"Can they touch us in there?"
This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get as a haunt actor. People are worried that we, the actors, are able to grab people and bend them to our will to get the best scares. While there are some patrons who, admittedly, I would have loved to have hugged around the neck with a length of rope, this is not true for most haunts. To even offer a “touch” option typically means waivers and legal consultation far ahead in advance. I personally am not a huge fan of the so-called “extreme haunt” movement, but I will agree that it is a more interactive, dare I say “hands-on” experience for all involved.
So is the case for the principal group of teens in Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ Haunt, released earlier this year at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. It notched two nominations for Best Feature Film and the Audience Award. Add Eli Roth as a producer, and a recipe for a great modern gorefest seems to be nearing perfection. But even the touches of the writers of A Quiet Place and the director of Hostel and Cabin Fever cannot save this film from being an unfortunate level of average.
Perhaps some of my reservations about this film come from my time as a haunt actor, but I had a lot of problems with how the haunt was presented. The first two actors in the haunt are totally silent and give no instruction, nor do they make any attempt to set up an atmosphere for what the group is about to face. The waivers are pointed out, they sign, the door opens, and on they go. Granted, there’s something to be said about the unknown and unspoken, but there’s also a term we have at our haunt, for an actor who doesn’t do much for the show as a whole: warm body.
Another major black mark against this film is the CG gore and kills. I would have thought that, given the kind of operation the film is centered around, there would be more of an emphasis on practical effects makeup. Instead, the kills, namely one particular one involving a pitchfork, look fake and unsatisfying. The only real satisfying kill involves one character’s face being ripped off, and that may have been the only kill that I truly enjoyed watching play out. Given how this character acts until his demise, it is the only truly satisfying kill, even compared to the deaths of those running the haunt.
The one positive I did note in the film is the construction of the haunt itself. The skeleton animatronic gag in the beginning is a nice red herring, a sort of “seriously?” moment that shakes the expectations of an extreme haunted attraction as the group of teens walk in. Things slowly build up to the final escape room scene, making for a great escalation of the haunt itself, as well as for the film proper.
This movie, along with Haunters: The Art of the Scare, is one that I get asked about often. For me, this film is to haunting what To Wong Foo is to drag: highly unrealistic, and even when taken to extremes because it's a movie, it still made some haphazard mistakes that took me out of the experience. As someone who does it in real life, I’ll be asked about it till the end of days, and I am fine with being in the minority who would not recommend this film.