Spoiler Alert: The following column is utterly terrifying. Actually, no, it's not, but if you want your Boone Hall Plantation Fright Nights experience to be as pee-in-your-pants scary as humanly possible, you may want to stop reading right now, because there are spoilers ahead.
If I were to come up with a haunted house for Fright Nights at Boone Hall Plantation, it would be based on the Blake Lively-Ryan Reynolds wedding, which was held not too long ago at the very same venue. It would feature most of the cast of Gossip Girl as themselves, because they're scary enough on their own, plus all of Reynolds' past loves, particularly Scarlett Johansson and Alanis Morissette. But since it would have been an extremely last-minute plan, I guess the virus-stricken zombies and crazy people of the current set-up will have to do.
Right now, 7:30 p.m. on Thurs. Oct. 11, is either the best or the worst time to go out to Fright Nights. On this night, there aren't many, if any, people in line for the four attractions — the Asylum, Chaos Quarantine, Little Amy's Nightmare (in 3-D), and the Terror Trail Haunted Hayride. I know that I'm going to be freaked out tonight. I just don't want anyone to touch me. Be as creepy as you want, but please, please, don't touch me. And don't chase me either. You can follow me, but don't chase me.
Even before you reach the ticket booth, the genuinely scariest part of Fright Nights is the lengthy walk from the parking lot near the pumpkin patch to the actual entrance of the attraction. It's a long, rocky path, and would be the perfect place for a chainsaw-wielding hillbilly to chase you into the corn stalks. Fortunately, the hillbillies are too busy scaring people inside the structures that have popped out seemingly from nothing, like the Dante's Inferno Room in Beetlejuice, with Michael Jackson's "Thriller" playing from the loudspeakers. For refreshments, funnel cake, shaved ice, and slices of Pizza Hut pizza kept warm in one of those delivery bags are for sale next to the palm reading tent, though if you are a fear puker you might want to save the snacks for after your terrorization.
My friend Margaret and I decide to take the haunted hayride first. Can't be that bad, right? Fresh air. Historical facts. We're put in an open truck with a couple of couples, some middle school-aged girls, and a family with a young boy, as our droll young host cracks jokes from the official Boone Hall script. The little boy hides under his parents' jacket about a minute into the ride, after the attack by the out-of-control "animatronic" moonshiners, who are really just people in costumes. On the other hand, there is a surprising number of real animatronic monsters, including all sorts of skeletal, lizard-like creatures and even the torso of a T-rex. And there are lots of chainsaws. Almost too many. The trope is overplayed a bit, even if I do stretch my legs far away from the slats in the truck's wall in order to avoid them. I feel especially bad for Margaret, who has a chainsaw phobia.
Alive and adrenaline soaring, we exit the hayride in time to meet a few of our friends and head to the Asylum. The winding rope line to the entrance is completely unnecessary on this night, so we limbo our way through a short cut. There's lots of The Ring-style long-haired girls in hospital gowns in here. We all screech and screech our way through the confusing path, and it doesn't help that one of the members of our party is messing with the rest of us the whole way through.
Margaret and I are on our own for the Chaos Quarantine. If we survived 28 Days Later, she says, we can survive this. The only problem is I've never seen that zombie movie all the way through. We make our way through an entrance tunnel, where a loud alarm goes off, and we decide that we can't go any farther. It isn't worth it. Let's just turn around now. So we do, and the man helping work the door says no, come on guys, just do it. I'll follow you in.
I don't want to go back. I'm ready to call it quits. But Margaret tries to take it like a man. "I'm 23 years old," she exclaims. "I can do this." So we head back into the tunnel, our savior close behind us.
Inside, it's par for the course. Makeup-caked creepos terrorize us the whole way through an apocalyptic wasteland, complete with empty semi trucks and fire. Our disinterested protector ditches us just in time for the penultimate terror, a sort of inflated palace that smells like rubber and is so dark we can't see in front of our faces, at what we assume is a bunch of teenage actors just waiting to fuck with us.
This is it for us. The entrance of the structure takes you to the left or to the right, your choice. To the left it's pitch-black. To the right it's pitch black. We try both ways, for a few steps. Both times we just come back to the entry way. We stand there so long that eventually, the sinister diseased people who we'd previously passed work their way up to us, attempting to scare us into moving forward. One girl keeps coming out of a white pick-up truck, where she hides herself from unsuspecting guests, just to provoke us. Finally, I shout at her, "Tell us what's in there and we'll go on ahead." Her reply, in a sweet Southern accent: "I don't know, just go." But we still don't comply, until we hear the familiar sounds of other people getting scared: A clique of four people, probably younger than us, is approaching. The girl of the group offers to sandwich us in the middle of her friends, and we all clutch each other, strangers, as we finish the maze in this bounce house without the bounce.
Anticlimactically, the maze is all that's there. No monsters, no strobe lights. Just a confusing path that leads you back out into the normal world. It's dissatisfying, really.
Like most horror-themed things, Fright Nights is scary but not in a this-will-scare-me-for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of way. I screamed so much that I don't understand how any of the Fright Nights employees can do this night after night for an entire month. My face even hurt from the screaming — but more so from laughing to the point of suffocation at our foolish reactions. And when you notice that one of your tormenters is really just a girl clawing at you wearing a hoodie with a faux fur collar and pearl earrings, you can get back to a less scary reality.
All in all, we are maybe in each attraction for less than 10 minutes. Still, Margaret and I pass on Little Amy's 3-D nightmare. We've had enough of our own.