Fear and Loathing at Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Like most people, my appreciation for fear has changed over my life. I can easily remember the October night when my mother defended me throughout a haunted house while I had my eyes clenched shut yelling “I don’t want to be here anymore”. She also admonished one of the scare guys who shrieked my line back at me, mocking me. Which is some proof positive that my mom is awesome.

But this year for Halloweekend, the weekend event that Halloween has become lasting anywhere from 3 to 5 days in length, I spent one night at a party, another watching The Babadook alone in the dark, and the last running the gamut of horror mazes at Universal Studios’ Halloween event, Halloween Horror Nights.

What happened? When did I become less afraid? When did I start to enjoy that rush of fear?

Obviously there isn’t some one event in my life that caused this change. Fear isn’t like roller coasters, which I was afraid of until I decided actively not to be. Fear is primal, and arguably not what I was feeling last night since I knew everything was staged. Fear is situational, and I enjoyed steady fluctuations throughout the night.

My friend and I entered an area based off the Purge, a movie series I won’t explain in favor of this clip.

And I was laughing it off as the tram drove us to the start, because it had been parodied and I deflect most bad things in my life with humor. But then the tram dropped us off, and we were forced to the front of the group, and five guys stood in silhouette, started chainsaws, and ran at us.

In that moment, nothing about it felt staged.

I’ve had this conversation with my sister. She is not a fan of horror mazes or similar situations, not because she is scared, but because she will straight up attack anyone who comes at her. Well, when my fight or flight instincts switched on, I had to tell my brain to choose flight or else I would find myself hitting park employees.

Next thing I know, two random girls have grabbed onto me and my friends. We’re running along a heavy crowd of people and encountering less of the… purgers? purgists? Whichever, they aren’t going for us so much and I’m no longer feeling scared. Suddenly I’m defending others from the monsters.

This has happened before, about two years ago in Terror Behind the Walls back in Philly. I’m not a huge fan. I’m agile, I like to dart around the threats. But when this happens I’m relegated to being a human shield, actively putting myself in, admittedly, false peril.

When we got the chance, we let the girls go on their own to take a picture with Norman Bates. I wonder how they did with the rest of the trial. Because when we got back, that crowd of people we entered with were gone.

When you go through a horror maze, you learn to sense what’s coming. You hear the shrieks and sound effects of what’s coming ahead. You learn to see the difference between false and real walls and know to keep your eyes on them. You expect something to jump out at you.

This was different. There was nobody jumping out at you. They stood in plain view. They held their weapons and let you know you were their target. We were outnumbered.

It reminded me of my Halloweens in high school. After I had outgrown trick or treating, a few friends and I took up roles scaring kids at one of our houses. I figured out pretty quickly it was scarier to come at my targets head on instead of hiding and popping out at them. There’s a very different rush that comes from being the one to instill fear. I think I would enjoy being on the purge staff.

We got through the Purge, obviously, but I don’t think I would have survived. By the end I was miming injury to my pursuers feinted attacks. My heart was beating fast, I was sweating heavy, and I was honestly having a great time.

Still, when we got out I went right back to the Rick and Morty jokes. Back to humor. It was only with me when it was present, once past it had no hold over me.

Then we got on another tram to a couple off site mazes, and they dropped us in a surprise second Purge trial. This time we were ready.

That’s probably how we all overcome fear. First you need to encounter what you fear then, when you’ve come out the other side, you’ll be ready to face it again. That’s how you go from the kid screaming he doesn’t want to be there to the guy completely ignoring the goblin coming at him with a fireman’s axe because he’s exhausted and just wants to go to bed and seriously man get out of my face I just bought a chocolate frog from your Harry Potter store and I do not want to deal with you right now.

-JP

P.S. The loathing in the title comes from the park forcing me to throw out 8 dollars of water and nut bars so they could force me to buy their overpriced food on the inside. Screw you Universal, you knock off Disneyland. You’re better in Florida!

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