Kings Dominion 2013


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Haunt 2013

26 October 2013 | Written by Maxxum

In 1985, when VHS was winning the video format war against Betamax and it was becoming more common to have large collections of tapes, I remember looking through my uncle's library of movies and finding one called 'A Nightmare on Elm Street.' I was fascinated with the story and the imagery though I didn't understand why. None-the-less, I kept following the horror genre and eventually it started to make sense why I was so intrigued.

Horror movies contrast day-to-day life, and those that use elements of sci-fiction or the paranormal are especially distinct. But, that concept alone wasn't the only thing that drew me to films like 'Friday the 13th', or 'Poltergeist'. If you look at the characteristic of the video, even compared against movies from the same period, you'll see the film (celluloid) selection added the certain je ne se qua that turned a motion picture into a surreal classic - the right combination of chemistry, glass, and imagination.

For someone prone to fits of nostalgia, the medium and the story is irresistible. And, so... the Haunt. I've been making trips to Kings Dominion Halloween Haunt for a couple years, and this year requested time with the people who create the monsters. I've been behind the scenes during a show so I had my expectations, but seeing a killer clown with his large coffee during costume prep seemed especially comical to me.

Kings Dominion employs hundreds of actors aged 15 to 60, and dozens of make-up artists who work around the clock to both design and then maintain their creations. Monsters typically take 15 minutes to complete, and artists are on duty from 2pm until 1am on average. There's a deep focus that's visibly apparent, as I moved between people workstations to photograph the results, artists' eyes stayed glued to their work, and actors didn't move so as not to disturb the artist's brush.

Beth Gorley Dickerson (left) attends to a monster

Harrison Moenich, one of the veteran artists who has been working the event for seven years (longer than it has been named "Halloween Haunt") explained that horror make-up is a vector to his artistic interests. In addition to being a horror movie fan, he further pursues a professional art career and has conceptual films to his credit.

Harrison Moenich with monster

With this much passion going into their work it was a shame to see the last hours of light begin to fade - hiding the details of each monster. Although, it's about this time that the park begins to get more interesting as shadows lengthen and the transition from day to night starts to happen; the true twilight zone.

And, then into night.

I come to Haunt for the memories, but I stay for the reaction of people to the scares, and this year was especially rewarding. Every night for a month, the Haunt begins as a warlock summons his horde at 7pm. People who are new to the event aren't aware of the monsters hiding literally in front of them as they are distracted by a fireworks display, giving actors time to get in position so that when people lower their heads, death is staring them in face. If you stand in the back of the crowd you can watch as people scream and run away.

Another highlight of the event are the mazes. Though not so much mazes as they are walk-throughs, I've learned that the best part of them is what waits at the end. At the "Cornstalkers" maze I spent 15 minutes watching as people would exit the maze thinking they were safe, only to be frightened one more time, and very unexpectedly based on how widely people's eyes opened as in some cases there wasn't enough time for them to scream.

Perhaps it's dark of me to write this, but it's reassuring to know that Halloween still frightens people. As I was walking through the park, a young man was startled by a zombie that came at him through the fog. He ran in my direction, and as he got to me he grabbed my forearm and squeezed - it was a genuinely basic fear response... and it made me happy because I remembered what it was like to be young and afraid on Halloween watching those horror movies in 1985.

To get tickets, or more information, visit Halloween Haunt.

Photos by Maxxum