Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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Tuesday, November 1, 2005 12:59 PM
Back in 1989, I was GM of the Washington Square Cinemas in Portland, OR, for about 6 months. Not once during my tenure did I notice anything out of the ordinary, as far as spooky phenomena was concerned.
Well, barring the zombie-like comatoseness that the staff exhibited upon punching into the time-clock, anyway.
As a GM, I would spend many late nights there by myself, doing payroll/inventory/paperwork, etc. No goosebumps. No hair-sticking-straight-out on the back of my neck. No sudden cold spots. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Empty set.

Now my next gig GM gig, at the Vancouver Mall Cinemas, was completely different. I firmly believe something out of the ordinary was going on there, as did virtually every employee there while I had my post. Most of this activity consisted of employees hearing someone speak their name directly behind them, only to turn and see nobody there. When I first heard the stories, I scoffed. I figured we had a prankster on our hands. However, after one young employee returned from the stock room looking pale and quite agitated, I began to wonder. I was by the staircase to the upstairs (where the stock room was) the entire time she was up there. There was no other way up, and I know for a fact no one else was up there. Apparently someone, or something, else was up there. Same story as always. While she was in the stockroom, with the door closed behind her, someone called to her "Mary, turn around". When she looked behind her, expecting to see an employee, she saw the door still shut, and no one there. Needless to say, she never set another foot in the stockroom again.

Now, were this just a case of disembodied voices, it could be easy to dismiss. I had cleared out and re-organized the stock room upon my arrival, and never saw any indication of hidden cameras or speakers. Still doesn't rule that possibility out, admittedly. However, other odd occurrences were frequent in the upstairs projection booth and stock room.

One of those things would occur often late at night. From the booth area upstairs, you could hear what sounded like footsteps walking across the roof of the building. I used to think it was just an animal playing around, or the building “settling”. What animal makes that type of sound? I didn't ponder to think about it. If I had, I probably would have realized that no animal I was aware of in the area could produce such thuds. I mean really, a squirrel? Give me a break.

Late one night, as I stayed doing inventory in my office, I heard footsteps walk across the tile just outside my door. Expecting that it was my janitorial staff, I opened the door to share words with them about their under-whelming performance of late. The janitors, however, were no where to be seen. "Hello!", I called out into the empty lobby. I heard nothing but the echo of my voice. Then, suddenly, the sound of a door closing. I shut the office door and picked up the phone to summon mall security.

A few minutes later, when I knew it was security knocking on the entrance door, I ventured out to let them in. We patrolled all the theatres and restrooms and all other common areas, but found no one. I surmised that a patron must have fallen asleep during the late show, and finally woke up to find them selves in an empty auditorium. The person had simply left the building, I figured. "That, or it was a ghost. You know, according to the GM's before you, this place has spooks. We've been called here many times late at night by you folks. Have a nice night; call us if you see or hear anything else." He wasn't smiling as he said this; it was presented matter-of-factly. Shorty after that the same scenario; I heard footsteps outside my office. I glanced over to the door to see light movement from under the doorway, reflected off the tile. This had to be the janitors, right?

I heard no other sounds for a few minutes, and decided to stay behind the locked door. 30 minutes later, more movement, loud and all over the place; the janitors were indeed finally here. I asked if someone had pre-ceded them here, a member of the crew who got here early to get a good start on things (which did happen occasionally). “Not tonight. Were just getting in.”

I mention this because I know what a haunted theatre is like. Or at least supposedly haunted, at any rate. And my first theatre, the Washington Square, was not haunted. Not upon my leaving in 1990, anyway.

Still, the current inhabitants claim the opposite. The current inhabitants are The 13th Door, an annual haunted house that takes up residence there during the month of October. I had the pleasure of going through this haunt twice before I left town, in 2003 and 2004. Both times it was hands down the best haunted house in the Portland area. Scream at the Beach, at Jantzen Beach Center, was second, with many more up-scale animatronics in it's arsenal, and was indeed fun. The actual scares, and overall creepiness, however, belong to The 13th Door. It's theme and design change from year-to-year, but the atmosphere just can't be beat. What could easily be 4 separate haunts, in the 4 different auditoriums, is instead one long walk through experience. With the high ceilings that the old theatre provides, many scenes stretched all the way to the top, including a 2 story waterfall, blood red of course. When in Portland during October, this is one not to miss!

But is it really haunted the way their website suggests? My guess it's just a way of adding to the lore that this outfit wants to put out. The site, btw, is www.hauntingproductions.com. Enter the site and check out the link "Ghosts" for what they claim to be evidence of a real haunting at their location. Pictures of orbs and such.

At any rate, the question I wanted to know was this: was there anywhere in my new hometown of Las Vegas that could favorably compare to the 13th Door? There were several prospects, and I had the opportunity to visit quite a few.

My first experience with a Vegas Haunted house was a dreadful one. The place, Hysteria City, boasts five different haunts within it’s walls. It was the cheapest way to begin. $15 dollars was the charge for one time in all 5, but $20 got you front-of-the-line priviledges.

Or so the website said.

As did the girl who sold the up-charge tickets to us at the window.

How far from there this information filtered down to everyone else there is an unknown.

First off, there weren’t any signs indicating what fast-pass users should do. No alternate queue was provided for any attraction. Some employees did know about it, and let us “cutt”, to the consternation of everyone else who’d been waiting over an hour. They were incredibly understaffed on our visit. We even got booed! Yay for us! ;

Other times the person taking the tickets was unaware of the up-charge, and would yell at us to get in back of the line. We had to go searching for a supervisor to fill her in on the scoop. After he did, she said we had all-you-can-use tickets, but not front of the line passes! Again she rudely dismissed us. We had to go get the supervisor, again! Finally someone made her aware of their ticketing policy. I mean, get real. These houses all sucked! Who would want to re-do them?!?
At another house, they ticket guy also had no clue. However, he believed us about the tickets, angrily noting that it would be nice if management had made him aware.

All the houses were not done, with only 4 open anyway. Major stretches would go by in each haunt without nary an actor, or any scenes at all sometimes. Plastic feet and hands were a big theme, actually.

“Oh look, a strobe. Ooh scary”.

At one point, these 12-yr olds were trying to scare us! C’mon, kids are scary, just not in Freddy Kruger masks.

The place was a complete disaster. Yet it was the website’s claim to be the “new school thought” in haunted attractions that made this even more of an utter dissapointment. The scariest thing of all was wondering if this was the best Vegas could offer.

As a footnote, a co-worker went two weeks after we did, and said the lines were short (word got out, I assume), and that the houses all sucked. Tells me it wasn’t opening weekend jitters we experienced, just general lameness.

Next up came the Hanted Glendale Cornmaze, 40 mins north on I-15. I’ve done my share of mazes, and this was in it’s infancy. Their first one, I believe. Not too shabby. Fun effects and thick fog greeted you at the entrance, and the full moon was most of our light, as we opted to keep the flash lights off. It wasn’t haunted until the end, which was ok (they got us real good 2 or 3 times), but most of the fun is just getting lost in the corn late at night. We will return next year, it was agreed.

The following weekend, it was time for Fright Dome. We had heard in year’s past it wasn’t that good, but it was 4 haunted houses, 2 motion films, and a number of the dome’s riides, so why not?

What a pleasant surprise.

First was Chainsaw Massacre. The name says it all. I don’t mind a couple here and there, but that’s pretty much all there was to it. You know what? I had fun anyways. You know they can’t touch you, and I’m sure there are no chains in use, but the sound of a chainsaw rapidly coming closer to you from behind always gets the feet moving. From this point, we enter the actual dome.

Nice!

All the lights were off, and fog filled the entire dome. You could hear the Canyon Blaster’s lift going, but it was hard to make anything out. There was a scare zone here, with monsters walking around creeping people out, and some cool lazer effects, and even more fog. We start going around the paths, seeing what comes next. Low and behold, it was Elvira.

Well, not in the flesh.

Seems we came to the sim-rides. There were two different ones. One was the same haunted mine ride up the street at the Luxor, but the other was new to me; Elvira’s Superstition. We were all fans of hers, so the choice was obvious. Well, it’s pre-show was actually funny, showcasing her idea of a theme park. Cheesy, groan-inducing, campy comedy. We were primed for the ride.

And what a ride!

I’ve ridden multiple sims, and this I-werks presentation was by far the best sim I’ve ever ridden. We all felt the same. It felt like riding a real coaster, more so than any sim before it. I don’t know if that’s due to up-keep on the dome’s behalf, or a better system than previously available, but wow!

We passed many rides. Most but not all rides were operating, sans any light. This included the bumper cars, the Inverter, the Pirate ship (looking very cool in the thick fog with only a few ghostly lights coming through), the Chaos (hurry folks!) and of course, some midway games. A few people were doing the Rim Runner flume, though it was somewhat cool inside the dome. They even had some bodies roaming the mini-golf course, but we didn’t have time to play a round.

Riding the Canyon Blaster in the dark and fog was amazing; when it ducked in the caves it was completely pitch black. Nice! Not to mention dis-orientating. I really wanted to do the drop ride in the dark and fog, but we ran out of time. Next year then! While the carousel was not open, it was for the best. Standing their silent in the dense fog and quiet, it added an unsettling aspect to that part of the dome, like being on a haunted midway well after dark.

We ended up next at the Morgue of Misery. Nicely themed and actually scary in parts, this was one of our favorites. A nice mix of animatronic scenes and confusing (in a good way) layout. We followed this up with Cell Block 13. This house was more special effects driven, though some actors were haunting it as well. Scenes featured large-scale animatronic (mostly impressive) effects and were well-detailed. This was also a fairly long walk-through, and it should be noted that none of these attractions were short.

Our final new house of the night, was Funhouse of Fear in 3-D. This was the best 3D haunted house I’ve done. The effects were crisp and clear, and including some awesome tricks on the eyes. The spinning tunnel near the beginning, with help from the rapid strobe lighting, was near im-passable. I could not stand up for the life of me! Not so much scary as just plain creepy, this was a feast for the eyes, baby!

Next we head to night’s final showing of the Jim Rose Circus Show. These are the guys who were on a now-classic halloween episode of the X-FIles, about a sideshow troup of truly unique individuals. The show did not dissapoint. At the point where they pumped this one performers stomach for some others to drink, I think half the audience was ready to pass-out or puke, or both. Me and the the other half? We were out of our seats yelping, clapping, and cheering them on! This is, afterall, what they do. And they do it well.

From there, a re-ride on the CB, and we re-did the Morgue and the Funhouse. Then it was midnight, and we were being gently stalked in the way of the exits. It was a Thursday when we went, and all rides were walk-ons or single-cycle waits. The houses ranged from walk-ons to 20 minutes. We picked a great night to go. And it was fully-staffed. Exactly what I expected 2 weeks prior at Hysteria City. Now I’m sure that Knott’s puts this to shame, etc. I will find out next year, I hope. Still, this was damn good. We were satisfied and will make it a point to be back.

We washed that down with a trip to the Asylum the next weekend. This is one of Vegas’ many stand alone houses. It was good, but not 11 bucks worth of good. On a discount night, though, I would recommend it. Effective chills and decent acting.

A few nights later, we finish it all with Haunted Castle 3-D at the Luxor Imax. I know this has been around at least 5 or 6 years, but I only now had the chance to see it. It was very fun. The Imax Luxor is one of the shortest throws I’ve ever seen for an Imax theatre. Sitting in the back still felt like you were directly up front. This computer-animated short (40mins) delivered excellent 3-D; jaw-droppingly realistic at times. The effects were numerous and fun. In fact, this is more of a ride than some sim rides, even though the seats don’t move or anything. The sheer magnitude of 70-ft tall 3-D images plopped you right in the middle of the action, surrounding your field of vision. If your near an Imax screen, look for this one.

Well, there you have it. Halloween, Vegas style. Did I find a 13th Door equivalent? No. Yet those are big shoes to fill. A good time, overall, was still had. Although halloween really isn’t wrapped up until we get to DL for Haunted Mansion Holiday; that’s still 6 weeks away...

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Tuesday, November 1, 2005 1:25 PM
I did get a chance to experience the Elvira Superstition thing at SFGAdv. They use the Spongebob Theater to do it and I will also agree that it's well done. Nice feeling of the ride while watching the film.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2005 9:32 PM
Sweet. I'm going to Vegas next Wednesday with my mom for her work, and can't wait to ride the coasters out there. Hello Manhattan Express!!!!
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