The line to enter the Tower of Terror winds around the block, down the street, around another block and halfway down a second street. It seems everybody in Houston is out celebrating Halloween by lining up to get the bijiminy scared out of them.
I tell Jeremy, my haunted-house partner for the night, that the line is too long and we should try another one of the seemingly endless number of haunted houses scattered around the city: Haunted Hilton, House of Horror, Hell House, Halloween Horror House … alliteration must be the ticket in the lucrative world of Haunted Housery.
I say lucrative because Jeremy and I just plunked down $30 for our pair of tickets.
I’m in this situation because I’m an actor, and I had an audition in town today. Not wanting to make the long drive home to Austin in my state of post-audition creative exhaustion (I was trying out for the backyard grill guy part in a new George Foreman commercial), I applied for lodging at my friend Jay’s house. In a moment of magnanimous insanity, I volunteered to take Jeremy, Jay’s teenage son, to the Tower of Terror.
There’s no getting out of it now. The Tower of Terror proprietors have very wisely taken our money up front and then sent us to the back of the line to wait an hour and a half.
Jeremy regales me with glowing reviews of the haunted house we’re about to enter. He hasn’t been inside, but his teenage pals tell him it rocks. Jeremy assures me that I will be scared witless. (Oh goody.) He gives me instructions about how to proceed when entering the attraction. I am to stick close to him and keep my mouth shut except to scream.
We are nearing the front of the line. We can hear the bloodcurdling screams cascading from behind the stark plywood walls of the Tower of Terror.
Jeremy’s demeanor is changing. Just before a teenage worker takes down the chain and beckons us through the entrance, Jeremy jumps behind me and tells me to go first. Then, as the door opens into the blackness beyond, he starts yelling and shoves me into the pit.
We are in a dark hallway, only partially illuminated with black lights. Spider webs and creepy-crawly rubber bugs dangle on us. I sort of expected that, but what I didn’t expect was Jeremy shoving me into the blackness while yelling in my ear. I start laughing.
“DON’T LAUGH!!” he screams. “JUST KEEP GOING!”
“What’s the hurry?” I reply. “We waited in line for an hour and a half—don’t you want to get your money’s worth?”
Down into the bowels of the Tower of Terror we go, Jeremy using me as a battering ram to push through the collection of monsters we meet along the way.
We come into a red-lighted area in which the walls seem to run red with gore. Suddenly Freddy Krueger lunges out of a closet and yells at us through his rubber mask. Jeremy howls. I crack up and start talking to the actor behind the mask.
“That was great, man! You really nailed us that time! Good work, dude!”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Jeremy screams. “YOU CAN’T TALK TO THE MONSTERS!!!”
“No problem. He’s a kid about your age.”
“NO HE’S NOT! HE’S A MONSTER AND YOU CAN’T TALK TO HIM! HURRY UP!!”
Just then a cackling crazy woman with a half-eaten face jumps out of a coffin and offers us a bowl of maggots.
“Are you hungry, kiddies?”
Screams erupt behind me as Jeremy loses what is left of his mind. I, meanwhile, offer more artistic appreciation.
“Hey,” I say to the woman. “Cool makeup! How did you get that bone hanging out like that? Looks great!”
“YAHHH! STOP TALKING TO THEM!” Jeremy shrieks as he pushes me away.
“Hey, I want to find out where she gets her makeup,” I say. “I could use some of that …”
“NO! YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY! HURRY UP!”
Jeremy’s goal is to escape as quickly as possible. I, on the other hand, have turned into a real fan of this haunted house. I was raised in the theater, and I gaze in admiration at the great décor, the lighting, the attention to detail shown in the guts hanging on the stair rails, the meticulous care that has been given to zombie makeup and hidden compartments that disgorge walking corpses at your side just as you step into the most vulnerable area of the room.
Jeremy is behind me now, gibbering witlessly. We must be approaching the exit. I’m still laughing with appreciation at the jolly good show, congratulating the zombies on their tireless work.
We enter the last room, a big room. Most of the areas have been cramped, but now we are in some kind of ballroom of horror. Let’s see … what manner of Big Scare would need this much space? I stop to ponder. Jeremy pounds on my back.
“YOU’RE STOPPING AGAIN! WHY ARE YOU STOPPING? WHY? WHY?”
I note that he is free to head for the exit, but he’s too busy hiding behind me to listen.
“This is probably the last big scare so we ought to just stand here and wait for it,” I say.
Suddenly Leatherface comes crashing out of a fake bookcase and fires up his chain saw with a sinister roar. He lunges at us with a real chain saw! Jeremy is screaming in my ear again, but this time I barely notice because I’m screaming right along with him.
We stumble, blithering, through the exit into the Houston night.
Jeremy and I are moaning in a combination of post-traumatic stress and hysterical laughter. We mock each other’s cowardice.
“YOU WERE SCREAMING LIKE A BABY!”
“Well, how about wiping that drool off your chin, dude?”
We wander around until we remember where we parked the car. Jeremy is blissfully happy after his near-death experience. He thanks me profusely.
“Thanks, dude! That was way cool!”
And then, “The Dormitory of Death is just around the corner on Westheimer … what do you say?”
Marco Perella lives in Austin.