I don’t really watch horror movies or read horror novels, mostly because I don’t like how they make me feel and I’m not interested in gore or violence, but I enjoy scaring people. There’s something primal about scaring and being scared that I think has roots in the fact that we are all animals with no real predators.
I have the opportunity to scare with the Georgetown Morgue this season thanks to some friends and had my first scare last night which still has me pumped up from the rush this morning. I enjoy scaring because it gives me the rush of the hunt, and I think a lot of people come to the Morgue to feel the adrenaline rush of feeling hunted.
One of my favorite hobbies when I was a kid was scaring my little brother, mostly because my brother’s reactions were always so over the top. I later learned that my brother sometimes played up his reactions to get me in trouble (fake panic attacks, that little genius).
Thanks to my little brother, I learned the foundational elements of scaring and how to scare people.
The element of surprise
At the foundation of any good scare is the element of surprise, catching people when they least expect something is the easiest way to scare someone.
With my brother I would sometimes hide in a dark room for an hour waiting for him to walk into the room so I could scare him. At the haunt I got a lot of screams by standing behind a hidden door and ripping it open as soon as people entered the room, or standing in a dark corner and suddenly jerking alive when people started passing by me.
Everyone has a fear, or at least most people do. When we look at the genre of horror we see a lot of tropes, and for good reason because there’s a good chance that someone is scared of that thing.
The next foundation of scaring is knowing (or guessing) what scares someone whether its clowns, spiders, doctors, aliens, monsters, hacksaw/chainsaw wielding maniacs, small spaces, heights, etc.
My brother’s fear was clowns, so scaring him was easy once I knew, but it took some trial and error with creepy dolls, fake spiders/snakes, and other random failures to narrow it down.
The Morgue uses a lot of these tropes in their characters as well as in the actual building itself. Once you get a reaction out of someone you know you’ve struck gold.
The fear of the unknown
The fear of the unknown is what makes haunted houses like the Georgetown Morgue so successful. The owner of the Georgetown Morgue told me that most people visiting the Morgue are going for the first time or bringing others there for the first time. The magic of the unknown is it causes our primate brains to go wild with imagination and pump our brains full of survival chemicals.
I remember my first visit to the Morgue very vividly a few years ago: the dark narrow winding and twisting halls, and the shock and confusion of the various scenes and interactions with the actors. Experiencing it when I had no previous knowledge is what made it absolutely terrifying: I had no notion of what was coming next.
Being a part of the Haunt was a completely different experience and allowed me to learn the layout, meet the actors, and the secret passages throughout the winding path. I’ll never be able to experience the Morgue the same way as the first time but now I’m on the other side.