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Sounds Scary To Me!

by Drew Edward Hunter

These days the use of quality sound in a haunted attraction is a given. Only the most inexperienced haunter would ever allow guests to enter his or her show with no soundtrack being played. The audio element of a haunt is, in fact, as vital as the scenics and the scares. It's a lesson I learned in the autumn of 1959.
Two years earlier, as a third grader at A.C. Steere elementary in Shreveport, Louisiana, I attended the school's annual Fun Night. Most of the classes throughout the six grades would adopt a theme. The fifth graders usually staged a Chamber of Horrors, turning one of their rooms into a one-night walk-through-admission price, ten cents. The only catch was that, due to the "intense" nature of the room, only fourth graders and above were allowed inside. So that let me out.

So I stood in the hallway, listening to the loud scary music and sound effects wafting out of the room, liberally mixed with screams of my older classmates. I didn't know what was going on inside. I'd never been to a haunted house before! But my imagination kicked into overdrive, fueled by the creepy sounds and the promise of unknown terrors within. I couldn't wait until Fun Night next year when I'd be in the fourth grade at last.
Next year finally came, and I was ready. Again I stood in the hall, listening. But this time I held a shiny dime, eager to hand it over and enter. As I awaited my turn, I realized my dime was all sweaty. I was nervous-almost scared! But there was no turning back. I surrendered the admission to the nice lady at the door, took a deep breath and stepped inside-all by myself!

And then-t he sound stopped. To this day, I don't know if somebody pulled a cord or the record simply ended, but all was silent in the room.
Things sure looked spooky enough. Dim lights barely revealed a few cardboard coffins and a sheeted ghost or two. A couple of kids in dime store masks jumped out of the cloak room and yelled boo. I even stuck my hand in a hole in a box and felt a bowlful of slimy "eyeballs". I wasn't scared a bit. And I exited thinking, "You mean that's all there is to it?"

Jump forward to the following year's Fun Night 1959. Again I stood outside, listening, with my dime in hand. I remembered the no-sound room from the year before, and I boasted to my friends as we entered, "Don't worry, this is nothing!"

But this time the sound didn't stop. And it was loud! And it was scary! The coffins and ghosts and the leaping monsters seemed all too real. This time, I screamed and ran for the exit.

What a blast! Only years later did I realize the magic formula: MUSIC + SOUND EFFECTS = SCREAMS and FUN. And I've never forgotten it. For decades, music and sound have played priority roles in all my shows. Whenever possible, I've commissioned original compositions designed specifically for each themed haunt I've designed, and when that luxury wasn't available, fitting prerecorded music and sound was used.

I've always used something aural to put the show over the top. My advice is to consider music and sound every bit as important as you do your performers, your sets, your publicity and your safety. It will certainly broaden your guests' anticipation, fear and enjoyment.

So make certain, when your guests are standing in queue in front of your haunt-just like I did as a kid in front of the Chamber of Horrors all those years ago-that they say, as I did, "Hey -- that sounds scary to me!"

Copyright 2002 Drew Hunter. All Rights Reserved.


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