I can still smell the gasoline from the chainsaw wielded by the Jason Voorhees lookalike at Lacy Elementary School's Fall Festival in the 1980s. So I have a deep respect for the tradition of the Halloween haunted house, from peeled grapes masquerading as eyeballs to elaborate productions that cost thousands of dollars.
That's why I went looking for haunted houses within an hour's drive of the Triangle that seem worth the road trip. (RaleighHauntedHouses.com is a good place to start.) As with any good quest for the spooky, I had an ulterior motive in mind.
One of the biggest attractions around is the 50-acre Haunted Forest at Panic Point (aka Youngsville). In addition to a half-mile haunted trail, it features a "Howling Hayride," a "Carny Crypt" (which seems to be a haunted trailer), a corn maze, zombie laser tag and much more.
The Clayton Fear Farm has a family-friendly daytime setting as well as a scarier version at night, which includes a slaughterhouse-themed exhibit and a dark satire of home-schooling. And Harvested Farm Nightmares in Garner has the scarier-than-it-sounds "Ken's Korny Corn Maze."
Want some Hollywood razzle-dazzle? Relive first hearing John Carpenter's chilling minimalist synthesizer score and seeing the white-painted Captain Kirk mask of Michael Myers at the Myers House in Hillsborough, a replica of the house of pure evil and the home of an annual Halloween Bash, this year screening the original Halloween film and Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses.
Or head to Snow Camp outside of Chapel Hill, where brothers Dean Jones and Starr Jones, who have done makeup effects for David Lynch, Roger Corman and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, put on the annual Hollywood Horror Show with film-quality special effects. This year, you can experience being taken from the funeral home to the grave as well as "Ghost Pirates of the Caribbean."
Like I said, I had a sneaky goal: To find a Christian "Hell House," one of the fundamentalist haunts featured in the 2001 documentary of the same name, which show how you can wind up in Hell from premarital sex and "worse." (The film's most appalling moment shows a girl bleeding to death because she used RU-486 after being date-raped.)
Lo, I found the Farmington Heights Hell House in Wilson. A local newspaper report says the production mainly focuses on the consequences of drunk driving, domestic violence and the like. I wonder if the recent failure of Amendment One will have them preaching the dangers of gay marriage?
Either way, given my liberal leanings, I suspect that their message would be lost on me, though drunk drivers on Halloween? That is pretty scary.