For Halloween, my husband and I took the kids to Casa Loma for the Legends of Horror theatrical experience. Legends of Horror includes a 2 km walk through a castle’s grounds and out-buildings during which actors in costume try to frighten those foolishly seeking excitement. The experience has its basis in film and television and classic literature, so we were sure to see some creatures from the past horror films, but I didn’t realize the experience would be reaching back all the way to the 1940s and Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolfman. I also didn’t realize I’d be such a scaredy cat! After all, I write horror.
We stood for 30 mins in line as the sleety rain dripped down, but the impending excitement kept us warm. Our first scare was a racoon that came upon us at eye-level, racing along the gothic fence line that bordered the property we were lined up beside. The poor creature probably hoped to outrun the screams and masses who had converged upon its habitat only a few hours before midnight.
The line-up was soon forgotten once we crested the open mouth of a gigantic fog breathing skeleton and entered the grounds, and from that moment on the action was constant. We were thrown into a combination of horrifying animatronics, spooky-themed settings, oversized outdoor stone stairs and winding corridors of underground tunnels crawling with projected, scurrying rats, and sensory heightened rubbery things that took away our sense of space and belief in air. And then, to top it all off, live actors hid amongst the shrubbery, stalking the fearful (that would be me) trying to induce a premature stroke in their victims.
After about 20 minutes of constant frights, my already overactive nerves were frayed. The jump-scares were plentiful, but it was the actors that really made it fabulous. For example, one man was hanging in this bizarre murder scene room that we could not enter. The girls ahead of us stared at him for the longest time and determined that he was not real. But overhearing them didn’t bring the pieces together for me. I stepped up expecting everything to be fake. When I went up, I too stared at the man who was dressed as a cross between the Highwayman and Phantom of the Opera. As I was staring and thinking there was something off about this character’s mouth, he jumped at me. I presented him to a deep, personal view of my rapidly vibrating uvula as I screamed into his face and fell back to stumble into the next hall.
The maze of mirrors faced us next, the fog rolling along with our steps as we clutched and stepped around each sharp-edged wall of reflective material. After a few turns, it seemed I had a breather from the beasts, and began to pay attention to our reflections as we moved. Then, I thought I saw someone in the cloud of the mirror, but my husband Chris was marching on and I was latched onto him so I kept going, unsure if I had seen anything, after all. We turned a few more corners and this time I was sure I saw a man with white goggles…a kind of Steampunk looking character, but again the lighting wasn’t clear, and the fog rolled on. The exit was ahead and Chris was determined, but I experienced that tingle at the back of my neck, and as we crested the doorway, leaving the walls of mirrors behind, I turned to look over my shoulder, my teeth clenched into a grimace that had become my expression.
He was there, standing and looking through those white-rimmed circular goggles just as he had been before. I soothed myself with logical thoughts, “They’ve got some sort of cardboard in behind the mirror so we keep seeing the same thing,” for how could he have been here, and there, and further back. But as I thought that, his arm lifted and he swiftly hammered the mirror with his hand. I dissolved into screams as Chris walked us out the door.
But, the worst was yet to come. At 20 minutes in, I was a babbling idiot, asking “why?” When clearly the entire event had been my idea. I can’t tell you how many times I said “Jesus”, but it was enough to know he wasn’t coming to help me.
Worse still, the actors would see my state and make a beeline for me because they knew they could push me even further towards whatever crevasse or canyon awaited the last shreds of my sanity. On and on they drove us, the creatures chasing… pushing the air behind, dipping their heads into my space, appearing in front when I was furtively glancing to the sides.
And then the worst happened ….I found myself face-to-face with Lon Chaney Jr.’s “Wolfman”. His ghastly masked face gruesome above a white business shirt ….the dichotomy of civilization versus the wild, a chilling reminder of the black and white film that scared me so badly in my childhood.
You can’t hear the end of my video I was taking when I saw the wolfman… I said something inane like “Oh no.. No! The wolfman”, which may have been a direct quote from the film. I’m not sure, but in my mind, terror took over, and I grabbed my husband, Chris, and danced around him trying to keep him as the shield between me and the Wolfman… Yes, I sacrificed the father of my children to save myself.
I was hoping to use the entire experience for my writing, but what I succeeded in doing was to push my already overactive startle response into a nerve-shredded state of terror that had me “whooping” like an elderly nanny trying to make her way through a bar full of fat-fingered, butt-cheek pinchers.
All that remains, now that Halloween is over, is to calm myself, think good thoughts and avoid any further spooky activities until I stop leaping and screeching when wood pops in the fireplace. And I must remember, if I’m going to take the wolfman on the rocks, I’ll need a good man at my side to throw to the dogs.