The Colony is the kind of ghost walk Halloween wet dreams are made of. We wandered out into a dead, desolate field; the first thing to greet us was a rusty old school bus, its windows smeared with blood. And this is no mere prop — according to Dave Cady, the manager of the Colony (and a former firefighter), the old clunker has history. “I have a friend who owns a junkyard in town — he’s been here for 70 years — so he actually gave us the very first school bus Litchfield ever had. I have Litchfield’s very first firetruck out there,” Cady told me a few weeks before opening day. “I mean, it’s all rotten and rusty, but it’s perfect for the haunt.” He's right; it's a deeply unsettling opening salvo to the Colony.
After marveling over the bloody bus, we stumbled through a series of creepy hillbilly shacks, where inbred cannibals hacked at big meaty corpses and jumped out from behind trees and screamed “Yeehaw!” instead of “Boo!” (An endearing flourish.) Butchers whooped in delight at our presence and large masked men stalked us with running chainsaws in the dark. This is a haunt where the creators have taken advantage of the natural surroundings — scary shrubbery and the like — and it's genius.
Perhaps most unforgettable, though, is Torment, the 3-D haunt. It's a fascinating gimmick — and I say “unforgettable,” because I think the effects will be seared onto my eyeballs forever. How it works is, SpookyWorld gives you special glasses that make certain colors jump off the walls. Suddenly, a spray of orange paint becomes a hazy floating miasma. Actors rush at you with Day-Glo ghost tumors leaping out of their faces. This effect was most potent when we hit the hall of mirrors, a garish minotaur maze filled with evil clowns. This gives way to a chain-link-fenced slaughterhouse, which comes off like a radioactive Doom Generation fever dream. Another room proffers a chaotic jumble of shapes and colors. A dancing clown yells, “Oh my god, dots!” I found myself inexplicably terrified.
Pretty much everything I've described so far is set-design razzle-dazzle and delightfully cheap boo scares that keep you looking nervously over your shoulder — but there is one legitimately terrifying attraction at SpookyWorld, and it lives in the House of Eternal Darkness. Behind the scenes, they call it “the Claustrophobia Bag.” When I first met him, co-owner Accomando had tried to explain the concept to me, doodling a little stick-figure getting crushed in a tunnel. With so much fair warning, I thought I would be ready. But nothing can adequately prepare you for this.
As we threaded through Eternal Darkness, we passed through a doorway, only to find ourselves squeezing into, basically, a giant inflatable colon made of fabric and air. As I slowly pushed through the suffocating, pitch-black corridor, I could hear voices around me; but this imprisoning void makes you utterly alone. I knew it was just a harmless gag, but that didn't keep a tiny spark of hysteria from igniting in my lizard brain. I was nearly on the precipice of a freakout, when I finally clawed my way out of the colon, back to reality. Believe me, you've never been so happy to see your friends in a dimly lit room full of shrieking undead chamber maids as you will be after you've traversed the Claustrophobia Bag.
After that, we turned to a different sort of attraction: zombie paintball. This, I'm told, is not a terribly popular SpookyWorld station to work at, and I have no trouble believing that. But that didn't stop us from taking our headshots at these poor zombie bastards, who shuffled and duck-walked out from behind their tombstones, bombarded by chilly drizzle, blaring nu-metal, and our poorly aimed paintballs. Bleeding-heart pantywaist that I am, the thought of actually shooting workaday ghouls made me squeamish. My friend, however, was troubled by something else entirely: “I know we're already talking about a game where you're shooting at people, which is awesome. But I wanted to be shooting dozens of zombies. Or hundreds.” Poor baby.
As we went through the last haunted house — Sleep Stalkers, a demented hospital — the kid working the door busted out a line she'd proudly perfected that night: “Don't touch the actors. They won't touch you; they'll only give you nightmares later on.” But for a horror fan, there's something mighty touching about the whole affair. These folks seem to be having the time of their lives, and any crew member you talk to will likely tell you as much: “ If you’re enthusiastic about it, it’s an unbelievably fun job. It’s not for everybody — you gotta have kind of a weird personality,” said Cady (who was originally brought on as a fire-safety consultant, which quickly snowballed into a gig as an actor and haunt manager). “It’s the funnest thing you’ll ever do. You’ll be hooked immediately.”