Haunted America Essay

I’m not so much talking about design or construction here as the religious arrangement of sins.In that sense it stepped back from the Renaissance and the availability of perspective into the depthless stage of Everyman in the late Middle Ages.That a tour of hell would end in a call to prayer indicates the problem — if it had been more elemental and troubling, I would have come out the other end in need of water or air or sedatives.

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One hates to go to hell only to come back scoffing, but I took the tour three or four times, on two different nights, and the miscellanea of horror that made up this particular rendition lacked anguish and torment, not to mention the visceral, abreacted thrills you expect a good haunted house to have.

There was a sort of moral hauteur that irritated me, but I was really hoping for spooky lowbrow sleights along the lines of peeled grapes for eyeballs and clumps of cold spaghetti for brains and whatnot.

There were even some especially short skinny ghouls no older than nine or ten or eleven who, relaxing between acts with their hoods off, came at me and the photographer, as we dawdled behind our group, and told us to go to hell, pointing the way. ” they kept saying, over and over, obviously enjoying a curse that, for the two-week run of Hell House, was officially sanctioned.

As the tour went on it became clear to me that these ghouls were quite specifically the voice of conservative values, although at first it had seemed as if they were supposed to incarnate the devil himself.

A haunted house makes the experience of horror real, a thing inescapably participated in, with everybody hell-bound.

But too often Hell House made the mistake of locating fear elsewhere, referring to moral arguments and social issues outside its walls and, in doing so, letting the drama of the endangered body drain away.

A good haunted house is about the utter collapse of our accidental differences, the uselessness of class, of gender, of education, of personal history, of all the distinctions we cobble together and call the self.

Late enough at night none of this stuff protects you, not from the boogeyman.

Like it or not, a haunted house is a sensual affair, more like sex than theology, and won’t survive too much abstract organization or the damping down of strangeness and intuition, of otherness or the mystery of skin or whatever.

Hell House didn’t obliterate distinctions and categories but erected them, the better to separate the saints from the sinners, at the expense of good fun.


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