A few years ago, I went to a big gay wedding in Black Rock Mountain, Georgia. Several hours north of Atlanta, the wedding was in the Appalachian mountains during Halloween weekend, when the leaves were changing their summer green in favor of fall’s orange lineup, and the result was extraordinary.
Always the adventurer, I had arrived in Atlanta several days before the ceremony in order to best explore the country’s ninth gayest city. I immediately set about finding a beer bar in Decator, an artsy suburb of the city, where I casually struck up conversation with a few friendly locals and, at three beers in, was invited to a ‘true Confederate haunted house’ in the outskirts of the city.
I confess I’ve never been one for haunted houses, and if truth be told, I spent the entire tour with my face buried in my hostess’s back. However, my one consolation during my foray into the wild side of Southern hauntings was that the actors could come very close to me, they could whirl their chainsaws and fake blood so proximate to my face that I could feel the vibrations, but they could not touch me. It was a fictitious and silly sense of security, but it was one I clung to for the duration of my passage through fabricated austral hell.
In Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania, haunted houses are making new waves; during this year’s Shocktoberfest, guests will be invited to tour a haunted house for the Naked and Scared Challenge. Walk through a haunted house of your choosing (in the Sinking Springs area) completely nude after their midnight closing hours, and you will experience a level of escapism and terror unique to the place. Guards and security personal will be available at all times to ensure that visitors are safe and compliant during their tour of the houses, but the attraction will be otherwise completely dark.
The allurement is an interesting one; faced with the choice of attending a haunted house nude or clothed, what is the exact difference? Besides providing a fabricated sense of security, clothes are merely thin pieces of fabric that separate us from the unprotected elements that surround us, however the fear and allure of this particular haunt seem to lie in the terror of exhibitionism. “What you’re really afraid of,” the website taunts, “is how you look buck naked.” The effect of this declaration posits an interesting question; if haunted houses are about creating a space in which we suspend our disbelief about ghouls and demons, then what kinds of skeletons are we up against when we juxtapose the very real societal fears of our own bodies to those of the supernatural?
In theatre, this magical effect is called “breaking the fourth wall”; though haunted houses are, by nature, interactive and interdisciplinary, when we become characters in the horrors at play, we subvert the liminal and abstract terror and fear we feel into something tangible, probable, and most importantly, self-directed. Our preoccupations are then presented in a world where we cannot indulge in escapism, but rather are forced to see the forest for the trees. Simply put: the suspension of disbelief is broken. If the world around us is not what we fear most, then it must be ourselves that we find naked and plain in front of our eyes. And what is more terrifying than that?
The haunted house does offer a way out for those who are unwilling to shed their clothing to experience the Naked and Scared Challenge: as a visitor of the houses, you may opt to experience the exhibit utilizing the park’s ‘prude’ option: meaning, you may tour the houses in your underwear if the idea of being completely nude is unappealing to you. And, of course, should you wish to tour the houses in the clothed manner to which you are accustomed, you may do so during regular business hours.
So how will you choose to spend your All Soul’s Night this year? In the throes of internalized demons, battling it out with your inhibitions? Or traditionally sauntering through corn mazes and traditional haunted houses, a bag full of candy at your side and a costume you can shed at the end of the night? The choice is yours.
This just in from the New York Daily News: the Pennsylvania screampark that offered the opportunity to drop-trou-and-holler recently pulled the plug on the attraction after facing opposition from local law enforcement. According to both the NY Daily and the Shocktober Facebook page, town officials were concerned about how nudity contributed to the historically-deviant nature of Halloween, as well as how national attention reflected negatively on the town.
The Shocktober Facebook status update states this: “Although the Naked and Scared Challenge is legal, due to this worldwide attention, it has been requested by our township officials not of offer the “nude” option. Not wanting to engage in a battle with our municipalities we have decided to concede. We are still offering the “prude” option of going through the Unknown with nothing but your underwear. We still feel confident this experience will be very intense. In discussing this with Spring township officials, we may be able to offer the “nude” option next year. Stay tuned…”
Though the official reason for shutting down the disrobed fun is listed as a lack of appropriate business permits, one can’t help but wonder if the historically-Amish state balked at the idea of being known as an unsavory destination. "We didn't have time to react or fully think through all the issues that could arise from something like this," Spring Township Manager Jay Vaughan told the Associated Press. Though the article is unspecific in regards to exactly what issues could come from the national attention the attraction has received, it isn’t difficult to speculate. Halloween is a notoriously deviant time of year—if you were a child in the late eighties and early nineties, you may remember the Public Service Announcements about checking your Trick or Treat candy for syringe puncture wounds. Hocus Pocus may just be a (really awesome) movie, but the gist of it is true: any holiday where people are encouraged to leave themselves behind, celebrate demons, and convene with the (un)dead is going to produce mischief.
A far cry from the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine (in Cawker City, Kansas), the ‘Naked and Scared’ challenge was born out of the town’s desire to provide an increasingly edgy experience for locals. “Every year we keep thinking we gotta go bigger, we gotta go better, we gotta impress them more. Rather than going bigger better, I could now scare you with a feather," said founder Patrick Konopelski. According to the Facebook and Twitter pages, Konopelski plans to work in conjunction with Pennsylvania officials to be able to offer the nude option in time for 2014’s Halloween celebrations.
Can’t wait until next Halloween to unleash your kraken? Try channeling your disappointment into another holiday: World Naked Gardening Day. Go au naturale in nature by gardening without pants, an activity that already has a township stamp of approval. Not exciting or Ghouly enough for you? Patrons who are still interested in attending the Sinking Spring haunted houses with an extra thrill can opt to tour the attractions with the 'prude' label; it may not be a full-on, Naked and Scared challenge, but customers will be able to walk through the houses in just their underwear.