House of Horror is much like a nightclub, except for the guy with the chain saw

People love to pay good money. Usually it's for things that feel great, like recreational drugs, prostitution, and Skittles. Then, for some unknown reason, good money is spent on not-so-fun affairs, like giving up half your shit to get married or paying some carnies to scare the crap out of you. At House of Horror, that's precisely what you're doing. It's a little weird, like paying to be in a hostage situation, to wear a wire at a drug deal, or for a second marriage.

Luckily, there's more to do at House of Horror than get married. It's a low-budget production, sort of like Santa's Enchanted Forest with bloody limbs. But that's what gives it its charm — the same way racism gives Grandma her charm. In addition to the haunted house proper, there are rides, food, parlor games, and a couple of variety events.

Last Thursday, on opening night, there weren't many events going on. There was a trapeze show that lasted a few minutes, but unfortunately the excitement of a trapeze show is directly proportional to the height of the trapeze. In this case it was about 15 feet high, which makes things as exciting as two Doral women fighting over an available time slot at the plastic surgeon's office. Wait, that's actually kind of exciting.

Another thing that's fun is playing Russian roulette with the rides. Upon seeing the carousel of chairs dangling on chains, I excitedly asked, "Hey, you've got no line. Is this ride open?"

The carnie's response: "Yeah. How much do you weigh?"

Hmm, taking my word for it. So I replied, "About a buck 85." (Fuck you — I'm tall.)

He wiggled his mustache and said, "Weight limit is 165. I guess maybe if you sit on one of the inner chairs..."

"One of the inner chairs?!" That's some Somali-pirate-safety-standards crap right there. But it's fine — there are plenty of other rides where failure wouldn't culminate in a top news story or a morbidly hilarious YouTube video. There's a house of mirrors, kids' fun house, bumper cars, and a slide. The rest of the stuff is prone to a 21-gun salute. Most of the rides are of the spinning variety, which seems to be the popular choice among teens and moldable pottery clay.

That said, what people truly come for is the haunted house. It's the highlight, the crème de la crème, and second place behind police headquarters downtown for most cops per square foot in Miami-Dade.

Upon entering this large structure, you're greeted with a prerecorded voice in a strobe-light-pulsing room that's designed to pump you up and prime you for the thrill-walk of your October. "No running in the house," it intones. And "do not touch the actors." It's about as hilarious as one of the rules for the roller coaster outside, which reads, "Those who intend to sue should not ride."

Way to mess with the illusion. I know litigious Americans need to be warned of everything so the lowest common denominator among us doesn't shit his pants in a haunted house and then sue for punitive damages, but come on. It really pulls you out of it when an ominous voice sets you up for spookiness only to follow up with some mundane chatter that reminds you, "Oh yeah, these are just people playing dressup." But I digress.

Following that introduction, when you expect the same guy to say, "We hope you enjoy your stay at House of Horror. Please tip whoever scared you," you begin.

The house feels pretty large and is split into two portions. After you exit the buzzkill voice-over room, a tour guide of sorts further destroys the illusion by saying, "Please turn off your cell phones," in Spanglish. Groups are partitioned into what seems like eight to ten people at a time. This makes sense, because it's important to give the room time to reset after some dude in a hockey mask pops out and induces defecation.

A lot of the spooking comes from the actors appearing seemingly out of nowhere and catching you off-guard. To put it in terms most women would understand: Pretend the haunted house is any Miami club and the actors are every guy ever. They get in your face with such ferocity and perseverance that it's reminiscent of putting a gun to someone's temple and yelling, "Get scared, bitch!"

Some actors are loud; others are subdued and creepy. The quiet ones do the best job of freaking people out, whereas the loud ones tend to look like FIU theater majors with degrees in overacting.

As is the rule in a strip joint, you're not supposed to touch the actors. This could be for a variety of reasons, but I like to think that touching one of them will give Miami's finest enough of a "justifiable" provocation to use excessive force.

There are cops in every other room, and they simply sit there wearing white shirts, bright badges, and shit-eating grins. Why so many popos? Is a haunted house prone to turf wars? Are all the actors actually parolees? Are cops just terrifying as hell on their own? It's probably that last one. Think of the last time you were driving with a cop behind you, and then try to imagine a time in your life when you obeyed the speed limit, used turn signals, and didn't rip through yellows like Norman Braman chasing after the next political cock-block. Enough said.

The actors do a pretty stellar job of not breaking character. You have your deranged psych ward patient, a jacked baby with an ax, an eerie clown in a suit, a ghoul mistress, and a guy who looks like Steve Buscemi. The first half of the house is scarier than the second half and boasts the bulk of the actors. In the second half, they phoned it in. The house changes from people actively trying to freak you out to people whose idea of terror is Cabbage Patch Kids' heads hanging from the ceiling on yarn. Or a strobe light. Or a loud noise. They might as well have fed you roofies to provide the whole South Beach nightlife experience.

Upon exiting the house, you're greeted by a guy who chases you with a chain saw. That's pretty terrifying because you're not entirely sure whether the organizers were level-headed enough to give this guy a prop saw. Could be the real thing.

At $23 per ticket, the haunted house itself wouldn't be worth it. However, coupled with the rides and access to nutritionist-taunting edibles, you've got yourself a worthwhile few hours.


Is a haunted house prone to turf wars? Are all the actors actually parolees? Are cops just terrifying as hell on their own?

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