had been thinking of starting a blog about my attempts at pumpkin growing, maybe a general blog about Halloween, but when I saw John’s blog, I knew I could never do something like that. His haunts were so impressive, his knowledge on things Halloween past so extensive—it intimidated this Ghost. However, as time went on, and I read John’s blog, I found myself relating to him more and more. One day, back in 2008, when my pumpkin patch failed yet again—and I had just bought a new box of Halloween cookie cutters—I decided that I would try my hand at blogging. See if I would be able to keep it up, and for how long.

     At first, I didn’t know if I could keep this up. I tried my best, but had yet to find my footing. I’ll never forget the first time John found my blog—and commented—on a post I had made. He began to email me shortly after, and the encouragement he gave me was enough to carry on in my haunted writings, and soon I found a partner in What a Witch for the blog that truly made Ghostuponthefloor become what it was always meant to be.

John Wolfe

     I will never forget John, his blog and work or the encouragement he gave me in such a formative time. Every October, when the nights grow cooler, the pumpkins begin to come out, and the darkness comes sooner—I think of how the season of shadows is upon us, and how perfectly that phrase fits the Halloween season.

-The Ghost

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Don't Fear "The Peeper?"

     A debate as old as the holiday itself, it seems. From the beginning, since the first child dressed up in a costume intended to frighten, the first pumpkin broken into to carve out a face-- Halloween, and the closely associated entertainment genre of horror has, throughout history, been attacked for being too scary.

What was once too scary for society. Can't someone incorporate this into a modern Halloween decoration? "House on Haunted Hill" (1959) 

    In the 1950s, horror comic books like "Tales from the Crypt" turned huge profits for their publishers, and movies like "The Thing," "House on Haunted Hill," and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" reigned supreme. Much ink has been spilled and many keys tapped opining that horror gained such popularly at that mid-century time as a reaction to the horrors of World War II. The same has been said for the rise of Vampire stories in the mid 2000’s. The frenzy over True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and teen favorite Twilight came about during a recession (Stephen King has done a good arm chair analysis of this in his Danse Macabre).  At so many continuing points throughout our history, with an increase in horror's popularity, there is inevitably a backlash. Efforts were undertaken to ban and declare horror comics indecent, and the outlandish tales of 1950s horror cinema imparted a stigma the genre faces until this day. More specifically, even today in more strictly religious circles, Halloween is looked at as evil, a holiday of deception, of evil.

"The Peeper" in action (via Buzzfeed.)  

      But we children of Halloween know that the meaning, and fun, of All Hallow's Eve is so much more than that. Halloween gives us all a chance to disappear from our lives. Whether that is from our every day work clothes and into the costume of a vampire, or to stop and revel in the fear of a zombie rising from his grave to devour you, instead of the all too real, daily fear of war, terrorism and human evil choosing your neighborhood to visit next. As we go through the cycles of public outcries around Halloween-- this costume isn't appropriate for a child, this movie ("Psycho," "Halloween," "The Blair Witch Project," "Saw") is too scary-- it seems to this Ghost that our trouble happens when the fear, the scare of Halloween comes too close to the real world.

Human version of "The Peeper" advertisement 

     Meet "The Creeper." A Halloween decoration reportedly sold at Home Depot stores throughout Canada and the United States. While the human-faced versions have been pulled from stores in Canada, they remain available online and at stores in the United States, and have since inspired other stores, like Kmart, to start selling clown and zombie faced peepers. The dictation is simple, plastic and works by suction-cupping a man's face, with big peering eyes, surrounded by his hands so he can get a better look. Yes, the face is unsettling-- but it accomplishes this without the help of the supernatural. This man is not a zombie, a vampire or any variety of undead concoction. He's just a man, who shouldn't be there, looking in your window. Intending to burglarize your home, murder you, or worse. There's even a version with a finger tapping the window, which reacts to your own finger if you tap it against the window.

"Peeper" with finger that responds to yours by tapping on the window. 

     The Ghost's reaction to this was complicated. At once, I felt fear and revulsion. This truly is that stuff that ran throw my childhood nightmares. While I loved to read tales of Frankenstein's monster made of dead body parts coming back to life before bed, I would lay in bed and think of how any person could climb up the side of my childhood house and into my bedroom. Nothing could be so perfectly picked out of the pumpkin patch of my most long-held terrors and thrown into Halloween in such a mass market way. While I agree this is scary, "The Peeper" certainty lends itself to the "is this too scary for Halloween?" debate. After complaints in Ontario, "The Peeper" has been pulled from Canadian shelves, and replaced with a supernatural version of the decoration, "The Reaper," which swap out the human peeper for the Grim Reaper. I actually love this version of the prop- looking out your window to see the Grim Reaper peering in, reminding you of the reason for the season. At the heart, Halloween, of course, reminds of us our mortality while allowing us to disappear into the costumed ether of fear.

Of course, the natural evolution in this fear trend would include clowns. (via Kmart) 

     The question remains, however. Is "The Peeper" in its human forms too scary for Halloween? Or simply in too poor taste? Where does a good scare become an off color prank? What purpose does it serve to put in your window, unless you want a visitor to get the jump of her or his life when looking out your window to see a man looking in. While the Ghost is no prude when it comes to Halloween, I have seen displays-- realistic depictions of people hanging by a noose from a tree, or needlessly violent scenes filled with blood. For this ghost, whether something is in poor taste when it comes to Halloween is when a decoration or display or film has a sense of artlessness behind it. A Halloween display exploring a recent tragedy is just that, exploitive and bad art. Whether good art or bad art it is all Halloween art. And this ghost believes he comes down on the side that says "The Peeper" has the potential for being some very bad Halloween art. People are victimized every day by human terrors; let the jump scare your friend receives looking out your window be at the expense of the Grim Reaper startling you before you laugh, instead of a jolt of terror that a real person is looking in, ready to victimize you-- like too many have actually been.

     Buy the Grim "Reaper" instead?

It's always fun to fear the reaper.