By Michele Runko
Why do people enjoy getting scared? Is it the in-the-moment thrill or the laughs that come later?
Whatever the reason, haunted houses attract many visitors during the Halloween season, and I’m one of them. Last week, I decided to brave the Headless Horseman Hayride and Haunted Houses, in Ulster Park, N.Y., about 95 miles north of New York City.
When my friends and I got out of the car we found ourselves surrounded by pitch-black woods, so right off the bat, my heart started racing. On to hay ride. Twenty of us sat in a trailer that was being driven into the dark woods, as our guide recounted the story of the Headless Horseman.
The woods were terrifying. Dead villagers and patients, covered in blood and pale as ghosts, sprang out of the darkness, pleading for help. They would call us by name! (I later learned they could overhear us talking, and each actor would pass information on to colleagues via the well-concealed headsets they were wearing.) Some actors, latched to a tree by bungee cords, jumped so close to our heads that we thought they would land on us. And, in the middle of the ride, out of nowhere, the Headless Horseman came galloping after us, waving a sword.
Just as we thought the hay-ride was over, a deranged-looking group dressed in black and wielding chainsaws popped out from behind a tree and came running after us, screaming at us to “look them in the eyes.” By the end of the ride, I was curled on the floor in the fetal position, covering my eyes.
The corn maze was next. After a ridiculously long wait – my only criticism of this $32 experience – we entered the maze. I ran through most of it to get away from the creepy-looking actors who seemed to come out of nowhere, carrying their guts in their hands and asking why I was so scared. When I opened my mouth, no sound came out. Terrified, I just ran harder.
Out of the corn maze and still huffing and puffing, I got on line at the haunted house. An actor with a rat on his head kept coming up to people and hovering over them. When we finally got to the door, we saw a bunch of people running out, with a chainsaw audible from within. I almost chickened out, but my friends pushed me inside.
Someone was waiting right inside the entrance to chase us to the next room. There, we entered a pitch-black hallway with inflatable walls that we had to push at to get through. Actors covered in blood seemed to be hiding behind every door. I was so terrified that I ran through the last two rooms and completely forgot about the group I had seen being chased outside; just when I thought I was safe, a man with a chainsaw came running after me as I dashed out, so terrified I couldn’t catch my breath.
After a little giggling, my friends and I walked over to another haunted house. As we stood on line, chatting, out of the corner of my eye I saw a man popping cockroaches into his mouth. Whether they were real I couldn’t say, but it was one of the grossest things I’d ever seen, and my stomach began to churn.
Inside the house were laboratories, screaming lab subjects and actors who snuck up on us from with intestines crawling in their hair. Once again, I was off running and screaming. Then we approached a jungle-like setting with bushes, leaves, fake trees and piles of wood. I noticed something moving behind a short wall to my left, and suddenly a guy covered in green leaves jumped out at me. I freaked out, of course; he fell over laughing and looked as though he was enjoying every minute of my distress.
By the end of our visit, I had had enough. Was it worth it? Absolutely, we all agreed. I even got my cardio workout in for the day.
The Headless Horseman Hayride and Haunted Houses, now in its 17th year, opens in mid-September and closes on Sunday, Nov. 1